I got my first rejection for an academic faculty position. It is a brutal world in academia, and there is no difference between the 2nd place or last (especially when there is only ONE opening). At least I got a rather detailed rejection letter, instead of the generic thank you for your application type. I wonder if it is so because of my PhD advisor (they are friends).
Subject: Re: My application
I am sorry to have not communicated with you earlier, but we were still in the process of making decisions. Your application made it to the final top five (out of about 650 candidates), but we had only money to bring in one person from out of state (Ed: seriously?!), unfortunately, so I was not able to invite you up for the final campus interview and visit.
Your application was very strong and the committee was quite impressed by it, and especially by the relevance of your previous research work and your proposed plans fit nicely the focus areas that the department has targeted. Ultimately the final decision was made based on both research experience and the candidates' clear commitment and evidence of excellence to undergraduate teaching (Ed: my Achilles' heel) at a leading liberal arts college.
I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Chair, Faculty Search Comittee
The section below pertains to Philosophy, but it applies to the physical sciences and engineering as well (to the best of my knowledge). I was most likely penalized for the 3rd point, and will need to improve on this to be competitive.
How did we prune our field from 637 to 27? An important selection criterion was holding a Ph.D. from a good university. Members of our department earned their Ph.D.s at Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, and University of London. Additionally, City College is known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat,” with distinguished alumni that include nine Nobel Laureates, more than any other public institution in America. Our faculty members are expected to live up to this legacy.
A second criterion was research and publication. We looked not only for quality and promise of quantity, but also for originality. Creativity and individuality are assets for philosophers. We did not want candidates who merely parroted back what they had been taught at graduate school.
Third, we needed evidence of undergraduate teaching ability as well as versatility. We offer a broad range of electives to a diverse student body; a narrow focus does not serve our pedagogic needs well. Most applicants submitted extensive teaching portfolios including syllabuses, reading lists, student evaluations, and observations by senior professors. We looked for evidence of outstanding teaching ability, variety, and potential for curriculum development.
Finally, we wanted evidence of administrative service. Ideally, the candidate would also possess some ability to raise research funds, although this is not too prevalent among philosophers. Even so, a good many applicants had raised funds: either minimally in the form of postdoctoral fellowships, more broadly for organizing conferences, or most notably for research projects (either solo or collaborative).