We touched on this issue last year, and with a new hiring season upon us, the issue is a live one again. A philosopher at Princeton writes:
As this year's job market season gets started, I'm worried about a problem that emerged last year with some philosophy jobs. Many jobs are moving to a policy of having applications submitted entirely online. Some accept email. Some allow applicants to indicate one administrator's name and email, who will upload a PDF of all of the recommendation letters (the entire dossier) as one file. But some schools require applicants to list each recommender separately with his/her email address, with the expectation that recommenders will upload the recommendation letters themselves. This system is unworkable and creates serious problems for applicants.
(This bad system is increasingly the norm for graduate school admissions as well. That is also a serious problem and worth separate consideration. But since the numbers are so much greater with the job market, the job market problem is more urgent.)
Most recommenders write for several job candidates. Job candidates apply for many jobs. If a recommender writes for 4 people, and each applies for 20 jobs that require recommenders to upload letters individually, that means the recommender would have to do 80 uploads. That is absurd. More seriously, professors are busy and realistically it just won't happen. Those online systems will mark the applications as "incomplete" and those job candidates will not be considered for those jobs. (Or they'll be considered without some or all of their letters.)
In my department, we're considering using the following system. The department administrator will create a gmail address, say "[email protected]" The students will use variations of this email address for the email addresses for their several letters; the variations will involve insertions of periods, which gmail ignores, so all the emails will go into this one account. (For example, "[email protected]" and "[email protected]", etc.) For the first uploaded letter file, the administrator will upload the whole dossier. For the rest of the files, she will upload a PDF that says "This applicant’s recommendation letters have been uploaded as a single PDF document. Please see the computer file for the first recommendation letter for all the letters."
Does anyone see any possible problems with our handing things this way?
This will make things a bit easier for our administrator than if she had to create dedicated gmail addresses for each of the letter-writers and upload each letter individually. But this will still require *hours* of extra work time on top of the already very time-consuming task of mailing out the dossiers. In many departments, there simply isn't enough support staff to have an administrator do this kind of extra work. This is a lot of extra work.
If anyone doubts that this takes lots of time: trust me, it does. It can easily take an hour to upload five letters--all you need is to run into a glitch with one system, or encounter one slow system. And that definitely happens.
If any schools are using systems that require that letters be uploaded individually, it seems that one thing they could do is have the minimum number of letters (as far as the online system is concerned) be *one letter* and thus allow applicants to have all of their letters uploaded as a dossier of one computer file. Of course the online instructions to applicants would have to make clear that this is possible to do. At the very least, a note to applicants on department webpages would be helpful.
Once applications are being submitted, it would be useful to have a thread on Leiter Reports about which schools are using this bad system and what workarounds they are adopting to make it manageable.
Signed comments will be preferred, but you must at least include a valid e-mail address that indicates your department.