Scheduling interviews: Delightful efficiency with Doodle + MailMerge

May I say, the TA selection/interview system in my department is AWESOME.   Prospective TAs apply, they rank our course, we meet, we rank their applications, and the amazing Barb Sherman & Co(mmittee) use this data to allocate people as equitably and appropriately as possible.

In the summer, I’ll be working with a pretty big first year course, which means that I got about 15-20 applications from potential TAs that I get to meet.  I love talking and working with TAs, and am more than happy to individually meet to find the best fit for our course & for them.  Scheduling this, however, has potential to be frustratingly time-consuming – sending all the emails, picking individual times, confirming… etc.

I am super pleased with my solution, which took me about 25 minutes – from first email out to having appointments all scheduled.  WOOOO efficiency!!!

 

Quick rundown:
  1. Make a list of open timeslots in your schedule
  2. Send out doodle to applicants, with some specific settings
  3. Pick the times to meet with each
  4. Use MailMerge to let them know their appointment times
  5. Use all your saved time to write blog post that revels in your glorious efficiency!

 

More details, if you want to do this yourself.

1. Figure out 20-minute slots of time that you’re available (took me ~5 minutes)

  • I aimed for # slots = ~1.5x the number of applicants

2. Set up a doodle, and send (Bcc) this to the applicants (~5 minutes)

  • In doodle, set it as anonymous to participants
  • For flexibility, ask the applicants to choose only for their top two availabilities, and give them a deadline to do so.
  • To prevent everyone picking the same time, set a max number of people per time slot (I chose a max of 2)
  • I only got a couple applicants emailing me about scheduling conflicts, which was way less than planning with all of them!  And they were easy to resolve once I’d picked the other slots.

3. Look at the doodle, and choose which meeting time for which applicant.  Type the timeslots into a spreadsheet column.  Don’t forget to put the times into your own calendar as well.  (~5 minutes)  

Timing for appointments

  • I picked the timeslots using a printout of the doodle poll – it was like doing a really easy logic puzzle.  There are probably fancier ways to do this, but it was pretty quick.  If there are any conflicts, you can email the individuals about this – which is still easier than emailing the whole bunch.

4. Set up a template email, and use MailMerge & google (spread)sheets to send out individual emails to the TAs. (10 minutes)

  •  I used Yet Another Mail Merge, a free add-on to google sheets.  It was great. Great!!  It took about 5 minutes to figure out how to use it, and did everything that I wanted to do, really easily.

YAMM.png

  • Here’s the setup of the template email (integrated with my gmail), and how YAMM works within google sheets.  The test email worked perfectly, first try.

MailMerge

 

  • If you want, it tracks how many of your emails have been read.  And then you can then see the applicant confirmation emails fly in!  Bonus: all with the same subject line, which keeps things organized.

MailMerge2replies.png

5.  Go do something useful with your saved time… like read all of their CVs,  find out who they are, and get excited to work with them!

I really liked how this was a good balance between being efficient and also reasonably personal.  Like with any spreadsheet stuff, you need to double-check before you send out. If you’re not using google (gmail/drive/etc), there are definitely other mail merge programs out there – e.g. through MS office/outlook.

It will be interesting to see if this system works for me in the big fall/spring courses – a.k.a. not the field season for many biology grad students – when I expect the number of applicants will be higher.  Hopefully this scales well – or at least scales better than sending a million individual emails.  What does everyone else do for scheduling a whole bunch of individual meetings?  If you have improvements or other systems, let me know.

 

 

 

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