This is a guest post, volunteered by a tenured reader. Also check out her previous post.
I and my fellow committee members work in a somewhat technical field at a mid-tier state university. While every institution and department is different, there are some things that are common to all tenure-track hires. Frankly many of these things should be obvious, but apparently they aren’t, at least judging by many of the applications we’ve received.
Understand the other side: It’s tempting to blame the committee for the awful job market and seemingly byzantine hiring process. But take a moment to understand what it is like to be on a hiring committee. We are typically recently promoted Full Professors or Associate Professors and are juggling this assignment along with our regular teaching and research load. This type of service takes a lot more time and effort than what most of colleagues get away with, such as membership on the “Task Force to Re-craft the Mission Statement”, but we undertake this effort because it’s crucial to our future and, frankly, because somebody has to. Remember how you as a student used to think that your professors enjoyed giving hard midterms until you actually got stuck grading 200 essay exams? Perhaps we aren’t reading all 200 applications the same weekend, but it’s similar.
We aren’t asking for sympathy, just some empathy, evidenced by you making your application easy to parse. An additional bonus to demonstrating empathy is that we will assume you can apply this talent with your future colleagues and students.
Tailor your application to the position. Yes, we know that we aren’t your one true love, and we expect- indeed hope- that you are applying many other places. But spend at least 15 minutes convincing us that your attempt to land a position with us is more targeted than an oyster’s broadcast spawning. At a bare minimum, put the position, department and school in the cover letter, and if an actual person’s name is provided, address your letter appropriately. If we are asking for 3 letters of reference, either include them (if at all possible) or provide your recommenders’ contact information and explicitly mention that the letters will arrive under separate cover. Our professors both need to teach and do research, so failing to mention either duty in your cover letter would be a fatal flaw.
Don’t dump: Yes, we know that different committees ask for different materials. But if we didn’t request a teaching statement, a research statement or a writing sample (which we didn’t), don’t send it. We aren’t going to read it, and it just makes you seem like you didn’t read our advertisement closely. Sending in a manuscript not yet even conditionally accepted in a journal smacks of desperation. One applicant sent us 9 pages of raw computer-generated teaching scores with no explanation of the scale. If you have an article in a prestigious journal or have been the subject of a glowing report in a relevant trade publication, feel free to mention it in your cover letter and offer to provide it on request, but let us ask for it first. When we see 13+ attachments that we have to download, we tend to get cranky.
Anticipate objections: Perhaps you are applying to a department outside of your doctoral study or perhaps you have never taught students before. Provide evidence of why our concerns are unwarranted, and if you can’t provide such evidence, at least find a way to acknowledge them in your cover letter. For example: “While my school does not provide graduate students the opportunity to undertake sole teaching responsibility for classes, I have served as the primary TA for class X….” Don’t think we won’t notice, and you don’t want our one comment on the spreadsheet by your name to be “Not a good fit.” If you are trying to switch from a tenure track job at another school to us, we are naturally going to wonder why (and also if you’d bail on us after a year or two), unless you tell us that you are attempting to relocate due to a better fit with your research needs, geographic preferences or another plausible reason. For those of you still ABD who are looking to start in our fall term, the term “expected to defend in Summer 2015” raises concerns when our next academic year starts in the middle of August. Lock in that date in and, if at all possible, make it before July!
Streamline/simplify your CV: As Dr. Karen says, don’t shop at Costco. If you put too much filler in, we might not notice the good stuff. Here’s what we are looking for:
Research: Ideally, we’d like you to list publications in reverse chronological order. You can include acceptances and even “accepted pending minor revisions” as long as they are identified as such, but listing “submitted to Journal X” or “targeted for Journal Y” under “publications” is misleading and instead belongs under a “Work in Progress” section. We’d rather see 1 publication and evidence of a healthy research pipeline than see 3 journal publications dating back to 2011 with no evidence of new research in progress. Furthermore, we get accreditation kudos (and you get credits toward tenure) for articles that are published after you start working for us. So, in a perverse way, we would prefer an “accepted pending minor revisions” over an outright publication, once you have at least one relevant intellectual contribution in print.
For teaching experience we’d like to see classes listed in chronological order, indicating role (sole or co-instructor, or TA?) and any teaching evaluation scores with relevant scale and context, such as “Overall evaluation: 4.5 out of 5(best) where the departmental average for this class is 4.2.” Not including evaluations for classes that should have them or merely providing a few cherry picked student quotations suggests you are hiding something. We know firsthand the common pitfalls that occur the first time a class is taught, so we won’t hold a few bad evaluations against you- honest!
Service: You should certainly list relevant activities outside of research and teaching: pertinent industry experience, membership in relevant organizations, (especially any leadership roles), reviews for respected journals in your field. But as this is the least important section (sorry- it just is!) for most schools please keep it to the point: do we really need to know you were team captain of your college trivia club?
If you can master these basics and have done some decent work, you dramatically increase your chances of being noticed by us and our peers in the other schools you are applying to.