Wednesday, October 03, 2007

These Things I Know: Applying for Tenure-Track Jobs

I was on the job market surprisingly few years, given how many jobs there were (not) in the early 1980s: I participated in the academic version of American Idol for three years, to be exact, during all of which I was fully employed -- except for the first year when I was on unemployment, which was like being employed but without the job. And although I did not get a "real job" right away, I had surprisingly good luck getting interviewed. At the time, I thought it was because I wrote great letters of application, but now I think I got interviewed because I had a dissertation that folks were intrigued by, and the only way they could get to see the whole thing was by interviewing me. It wasn't the best dissertation circulating in those years, but it was one of the most unusual. Since I had very eclectic training as a scholar -- my graduate education closely resembled being raised by clever wolves who found me naked under a fern -- what I substituted for elegant structure and classic research methods was pizzazz. Other people had well-crafted chapters: I had a dissertation with vicious gun battles, an Assistant Attorney General who was probably a lesbian, gun molls, "Ma" Barker and an FBI Director who was one of the most famous closet cases in American History. How could you not interview me? Really.

Anyway, the first year I applied for three jobs and was a finalist for one; the second year I applied for four jobs, was a finalist for two, and got a terrific visiting gig; and the third year I applied for four jobs, was a finalist for three, and accepted the job at Zenith while the two other schools were still waiting to find out if their #1 (the same person in each case, and who had also been in the mix at Zenith) would say yes. The person, in the end, said yes to another school entirely. So it goes. And here I am at Zenith 16 years later.

So what I know about applying for jobs really draws, not on my own success (which I still regard as inexplicable), but on my experience reading applications. For all of you sending out those precious packages, here are eight things I know for sure about the job letter:

Don't waste your time applying for jobs where your field is ruled out from the get-go. I know it feels like it should improve your chances of getting a job to get more applications out, but if your work does not suit the ad, don't have fantasies that the search committee will change its mind on a whim about the field they want to hire in. Furthermore, if the ad says "historian of women," you don't necessarily qualify because there is a woman or two in your dissertation. It isn't a lottery; it only seems like one. The Shirley Jackson kind.

Put the proper salutation on each letter, and change the text to reflect what school you are actually applying to. I have gotten letters at Zenith that assure me that the candidate wants nothing more in life than to teach at Swarthmore; I have been addressed as "Dear Professor Fillintheblank;" once I was the administrator on a search at Eugene Lang College in New York where more than one applicant addressed the letter to "Dear Dean Lang" and another to "Dear Professor Lang." You are not necessarily out of the running if you slip up on this, but it does make you the object of loud mockery for a brief time.

If the ad says the committee will be interviewing at a convention, say whether or not you will be at the convention. If you can't be at the convention, or are not sure, reassure them that you would be happy to be available for a phone interview or -- if you live nearby -- that you could meet with the committee on its own turf.

Be as clear as possible when you describe your dissertation, using as little jargon as you can.Words like imbrication may still be new to you, but they aren't new to us, and they may even alienate that pissy member of the committee who has a bone to pick with post-structural thought. Don't exaggerate the uniqueness of your work. Finally, resist telling us that your work emphasizes the ways that race, class and gender intersect. We're glad to hear it, of course, but find a way to make that point in a narrative that actually shows how your work demonstrates the methodological relevance of this thought.

Do your homework about the department. Is there something you do that they need? For example, although your dissertation is not in the field of Western history, did you TA for a western historian, and could you offer a seminar in that field? Imagine that you could, and write about it. Conversely, if you have choices about how to sell yourself (for example, if the ad is broadly written as "Twentieth Century United States") and your research implicates several fields, don't, for God's sake, sell yourself as a women's historian if there are already three in the department. Instead, sell yourself as a political/cultural/intellectual historian, so that you don't get ruled out because "we have too many of those." Furthermore, if it is clear you really can do women's history, you become a "stealth hire": i.e., someone who can be sold to a broad audience of colleagues whose preferences are -- shall we say -- conventional; but who the women's historians will want to interview in the hopes that you are "one of us."

You don't need to sell yourself as a teacher in the letter. This is what the interview is for. I know, I know -- the latest thing is the "teaching portfolio," and you may indeed have to do this time-consuming task, but the point of the job letter is to sell yourself as a scholar. The only thing most of us want to know is that you are smart. And we want to know how smart, not how interactive your classroom is, or how well you use Power Point. A single paragraph describing the courses you have taught and will teach is sufficient. Do avoid overly sincere phrases like: "I believe in the Socratic method;" "I am student-centered;" and "My pedagogical epistemology centers class discussion."

