Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Tell Them to Read Their Own Fucking Letters Before I Do." Reggie at the R1 With Job Advice.

I enjoy your page, I really do. I love hearing the snowflake stories. I don't see many undergrads, but did for many years.

My letter today is in the form of advice for your readers who are on the job market.

I know the market sucks. We get too many applicants for too few jobs. We rarely get our first pick, but we do have LOTS to choose from. We usually hire well, and the folks we've hired over the past 10 years are all still here, and all making huge contributions.

But this year we're hiring an entry level post and the job letters and vitae are just shitty. Mistakes. Are you kidding me?

Here are some:

  • One applicant lists that she's been working in her current position from 1978-present. She graduated undergrad in 1983, so that's not true.
  • One applicant sent a letter that started "Dear Steve." The chair of the department is Stephanie, and it's Dr. Stephanie Someone," not Steph or Steve or anything else.
  • One applicant sent a letter that referred to our school by the wrong name in one place, and in another said, "I believe I have a lot to offer to the University of [A Different School Than OURS], and a different name from the  wrong name earlier in the letter.
  • One applicant said she was "tyring to be the best teacher she could be."
  • One applicant spelled her name differently on her letter and her vita.
  • One applicant told us that he could see himself "running the department within a few years."
  • One applicant said he saw our job as a stepping stone to a job at another school closer to his home.
  • One applicant said that he had several "rich and personal" relationships with his undergrads, and that he thought that taught him a lot about the profession.
  • One applicant lists several research articles that he is not listed as writer, co-writer, researcher, etc. in the journal index. I guess he was a grad student assistant who did some work on the projects, but nowhere is he given any kind of official credit.
  • One applicant went on for a paragraph about how her mother spent several years in our city, and that she always "saw" her daughter as a good fit for our school.
  • One applicant had two ending sentences in back to back paragraphs with no periods. I kept waiting for more info.
  • One applicant had this in a paragraph: "What suits me most for your position is my."
Mostly, I guess, I want to tell your readers to read their own fucking letters before I read them. I know they're applying to lots of positions, but goddammit, if you don't care about the content of your application, why should we?

27 comments:

  1. Holy crap. That is some EPIC FAIL right there.

    Thanks for sharing it.

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  2. "One applicant lists that she's been working in her current position from 1978-present. She graduated undergrad in 1983, so that's not true."

    Yeah, that is suspect. On the other hand, when I was doing my grad-work, it was not unheard of for the local CC to hire on grad-students who had some grad-credits but not a Masters. Perhaps this was the case here?

    But, yeah, these are some serious doozies.

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  3. I've always thought this makes things slightly easier. Clearly all of those people go into the trash pile, moving your list of 100 to something closer to 60. Then you can par the 60 down to 30 by removing all the people who are completely wrong for the position but hoping against hope that you won't notice, and your job becomes narrowing 20 good people to 12.

    But then, I've only been on 2 search committees.

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  4. I'm seeing two trends in the examples you give: (1)(the somewhat less-prevalent one)the emergence of the helicoptered/snowflake generation on the job market (all the me/me/me/my mom/me stuff), and (2) just plain sloppiness. I wonder whether the dire state of the job market is leading some candidates to half-ass their applications. Of course that's monumentally stupid, but also, as Monkey points out, a useful sorting mechanism; the ones who remain are going to be, among other things, more psychologically sound -- well, unless they're incurable unrealistic optimists, in which case there's a good chance they also will show signs of falling under category #1.

    Good luck. It sounds like the initial sorting process is a particular pain this year, but it also seems likely that you'll have a larger-than-you-need assortment of viable candidates, any number of whom would serve your needs, at the end.

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  5. I think a lot people on the job market for the first time have no clue how they might sound to others. There are some in that pile I would not automatically discount. Saying "I could see myself running the department in a few years" or "This will be my stepping stone to teaching at another college" or "I've got 'rich and personal' relationships with undergrads" are right out. But the person who mentioned their mother? Inappropriate, but not a dealbreaker. Obviously this person is deeply interested in your school.

