Today’s post looks directly at the question of the inside candidate.
It goes without saying that most people on the job market fiercely resent the inside candidate, assuming that he or she has endless advantages over external applicants.
I am here to say that in my experience, this is not true. Indeed, I have more often seen the opposite. I see insider candidates NOT getting the job more often than not, and then being subjected to particularly dreadful, awkward, painful interactions with the department for months or years as they continue on in a temporary or adjunct contract while the tenure track search and hire proceeds in front of them.
The reason that insider candidates tend to do poorly, in my observation, is that they misunderstand the difference between an adjunct and a tenure track search.
Adjunct hiring is often decided based on personal relationships, but tenure track hiring almost never is. Tenure track hiring is absolutely cutthroat, and is dominated by an ethos of “desire for the unattainable.” This means that the unknown, who promises seemingly limitless possibility for achievement and contribution, will almost always prevail over the known.
The only way that the known can compete with the unknown is to present themselves IDENTICALLY to the unknown candidates. That is, by submitting materials that make little or no reference to pre-existing relationships in the department,and articulate a scholarly profile completely independent of the department.
I have had three insider candidates come through the doors of The Professor Is In this fall, and all three made the identical mistake—they wrote letter drafts that were entirely relationship-based. The letters were hyper-emotional, mind-bogglingly pandering, and depended on a completely unprofessional second person pronoun (you). The word that I found myself thinking, as I read them, was “smarmy.”
It goes without saying, smarmy does not get tenure track jobs.
Here are some examples of this kind of writing (these are made-up examples inspired by actual letters, but with details changed)
“It has been an enormous pleasure and privilege to teach at your department and I would be honored to continue on in a permanent capacity.”
“I have been deeply impressed by your commitment to student mentoring and have striven to improve my own mentoring skills during my past year here.”
“As you know, my course on Whitman was very popular! I of course benefited from the Whitman resources that we are fortunate to have at our library.”
“I was honored to be given the duty of directing our Undergraduate Major Association and in that capacity I organized pizza and movie nights, which our students told me were the highlight of the semester.”
I’ll be blunt. It is hard for me overstate my distaste for verbiage such as this. Really, people. Have some dignity. Some self-respect.
It is not coincidental that all of these clients were women.
Women are particularly prone to this kind of relationship-talk, and to assuming that their “niceness,” teaching, and service efforts will win friends and influence people.
What niceness, teaching and service do, for an adjunct, is ensure that you are a perpetual adjunct.
The tenure-track candidate, by contrast, sells herself on her profile as a scholar. Even at a teaching-oriented school, the tenure-track hire is a scholarly hire—that scholar will simply spend relatively more time teaching.
And scholarship is not warm and fuzzy. Scholarship is rigorous. It is done at a high level of expertise, and it is, by its very nature, not easily accessible to people outside the field. The proper ethos of a scholar applying for a tenure track job will always rest on an aura of expertise that is NOT “nice” but maintains a certain professional distance and dignity. That does not mean behaving like an entitled asshole. It does mean remembering that they want you for what they DON’T see, but respect nevertheless, which is your expertise and authority in the field, or your particular niche in the field.
In short, the tenure track search is about making THEM want YOU. If you pander to them, cater to them, overtly appeal to them, and try to play off of pre-existing personal relationships and your ethos of “giving” to the department, you are defining yourself as, fundamentally, NOT TENURE TRACK MATERIAL.
I won’t say men never do this, but if there was ever a pitfall that women are particularly prone to, this is it.
So, insider candidates: everything that I write in my posts about how to write a cover letter, and a teaching statement, and tailor a letter, and articulate a second project (this one in particular!!!), and how to handle an interview, and not act like a grad student, etc., you must do in spades. Your professional identity must be infallible.
In short, boiled down to its core, the message to the inside candidate for the tenure track job search is: play hard to get.