Do make it clear in the opening paragraph of the letter what job you are applying for. Do not imagine that this is the only search going on in the department, even if it is the only search for you. A committee chair, or worse, the very busy department or program chair, or even worse, the departmental secretary, should not have to guess which search your application should be filed under. Even though you may think it is obvious, it isn't always, particularly if you are applying to an interdisciplinary program or a large department with several subfields.

Oh yes -- and for god's sake, use letterhead. Your department letterhead, the letterhead from the school where you are teaching a course for $2300 -- whatever letterhead you can get your mitts on. A job application on blank paper, in a blank envelope, can't help but remind its recipient of a chain letter or some other degraded piece of mail. And do not send anything by email unless invited to do so: this is incredibly lazy and annoying, and invites someone to screw up your file by not printing things out properly. While first impressions are by no means decisive, you do not want to convey that you are a confidence man from Nigeria, or that you are desperate.

Even if you are. Desperate, I mean.

Good luck.


Steven Pierce said...

There's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't quality to some of these considerations. As usual, this is great advice, but I can still imagine searches in which it wouldn't work out.

I get rubbed the wrong way by letterhead, at least when it's coming from people for whom job applications wouldn't be considered official business by the institutions whose letterhead they're using. (That is, I don't mind it from grad students or people in temporary jobs, but it feels a bit like stealing when it's from people who already have a tenure-track position.) I prefer to see cover letters on plain paper with a proper business format. I'd never rule a candidate out for using letterhead, but it's a black mark in my book.

It's important to keep in mind that much of the job search process has to do with internal department politics, not some sort of transcendental measure of the quality of the applicants. That's hard to remember when one's dealing with the heartbreak of not having a job. I know; I was on the market for four years before I got my first tenure-track position. But not getting an offer doesn't mean that you're inferior to those who did--and getting one doesn't mean that you're superior than those who didn't.

Anonymous said...

"You don't have to sell yourself as a teacher in the cover letter" is true if you're applying to Zenith (even though they care about teaching) or a large research institution (where they may care a good deal less about teaching). It's not true if you're applying to Southern Thirdtier State University, formerly Southern Thirdtier Teacher's College. If you talk too much about your scholarship they will think you are not a good fit because you don't understand how heavy their teaching load is. It's not that they don't want to hire someone smart, but that they don't want to hire someone who will be desperately unhappy on a 4-4 load without research leaves.

Here is a guideline: If the ad asks for a very wide range of teaching ("both semesters of the U.S. survey plus upper-level courses on Latin America,") you should probably focus on teaching in your letter. Or, Google some of the current faculty in the department. If you find more than a couple of them who haven't published an article in the last three years, you should probably focus on teaching.

Dr. Crazy said...

I was going to comment about the teaching thing, too. I think what you say is true for a place like Zenith, but at a place like where I work, we only care about research in the letter inasmuch as it shows you actually have some ideas and you can manage a conference or two a year and the only one article necessary for an easy tenure bid. In other words, how smart you are isn't the main thing at a place with a 4/4 load. What you do in the classroom is.

John McKenzie said...

Dear T.R.,

I'm a doctoral student in the University of Texas rhetoric & language grad program who recently started reading your blog a few months ago. I can't say how amazingly helpful these tidbits of advice are that you so frequently post. I'm still a good 2-3 years out from the job market, but reading all about "the way things work" from the inside is unbelievably helpful and insightful.

So, long comment short, thanks :)

Lesboprof said...

I am with Steven on the letterhead thing. I am actually sending out a couple applications, and I decided to forego the letterhead. I already feel like I am cheating on my employer by even applying for the jobs; sending the cover letter on their letterhead just feels like cheating in the bed you share! Better to use plain white paper for me.

Tenured Radical said...

The advice on the teaching section is very important: sometimes my narrow perspective on Zenith ways makes me think globally when I should be reminding myself (and others) to think locally as well.

