Friday, February 28, 2014

Twelve Fixed, Eternal Commandments for Academic Job Candidates

by Finbarr Curtis

In my too many years on the academic job market which culminated miraculously in my current position, I received a great deal of advice about how to navigate job application and interview protocols.  I thought I would pass along some of this received wisdom in the form of these twelve fixed, eternal commandments that reflect a universal consensus about the proper guidelines for would-be scholars.  Here they are:   

1.  Make sure to use last names and formal titles when addressing your interviewers.  You don't want to seem disrespectful.

1.  Use first names.  You want to seem like a colleague, not a grad student.

2. Make sure to thoroughly research the department to which you are applying before an interview. Learn the research interests of your interviewers and highlight in detail how your own work will complement the existing strengths of the program. 

2. It will creep out the search committee if they learn you are googling them.  You'll seem like a stalker.

3.  Highlight your scholarly breadth and interdisciplinary interests.  Hiring committees want to know you are flexible and able to teach a variety of courses outside of your area of specialization.

3.  Don't be a dilettante.  Hiring committees have specified an area of specialization because that is where their needs lie.  Make sure to focus on your ability to do the job you will be hired to do.

4.  Show initiative by including teaching portfolios in every application regardless of whether they are solicited.  If a job ad asks for three letters of recommendation, send five. You don't want to seem like you'll just do the bare minimum.  If committee members don't want to read your materials they are free to ignore them.

4.  Make sure to send the hiring committee only those materials they specify in the job ad. People don't have time to read extra material they haven't requested.  You need to show you can follow rules and guidelines.

5.  Have a glass of wine or beer when you go to dinner with the search committee. No one wants to hire a teetotaler.

5.  Don't drink alcohol at dinner.  You are still being interviewed and need to be mentally sharp.  You don't want to seem like a lush.

6.  It is rude not to send hand-written personalized thank-you notes to every member of the search committee after an interview. 

6.  A cordial thank-you note emailed to all the search committee members is fine.  No one has time to read these anyway.

7.  A three-page cover letter is too long.

7.  A two-page cover letter is too short.

8.  If a job ad doesn't specify the name of the search committee chair, get in touch with a department staff member to find out to whom you should address your letter.  No one wants to read a letter that begins "Dear Committee."

8.  Don't bother the department.  There are hundreds of applicants and the staff does not have time to respond to preliminary inquiries from all of them 

9.  Don't reveal that you have a spouse.  The college is in a small town and there are few job opportunities for spouses.

9.  Don't reveal that you are single.  The college is in a small town and there is no social life for single people.

10.  Read a carefully prepared manuscript for your job talk.  You want to demonstrate that you are a serious, rigorous scholar.

10.  Don't just read your job talk. You'll bore your audience.  

11.  Sell yourself! You have to convince the search committee that they should hire you over hundreds of other brilliant people.  The interview is your chance to draw attention to your accomplishments.

11.  Be humble.  Let your curriculum vitae and your letters of recommendation speak for you.  No one wants to work with a colleague who reminds everyone how smart he or she is.

12.  Start a blog.

12.  Don't start a blog. 

I recognize that this might not be the most helpful list.  However, every axiom is an actual piece of advice either I or one of my friends received while on the job market.  My advice, then, might be better directed to search committees.  So, dear search committee member, remember that what seems to you to be an inexcusable breach of protocol might reflect an applicant's desperate attempt to follow what he or she believed was well-meaning and authoritative "advice."  I would humbly suggest that none of the above commandments should be a determining factor in any hiring decision (Except for the blog part; you should never, ever hire anyone who fritters away time writing a blog). 


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  2. You'll get the same results if you ask for advice. Many of those vary specifically with institution. Small colleges need broad coverage, R1s want narrow research interests, and if you're hitting something in between, it gets stick.

  3. Truth! The key takeaway is that when the thoroughly disempowered applicant fails to overcome the overwhelming structural and capricious factors working against his or her success on the job market, fault for "failure" may be placed squarely on the disempowered subject his or herself for running afoul of one or more of these many unwritten and mutually contradictory edicts.

  4. I was told in the same mock interview to cut my hair and not to cut my hair. (I am male, my hair is longish). I had a drink and got a little trim.