What makes a job ad “terrible”?

What makes a job ad “terrible”?

The Worst of Anthro Job Ads for 2021
Dannah Dennis, Dada Docot, Danielle Gendron, Ilana Gershon
First published: 07 October 2022

On September 18, 2021, Dada Docot launched what she called “Search for 2021 Worst Anthro Job Ads.” Taking place on Twitter, this “contest” brought public attention to conversations that often happen in private between friends and colleagues who may bemoan the state of the job market and the endlessly multiplying requirements of job ads but feel relatively powerless to do much about these things.

This eventually resulted in the open access article: The Worst of Anthro Job Ads for 2021 which was recently published in American Anthropologist. Hopefully this article will bring even more attention to some of these problems. I know that Taiwanese universities can be some of the worst offenders when it comes to paper pushing, often requiring multiple copies of applicant’s printed dissertations as well as a host of other documents, including letters of recommendation, even for the first round. But in the US things are often made worse by the terrible state of the job market where the shear volume of requirements is paired with what turns out to be a poorly-paid short term adjunct position.

The article offers a useful list of some of the major problems they found in the job ads that were submitted to the contest:

Both “Unicorn Hunting” and the “Kitchen Sink” refer to ads which “call for a combination of skills and expertise that are unlikely to co-occur in a single candidate” or list a “a wide range of skills and expertise that a department desires in a candidate.” The authors argue that such ads may discourage more marginalized candidates who may not feel confident claiming such broad expertise.

“Publications Arms Race” refers to “the practice of requiring multiple writing samples for an application.” I personally wonder how many of these samples are actually read by the committee?

“Paper-Pushing” is what led to the “winning” job ad:

“Worst Job Ad in the Permanent Category” to Grinnell College, which required a needlessly long list of application materials, including a CV, cover letter, transcripts, a diversity statement, six course descriptions, and three recommendation letters—all upfront. Grinnell also received the dubious distinction of being nominated by three separate people (more than any of the other nominees). Several months after applications closed, the Grinnell search was canceled.

Related to this is the category of “Eternal Return of Data Entry” where “applications are unnecessarily tedious, asking applicants to enter the same information over and over again in different forms and on different documents.”

And transparency was a key issue as well, as “A large proportion of academic job ads do not list a salary or a salary range.”

Finally, the “Clean Up Our Mess” category goes to “Institutions often expect scholars from diverse communities to ‘fix’ the institution, overburdening them with duties in the process.”

There is much more in the article, including a thoughtful discussion about whether or not to require letters of recommendation. Hopefully this piece will encourage some departments to improve their practices somewhat…