The letterhead though -- wait a gol' darned minute, here. First of all, what counts as official business and what doesn't? And if you work for a place you are entitled to use their letterhead for professional activities, of which promoting your own career is certainly one. Should people who are coming up for tenure, to whom the institution has made no commitment and who are protecting their futures by applying for jobs, not use letterhead? I think not. And then if you have tenure -- well, you not only paid through the nose for the right to use that letterhead, but under what circumstances does applying for other jobs constitute "cheating"? Tenure is not a marital contract, or even a civil union. What makes it wrong to ask your institution to compete for your labor, if it isn't morally wrong for us to have to compete to work for them? Oy

Obviously, people should do what they are comfortable with in terms of the letterhead, but I am wholly unconvinced that any institution that pays us for our labor has the right to unconditional and exclusive loyalty, nor do I think we suddenly separate our interests from the institution when we go on the job market.


Anonymous said...

On the letterhead issue, I'm with the Radical. It just looks better to use it. But to respond to the ethical issue that lesboprof raises, I don't think this is sleeping around in the bed your institution made for you. My philosophy is that academic departments are like cooperatives. When you work there, in whatever capacity, you own it too. Letterhead is just a little symbolic scrap of this larger principle. So take that letterhead: It's yours.

GayProf said...

I am confused that people would a) not use letterhead and b) hold against somebody who did. I agree with TR. Also, there is no such thing as institutional loyalty. Universities and colleges are not loyal to us as individuals.

I am really curious about the types and quality of applications that are applying for the current position at Zenith. While it will be a mystery to me, I hope that it is giving you an opportunity to read some cool stuff.

Steven Pierce said...

I agree that we don't owe our institutions any particular loyalty (*especially* before tenure!). But it seems to me that when I use letterhead, I'm doing it *as* the occupant of a specific institutional position. It's not inappropriate of me to apply for other jobs, and I have no qualms about using university resources for doing so. But I don't apply for jobs as the holder of my current job, even though my job is obviously one of my prime qualifications for anything I apply to.

To qualify my last comment, my concern isn't really about "stealing"; it's about using the wrong persona. It's analogous to the circumstances in which I'd use my professional affiliation when writing an op-ed or letter to the editor. Presumably we all agree that letterhead is for business letters, but I wouldn't use it to write a letter of complaint to Delta airlines, because that's my business as a private person, not as faculty at my university.

When I say using letterhead is a black mark in my book, I just mean that it strikes me that I disapprove, but it's no worse than making a glaring typo. My point really was that candidates can't win. TR will be annoyed if they don't use letterhead. I'll be annoyed if they do. And you never can know what the consequences of your decisions will be. Luckily for job seekers, we're not on the same search committees. (Still, maybe now TR will be more forgiving of candidates who don't? Even if she thinks that the arguments against using letterhead are nonsense, they do exist...)

Dr. Crazy said...

I think some of the thing with letterhead can be discipline-specific. My impression is that in English and History it's common practice to use letterhead and not to do so raises some eyebrows. In other disciplines, I'm not sure if that is the common practice to the same degree.

Paris said...

Oh enough with the letterhead! As someone on the job market, I refuse to obsess over it. As a graduate student at Ivory Tower U, I had absolutely zero access to letterhead. As a lecturer on an annual contract, they are practically handing it to me by the ream and are refreshingly clear that I am not supposed to be hanging around here very long and they want credit for helping into a permanent position.

Now about something that seems a bit more interesting and relevant: determining if one's field is ruled out. I have seen a number of positions that state: "specialty open, but we particularly encourage applicants working on x, y, or z". Is it pointless if I do not work on x,y, or z? Conversely, I have known those with super sexy dissertations that have landed interviews from places whose ads would suggest that super sexy topic is totally not the field they are looking for.

This I could use advice on.

Oh, and pizzazz. I would welcome a good source to purchase more of that!

Sisyphus said...

I second Paris's queries about what it really means to be "ruled out" of a position.

"Don't waste your time applying for jobs where your field is ruled out from the get-go."

Thing is, sometimes it's hard to tell what your "field" is and what determines that, especially if you think you do interdisciplinary work. (Evidently whether you think it's interdisciplinary has little to do with what other people think.)

If your school doesn't have a WS program, you can't graduate with a degree in that, can you? And yet I've heard that applications with the "wrong" department affiliation get tossed out of searches unread. Same thing with AS --- some departments have faculty from a lot of different disciplines, others seem to be only history PhDs.

