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Toward Fairer Job Searches

A Summary of the June AAS CSWA Session

by Nadine G. Barlow

January 1996


What constitutes a fair and open job search? This is a question which has created considerable discussion on the AASWOMEN network over the past year. On June 13, 1995, at the CSWA session during the AAS meeting in Pittsburgh, Marc Kutner presented the draft of a resolution to be submitted to the AAS Council on procedures for a fair job search. The idea of this resolution is to provide guidelines for employers wishing to advertise in the Job Register or to use the Job Center.

The guidelines are subdivided into five sections containing recommendations on what employers should do before the job ad goes out, writing the job ad itself, conducting the search, after the job is filled, and dealing with the two-career situation. Since the recommendations are still in an early stage of formation, much discussion by the approximately 50 attendees occurred and many of the issues will be addressed by Kutner in the next version of the recommendations.

Before the Job Ad—Draft Guidelines

Before the job ad is ever written, employers need to have a good idea of what kind of person they are looking for. A common error conducted by employers is to make the criteria too narrow or rigid--then they either know exactly who they want to hire or have some preconceived prejudices about what qualities the best person for the job will display. The key is to know what kind of person you are looking for
without restricting your possibilities too narrowly.

A search committee needs to be formed before the job ad goes out. Thiscommittee should include representatives of all groups which will be affected by the hire, including students if the advertisement is for a teaching/faculty position. Employers also need to realize that they will get a large number of applications for the job. The committee needs to make the commitment to treat each applicant seriously and to make sure there is enough money to bring in a reasonable number of people (usually 3 to 5) for on-site interviews.

The Job Ad—Draft Guidelines

The job ad should include as much information about the job as possible. Job ads are generally very terse due to space limitations, so the ad must be constructed carefully so that the phrasing of the sentences clearly indicates their meaning. If funding is uncertain, the ad should give some idea of when that issue will be decided. If there is a possibility of hiring someone at a higher level than that indicated in the ad, this
should be clearly noted so that all qualified applicants have a fair shot at that higher level. If internal candidates are being considered for the job, this also should be stated in the ad so the outside applicant knows what s/he is up against.

At least one member of the search committee should be listed as a contact for questions about the job. This person's telephone number and e-mail address should be provided in the ad. This person must be willing to talk candidly to any prospective applicant about the job and about the qualifications of any internal applicants.

Employers should not ask all applicants to furnish letters of recommendation (as opposed to just the name of references) unless they really plan to read hundreds of letters.

Employers whould only request letters for those candidates who being seriously considered.

Job ads should be circulated as widely as possible, not just in the AAS Job Register.

The Search—Draft Guidelines

Each application should be treated seriously. This might involve the employer making her/his own judgements about the scientific work of the applicant rather than simply relying on letters of recommendation. Employers should not use the large number of applicants as an excuse to apply
irrelevant arbitrary standards to make cuts.

Many employers are now using telephone interviews to make their first cut through the applications. Telephone interviews should be used sparingly and conscientiously-- people who impress us most on the phone are people who are just like us! There is some question about legal ramifications of such a technique since the Privacy Act forbids personal information being given over the phone. Legally, only the dates of employment should be discussed. It was noted that fear of lawsuits is causing some companies to discourage employees from writing letters of recommendation, so telephone discussions are sometimes the only way to get a recommendation out of a person. Due to the Privacy Act, this procedure also may be llegal.

The use of telephone interviews engendered much discussion. Many people noted that most employers have
only a limited amount of funds to bring applicants for onsite interviews, so many use the telephone to interview more people before making the first cut. Everyone agreed that the person needs to be told that the telephone call constitutes an interview. Some people felt that the telephone interview was unfair to the applicant since s/he cannot see the reactions of the committee or use gestures to emphasize a point. The other concern raised was the situation where only one person interviews the candidate then reports back to the committee. This is dangerous because the entire information that the committee receives about the applicant is filtered through the one person who talked to the applicant. Telephone interviews between the applicant and the entire committee were strongly encouraged.

Once a short list of three to five candidates is selected, faceto- face interviews should be conducted. Therefore employers should be sure to have enough funds to bring in the top three to five candidates for on-site interviews.

At no point in the evaluation process should questions about marital status, sexual orientation, or children be raised or such information (if obtained otherwise) be used in deciding the qualifications of the applicant. Such behavior may be legallay actionable. If an applicant feels that the employer is indirectly asking for such information, s/he should ask"what are you really asking?". Find out why they want the information and determine a polite way to answer or not answer the question.

