Friday, September 18, 2009

Lex From Lakeland Doesn't Want to Know More About Your Shitty College Than You Want to Know About Him!

Is everyone out of their ever-loving minds? Are these people seriously expecting job candidates--most of whom are finishing dissertations, teaching 2 or more classes, trying to publish articles, in addition to living their lives--to conduct in-depth research on 20, 30, 40, or more schools before they even write their application materials? You getting 200 applications, from which you'll interview, what, 10 people, and yet with those odds you believe that investing untold hours of research into hiring departments represents a wise use of the applicants' time?

Can you honestly say that your department's website accurately reflects the culture of your department and your institution? That its list of faculty and courses is up to date? How many times have I seen application letters that go on and on about how wonderful it would be to be the colleague of a professor who died in the last year (or left--hence the job opening) or about how it's always been their dream to teach a course we no longer offer or that it the sole property of one professor, who frankly is not interested in hiring his own competition for said course. Our department website makes us look like something we're not, and anyone who applies to us with a letter about how much they embrace interdisciplinary cooperation or want a close, collegial faculty, or want to be part of a highly visible research university--all things they might glean from what we say about ourselves online--will be terribly disappointed to find that none of these things are to be found here. Tailoring a letter to that online profile is the surest way to get your application put into the "no" pile, because the search committee knows you'll be desperately unhappy with the job.

Here's an idea: I'll agree to research your institution and tailor my letter to your online self-representation if you agree to give my letter and CV more than 3 minutes' perusal, agree not to discard my application because you find one typo, or because you don't like my dissertation topic, or because my pedigree (i.e. letterhead) isn't impressive enough. Do you promise me that you're running a legitimate search and not just putting up a screen so you can hire your inside candidate? Do you promise you won't discard my application because I'm white and male and your department is under pressure to "diversify"? Do you promise you won't end the search because funding for the line runs out? You understand I'll need some assurances before I invest so much time and energy in tailoring my application to suit your Highness's requirements.

I'll research your institution fully if you'll research me: read every word I've published, look over every syllabus I've constructed, read my teaching evaluations, writing sample, and letters of recommendation from start to finish. Look at the website I've put together, talk to folks who have heard my papers at conferences. What's that you say? You don't have time for all that? Well, neither do I have the time to flatter your ego, kiss your ass, and make you think that you are the world's bestest department and the center of my existence.

Cover letters are generic. Get over it. This isn't a romance novel, full of protestations of adoration and suitability. It is a job search: the candidate tells the committee about him/herself and the committee decides if that profile fits what they're looking for. Half the time committees don't even know what they want until the applications come streaming in, so don't expect job candidates a thousand miles away to read your minds. Anyone who crafts the perfectly tailored letter based on hours of research into your department and hitting absolutely every one of your criteria is probably someone you don't want to hire: s/he either has entirely too much free time (is not doing the work s/he should be doing) or is an eager-beaver stalker (see the film Election. You want Tracy to be your colleague?).