And how is "field" determined? is the title of your dissertation and its chapters the only place people look? What about seminars taken, or teaching experience in other fields or departments? Service or political work affiliated with campus centers?

At my school they are pushing interdisciplinariness and encouraging us to cast a really wide net when we apply, but that advice seems to be contrary to the job market, which wants very narrow candidates who fit neatly into specific boxes.

Anonymous said...

If you have some kind of institutional affiliation and do not use their letterhead then it could arouse suspicions. Okay, enough of the letterhead thing.

Also, what exactly is an "overly sincere" statement and why should one avoid using one?

Tenured Radical said...

OK -- I agree. Enough with the letterhead. But who knew it would strike such a nerve? And FYI -- it won't annoy me if a person doesn't use it, but I do agree with anonymous 7:01 -- the "why not" question lurks a little more forcefully than the "why." And Steven, I am glad somebody is writing to the airlines, letterhead or no letterhead.

Now as to the teaching questions: yes, clearly this is more important to some schools than others, and I think Dr. Crazy hits the nail on the head, as usual. But this is what I mean by "do your homework": a place like Zenith, Pomona, or Amherst is full of people who care deeply about teaching, but see it as indissolubly linked to scholarly productivity and (hideous phrase that it is) "quality of mind." Ergo, trim out a lot of the teaching stuff you would use for the school with the 5-4 load, and put in more detail about your work, and where it fits in a larger program of research. Believe me, it isn't just the R 1 schools who care about this.

Now, how is it possible to be overly sincere about your teaching? Because we have been teaching for decades, some of us, and you are not telling us anything new about teaching (even if it is new to you), and you aren't saying anything everyone else isn't saying, and it makes you sound naive to try to make something like class discussion seem like a complex skill that you are going to introduce our students to. Here's something new (something I recommend strongly for the interview stage): tell a story about something horrible or weird that happened, and how you fixed it. Tell us why you believe in public education -- or how the things you have noticed that our library has to offer would fit into a course you would teach. Talk about why it matters for the most illiterate undergrad to be taught to do research. The downside is you will have to give up the boilerplate and write something kind of different for each school, but the upside is you have said something real that is about *you,* not about the romance of the classroom.

As to applying for jobs that you aren't trained for: maybe Zenith is weird in this respect, but if your dissertation research is not about Milton, and its a Milton job, even if you TA'd for a hot shot Milton scholar and you know your stuff, it is your secondary field. Punto finito. And our fear, other than that youa ren't the best person for hte job, is this: you are going to come and take a job away from somebody who might actually care primarily about Milton, and you are going to start writing about John Waters' films and whatnot after you squeeze through tenure. And hten we are going to have to do the effing Milton search again in ten years, because really, you don;t care about Milton. Again, I think a number of readers have pointed out how teaching breadth is far more important at some schools than others, but if the ad says "preference for..." or "x,y, and z fields encouraged" the department really has that preference, and your chances of making it into the finals are slight. Your chances rely, in fact, on the committee not recruiting, or not being able to recruit, the specialists they really want into the pool. And you don't have to have a women's studies Ph.D. for a women's studies job, but women/gender needs to be your primary field, not something you do and teach in addition to your research on Samuel Becket and Jean Genet because you are a deeply committed femnist.

As for brilliant people being hired for jobs that the ad doesn't seem to have described -- well, maybe. That hasn;t happened in my shop, so I don't know. And most of the information flying around about why x person was hired for y job is not accurate, so I might quesiton whether what you heard was reliable. But you know what? You can save time and energy, if you think they might be interested in you, by either getting in touch with the search chair yourself, or getting your mentor to do it. Ask if your work would be something they want to look at. The worst someone can do is say no, but I can't imagine why someone would not respond to a polite inquiry unhelpfully.

But can I just say *I* learned a lot from the responses to this post? I'm answering these questions as honestly as I can from my own experience, but there is celarly a lot going on out there I don't know about.


Paris said...

Clarification: I was referring to landing interviews on the glamour of one's topic (which was your original point), not getting hired. My information was coming directly from the individual in question, who, in fact, ended up taking a job that matched what she was doing. As a candidate, she was mystified as to why she got as far as she did in some interview processes because she seemed so obviously not the field they had advertised for.

My topic is one or two methodological breakthroughs away from being sexy, so I have not used the same application approach as said acquaintance, but do ponder the open field* in my period.

*this is what we want

Anonymous said...

