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An open letter to applicants

22 November, 2009

An open letter to applicants (NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 22)

ProfGrrrl posted the other day about hiring committees and it got me thinking. I’m on a search committee this year, and it’s going to be interesting. Politics and an inside candidate. I hate inside candidates. I try to stay away from committees where there is one. I don’t know that this is true, but I don’t feel I can speak freely about the inside candidate, because there will always be people who simply expect that we are supposed to hire the person they know, regardless of the other candidates. Ugh.

But that’s not what I wanted to say. Mostly, what I wanted to say, not very delicately, is:

Dear Applicant and Applicant’s Advisor/Referee,

Are you taking the piss? Because if you are, you have wasted a bunch of people’s time. If you are not, you are friggin’ morons. What the *hell* did you think you were doing? Our position is pretty specific. There’s a chance that we won’t find anyone who meets all the criteria, but we have a good chance of meeting someone who comes close. But you… I do understand that you come from a big and reputable research university, but really, you aren’t all that, let alone a bag of chips.

Let’s start off with your cover letter:

Nowhere does your letter address your suitability for the job we advertised. It doesn’t show that you have the first clue about SLAC, a campus that has not only undergrads, but also several specialized schools that have very special needs. Some of those needs were outlined in the ad, but strangely, you didn’t think you needed to mention how your very fancy-pants dissertation addresses the 4-3 teaching load and the classes you would teach: classes that have NOTHING to do with your fancy-pants dissertation. Now, to be fair, you do mention your teaching. Sort of. You’ve taught a lot, mostly as a grad student, and it’s hard to tell how many of your courses were as a GA and how many were independent. But that’s OK. And incorporating your philosophy into your cover letter is not a bad idea, either. But seriously, it’s better to give us a clear idea of what you actually do than it is to include posh phrases in Italian and French — I suppose it’s at least a blessing that the Greek was at least transliterated. However, when you mention that you try to impart X’s ideas of Y, where Y is theory, then really, you come off as a pretentious little git who thinks he’s not only the gods’ gift to the students, but oh, so much better than the people you’ll be working with. Either that or no one has ever explained that, in a department that’s hiring two people and only has four full-time faculty, that there will be at least two non-specialists on the search committee.

Also, it’s good to sign the cover letter and to make sure that, when you cut and paste from your teaching philosophy, you at least try to re-word the most outstandingly precious phrases. I’m just sayin’.

Of course, I can’t blame you entirely. You’ve been allowed to do all your work at the same BigName institution, from when you walked in the door as a freshman. No wonder your letter is so much like the one your advisor wrote for you. You might lose hir, by the way. The letter zie sent was even more pretentious. David Lodge couldn’t have made that one up. Bespeckled with the droppings of name and reference to theory, the letter told us far more about your advisor than it did about why you were a suitable candidate for our job. This was a letter all about how erudite your advisor is — why surely, we should hire someone purely because you are clearly the genius sprung forth from hir loins. Your publishing career, based on the sheer brilliance of your thesis, so carefully directed by the advisor, will allow us to bask in the glow of your reflection. Oh — by the way, I still can’t tell exactly what the point of your thesis was, because you defined yourself entirely in terms of the scholarship of others, without so much showing your own contribution to your field. If you’re going to focus on research you’ll never have a chance to do or teach while at SLAC, at least let us know how tragic it will be five years down the road when you die under the crush of our loads and your own bitterness. Except it’s unlikely we’ll be interviewing you, because, well, there’s nothing you’ve told us about yourself but that you would be the last person we’d want to teach our students, who really want us to focus on them and teach them without making them feel stupid.

And to you other advisors out there? Please, do think about it before sending us two candidates from your program. Or at least in some way acknowledge that you are sending two students who have the same committees, and that each of them has hir own strengths. Maybe even make sure that the applicant letters aren’t based on the same template, and that your letters are not formatted and written to say almost the same things in the same order. It makes you look sloppy. It doesn’t help the person whose name comes alphabetically second. It makes me wonder what you’ve taught them about dealing with other academics. Having said that, I do like your candidates, and part of it is that the package looks solid — it’s just that seeing the same package (more or less) twice really does weaken the impact.

And for the rest of you people: this is not a bad job. It is a job in a field with not nearly enough openings, and it is tenure-track. Some of you should have applied. And some of you? Really. If you can’t be bothered to tell us how you can fill the job we advertised, rather than the job we need to fill, stop wasting my time.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 November, 2009 1:32 am

    Oh, those adviser letters. My favorite, for someone who had two candidates for a job: "X is the ideal candidate for College A". Translation: Candidate Y is much too good for you guys.

  2. 23 November, 2009 2:27 pm

    Well said, ADM. From what I hear, too many on the market are still told to focus on the dissertation even when they are applying to schools like ours. And, to underscore ADM's numerous excellent points, focus on the job we advertise since telling us about everything else you can do that we may already have covered means you didn't take us seriously and also indicates you're not needed at our institution since if we needed those areas more than what we listed, the ad would have been much different. Additionally, once you do have the job, don't keep indicating to your colleagues how you teach their areas two or that you "overlap" a bit. Do what we did, steer clear of the senior professors' areas.

  3. 24 November, 2009 8:23 pm

    I am loving all these posts in the blogworld on hiring. As a grad student who will be entering the job market in a few years, I find these insanely helpful.

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