Today’s anonymous author is a tenured professor in the field of religion at a mid-sized Christian University. He has sat on and chaired numerous search committees for both faculty and administrative hires. He sees the enormous stack of applicants for each open position, but insists that there are certain methods for distinguishing yourself from the crowd.
I realize that I am fortunate to follow this horrendous academic job market from the other side of the desk. With that said, in every search, I see scores of applicants make simple mistakes that sink their candidacy. Here are some common-sense tips when applying to a Christian University. Remember, the faculty and administration at my type of institution see themselves quite differently. My advice applies specifically for member schools of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), but it is also may be helpful for any institution with some religious affiliation.
- Research the School’s History
You must research the religious heritage of the institution and situate your candidacy accordingly. For example, if you applying to any of the Methodist related institutions, such as Greenville College, then you should be able to speak to Wesleyan theology and its influence on your own career trajectory. If you are applying to a Jesuit institution such as Santa Clara University, explain why you would want to work there if you are not Jesuit. Anything is helpful. Did you go to a Mennonite high school or were you deeply influenced by the writing of Yoder? Then you should inform the search committee of Eastern Mennonite University. Just a couple of sentences can demonstrate that you have some familiarity with the religious culture of the institution.
[NOTE: Of course, you need to research and get a feel for the way this is played out. For example, Johns Hopkins University and Earlham School of Religion were both founded by Quakers. But obviously, the Quaker influence will be much more pronounced on the latter school.]
- Show Your Integration of Faith and Learning
The idea of the integration of faith and learning is pretty important for these schools. Be sure to demonstrate how faith informs your field. If you are a sociologist, you may want to explain how faith compels you to develop your research regarding income discrepancies along racial categories. If you are a biologist, you could speak to the wonder of creation that nurtured a love for all living things. Be sure to speak to tangible ways that this integration of faith and learning influences your teaching.
- A Hiring Committee is Not a Dissertation Committee
If you are coming from a top tier PhD program, remember that these schools want to be academically respectable (and generally speaking, I believe that they are), but that also have other mandated missions, particularly service to society and communities of faith. I’ve seen colleagues at my school make the assumption that “Candidate A went to (insert prestigious R1) so I’m worried that he/she will not be satisfied teaching our heavy load in this type of environment.” I personally believe that these assumptions are tremendously unfair. But if you finished your PhD at Harvard, remember that you do not need to prove that you are smart. Instead, you need to prove that your heart matches the institutional mission, which may involve an outreach beyond the academe.
- Be Authentic
I know that the nebulous idea of “fit” is maddening to candidates. But if you cannot do #1-3 authentically, then you will be absolutely miserable at a school like mine. If it’s not a fit, then it may be better to move on to another type of school where you truly be yourself!