My department often searches for "Field X, with preference for subfield Y and/or Z." What this means is that Y and Z represent our most burning needs, but if someone else in field X really knocks our socks off, we are leaving ourselves an "out" to go with intellectual excellence over fit. I can't remember a time when we have actually hired someone like that, but we have short-listed them.

Dr. Curmudgeon said...

In regards to the letterhead question, there's definitely some discipline specific things that play into this. I'm in a discipline that sometimes is plagued by the need to address the professionalized norms of the skills we teach. It's not uncommon to have professors (and hence, search committee members) who aren't academics but people tied to or from the working world. And my discussions with them seem to suggest that they'd view that sort of thing as a sort of misuse of company resources.

On some level, you've got to make choices that you feel will give you the best chance and that you're livable with. I've actually made my own letterhead to help avoid both problems. But it is entirely possible I'm losing out on the recognition of having my school's name and logo right at the top.

At the end of the day, as I'm finding in my own job search these days (see the discussion here, the things that might tweak a search committee are varied and idiosyncratic. And once the process is over, I might be able to say "if they're like that, I didn't want to be there anyway," but until I've got the next gig, I've got to try and make myself as appealing as possible.

gwoertendyke said...

interesting and wide ranging discussion. since so much has been said, i'll be brief. 1)letterhead: i can hardly believe that people ever send a job letter NOT on letterhead. it seems sloppy to me, regardless of the difficulty in getting any; 2)mr. whore's 1st job was a 4/4--years of observation taught us both this: they tossed out anything that thought for a second they were a teaching school, that didn't primarily focus on research; 4/4 really are *not* teaching schools because you are slam teaching which means people are often hostile about their workload/number of students and it does not foster real care; second the "romantic" teaching concept--a "passion" for learning, teaching, imparting "critical thinking" skills always seems to be a red flag.

3) secondary specializations have been popular at least as long (and i'm guessing longer)as 5 years but this year, some job calls seem perverse: african-americanist with a secondary emphasis on medieval??? i kid you not. the jobs i am applying for are ones i feel confident i can speak about because of my dissertation (authors, period, theoretical lens, methodology) and because of my articles. i am not applying for anything which is too much of a stretch. why? because, i believe, people see through that. and why spend time on something i know in my heart of hearts i'm unqualified or underqualified for? i *am* qualified to do certain things and feel good about how my work engages those things. i also feel like i could make it not just through the job letter, not just the mla interview, but the campus visit *in this specialization* if i were liked. BUT i couldn't if what they wanted was something i only had shallow knowledge about.

my hope is to get a job, one i want, one that i feel excited about. if i somehow squeeked through the process on something i know far less about, would i be happy teaching/publishing in it?

ok, i lied, this wasn't brief at all:)

Anonymous said...

I think if you have little professional experience it is important to use a letterhead if you can; it is an immediate signal to the committee that you have succeeded in being hired somewhere. Jobs are not unlike fellowships, it's easier to get one when you ahve had one. If, on the other hand, you have significant material on your CV, I can't see that it matters so much, i.e., if you are trying to "move up" after several years at a midtier institution.

As to "when not to apply," i really have to second TR's proposal except in cases where the field in question is very small. You shouldn't apply for jobs with areas that are explicitly ruled out ("not France"), but if the two or three preferences are all areas in which there are likely to be fewer than 50 candidates, then why not apply?

Kelly in Kansas said...

I ditto the teaching emphasis. We throw out letters that talk about their wonderful scholarship that they can't do in our state without much research funding we don't have. Daily interaction with our students is what is valued as is technology utilization given that so many students are commuters and/or expect you to utilize to effectively communicate.

On the letterhead - my assumption is that the state would assume I am misappropriate state resources if I used state resources (letterhead) to apply for other jobs other than the one for which the letterhead was for - official correspondence with students, conference presenters, and other items of business related to my _current_ job.

Bottom line, it also appears disingenous if you are basically contract labor - even for a college of university - to use their letterhead. A nice, clean, appropriately addressed letter is all it takes.

Belle said...

Getting in late, as usual. Teaching is our primary focus, but we want (as Dr Crazy noted) to know that our hire has ideas and the ability to carry on research. Odd as it sounds, we're not static. The scholarly culture around my place has changed dramatically since my hire (1999). We want people who have a commitment to teaching and the willingness to develop their skills and abilities further, a reasonable (for our location/resourses) research agenda and the willingness/ability to work well with the odd mix of people we have. We do a 4/4, have significant 'opportunities' for university service and offer goodies for SoTL.

