Dear Applicant,There's actually a couple of things here I like. One, the letter thanks me for applying. Now, it could be better. The best PFOs thank applicants for taking the time to apply. There's a cost to applying to jobs, and it's a sign of minimal respect to acknowledge that explcitly. And there's also a certain ridiculousness in Princeton thanking me "for the opportunity to consider" me for a job. That turn of phrase seems pretty gratuitous. But fuck it. Any thanks at all is more than some PFOs give, so I'll take it.
Once again I resort to a form letter, this time to report that the committee charged with selecting a manageable number of junior candidates from the ~291 junior applicants for the positions that we have advertised have completed their work. They have selected a number of candidates from among whom they hope very much to make one or two appointments (one, should we decide to try to fill one position a the senior level).
I am sorry to report that you are not in this group. We are painfully aware of the difficulty and unreliability of these choices, but they must be made nevertheless. Although it is far from certain we will succeed in our present attempts, we wanted to let you know where you stood so that you may take full advantage of the other opportunities that will surely arise for you in the coming weeks. Needless to say, I will let you know right away should we have occasion to reconsider your candidacy.
Once more, I wish you the best of luck and thank you for the opportunity to consider your candidacy.
The other thing I like is the acknowledgment that the process is "unreliable." Word. It's a fucking crap shoot. Now of course, what's not getting said here is, in the absence of reliable ways of making good hiring decisions, lots of search committees rely on plainly anti-meritocratic heuristics, like counting the rank of your department and the fame of your advisor above all else. (Troll repellent: I'm not the one saying this is true. I'm getting it from search committee members who, giddy with man-crushes on famous philosophers, let that sad little part of their id out to play in public.) I'm not saying Princeton does that, but it'd also be pretty fucking shocking if those biases didn't creep in to the process for everyone, even just a little bit, and even at the best department in the business. Anyway, while the Princeton letter doesn't get into that ugliness, it does at least admit there's a real element of arbitrariness in the job market.
Of course, I also have to note the passive voice here. Here's the key sentence, one more time: "We are painfully aware of the difficulty and unreliability of these choices, but they must be made nevertheless." So Princeton's "painfully aware of the difficulty and unreliability of these choices". Great. As I say, that's nice of them to admit. But the author of the sentence slips out the back door so as not to be around for anything so distasteful as making choices. Better to just leave those to be made.
Bonus comedy: In comments, Anon. 2:16 flags this clause: "Although it is far from certain we will succeed in our present attempts [to hire someone]. . .", and responds, no doubt with a sentiment all of us can share, "Go, Princeton! We're pulling for you, you lovable underdog!"