A Job Description Written for Exactly One Person

A case of a not-so-open search

For job seekers, few things are more discouraging than spending time applying for a position only to later learn that it was never really open to begin with—the job had been posted with a particular person already lined up for it.

Last week, Santa Clara University (SCU) posted a job opening so specific it's hard to imagine anyone would have made the mistake of spending time applying for it. In fact, it was so specific it was hard to imagine that there was anyone who could possibly meet its qualifications, except for, of course, the one person it was written for.

The job posting has now been deleted from SCU's website, but a version still exists at higheredjobs.com. Here's the posting's descriptions of the "basic qualifications" needed to fill this role of an adjunct lecturer in non-fiction writing (emphasis added):

The successful applicant will have at least 25 books on topics ranging from the history of Silicon Valley to the biography of microprocessing to interviews with entrepreneurs to the history of human and mechanical memory; will have been published by presses such as Harper/Collins, Doubleday, Random House, St. Martin’s, and SUNY Press; will also have e-books on topics such as home life in the US, home life in the UK, and water conservation; will have worked as both a journalist for a print newspaper and for magazines; will have hosted television and radio productions for PBS, cable television, and ABC; will have worked in electronic media such as being editor of Forbes ASAP or a weekly columnist for ABC.com; will have founded or co-founded at least two start-ups; will have professional connections to Oxford University in the UK as well as to numerous media (print, electronic, and television) in the SF Bay Area and beyond. The successful applicant must have demonstrated experience in teaching nonfiction writing and internship classes for undergraduates, must have demonstrated success in helping undergraduates secure internships in public writing that lead to jobs, and must be committed to working with undergraduates.

It didn't take long before Internet-sleuth extraordinaire (and frequent Atlantic contributor) Yoni Appelbaum figured out who would get the job: Michael S. Malone, whose qualification not only miraculously mirrored the job description, but who actually already holds the position.

Private universities (such as SCU) are not required by law to post job openings, though other contracts and internal policies may require it. In this case, it seems that SCU's staff policy manual may be the responsible document. It reads, "Notice of a vacant position will be posted for at least five working days before an employment offer may be made to any candidate," though there are certain exemptions possible. In a statement, SCU chalked the posting up to the needs of an internal HR system. "This spring we migrated to a new online job posting and applicant tracking system so that jobs can be posted on the systemincluding this one with an internal candidate." It's not entirely clear what that means, nor how it interacts with the staff policy manual—I reached out to SCU for clarification but have not yet heard back.

Unfortunately for Malone, he's become a symbol of nepotistic hiring practices, which persist despite policies such as requiring public job postings." He told Inside Higher Ed writer Charlie Tyson that, for the most part, he "got a kick" out of people's reactions to the posting—although there were some people who accused him of writing the job description and his Wikipedia page himself, which he says is not the case.

"About all that I can add," he wrote to me in an email, "is that I'm obviously not doing this for the money, but as my way of giving back to the great professors who taught me when I was at Santa Clara forty years ago. I've had a lot of success turning undergraduate English majors into professional writers, so I stick with it—and will as long as the English department wants me."

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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