Others before me have done tons of great posts giving advice to job seekers from the other side of the table, and people give the "other side of the table" advice all the time over in the job seeking forum at the Chronicle, so I don't aim here to do an advice-giving sort of post. Rather, I just want to make some general observations, which may or may not be useful to others.
- I'm astonished by how strong a good 75 to 80 percent of the applications are. I mean, they are phenomenal. So good that there are a lot of people who we could easily interview but we won't because they don't match quite as perfectly to our wish list of preferences. Heck, there are a good number of people who probably will get cut even though they've got ALL the preferred things. That's how great of a pool we have from which to choose. For what is not a "dream job" by any stretch. (I mean, I like it here and all, but come on. We're just not that great.)
- While it is true that we all must stretch a bit to fit into a job advertisement, if a department is advertising for, oh, a Shakespeare scholar, say, and your dissertation is on Kathy Acker, chances are very good that you have wasted your time in sending us your stuff, even if you did teach a Shakespeare class once.
- The most compelling letters I'm reading actually speak directly to the ad that we wrote. And that is making the difference in my rankings between people with similar CVs. I'm not talking about massive amounts of research and tailoring, here. Just people making a point of highlighting their accomplishments that match what we're looking for in the ad. So, say the ad asks for a person who has teaching or research competency in baklava and you've developed and taught a course in baklava, as well as giving a conference presentation on baklava. It's worth mentioning that.
- Teaching experience is an interesting and tricky thing to evaluate. I'm finding that I'm less impressed by the sheer volume of courses taught than I am by range within the areas you would teach were you hired here. For whatever that's worth.
- I find I don't care whether people lead with teaching or with research in their letter. What I care about is the balance of the two sections. Two pages on research with only a brief paragraph on teaching, for this place with a 4/4 load, well, just isn't that compelling, even if your research sets the world on fire. Makes no difference whether you put the teaching up front or at the end, in that case.
- While we are not a research-heavy institution, I (and my colleagues) really care about hiring somebody who will have a research agenda and who will be able to maintain it with this teaching load. One way to show that's possible is to prove that you've successfully balanced teaching and research already. The applications I find least impressive fall into two camps: the people who've had cushy fellowships and very little teaching throughout grad school and who yet have only like one lame publication, and the people who apply for our gig because they don't have time for research in their current one, and so haven't published or presented at conferences for like 10 years. To both of these groups, I'd like to say, did you not notice the blurb about teaching load and public outreach in our ad? Where exactly do you think you're applying? The fact is, you're going to have to find a way to produce some kind of publication(s) to get tenure here, and it's not going to be easy. If you haven't shown that you can do it in your current circumstances, why would I think you can do it in this job?
- I'm really glad I'm serving on this search. I love that I get to help in selecting a colleague who will thrive here.
- But wow I'm tired. If doing a job search is like its own job, so, too, is serving on a search committee.