Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 4)

Here we go again- more unsolicited advice. I was working up to cover letters and which jobs you should apply for when you look at the ads (only to be interrupted by multiple soccer games, all of which were won- but that’s not the point- everyone had fun!).

Cover letters– (also see ‘Application Pkg.’). These letters are your introduction to the search committee, and should be written very carefully. I have seen cover letters that are pages and pages… and I don’t recommend doing this. Search committees are made up of busy busy faculty… who… in addition to their regular jobs generating data/writing papers and such… are now invited to review piles and piles of applications. I recently was on one that reviewed nearly 100 applications, and this was on the lighter side for some of the other searches that I know about going on around campus. So in the letter- state what job you are applying for and how you heard about it. Then, briefly introduce yourself and your work… in such a way as to make the reader WANT to look at the rest of your paperwork. Spelling and Grammar should be immaculate, that goes without saying…

As for what ads you should respond to- here’s my humble unsolicited opinion. You may find out about jobs from various sources, print or online ads or word of mouth, but apply for EVERY job in your field that you seem to fit, DO NOT limit yourself and your options at this early stage!!

First, apply regardless of whether or not you fit EVERY criterion in the ad. It’s pretty rare that the search committee finds the exact candidate that they fantasize about… and in my experience search committees like to entertain really high quality candidates- whether or not they fit the exact description of the position. Take a look at the advertising departments’ web pages- check out their faculty and what they do (Other advice on where to find information about a department/institution can be found here courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education) . I have been on search committees that ended up being wowed by candidates that weren’t at all what was advertised for… and those resulted in multiple hires… so don’t be afraid to send in an application for a job that you don’t completely fit the description for- especially if you know the makeup of the department and think you might find colleagues with overlapping or complementary interests, and a good fit there.

Second, a couple of words about geography- apply for positions regardless of whether or not they are in a geographic area where you want to live. You narrow yourself unnecessarily too early in the search by using geography as a criterion. The goal here is to get a job, and you get an academic job by getting an interview… and preferably multiple interviews, and the deal gets closed when you have a written offer- preferably multiple written offers… and your chances of making this happen are just better if you apply to as many positions as possible.

And third, spouses- this is a tricky subject, but I think doesn’t really impact things at this stage. Of course you and your spouse will talk about these places, but unless you get beyond the interview, don’t limit yourself now…


3 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Job Search (Pt. 4)

  1. I particularly appreciated your advice to apply to jobs that you don’t meet all of the criteria exactly. I would be interested in your thoughts as it comes to determining culture before accepting a job. Thanks!

  2. Academic-

    First, thanks for visiting. I hope that this site will be useful… to someone!!

    As for meeting the criteria of an ad- what kind of new faculty member gets recruited is influenced by so many different factors including the wish list in the ad but certainly not limited to that… often there are internal politics and other factors that aren’t apparent from the outside, and there can be a lot of excitement about a candidate that doesn’t fit the ad, but fits the department and has a very strong application…

    As for determining culture before accepting a job- I think it is up to you to gather as much information as you can about a department that you are interested in prior to accepting a job. Because you can’t tell the culture of a department by a web page- this is going to involve talking to members of the department in a more informal setting (probably best done on a second interview), and discreetly networking- with people you know who are familiar with the department/institution of interest. Some of what you think about a place is going to depend in part on your gut feeling and your own savy at figuring out people and situations (as a scientist I always feel weird saying that- but I almost NEVER ignore my gut feeling). This investigation should always be done displaying enthusiasm for the place you are considering – and a genuine interest in figuring out if you are a good ‘fit’ for the department you are considering living in …oops…. joining.

    Anyway, after this information gathering effort- probably best to step back, look at all the evidence, and make your decision based on all the evidence you have. Line up what is important to you in a departmental culture, with what your assessment of the department is… and go with that.

    Does that help?

  3. I don’t think actually that the question about spouses and location can be solved so easily. Esp., the latter one since som ergions definitely won’t work.

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