Sunday, November 04, 2012

Application Advice

Since there were a couple questions, and different folks also have different advice, I thought I'd start a thread about some common application issues.  I guess what I'm trying to do is help applicants see what I do when I read.  Other people will do other things, and hopefully, they'll chime in.

We read a LOT of materials.  And that means that on a first run through, I skim.  I look to see if the applicant meets our basic job requirements. 

Let's imagine, for a minute, that our job description looks something like this.

Assistant professor of Underwater Basketweaving.
Terminal degree in Underwater Basketweaving or a related field.
Specialization in Deepwater Basketweaving.
Secondary specialization in International Basketweaving or Reed Cultivation.
Ability to teach basic basketweaving.
Strong assets include a commitment to undergraduate teaching, liberal arts, and multicultural basketweaving.

When I look at an application, I'm first looking for evidence of a terminal degree and appropriate specialization.  If someone's a specialist in Reed Cultivation, and not Deepwater Basketweaving, they're out.  There are two reasons for that.  1)  We REALLY need a deepwater specialist, and there are plenty of applicants who are.  2)  Legally, we can't hire someone who doesn't actually meet the requirements of the job description over someone who does.

Pro Tip:  Even though you're desperate, don't apply to a job if you can't make an argument that you actually fit the job description.  Focus your time on applications for which you're well-qualified.

Then I'll look for people who do have deepwater specialization, and have one of the secondary qualities. 

Pro Tip:  Here's where some applications really stand out.  If you can talk meaningfully in your letter about your work in reed cultivation or international basketweaving, do.  If you've taught basic basketweaving, say so in your letter, and sound enthusiastic about it.  If you have multicultural experience, foreground it, along with your commitment to liberal arts.  If you see a "commitment to undergraduate teaching," you probably don't want to talk lots about how much you look forward to directing dissertations.

People who foreground the things we're looking for get a star next to their name on my list.  People who do that and whose dissertations sound really interesting get an extra star.

Then I look at schools and publications.  Depending on my familiarity with the field, I'm looking for publications in decent journals, and a strong school.  I don't care if it's Ivy or Big State, so long as it's a strong school in that field.

People who've foregrounded the things we're looking for, and come from a strong school rise to the top of my list.  A publication or more (depending on the field) helps a little in addition. 

Pro Tip:  Here's where a well organized CV is a real boon.  I want to know where you went, what you've done.  I don't want to know that you worked at the local hardware store, but I do want to know if you did tutoring in reed cultivation.  If you're applying for our deepwater position, foreground deepwater stuff to the extent you can.

By the end of my intial read through, I have a list of applicants, with "no" next to some names, stars next others, all on a grid with information about their schools, publications, and which of our secondary qualities they have.

If all has gone well, my colleagues on the search committee have a similar list.  That's when we meet and take away the applicants who aren't qualified, and start to work out the group of people we'll ask for more information from or whose references and writing samples we'll read.

Pro Tip:  If you're downloading your materials onto a computer system, make sure to label your files in some way that will help the readers.  For example, I might label my CV something like "BardiacCV2012.pdf" and my cover letter "BardiacCover2012.pdf."  And so on. 


  1. What would you suggest for people who are applying to jobs that specify two major fields? Say the job calls for Basketweaving and Water Science. They are two different fields, but they want one person to cover both of them. If the applicant has specialized, as we're all told to do, on a specific subcategory within Basketweaving, then should s/he apply for a job that calls for both specialties?

    I don't know why people hire out for two specialties at once, except that I'm sure it's a budget issue. One thing is sure -- they will get 600 applications (300 from people in each specialty) instead of 300 applications that they would get if they could make up their mind about what they want.

  2. Jobseeker8:42 AM

    Fie's question is a great one, and I'm curious to hear the answer too! There are a surprising number of positions that require two primary specialties that seem like they would very seldom go together, e.g. "Assistant Professor: Underwater Basketweaving and Wicker Furniture Construction."

    Here's one additional question: what if you don't have whatever secondary interest the posting mentions? If the position says "secondary interest in reed cultivation also welcome," and I've done nothing with reed cultivation, then is the best approach to just not mention reed cultivation at all in my letter? I've been advised to just focus on my own accomplishments in basketweaving and not bring my lack of reed cultivation expertise to their attention in the hopes that the "secondary interest" is flexible.

    To sum up: is matching an "also welcome" secondary interest really essential, or not, in most cases?

  3. experience is that "also welcome" might be code for "we really need this too" or could be code for "nice if we get it but not a dealbreaker." I would call attention to whatever reed cultivation experience you might have--or perhaps give a nod to your ability to develop a course in reed cultivation if needed. I think the also welcome stuff is hard to suss out from outside, and might also be hard for a search committee to suss out internally.

    On the first question: really, two different, unrelated fields? where one isn't something--like intro lit or intro to composition--that almost everyone in some depts might need to do some of the time? That is a tough one. (sorry not to have much useful to say there--seems like a bad set up from the start)

  4. Jobseeker11:55 AM

    Re: two different, unrelated fields, yup! I know we're talking about basketweaving here, but there's one listing on the current MLA JIL, for example, that's for an assistant professorship in "Renaissance Literature and Creative Writing." :)

  5. I don't really think of Renaissance Literature and Creative Writing as two radically different fields. Indeed, one could make an argument that those two fields dovetail naturally, especially if the focus is lyric (which is such a dominant literary mode in the early modern period) and CW: Poetry. But then, I'm obviously just defending my own career here...