Today’s post is a Special Request post for a reader who shall remain anonymous. Her question concerns how to tailor her letter and c.v. for different jobs.
Here’s the background: She is a Victorian literature specialist and on the job market in English (I know, more’s the pity). She’s applying for Victorian specialist jobs, but also writing jobs and the occasional generalist position as well.
She has experience teaching writing, and she’s heard through the grapevine that search committees are impressed with her application for writing/generalist positions, but that her c.v. is so Victorian lit-heavy, that Victorian lit colleagues have responded unfavorably, claiming that she is going to invade their turf, so to speak.
So she wants to know: how can she ethically tailor her letter and c.v. to appeal to the writing/generalist positions without frightening the Victorianists already on the faculty?
I have not actually seen her job letter and c.v., so I am not basing my response on an actual example, but on principles. And English is not my field, and at the same time it’s a highly regimented field that serves many service needs on campuses, so it’s possible that my understanding of the principles may need some amplification in the comments below. So, readers from English, please feel free to comment.
The principle is that in this kind of case, where not just the specialization, but the very nature of the job is distinct, the cover letter should be highly tailored to match the position. What that means is that if she is applying for a writing job, then her primary role in the department is to teach writing, and not to act as a period specialist. In that sense, the profile she will present to the department is a teaching profile, with some Victorian research skills thrown in as an “extra.” I would recommend that her letter put her teaching paragraphs first (after her self-introduction paragraph), and that these be the main bulk of page one.
The teaching paragraph should describe what she has taught, what she is capable of teaching, and what she envisions teaching for the department, based on the needs identified in the ad, and on their course listing (but never, ever using course numbers, which is tacky). She should give some specific teaching strategies that she uses in the basic remedial, introductory and advanced Writing classroom, and how and why they worked. These should be innovative enough to be memorable, and not just obvious things like “I encourage discussion.” She should indicate or summarize student responses or evaluations.
After these two paragraphs (I don’t normally recommend more than two paragraphs dedicated to either teaching or dissertation research in a job letter), she can move into her dissertation research, and her publications, a second project, and then her tailoring paragraph. The publications do not have to be listed in their entirety—one or two are appropriate. Her second project should be mentioned, as I am assuming that this is still a tenure track position, and tenure requires a forward-looking research trajectory. If that is not the case, and it is not a tenure track position, then a second project should not be mentioned. Her tailoring paragraph should emphasize teaching innovations and initiatives, as opposed to ones focused on research.
In terms of the c.v., again, Teaching can be listed first after Education and Professional Employment. Publications should of course be listed in their entirety; I never, ever recommend removing a publication from a c.v. for tailoring purposes. Teaching Awards and so on should be emphasized if there are enough to make a separate heading or subheading.
She should have a teaching reference, preferably a colleague from her current position if she is beyond graduate school. That reference will be a fourth reference, after three academic references, if the job is a tenure-track position. If it is not a tenure-track position, then the teaching reference can be the third of three references.
All of these things together create an impression that the person is genuinely interested in teaching Writing, and will not be a shadow competitor to the Victorian specialists in the department.
Now, be aware that some Victorian specialists will be absolutely thrilled to get a specialist comrade in arms “for free,” as it were, through a Writing search. So this type of paranoia is not universally necessary. However, since she has received this specific feedback previously from a search, it is safe to assume that the problem does exist.
By retaining the research and publication elements of her profile (which always increase her capital on the market), while clearly demonstrating a primary interest (in the letter and c.v.) in the Writing position, she should be able to balance the two audiences for the search, and let the search committee feel that she is a “both/and” candidate, rather than an “either/or” candidate.