An expanded and updated version of this post can now be found in Chapter 23 of my new book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. I am keeping a shortened version here, but for the complete discussion including the template for a job cover letter, please do purchase the book, which compiles all my major job market posts along with 50% entirely new material.
Today I return to the subject of tailoring a job letter. Whenever I find myself making the same corrections again and again across different client documents, I know that I’ve found a pattern (or “pataan”–as they say in Japanese–and “pataan” has more of the judgmental, ‘why do you keep doing the same thing over and over when I’ve clearly told you not to?’ feel to it, so naturally it’s the go-to word around my house).
Anyway, first, the basic and all too common mistake: if you can say it about any school or department or to any school or department, then it is not tailoring.
“I am excited to develop my career in research and teaching at your excellent department.”
“I would be interested to develop a range of undergraduate and graduate courses in the department.”
Etc., etc., etc.
I am constantly surprised at the difficulty that clients have in coming up with substantive and meaningful ways to describe the actual potential collaborations and involvements and initiatives they might participate in in the departments to which they are applying.
This difficulty really goes to the heart of the matter in the dysfunction that is graduate training in the present time. It is so profoundly myopic, and graduate students are enabled and indeed encouraged by their advisors and committees to be so completely self-absorbed and self-indulgent in their single-minded focus on the minutiae of the dissertation, that the poor students have absolutely no idea what the actual requirements are of the tenure-track position. Those requirements prominently include …