22 Nov 2007

Job Applications and Risk

Originally posted Oct 17: I am applying for jobs (on the assumption that I will finish my PhD soon). As usual, job postings ask for your CV, etc., but I have noticed that not all postings follow best practice, i.e., send materials via internet (email or webform) by date:time. How do they differ?

The first bad idea is asking for postal mail submission. This wastes resources (fuel and time) and is less reliable. I can see only one reason why this is requested, and that's to save the hiring institution the time from printing on their end. (Paper is cheap, so I ignore it.) If you agree that total printing time is the same, then where the materials are printed is socially irrelevant. Since the hiring department has power, they can shift the work onto the applicant.

The second, far worse idea is having a "must be received by" date for postal submissions. Job applicants are risk averse and want their materials to arrive on time. They have two responses: Send waayyy early (and hope the mail arrives!) or use express mail. Given that the USPS says cross country mail takes 3-10 days, this is not a fun thing to consider. Given that an envelope to Canada costs $1.50 for regular and $22 for express mail, this can get expensive.

But the most crazy irony of all is that I am applying for positions in resource economics. You know, time and money and energy and water? How crazy is it for places seeking resource economists to give "must be received by" postal deadlines?!? Do they want me to feel good that they need my services? Or is it a signal of how out-of-touch they are? We are not talking Podunk U here, these are top research universities!

My only conclusion is that places asking for posted materials by a certain deadline do not care a whit about applicants, social welfare, etc. They have the power to make life as simple as possible for themselves -- thereby causing disproportionate losses on others -- and they use it.

Bottom Line: It's pretty sad when the "guardians of our future" (as they say in the fundraising documents) have such little regard to the best practices and/or social welfare of the present.

Continue below the fold to more discussion

18 Nov Addendum from Economic Job Market:
We are committed to delivering the best possible software to make your life as a candidate as easy as possible, since we can appreciate you do not need any additional stress in your life right now. We now believe that most of the key bugs are resolved and we are comfortable starting to advertise EJM to more recruiters and have more job ads posted to make it easier for you to apply. One way you can help us out is to suggest to your own organization's recruiting director to sign up to post FREE job ads on EJM. This will allow them to get applications electronically and will make their job easier and it will make your life easier too, since you will have the assurance that your application was transmitted electronically and instantaneously, and is not lost somewhere in the (U.S.) mail service.
...and this from an admin where I am applying (after they accepted PDF files in an email):

We received hundreds of applications and would take a full time
person to do nothing but print applications.

>No problem. I'll send hard copies.
>But, may I ask, why can't you print them there? As you will have to
>make photocopies for the committee anyway, there seems to be no point
>of taking the time and risking the USPS...
>(You guys are not the only ones with these policies...)
>> In my haste to respond to your email I did not
>> advise you that in order for your application to
>> receive full consideration we request that you
>> send a hard copy of your documents. The
>> committee does not have access to your email and
>> have requested that all applications be received
>> in hard copy format.
One person writes here:
I don't think the cost of printing is what matters for the 'big research departments' when they request paper applications. More likely they don't want to be flooded with 1500 submissions for one position when the marginal cost of applying is close to zero (not identical to zero if you factor in time). So yes, they may care about saving the Earth, but they may also have a slightly different objective, like to allocate optimally their scarce application-processing resources...
to which, I reply:
by your logic, departments shoudl create higher barriers to ensure that only the most determined (=most qualified?) apply. How about blood tests, courier delivery, etc? Sorry -- I am not going to go for that. There's a clear power relation here and social welfare falls.