Dump the boilerplate for the jobs you're really interested in. Do your research, and tailor the letters to the ad and institution. Thanks TR, for a great discussion.

Anonymous said...

I'm way late, but I wanted to agree with the comment made about professional folks seeing using one school's letterhead to apply for another school's job as a misuse of resources - the only person I've ever heard have a problem with letterhead was a friend of mine who worked in business for 10 years before moving to academia (not in a business-related field). Myself, I go with the rule that if you're a grad student or temporary person, use the letterhead; if you're t-t and moving, don't. I've got jobs both ways. I've seen both kinds of letters and don't think it will really make much difference - the judgment will be on the quality of the application.

Now, I would NOT recommend using personal letterhead with big purple letters, or printing your cover letter/c.v. on that blue-sky-with-clouds stationery. Both of which have happened in searched people I know have been on. Oh, yes. I think that matters a little more than letterhead or not!

The teaching thing is so tough with various institutions - both my jobs wanted to see someone talk about teaching in the letter because it was a big deal, something that would make or break you for tenure, and they wanted to see if you had a shot at it. But especially my last job would have been offended if a letter emphasized that to the exclusion of research, feeling it implied that they weren't considered an institution of high enough caliber to have faculty who do research. I've got to the point where almost anywhere I apply gets full treatment of my research AND my teaching (granted, I haven't applied to any R1s for a LONG time. But I think unless it's an R1, it's better to cover your bases and just talk about both things. It's possible to customize a lot at the same time that you address research and teaching in light of a specific institution).

Anonymous said...

Do make sure you know the name of the person who is heading the search committee, or simply address your letter to Dear Search Committee. It's also a good idea to know the program and the place to which you are applying. As for letterhead, I agree with the poster who noted that it was owned collectively (like staples). I would never send a job letter out without letterhead of some sort, unless it was my first. It "legitimizes" you. As I am applying for senior positions, I would look particularly stupid if I did not use the letterhead that the institution that has been screwing me for 10 years provides. (It's ugly but hey, what can you do.) As for teaching, everyone wants to hear something about teaching. How about course content instead of what a great teacher you are and how you like to "mentor" students and blah, blah, blah. Something concrete. For instance, the narrative of the course, what it imparts, why you teach it and whether you developed it. Believe me, I have plenty of scholarly kudos, but I will still write about teaching because it's just this thing that's in the catalog of the institutions to which we apply. Those institutions have departments, interdisciplinary studies, majors and minors, etc., all organized around teaching. Hey, they have students!! Get real.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I am a graduate student at Ivory U, and I can honestly report that I would have to break into a building to obtain letterhead. Moreover, my school has just begun using Interfolio's dossier service, and I don't own a scanner, so I would need DIGITAL letter head in order to make my letters come out correctly.

Or, assuming I could break into a building and get letterhead, or charm a department secretary: Should I pay to send everything in twice? Once through foolish annoying "interfolio" and once by hand, on letterhead?

Anonymous said...

Ha! Previous post with grad student at Ivory U... I bet I know where you go to school. Your description of your Ivory U fits my description of my Ivy U a little too closely. Even down to the recent subscription to Interfolio.

Anonymous said...

Since someone I am very close to is a scholar who studies class discussion, I would point out that it is precisely, in fact, a "complex skill to which you will be introducing your students." How to express one's ideas in a group is one of several complex skills that college teaching is meant to inculcate.

You may have meant that you have been teaching for a long time and don't want this little pissant interviewee to assume she's telling you something new. That very assumption says it all. Humility? Only for the untenured....

Anonymous said...

Can I just add something vexing from the vantage point of someone who has been on the job market in the past (and has been successful each time), and who will likely test the waters again?

It borders on morally irresponsible to ask for candidates to send official transcripts. Search committees want to emphasize that letters should be catered and unique and for candidates to pretend that ina crappy job market theirs is the one and only job for which we are applying. Fine. We'll do that. But when you know you'll get a hundred, two hundred, three hundred applicants, it takes remarkable chutzpah to ask people to get official transcripts from all schools. Invite me to campus and expect me to bring official transcripts? I can live with that. But they can be a hassle to get, and they sure as hell aren't cheap, especially for grad students.