Employers should not make a last minute switch in the scope or level of the position that goes beyond the
boundaries of the job ad. Many times position requirements evolve after the job ad goes out. Everyone agreed that the job requirements do not have to be "cast in stone" but the qualifications of the preferred candidate cannot change from what is stated in the job ad.

If the employer is considering both a woman and a man who are equally qualified for the position, both should be offered the same package, which includes not only salary, but also research start-up money, benefits, etc.

After the Job is Filled—Draft Guidelines

Rejection letters should be sent out to all unsuccessful candidates. They should say who was hired and contain a brief statement of the qualifications of the hired person. We recommend that a report be filed with ther AAS which provides information on the number of applicants, number for whom letters of recommendation were sought, number interviewed by phone, number interviewed off-site (such as at the Job Center), number interviewed on-site, number interviewed on-site more than once, number to whom job was offered, and the identity and qualifications of the person taking the job. In each category there should be a breakdown showing the number of women or minorities and the number of internal people. This report also should state where the job was advertised. If the job is not filled, the reasons should be given.

We recommend that the AAS maintain a data base with this reported information, sorted by organization, so that future applicants can check on the past hiring performance of that organization. Several attendees wanted to know how the Executive Office was going to enforce this policy and make people submit reports. The consensus was that the Executive Office should not spend its resources taking the initiative to make organizations submit reports, but it can keep track of who does not submit a report and not allow them to relist with the Job Register or Job Center. It was noted that this type of information is required anyway by Affirmative Action, so it would not be extra work for the hiring organization to make a copy for the AAS.

The Two-Career Situation—Draft Guidelines

The two-career situation is deemd to exist when the applicant has a significant other with a career/profession
that would be adversely affected by simply moving to the location of the job in question. The employer can range from wanting to make the job as attractive as possible for the applicant to using the existence of a second career to decide against hiring the applicant. When the two-career situation exists, male and female applicants should be treated equally by the employers--questions should not be asked of one that would not be asked of the other and no assumptions about relative importance of career versus family should be made. Questions about the possibility of a two-career situation should not be raised by an employer in the initial
screening or in a first interview and at no point should issues related to marital status be used in evaluating the qualifications of the applicant (including if the applicant refuses to answer questions about marital status). The appropriate time for the employer to raise the issue is when an offer is about to be made so the issue can be negotiated along with the general package. The applicant should feel AASWomen is the CSWA’s electronic newsletter, edited by Prof. Debra Elmegreen, CSWA Chair. Issues are published as e-mail once per week and consist solely of reader contributions in a dialogue-like atmosphere. To get on the mailing list or to contribute, send e-mail to AASWomen@vaxsar.vassar.edu. free to raise or not raise the issue at any point in the search, but it should not be held against the applicant if they wait until an offer is made or imminent to raise the issue. Obviously each applicant-other situation is unique and flexibility is needed on both sides.

Open Discussion

The audience approved of Kutner's draft resolution to be submited to the AAS Council on the procedures for a fair job search with minor changes. In the general discussion which followed, a number of related activities were suggested, such as expanding the Job Register beyond academic distribution and doing sessions at AAS meeting about hiring which would include people in nontraditional careers. There also was discussion about the number of students being graduated from astronomy departments when the number of traditional jobs are shrinking due to reduced resources. Some people suggested that the curriculum for astronomy graduate students should be changed to include more courses in engineering, instrumentation, and teaching so that students are prepared for careers in areas other than astronomy research and academia. This topic will obviously continue to engender much discussion at upcoming CSWA sessions.


Nadine Barlow is a member of the CSWA and President of Minerva Research Enterprises, Houston Texas

EDITOR'S NOTE: Based on Feedback at the session and comments in AASWomen and e-mail to Marc Kutner, Kutner is preparing a revised version of the guidelines which he plans to circulate in time for action at the June 1996 AAS Meeting. Please send e-mail to mkutner@nrao.edu for a copy of the guidelines or for other comments.

AASWomen is the CSWA’s electronic newsletter, edited by Prof. Debra Elmegreen, CSWA Chair. Issues
are published as e-mail once per week and consist solely of reader contributions in a dialogue-like atmosphere. To get on the mailing list or to contribute, send e-mail to AASWomen@vaxsar.vassar.edu.

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