See also: Dear Search Committees
There is no excuse for boorish behavior on the part of search committees, but search committees have their own peeves and horror stories. Here are 10 pieces of advice for those of you on the job market wondering about those committees' mysteriously callous behavior.
1. Read the position announcement very carefully. Re-read it when writing your letter and updating your CV. These job descriptions are written very carefully; they say what they mean and they mean what they say.
2. Do not send a letter with typos or misspellings.
3.No matter how busy you are and how many times you're sending the same letter, do not copy and paste without making ABSOLUTELY sure that you have the right contact information for the body of the letter. Search committees don't take well to letters addressed to another school--not because they don't know that you're applying to other places, but because you won't impress your committee with your attention to important details.
4. Do not pad your CV by listing the seminar papers you gave in grad school and try to pass them off as peer-reviewed conference papers and/or teaching experience.
5. Carefully research all the institutions to which you're applying. When applying to liberal arts and other teaching-oriented schools, don't start your letter with a page and a half about your dissertation. Not that those schools don't care about your dissertation and future scholarship, but committees like to see that applicants have some idea about the culture and priorities of the institutions to which they're applying.
6. While researching the schools, find at least one concrete thing that you like about the place and mention it in your letter. An academic center or program you'd like to contribute to, a museum, a landmark--something that shows that you can envision yourself as an active member of that campus. Remember, search committee members work there!
7. When preparing for campus research presentations, do exactly what you're told. Practice your presentation a zillion times until you're sure it will fit into your time slot, leaving time for questions. Same goes for teaching demos.
8. Once invited to campus, remember that the search comittee, administrators, and students are excited to meet you and want you to like them too. It's really hard to get faculty lines approved these days, and chances are the department has fought hard to get the position.
9. Also remember that the faculty on the search committee are busy--they're meeting you and dropping you off at airports, escorting you around campus, giving up time with their families to have dinner with you, going to your presentations, and meeting with each other, all on top of the regular work they do. Cut the committees some slack if they can't hold your hand every minute of your visit.
10. Once back home, it's nice to send an email or a card thanking the committee chair. However, please refrain from telling them that they "did a nice job" of interviewing you, especially if the committee was mostly female and you are a male.
- 6: Really? Doesn't this seem kind of pandering? I can see doing this if one has a genuine connection to the area, or if some other aspect of the school clearly connects to their research/interests, but if I read an application letter where it was clear that the applicant just fished for something to tack on to show they liked the area, I would read it as transparent and obvious.
- A reply: Yes, really. If you can't find at least one thing that stands out about a place, or one thing you'd like about the place, odds are you're not going to want to stay. Searches are time-consuming, expensive, and high stakes for the department; they don't want someone who hates where they are and will come only for long enough to get out. Also, if you can't find something you'd like about the place, your unhappiness in that place isn't going to be good for anyone while you're there. It doesn't mean pander; it does mean be honest about where you could be happy, and about what compromises you are and are not willing to make.
- 1: I'm not trying to be flippant, but what does this mean? Incorporate the langauge of the job call into your letter? Changing your C.V. around to match individual job calls seems like a ton of work-can you give an example of what sort of updating you are thinking of?
- In regards #1 above: one meaning is to know which fields they want, and which fields they do not. For example, let's take a hypothetical job in "English Literature." Prospective candidate who wants to apply has taught both English Literature and American Literature. Chances are the university does not want to hire someone who will expect to teach American Literature because they already have people doing that. So prospective candidate should emphasize in their letter how much they love to teach English Literature and relegate any teaching experience in American Lit to a single line in the CV.