Monday, October 03, 2005

Tips for Faculty Job Candidates

‘Tis the season for faculty job seekers to make their rounds, so it seems appropriate to share a few pieces of advice from this side of the desk. Keep in mind, I’m writing from a community college perspective; the rules for research universities are almost certainly different. These suggestions are for instructor or assistant professor positions – tomorrow, I’ll do an entry on administrative positions.

- If you’re applying for a teaching position at a community college, don’t spend the entire cover letter describing your dissertation. We care that it’s done, but we don’t care that much about the content. If you spend the entire letter describing your research, we’ll assume that you don’t really want to work at a cc, and move to the next applicant.

- Think about the order of items on your c.v. Savvy applicants at this level place teaching experience before publications. To detail your publications lovingly while offering a perfunctory list of courses taught tells us where your heart is.

- Especially in your cover letter, find ways to portray yourself as a good colleague. Did you pick up the administrative tasks nobody else wanted? Have you done committee work? Have you picked up night classes and intro courses? Do you play well with others?

- If your graduate program is Ivy or otherwise super-prestigious, you have to convince us that you actually want to work here. Have you adjuncted at a cc before? Have you worked with non-traditional students before? Have you worked with students whose college skills lack polish?

Grad school trains people to think of the market as some sort of linear meritocracy, with a vague notion of an old-boy network or system of connections operating on the margins. It’s just not true. It’s not the NFL draft, with lower-level institutions getting the draft picks that the top schools passed over. What we want, and what R1’s want, are different. I don’t want the second-best researcher; I want the best teacher. Apply accordingly.

Last year we had a faculty search in which we got ridiculously strong applications from ridiculously prestigious institutions, and we promptly relegated many of those applications to the recycling bin. From the letters, it was abundantly clear that we were little more than a port in a storm, and that the applicants would deign to work here only until something they really wanted came along. No, thanks. I want people who want to work here. That may seem cold, but if you think about it from the employer’s perspective, it makes perfect sense.

Finally, keep in mind that the market, such as it is, is glutted, irrational, and largely random. It’s not just about you. Don’t let despair become self-doubt.

Good luck out there!