Job Application Season in Academe

I’ve served on numerous hiring committees over the last 14 years. Many times as the graduate student representative and now a handful of times as a professor myself. I’ve come to the realization that I have had exceptional mentors. People who always offered to assist me with my file, my interview, and the entire job process. I can see that many committees and mentors are failing their students and not offering enough supervision so that their mentees are sending out the strongest files that they could. Perhaps the applicant is not listening to the advice, but I find that harder to believe.

I have reviewed numerous job applications…not only the academic, but also the administrative staff applications and one of the easy things for fixing–read the job application. Many people seem to not read the job application closely and this influences the file. These are the applications that go in the “no” file immediately.

Specific to academic files for tenure-track jobs not reading the job application is a major flaw. But given the academic job climate people are throwing their files into the ring in hope that people will take notice. There are few jobs! So some applicants are applying for them all, but be careful here. You don’t want to misrepresent your work or your research agenda for a job that calls for a comparativist and your heart is really in political theory. Regardless, it’s important to submit the best file ever. If the application calls for a CV–submit one. If the application calls for a research statement and teaching statement-submit them.

Let’s break this down, though. What does a research statement mean? What are you working on and where do you see your research going in the next five to ten years? What is the next project? And, the next one after that. What is the guiding theme with your research projects? Why are you engaged in this research? You want to explain all of this in such a way that it is clear that you know what you’re doing and have thought considerably about where you are in the field. Likewise, this also afford you the opportunity to speak to grants or awards. I imagine that it varies by field, but I do know that listing the amount of the award is instructive.

The teaching statements is probably harder to write, since anyone who has sat on one committee can explain that the teaching statements will not vary too much in content. You enjoy teaching, want the students to feel safe, use innovative techniques or technology in the classroom, you are open to learning, and have good teaching evaluations. OK, I just ran through that rather quickly, but the teaching statements are often quite similar by most. Where they vary–is the strong writing and the people who have spent more time polishing the teaching statement so that it really reflects some depth. If you have only taught once or a few times–be honest about that. There is nothing worse in my opinion than someone who has taught once and attempts to put together this full dossier based on that one time.

You should have trusted people proof-read your cover letter, statements, and run through the interview questions (if they bother to provide them). If the campus does not provide the questions, your mentors or friends will be familiar with some of the standard questions. They vary, but will include: which classes are you willing/able to teach at the undergraduate/graduate level? What class in your area are you looking forward to teach? How do you mentor/supervise students? Where do you see your research going in five years? Are you prepared to do service? (This might not get asked). But, you see where I am going here.

Things to avoid: If the call asks for hard copies, send hard copies. If there is a deadline, meet the deadline. Many departments will place a sticker or handwritten note on late files. Do not send in a folder or binder, as the file might need to be photocopied and this makes it harder for the staff. If you must submit it in a binder, do so with a three-ring binder and not one of those inexpensive clip binders, as they cut off the first 1.5 inches of the left margin and are a pain.

And, this might sound harsh, but the committee or the staff will not take the time to contact people who are not short-listed. So, please do not expect an email or note in the mail. Some calls for applications will field upwards of 300 applications and there is just no time to contact people. Even if the call fields less than 50 applicants, people will not get contacted unless they are invited for an interview. And, if you don’t get invited–it’s not always about you. It could be about the committee or what the department really wants.

This is a quick, run-down if you will of my primer on the job application process. I will blog more about this, as the topic deserves a fulsome discussion. It’s also important that I add that this post in now way reflects my employer. I am pulling together many hiring committee experiences here and not from one campus, but from three.