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September 15, 2009


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Mark McKenna

I had a similar experience with a couple of candidates several years ago when I was on appointments at my previous school. One of those candidates is in my field, and I think about the rudeness (and arrogance) of not returning the call every time I see that person. I can't imagine ever making an issue out of it, but it certainly would incline me against that person if (s)he was ever presented as a lateral candidate.

It is all of those biscuit injuries. When will the atrocities cease?

Seriously, commenting as one who "enjoys" a notoriously unreliable phone system at my institution, I am not sure you can assume the message has gotten through. I list two phone numbers on my materials, as well as my email address, and I would hope that a school genuinely interested in talking to me would try them all. I won't try to explain why some people are rude, but could it be that some people never received the message?


Oh no! As a candidate on the market this year, you have now made me very nervous that somehow a call has slipped through my voicemail system. Sometimes this happens and I get a message a week later. I sure hope that is not the case here!

Juliet Moringiello

Tim -

I'm so glad you posted this. In my stints on our appointments committee, this happened more than once. If a candidate wants to hedge his or her bets, that candidate can always accept and then cancel later. If the candidate wants to leave a cancellation in a voice mail in the middle of the night, that's fine too. I have received several of those messages, and all were delivered very gracefully. Many candidates don't realize how marketable they really are, so it's perfectly appropriate to accept an interview at a lower-ranked school and then cancel when the higher-ranked interview offers (or interview offers in more appealing parts of the country) start coming in.

Another thing I would add to your post is this. Candidates, we know you have Blackberries and iPhones and that you are checking them constantly during recruiting season. Please don't return calls a week later and say that you were out of town and didn't get the message. We, too, live in a wired (or wireless) world.

anon on the market

So actually, I WAS out of town (out of the country, where I did not get cell phone reception) and DID miss several messages when they first started coming in late August. I had assumed that I would get emails from schools, and so hadn't thought to call and check my voicemail. I was slightly horrified to realize that I had missed those calls, and apologized (I hope profusely and convincingly) when I returned the calls. I'm now slightly horrified again to read Juliet's comment, and think that those hiring chairs might have thought I was hedging my bets or waiting to see if something better came along.

I would agree with Allison - please follow up a phone message with an email. Between the two, chances are much better that the message gets through.

But if those candidates really aren't returning phone calls, just out of lack of interest or genuine rudeness - shame on them!


I'd like to second the comments from candidates suggesting the possibility that the candidates in question may not have received the message. I love my iPhone, but ATT is another matter. When I travel outside its stingy zones, as I was forced to do yesterday, I sometimes receive notification of a voice message hours or even days later, and no amount of checking the voicemail feature of the phone will do anything to hurry along the notification process. So hiring committee members -- please try to call (or email) a second time!

another anon candidate

As a non-arrogant, non-technologically-inclined candidate who accidentally deleted a voicemail without listening to it, I would beg you to please call back or followup with an email if you get no initial response. Stupid things do sometimes happen, and many of the calls I have received come up as "unknown" or "withheld" so I can't just redial the number.

I promise that I am smarter than this post may have implied. maybe.

Anonymous Professor

This was well intentioned but IMHO misconceived. I think it's clear that the appropriate thing to do, from the committee side, is (1) to follow with an email briefly indicating that you left a voicemail; (2) to exercise care in posting about a limited phenomenon (committee voicemails of which a handful are returned slowly, or one or two not returned at all, per committee) that is easily confused by a very anxious crowd with an extremely widespread phenomenon (no voicemail left at all, so far as can be determined).

At the very least, if you are going to focus on the behavior of a rude few, bear in mind all the attempts at contact with committee members by applicants that go unanswered. And if sketching repercussions, then note also that applicants, who later go into practice or the academy, may also have long memories about shabby treatment.


Rather than throw a hissyfit over a candidate not returning a call, I think I would just follow up the VM with a short email:"Just wanted to follow up with you regarding my voicemail extending you an interview; do you have any questions about us that I can answer before our meeting?"


What we have here is... a generational divide at work. One generation -- that of the interviewERs -- thinks the telephone the highest, most direct, most polite form of communication, and they can't imagine why their calls aren't being returned. The next generation -- the interviewEEs -- hasn't picked up a phone in a few years. Why, this generation doesnt even listen to voice mail. They don't have land lines, and the cell phone feature of their handheld computers (Iphones and Blackberries) is really as minor a feature as, say, the calculator. A cell phone is for texting, maybe emailing, but not for voice. These folks would be happy if you Twittered or Facebooked them or, perhaps, emailed. The older generation, which happens to have all the power now, doesn't get this -- I took the time to make a phone call, by golly! -- and simply senses rudeness.

Next post I anticipate: some faculty candidates have drunken photos on facebook. What could they possibly be thinking, their interviewers wonder? To which the candidates reply, what's the big deal? Will my colleagues always be such fuddy-duddies?

Joan Vogel

As a professor who has chaired the hiring committee for a third-tier law school numerous times, I have had the same experience as Tim. I have called several times and sent numerous e-mails and not received a response from a few of the candidates. It is usually a small minority of the candidates that do this, but I am always surprised at this behavior in such a tight job market. If they are not interested in my school, a polite rejection is all that is required. I cannot remember this kind of behavior happening until this last decade. Law teaching is a small profession with a long memory. Joan Vogel


When I was clerking I never figured out the voice mail system for my office phone. It involved several steps and pass-codes and I had enough trouble remembering all my pass-words as it was. (Our computers required us to change them every few months.) And, someone was almost always in chambers, so voice mail was rarely left. But, once in a while, I'd notice that my red "message" light was on. I'd get the book out that told me how to retrieve messages, only to find that I'd not noticed this for a week or more and had already dealt with the issue. After the second time I just ignored the light. Later I learned that my voice mail box still had the name of the clerk I had replaced. I hadn't been told to update it. The moral is like many above, I guess- that a missed voice mail may really be missed, and that if it seems likely, a call to another line or a follow-up email can be worth while.