    For the proofreading errors--I would weigh that carefully as well, depending on the rest of the application. If the application was obviously tossed-off with little attempt to speak to the needs of your particular university, it would go in the circular file. But if the applicant had made themselves aquainted with your department and school, and simply screwed up in one or two places with names or something, I wouldn't discount that application either.

    People screw up. Especially people putting out a hundred applications for a hundred different jobs. Each application should be looked at holistically.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Re: "I could see myself running the department in a few years"

      I have known at least two people who were thirtysomething when they were hired to be department chairs at schools they'd never worked at.

      Delete
    2. "I could see myself running the department in a few years."

      Those are the people who got application coaching from someone in the corporate world. "Show some ambition! Be prepared to respond when they ask you where you'll be in five or ten years! They want you to demonstrate leadership potential!"

      Delete
  6. I did none of these things on my recent applications! Hire me! ;)

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  7. Isn't this kind of what you want? You know who NOT to hire. I like the ones where I know exactly who to eliminate right off the bat (or 'off the back' as a recent student wrote).

    These are pretty outrageous examples of people not paying attention. Somehow, I'm not sure that's THIS blog's responsibility to "tell your readers to..." I don't know of anyone on here who writes/thinks that poorly (at least not from the comments posted or the blog entries).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that this is exactly what this blog is supposed to do.

      Amuse, and instruct. We're lucky if we can simply get amusement out of CM. If people can take away something useful, then that's even better.

      Delete
    2. Stella: I don't want to think of my fellow posters (our readers) as the flakes submitting things like those above.

      Delete
    3. Stella's right. Even if we have the cojones to consider ourselves exempt from this advice, as Cynic seems to claim, we may be asked to proof/comment on friends' job materials when they go on the market. I've been put in that position, and it helps to have resources to point to that take the pressure off of me to be unrelentingly positive/reaffirming about the friend's work.

      (The Professor Is In is another such source -- although she has taken some deserved flak on CM for making a profit off others' insecurities, the amount and quality of her free advice online is also potentially helpful for those who otherwise would really have NO clue...)

      Delete
    4. Every time someone posts a misery, I end up getting advice on dealing with plagiarists, idiot colleagues, and insane administrators.

      Delete
  8. "I believe I have a lot to offer to the University of [A Different School Than OURS]"

    I was guilty of that one once. Sending out multiple job apps, trying to efficiently edit/tailor the core letter to different situations, I missed one of the edits. I noticed it after the application went out - not just the wrong school, it was the wrong time zone. I smacked myself on the forehead, wrote off that application and figured "there's a school where they're going to think I'm an idiot."

    And moved on to the next application.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Noooooo! Say it ain't so! I don't want to think of you as flakey!!! NooooO! :)

      Delete
    2. I've even heard tales of people who did that being hired, assuming everything else (including the general fit of the letter with the institution) was in order. I think search committees have some perspective on what the process is like, and some mercy. Of course, it helps if the candidate's letter is well-tailored to a particular type of school, but not to a specific (wrong) school, and/or if the other parts of the letter are well-tailored to the correct school.

      Perspectives may vary according to (sub)discipline; mine is one where candidates routinely send dozens of letters, and search committees routinely screen hundreds. In addition, individual screeners' feelings may vary, so it behooves the candidate to try hir very best to avoid such slips.

      Delete
    3. I've done that too, so I guess that I'm right out as well.

      Goodnight, everybody!

      Delete
    4. I would forgive/overlook such a thing if the rest of the app was great. I know that these applicants are going through. What is harder to forgive is when they do it after they have come in to meet with you. We had a candidate write a thank you letter for the interview with the wrong information on it (the wrong school, the wrong weather conditions mentioned). We just could not overlook that one, especially because it was a close thing, how to whittle down from the interviews.

