Friday, November 25, 2016

CM Flashback: Ben Again. Three Years Ago Today.

Job applications: What not to do

This started as 3 observations, then 
I thought of a few more things to say.
Once I got to 7 items, I added some 
filler to make it a top 10.  I'm sorry 
if these details ruin the sense of mystery 
of how this post came to exist but I think 
we should be honest with each other.
For Christ's sake, people.  What the fuck are you doing sending me this terribly shitty mess of cover letters, CVs, emails from students (emails from students!) and miscellaneous bullshit?  We are searching for an assistant professor, not the dumbest job applicant in the world.  Perhaps our ad should be more specific.

Here's a list of ten things about job application letters that piss me off.

10.  If you are a researcher, don't try to fake your way into a teaching position.  Oh, you really care about education?  That explains why you publish out the wazoo but your only teaching experience was as a TA in 1992.

9.  Likewise, if we are looking for a researcher to shower our department with grant money, then your mentoring of a high school kid's science fair project last year won't earn you any points.  In fact, Our scoring system looks like this:

   # of grants
+ # publications
- 100,000,000 if your CV says that you mentored a student's science fair project

= a number

It works surprisingly well.

Here's the jumpity jump, or as the RGM likes to say ...

8.  Let's talk about those cover letters.  Some of you wrote your cover letter in the email with your CV attached.  That's fine.  Some of you wrote a brief, clearly written statement in the email referencing the cover letter and CV that were attached.  That's fine.

Some of you attached your cover letter and CV to an email message written with the formality somewhere between a grocery list and a message I might write by peeing in the snow.  With worse punctuation.  This is not fine.  You already look like an idiot and I haven't even checked to see if you mentor high school students' science fair projects.  I guess we need to readjust our scoring system.

Even more annoying was the applicant who wrote one cover letter in the email then attached another cover letter with different information to the message.  Now you're just wasting my time.  I'm likely to lose my interest in you before I get a chance to read ...

7.  Your teaching philosophy.  Oh, Lord, have I been so bad as to deserve this?  (Don't bother, I know the answer.  (FYI: I was young.  I needed the money.))

Fresh-faced kids have no idea how to teach so I cut them some slack.  They talk about caring and helping students fulfill their potential and shit like that.  It's the equivalent of a new husband telling his lovely wife, "sure dear, I'll split the house work with you."  You only say stuff like that because you don't know any better.

The wannabe researchers basically say that they plan to get so much grant money that they'll hire their own postdoc to teach for them.  That is not ideal but I appreciate their honesty.

Some of them just couldn't be bothered so they wrote a paragraph telling me how much they like teaching because when they were young, some professor helped them finish their science fair project.

This is a long post.  I thought 
you might miss me.
6.  Please, proofreed you're writing.

5.  Foreign applicants are my favorites.  Apparently, applying for jobs in other countries involves disclosing your marital status, age and hobbies.  Save that stuff for  We get along well in my department but not that well.

4.  You've worked at 15 different schools in the past 13 years.  Do you expect that job #16 will be the charm?  I hope it is.  Somewhere else.

3.  You called us a primarily undergraduate institution.  We are, actually, but that pisses off everybody because we are trying to be an top research university.  Your tendency to state the obvious truth does not bode well for your long-term success at this school.

2.  People teaching online classes confuse the crap out of me.  Seriously, give me a heads up about these things.  I got a headache trying to figure out how you were teaching at three schools on two different coasts at the same time.

1.  Our final contestant included screenshots of three emails from students who praised her teaching.  First off, you didn't redact the student's name and email address in a message that discussed his grade.  That's a big no-no.  Second, sending us three nice letters makes us wonder what your other five thousand students thought of you.  Third, are supposed to be impressed with this kind of shit?

There are good applicants in the stack of folders.  The rest provide comic relief for an otherwise boring search committee meeting.


  1. It's so easy to joke. There's just been such a tremendous glut for so long now. And such exhausting desperation among so many applicants. I wonder what's the smallest number of applications anyone can recall receiving for a position--say, a few decades ago, in the really goon old days?

    1. I clearly remember how amazed we were one year to get 50 applicants! We thought it was the greatest thing ever. Years later we started getting 200+ for the most basic entry level spots (Humanities), and it became more and more depressing.


  2. My own favorite was the applicant who pasted photos of herself, her classroom, and her smiling students into her 7 page long cover letter. And, yes, the letter was in an artistic font.


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