Mark McKenna

Anonymous Professor - I wouldn't defend a committee member who didn't return a contact either. It's just rude. But just to be clear, I don't know of anyone who tries to reach a person only once. We certainly tried more than once, leaving multiple messages and sending emails. Everyone knows it's possible that a single message will not get through - though I agree with Juliet it's unlikely, I'll give someone the benefit of the doubt. But I'm talking about not returning calls after multiple attempts. Those are no accident. And one more clarification - it wouldn't have bothered me in the least if someone had called back and simply said they weren't interested. It's not that they didn't interview with us, it's that they acted like they were too good to respond.

Jesus Posts Here

I've sent cover letters, etc. to some hiring chairs who just ignored what I wrote. Food for thought.


This may have been considered "rude" before the economy took an unfortunate turn because, then, lower-tiered schools could assume that candidates could be picky. Now that it's an employer's market, all schools hold way more cards than they used to, and they should no longer assume a lack of response is an automatic snub. I agree with everyone who suggested trying again -- and doing so in more than one medium. As an aside, speaking of the "older" generation, it baffles me that a group that prides itself on Woodstock and being progressive would choose to view younger people with such disdain.

Anonymous Professor

Mark McKenna -- I was not commenting on your comment, but rather on the original post, which said: "I'm curious if other hiring chairs find themselves leaving messages that go unreturned. If so, do you follow up with another telephone call? And how quickly? Or do you assume, by the silence, that the candidate simply has no interest in scheduling an interview?" The answer, you and I agree, is clearly to try a little more, preferably by some other means like email. If it then develops that someone is failing to respond, you and I also agree that they are rude and unprofessional.

The gist of my own comment was all of this was self-evident, and it was unfortunate that the post's specter of missed calls -- failing to clarify that any sensible committee would try several times, and not find silence a basis for assuming a lack of interest after a voicemail or maybe two -- could cause many candidates, already in an anxious state, to worry they had missed one fateful voicemail. That's all.

P.S. I don't excuse anyone who fails to reply to an interview invitation; I actually think it's a shame that the committee had to reach out in the first place, if that was avoidable. Why can't this be done like ExpressO, so that a candidate can more efficiently opt out of applying to schools about which s/he is likely later to be unenthused? This might incidentally increase a sense of responsibility for responding to schools for which an affirmative check was placed by the candidate. Or has the process been revised to permit that?

Jacqui L.

I'm with the person who suggested that we use Facebook or Twitter in the future (Vladimir?) Maybe we could combine an Expresso-like process with tweeting for responses?

For the record, when I've chaired appointments in the past, I've always left a voicemail that tells the candidate I will be following immediately with an email detailing how to schedule an interview with us ie through direct contact with our administrative assistant via email. Thus, if the candidate wants to leave a polite "yes" or "no", they don't even need to deal with me. They can just send an email to our admin assistant. She then either schedules them for an interview or removes them from our list and notifies me of the action taken. But if the candidate does want to chat further about the school, our process, or anything else, they are always free to call me or email me back directly. Candidates have always responded to this approach to the best of my recollection, although I haven't chaired for the last couple of years now.


Just my 2 cents:

1. Tim, I would not be so hard on the "anon"s at Prawfsblawg. True, anonymity can be easily abused. But there may be good reasons for many FAR candidates to post their experiences anonymously. Some may have law firm jobs and are not prepared to announce their preference for academia. Some may not wish to hurt their candidacy by revealing the low number of interviews they have received (whether this will in fact hurt their candidacy may be debatable, but at least we can assume risk-averse applicants will find the possibility troubling).

2. Jacqui, I received many such messages as yours. I was always happy to get the interview, but never speaking with a committee member until the meat market always raised a question in my mind. Was the hiring chair saying "call my assistant" doing so because (1) it is a simple and efficient way of doing things, or (2) the hiring chair really doesn't like my candidacy but got outvoted in committee and was doing this as a subtle snub? I guess part of this is that I am (as Vladmir would describe) someone who still thinks that hearing a live voice is a good gesture.

3. In broad terms, I don't think there is any disagreement here. We all agree that a candidate deliberately not returning calls in a timely manner is rude. We all agree that sometimes candidates will miss voicemails for legitimate reasons. And we all agree that retrying frequently enough and using enough different methods will sort out the good faith candidates from the bad ones. The question is simply how much effort we can and should expect hiring committees to devote. There are always more avenues to try to contact a candidate (nobody has suggested U.S. mail, but some schools do send mail invitations), and one could just repeat calls. But at some point a hiring chair has to conclude the candidate is just rude and stop trying. I think Tim is asking, where is/should be that point?

 conference calls

by reading this i am fully satisfied and i changed my false concept about this


Maybe hiring committees should also broaden their searches to include candidates whose credentials may not be as impressive on paper, but who would be excellent scholars, teachers, and colleagues. Why does every school seem to pursue the same candidates? If candidates knew just how few FAR's were really in play, AALS would not make so much money on this process and the Marriott Wardman Park would always have available rooms during the conference. Really, there are probably only about 20 percent of candidates who are juggling all of the interviews each year.

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