In my dream I'm serving on a search committee trying to sort through 30,000 applicant files. Thirty thousand! I've served on some difficult searches but never one that reached nightmare proportions.
Everyone complains about sorting through hundreds of applicant files, but trust me: it's better to have too many applicants than too few. I've served on both kinds of searches and there's nothing more disheartening than an applicant pool too shallow to drown a doubt.
Over the past decade, I've served on search committees almost every year, some inside my department and some outside. When I look around campus and consider the people I've had a hand in hiring, I feel pretty good: I've hired some fun and intelligent and amazing people and only one outright disaster, and Dr. Disaster has long since left the building.
What stands out from all those searches?
Worst question from an applicant: "How often do you get to Cleveland to go clubbing?" (Um, it's three hours away....are you sure you want to live in Appalachia?)
Second-worst question from an applicant: "How much did you pay for your house?" (Go ahead and ask me about housing prices in the area, but my house? Are you kidding me?)
Worst question I received while being interviewed by a member of the search committee that hired me: "Do you believe in Satan? Because [name redacted] is the spawn of Satan!"
Worst response from an applicant I was interviewing: "I don't know if you know anything about American Literature, but...."
Worst weather-related search committee disaster: the finalist arrives in town just before the blizzard strikes, but only one member of the search committee can get to campus (on foot!) for the interview because the roads are closed and the rest of us are hopelessly snowed in. By the time the roads clear, the applicant has left town.
Worst dining behavior by an applicant: while eating a meal at a very nice restaurant, the applicant picks up the linen napkin, blows her nose on it, and then smooths the napkin down in her lap, only to repeat the process multiple times throughout the meal.
Second-worst dining behavior: talking interminably about Foucault while the restaurant is emptying out because everyone wants to get home to watch the Superbowl.
Longest time served on a search committee: two and a half years--and the result was Dr. Disaster.
Which is worse, hiring the wrong person or hiring no one? I served on a search committee that resulted in no hire, which is generally referred to as a "failed" search. But honestly: would you prefer that we hired another Dr. Disaster? Sometimes the best thing to do is call it a day and go to Plan B.
And if Plan B attracts 30,000 applicants--please don't appoint me to the search committee!