Again, job seekers are willing to play the game. But how about not screwing us in all of the little ways that our current department does that has caused us to dip our toes in the job market again to begin with?

And frankly, if you ask us for something outside of the traditional application packet, you're kind of being douchey too. Letter, vita, letters, and possibly evals and a sample -- we're fine with that. We expect it. A "self assessment of your teaching evaluations"? A "statement of your future research goals" (did you not read my letter?)? My teaching philosophy? Come on. If you cannot get what you want from the letter, vita and letters of rec, I have a hard time thinking you know what the hell you need to be assessing.

Finally, I'd even argue that letters of recommendation ought not to come into the process until you are at the campus interview phone list. For those of us a few years out of grad school, we may no longer have any sort of dossier service if we ever did. I've read enough letters of recommendation to come to the conclusion that most of them read the same, and that if anything they can leave a false impression. I do not believe they are urgent early on.

That's more than I intended on writing.

Anonymous said...

If I were asked for grad transcripts I would laugh and forget about the job. As for letters, in my field letters are not requested until the "medium list" but referees are included on the C.V.

The Constructivist said...

Sorry for the lateness, but I finally finished my response, from the perspective of someone at a public regional university.

Anonymous said...

If you send me letterhead from your current position, it raises concerns about ethics and representation. It makes me think that if you are in a position, you are trying to get a raise, and if you are not in a position that your advisor has not told when it is acceptable to use letterhead. It is just unethical and wrong to use letterhead of your position or office to apply to a job at another office. I'm sorry you've not realized that yet, but it really is. This is a 'black mark' mistake regarding ethics and that is one category in which you can't afford any black marks. Letterhead is appropriate when applying for positions when on leave and you intend to return, fulbrights, research leave, postdoc training, etc. etc.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Anonymous 11:38,

OK -- you're going to get thoughts triggered by lots of people, but your condemnation of the use of letterhead is surely the most sweeping. I guess my question iin relation to the ethical issues you raise is, Sez who? Who is giving these black marks, and under what code of ethics? If it is you, and you are in a postion to really judge people, then I think you should say who you are rather than commenting anonymously, because it would give a little heft to your opinion. There are a variety of ethical codes that are written down for our profession, but I have never seen the use of letterhead governed by them, or even mentioned.
Furthermore, I just think you are wrong about graduate students: if they are using their institutional letterhead, they are in the process of doing something they are supposed to do -- finish the degree and get a job. That is, actually, something the institution is supposed to support. Even if the faculty are supposed to stay around forever (which is an odd assumption underlying your comments -- that applying for a job is a sneaky and surreptitious thing to do), the graduate students really aren't supposed to be there forever, and when they get jobs it is to the credit of the institution.

And as for the assumption that people are applying for jobs just because they want a raise -- how exactly are we supposed to hire people without competing fairly in a market where counter-offers do constitute a person's economic worth? And under what conditions is it wrong to ask your institution to pay you what you are worth in the market? A hiring situation is a negotiation, and it is a moment where the candidate is rightly testing out the viability of another institution -- what that school has to offer, and what moving hteir whole life would look like. And if a hiring committee can't figure out on their own who is a serious candidate and who isn't, that is their problem: it's not so hard, if you have your ear to the ground in the profession. And how about the people who really might want another job, for whatever reason, and then not take it because in the end the offer doesn't match what they can get by not moving? I think judging a person's sincerity in such an arbitrary way as their use of letterhead is silly.

Whati do think is interesting is how much this conversaiton has revealed about the very bitter feelings many people have about a job market that is, because of the tenure system, entirely unfree.

BTW, having just gotten home from a conference, where I handed out my professional paid-for-by-the-university card to a number of people (journal editors, people who might want me to give a talk, university press wallahs) -- is this unethical too? Under what conditions does me making money through my own writing and consulting constitute "university business"? In which case, why does Zenitih provide me with a professional card, if I am not supposed to hand it out on this kind of business? And why do they give us letterhead if they want to disavow us the minute we do something not entirely to their benefit?

And to imagine using a few pieces of paper as "misappropriating resources" -- well, all I can say is, get real. How about using the university internet (and electricity) to look up the job on H-Net in the first place?


Anonymous said...

