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!
- [Could another person with SC experience weigh in on this please. The "landmark" bit contradicts advice I've received from other reputable sources, which is to stick to the institution. So, yes, I'd mention academc centers or programs, but never miscellaneous things about the town or geographic location. -Applicant. PS. Would love to see SC members expand this wiki, in general!]
- A REPLY FROM EXPERIENCED SC MEMBER & CHAIR (from large state R1 institution): I read this advice as well as the disagrement below. I would say that SCs are keenly aware that candidates are applying to as many jobs as possible. So while we may not need something specific the candidate will contribute to a specific (named) project/series/place, when we get to SKYPE interviews, we do expect that candidates have thoroughly researched our university, deparment, and program. And we expect to hear specific ways in which the candicate will contribute to the department/faculty (in Skype). In the letter, the candicate could be sure to discuss how they contribute to the candidates current department or discourse community. This way the SC can translate how the work the candidate is doing/has done would fit into the SCs department/community.
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.
11. Please act with respect to all members of the search committee, not just the older or male or white ones.
12. Please respond to all emails from the search committee members with proper English. This includes capitalizing "I" and ending sentences with periods.
13. Please do not conduct unrelated business while on the interview, such as using the office's photocopier for personal purposes, while on the interview.
- 11-13: Would you advise that after we are able to finally secure an academic job in this ridiculous job market (a market, by the way, so competitive that many members of current search committees would never have landed the job advertised under our current circumstances), we should post on the wiki criticisms that are directed at individual candidates including details that clearly call out that individual person and without bothering to sign up with a username so that if there's any possible question about whom you're speaking, he/she can simply look up your IP address? I just wonder if that's something you'd advise we all do after thanking you profusely for allowing us the opportunity to join what sounds like such an unfriendly cohort who suffer from a serious lack of understanding or discretion. I am not the candidate of which you speak, by the way. I just am compelled to respond.
- Response to 1: I would absolutely love to hire someone to be my collaborator!
- Um, Universities already do exactly what you say via blacklisting and badmouthing candidates whether they deserve it or not. In fact, the less effective and accomplished a professor is, the more likely he/she is to be a thorn in the side of a productive young candidate. Further, the fact that search committees call off-list references and former employers who are so concerned others will find out that their insitution is floundering financially and over-worked internally, that they will outwardly lie about any aspect of a candidate whom they once supervised, especially if their performance makes the said individual look bad. Usually, these kinds of people are congregated at bad universities where such behavior is accepted. Good universities seldom ever participate in such baloney. This is why we have both a Universities to fear and a universieites to Love thread to balance for each other, and it is also why right on it we warn candidates that the comments are to be taken for what they are, rumor. Unfortunately, when you have a department or school where rumor is five pages long, it becomes obvious what is happening. As for IP addresses, that really does not tell you all that much. Besides, how many times does a school deserve ignorance of its lack of attention to payments to candidates for expenses borne? This in particular happens far too often and is about the lowest form of bad behavior one can perform in the search process. Promise to pay, and then just fail to do it.
- After I wrote that initial response, someone edited 11-13. The original posts were far more specific to individual candidates listing specific (and frankly rather minor) offenses such as requesting specific days for a campus visit in order to avoid time conflicts with teaching schedules and stating that one candidate mentioned how difficult it would be to work long hours away from his spouse. These revised suggestions are far more general and less petty. The original was downright unprofessional. My mention of the IP address was simply to point out that the candidates being badmouthed could easily confirm the location of the commenter thus confirming they were indeed being badmouthed by an unprofessional search committee member.
- 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.
- A reply: Yes, really. In our department in particular, it's a huge point in someone's favor if they've done the research to figure out who they'll be working with and what kind of teaching they'll be doing here and speak directly to that. Lots of people talk very energetically about the specialized upper-level and graduate courses they could offer, thereby revealing their ignorance of the much humbler teaching that is our bread and butter.
reply: it would help if you also had in mind some questions to ask during the interview that showed you 1)had done some research and thought about the particular job 2)had at least marginal interest in living there. As chair I always solicit questions from candidates about our school, our dept, our community. Anyone who has no such questions is almost automatically lopped off my list of desired candidates. Who wants to work with someone who shows absolutely no interest in your institution or community?
- 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. [Third party comment on this comment: This doesn't call for changing the CV, though...]
- New comment: A lot of the suggestions provided above are factually false and run counter to several experts in the field. #1. For example, it is failry common knowledge that many committees do not actually write the job descriptions that closely and that the language often reflects pretty serious compromises that the right candidate can overcome. I have met many, many people who have been hired for jobs that they were flatly unqualified for according to the ads that they responded to. Which leads to the second point: between the time a faculty line is approved and the department has people in front of them, their needs may have drastically changed. Given the fact that there are so few jobs and they are so specialized, it therefore makes little sense to obsess over the exact details of the job descriptions that we see listed on the MLA and other places. #2. It is common now for candidates to apply for between 50 and 100 jobs per year, a fact that disallows the kind of touchy-feely letter-writing suggested above. Though it is obvious that aplication materials should be free of errors and reflect a consciousness of the position being applied for, it is preposterous to suggest that applicants are going to "carefully research" every institution that they are applying to, making sure to kiss the ring as they do so. #3. And this brings me to the last point: the very fact that, given the pressures we are all under, such trivial things as failing properly to ingratiating oneself to the privileged readers of one's application materials, despite the contents of those materials, is probably the surest indicator that this is a job lottery operated by caprice and not a market wherein the best applicant wins. Pretending that obsessing over the materials is going to change that is a fool's gambit.