11. How often should you communicate with candidates waiting to hear from you? What information should you provide?
After spirited discussion, the consensus of the group was that you should tell your candidates as much as possible, as often as possible. Applications should be acknowledged, and if possible candidates should be told when their files are complete, or, as the deadline approaches, what they are missing.
Then comes the waiting game: we have all been through this process, and we know that the hardest part is waiting around for someone to tell you what is happening. The group concluded that every time a decision is made, all active candidates should be told about it.
When you make the first selection from 100 down to 15, you should tell the 15 that they are in the top 15, and the rest that they are not (I have made up these numbers, and do not mean to imply that there is any correct number or size of cuts).
Note that this does not constitute rejection, and the communication should carefully say so, but on the other hand it is clearly exceedingly rare for someone who does not make the top 15 to eventually receive an offer. When you get down to six, the other nine should be told that they are not in the top six, and so on. Most places interview three candidates in the first round.
During the interview, it is appropriate to tell the candidates when you expect a decision to be made, and when that day comes, contact the candidates! If the decision was not made, say so; if it was, go ahead, tell them what it was.
Tell them if the decision is in the hands of the VP. Tell them what your recommendation to the VP was. If an offer is out, tell them when the first candidate has to respond, and tell them when the first candidate does respond. If you know who is second and third, tell them. If you don’t, tell them that!
When you get a verbal commitment, tell the others. Young faculty in the room all agreed that they would want to know that there was an offer out to someone else, but that there was not yet a response, and there was certainly a chance of a “no” answer at which point they were next in line, etc. There was no suggestion from the group that this policy would make a candidate less likely to accept an offer if one came later. Quite the contrary, some believed they would be more likely to accept an offer, because the communication suggested an open and fair department and institution.
The unanimous opinion of the group was that all aspects of the search should be conducted with the maximum possible openness. Candidates will feel positively towards a department that is open with them, and increasingly negative towards a department that leaves them dangling for long periods of time.
We realize that we have recommended a lot of communication, which would be very expensive in time and money if done by letter. But e-mail lists work great for updating applicants on their status, and it is free (for now!). However, remember our earlier admonition: e-mail is not private. The candidate may not appreciate an electronic status update. The point is, do the best you can to keep applicants informed of progress; we see no point in hiding information.