A graduate student can use letterhead to do anything, that doesn't mean it is his or her right. Similarly your internet connection can be used to surf job sites, and your university likely has a policy in place that either grants you that or grants your some limited freedom. However in terms of using letterhead, cards, etc. to represent your consulting business, or to represent yourself on the job market, I think there are issues. Is it illegal, no, is it ethically questionable, yes. However, there does become a point where your consulting or appropriation of resources does become illegal, and that is when it infringes on theft, or it becomes a tort when you spend effort consulting and you are because of that not performing your duties adequately. Using letterhead to represent your own interests is one thing, but it is created to represent your institution. That you are legitimately representing your institution when you go on the market, that's one hard case to make. It is perhaps easier for a grad student to make that case. I am skeptical, highly skeptical, of the rhetoric of entitlement surrounding the letterhead issue.

As for using offers to raise salary, if that is your only way to get a raise, that speaks significantly of your institution and the quality of your work, no? I'm with Stanley Fish on this one. If you do that, don't let the door hit you on the way out. I'd be happy to hire in someone new on the tt, then use the savings to fund someone who is doing great work and wants to stay.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I wonder if it's telling that Anonymous 11:38 talks about using letterhead of "your office" to get a job at another "office." I don't hear a lot of academics refer to their place of work as the office.

I also think this person should get real about the use of offers to raise one's salary. You can complain that it's a crappy way for a profession to operate, in which case you can sit in your position and enjoy the effects of salary compression for years to come. If the offers-to-raise-salary thing is a problem, then institutions actually do have to pony up and adequately reward people who are doing good work. I know of very few institutions that actually do this. It may seem crass for an academic to use another job offer to get a raise, but don't blame the messenger.

(Also, the academics I know only use that strategy if they really are willing to go to the new job. After all, if you threaten to leave unless you get a raise, and your dean says vaya con dios, you look really stupid if you don't go anywhere. I don't know people who truly abuse this practice. Of course, I don't know the academic superstars who get courted on a regular basis, either.)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Fine. Now I have to e-mail,y friend at Dream Job and ask him about the letterhead. Most of this advice is really good, I think. Now that I've been on both sides of the interview table, I can say that a good cover letter that really showed that the person had done their homework is fantastic. Ditto the not applying if you really don't fit. Apparently more than half of the applications for my position were trashed immediately, because the applicants were Americanists (the department has three of those and one of me, thanks).

I tend to talk about teaching, research, and service in my letters. And I admit, I tend to use the "Socratic approach" line, but generally as an introduction to a more detailed description. So far, I've had pretty good responses. But my best responses have been from places where I really thought I'd be a good fit. Perhaps I paid more attention to those letters?

Oh -- and seriously, if I can do it, I really will allow copies of transcripts and "must provide official transcripts if interviewed/hired" -- I have probably spent #300 on official transcripts, easy. But from the institutional POV, I do understand. A friend of mine was telling me about a colleague who was hired ABD, and it turns out that s/he really wasn't quite that far along.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear 11:38 (now 11:22):

Honest to God, I think universities worry about more than letterhead. I know mine does (but I think maybe you know that because you are at mine, aren't you?)

And quoting Stanley Fish on outside offers is just peculiar. They didn't refer to him in his heyday as Stanley "Go" Fish for nothing, you know.


Anonymous said...

This letterhead stuff is kind of funny.

For YEARS I have been printing off nice looking letters with colored letterhead that very nicely matches the official letterhead of my institution. I have used this to write letters of support for tenure/promotion at other institutions as well as to apply for jobs elsewhere.

No one has ever complained.

By the way, I certainly wouldn't feel guilty about using "real" letterhead...

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Anonymous said...

If you send me letterhead from your current position, it raises concerns about ethics and representation. It makes me think that if you are in a position, you are trying to get a raise, and if you are not in a position that your advisor has not told when it is acceptable to use letterhead. It is just unethical and wrong to use letterhead of your position or office to apply to a job at another office. I'm sorry you've not realized that yet, but it really is. This is a 'black mark' mistake regarding ethics and that is one category in which you can't afford any black marks. Letterhead is appropriate when applying for positions when on leave and you intend to return, fulbrights, research leave, postdoc training, etc. etc.

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Anonymous said... much snickering condescension...all this from a Professor (and that too ...of history) at Wesleyan University who got his job in the 1980s. How pathetic do you have to be to end up in a bottom of the box university in the job market of 30 years ago?

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