      Delete
    5. "what these applicants are going through"

      Delete
  9. Proofreading one's applications carefully is so important. One bad error on a job application is to leave the "c" out of the word "faculty." This would lead to a cover letter that begins:

    "Dear Search Committee,

    "I wish to apply for the FAULTY position..."

    "Faulty" of course will go right through a spelling checker.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Frod, (may I please call you Frod?) sometimes "Faulty" is a MUCH better description of the position.

      Delete
  10. On one of my job searches, I sent out about 20 letters (that had been proofed by my adviser and at least one other set of eyes) with an incorrect preposition. We didn't catch it until I was applying for a piddly department scholarship. I was chagrined to say the least.

    The application process is so grinding and repetitive that these mistakes will become more and more common. Seriously. There are so few TT jobs, and (at least in my field) a backlog since 2009 from the (job) market crash.

    Also, depending upon the field, the peers/adviser may not have English as a first language and these small mistakes that drive the OP nuts may not be noticed or recognized.

    Also, how much did you ask for in the first round? If you asked for fifty things, perhaps the person put a lot of effort into syllabi or sample courses, and by the time the application was due did not realize anything was wrong with the cover letter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm on fire tonight. Ugh. I only meant to use "also" once. Eesh. Now you see what happens when I rush to get something done?

      Delete
  11. I'd guess that some of these grammatical mistakes don't get caught by search committees, who are reading through so many dozens of applications that they can easily pass over a run-on sentence.

    It's a bit off-topic, but I have an amusing story from when I was applying to grad school. I was accepted at one of the schools I was really interested in, and so I decided to contact the departments that I was definitely no longer interested in and tell them to please cancel my application (in hopes that a spot might be freed up for another student, if they had been planning on admitting me). A month later, one of the schools that I had "rejected" emailed me back, offering me admission into their program and offering to fly me out to visit. I was amused that somebody never told the admissions committee to forget about me, and it took a lot of self-control to hold back from pointing out that I had already said no. Though in retrospect, it's definitely possible my email went into their spam folder or something like that.

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  12. Sitting on a hiring committee right now, and would like to add to the gloriously miserable list above:

    When called to be invited for an interview, it's not good form to ask "Now, which school is this?" then, upon being told again, asking "And what state are you in?" Jeebus, dude, you filled out the application and wrote a letter about how you'd been dreaming of teaching for us.

    Don't send copies of 15-year-old reference letters, even if they were from someone at a prestigious school.

    When in the interview, at least kind of sort of act like you might like us. It's not exactly a blind date, but damn, even if it was, didn't your mama teach you any basic manners? Yeah, we paid your way here, but trust me, none of us is even remotely interested in taking you home.

    In the "duh" column: bring back ups if planning on using technological things...and if your technology thang ain't working, don't spend 98% of your teaching demo time messing around with it. Punt, okay?

    Turn. Off. Your. Tea partying. Cell. Phone.



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  13. When I saw the ones that mention parents and seem "all about me" I winced and went back to look at the letter I wrote when I applied to return as a prof to my undergrad alma mater. I vaguely recall writing a letter I might look back on as flaky and sappy. I've just now looked at it for the first time in many years and am happy to say it ain't that bad. I started the letter by recalling a remark a relative of mine made when I graduated from that place back in the day and how I've occasionally thought it would be great to go back there. But then the letter quickly turns to a more solid footing. It might be a bit much, but it's nothing I'm ashamed of.

    It was one of the few letters that was in fact completely original to the institution in question, with essentially zero copy-paste from other letters. It was also one of the two or three places that didn't even bother to send a rejection letter.

    On the "Steve" thing, I once submitted a book review that got the gender of the author of the reviewed book wrong. Ouch. But the name was ambiguous at best and actually pointed more in the other direction. Still embarrassing in the age of google, of course.

    ReplyDelete