Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Search is On - a Big Thirsty.

I know that this topic
might have but
limited interest.

Yet, I can't stop myself.
Being so thirsty is a powerful

Let me begin.
My search committee
is wandering, wondering,
stumbling around in our endeavor.

So many people, so many credentials,
writing samples, rec letters.

We are baffled and buffeted.

They are all interesting in some way,
these men and women who aspire
to join us in our task of teaching
the great unwashed.

Q: What makes a candidate stand out?

A: Post replies from your experience below.


  1. I for one remain baffled, as I wrote to RYS many moons ago, why search committees require so much shit during the first round. Have everyone send a CV and a letter. From that stack, choose 10-20 and invite them to send more.

    Analogy: There are 20 books you have not read. By Next week you must decide which is your favorite. Do you read them all? Of course not. You read reviews or the adverts on the back cover and pick three that you think you'll like. Those are the three you read or at least look at seriously.

    Of course lowering the hurdle for applications will increase the number of applications you get. The need to send a 15 lb. stack of shit to each school is a factor in deciding where to apply. But I am astounded that search committees actually want all that crap in their offices. I have never served on such a committee, so perhaps I will see the light when I am in your shoes. But right now I think I would rather look at 200 CVs and 200 letters than 150 letters, 150 CVs, 150 teaching portfolios, 150 transcripts, 150 writing samples and 450 letters of recommendation.

    There are so many qualified people out there. There is already some luck involved in the process. Don't fight it so much. You'll get someone good even if you don't do DNA testing on each potential candidate. It might be ever-so-slightly less likely that you'll get the absolute best, but cutting a slim chance in half is hardly relevant.

    Also, I hear a lot of talk here on CM about how search committees sometimes settle on mediocrity for one reason or another. So stop pretending that all that detail is really so important.

  2. @Slave: It isn't malice on the part of committees. There are probab;y several factors at work. Here are some:

    Public institutions are often required by state law to ask for certain kinds of documentation--transcripts anyone?--that no one will ever look at. Sucks, but there you have it.

    There is also the time factor. Committees are often working on very tight schedules, and they need to make the first cut--reading cover letters, CV, and recs--and the second cut--reading additional material to get the list down to say 15 or 20--in a week or less. So it is easier to have everything on hand rather than wait for candidates to turn it around for you. Also keep in mind that a lot of these procedures were put in place when everything went by mail, and turnaround meant at least a week of inactivity, sometimes more. This sucks for you the candidate, but it really helps us the committee.

    Lastly, and this is a point I made in various foul-mouthed ways back on RYS, searches are non-linear. Cuts are not necessarily permanent. There are lots of cases when a committee might want or need to revisit candidates who didn't make a cut. In fact, nearly every search I've been on has done this at one stage or another. So at that point it pays to have the whole file on hand.

    Hope that helps.

  3. The question of why committees settle for mediocre candidates is a different issue, and one that probably requires its own thread.

  4. As for Tingle's thirsty, in my discipline, at institutions like mine, and in my own personal experience, it is entirely about the research. A good, original research project gets you noticed. A pedestrian, derivative, overdone project gets you placed in the discard pile. That's it. So the paragraph in the cover letter that explains the candidate's research is the make or break factor that determines whether we even bother reading on.

    I presume that SLAC committees look for other things in a file, as do regional unis, and CCs. I can guess what some of those things are, but I might actually be wrong. So the lame answer would have to be: it depends, doesn't it?

  5. Yep, at the R1 where I work it's research first. The project is the gold standard. That's why we require a writing sample upfront. It's actually to the candidate's benefit -- I think a lot of us read the research paragraph of the letter first, then flip right to the writing sample. If it's anticlimactic after the research paragraph, then goodbye candidate. But if it's better than the candidate's description, we proceed.

    After that, the rest is kind of a check-in. Skim the rest of the letter and the recommendations for red flags and memorable moments. Ignore the transcripts unless a letter seems red-flaggy, then cross-check them. Skim the teaching materials for evidence of awfulness or greatness, but save most of the questions about teaching for the interview and campus visit. Check to make sure the person has done some kind of service, at some point, somehow, so you know you're not getting a prima donna. I never take the statements of teaching philosophy seriously, but at the SLAC I used to work for, we did -- and truthfully, that's where very good pedagogical matches and very bad ones could be discerned.

  6. This seems so simple, but I see candidates mess it up all the time.


    I've fielded such idiotic questions over the years, and many times been queried about things that are spelled out in the job ad.

  7. We are required to use transcripts for the first screening because we have to be able to demonstrate the applicant meets both accrediting standards and those outlined in the job ad. One year the committee got very specific in the ad and ended up having to cut several great candidates because those people didn't meet the exact specifications the ad outlined.

    Teaching philosophy is also very important to those of us in the CC world because that's our primary business. Anyone who can't present a solid statement which shows teaching as the primary reason for wanting the job is not going to make the cut.

  8. It's unconscionable to request anything more than a letter and a vita at the first screening.

  9. What stumps me is that some places require snailmail applications, some require pdf files, some require MS Word files, some require that their proprietary online application be filled out completely, etc.... The one that puzzles me most is the snailmail. WTF. It's like they want to exclude candidates from overseas and make the entire process longer and more expensive for everybody. Really, WTF. Ideally, I think I prefer the extremely, extremely short online proprietary application and the pdf files of whatever else is appropriate (cv, letter, portfolio shit, etc.).

  10. @adjunctslave: I doubt I have as much experience with this as Archie and Marcia, but my first scan is to see if there is anybody I know. That takes a couple of minutes for one hundred applications. Second scan is to weed out those who don't meet the most basic requirements. That can take anywhere from 3 seconds per app to 3 minutes per. After that is when it gets complicated.

  11. The advantage of getting snail mail applications is that you don't have to print the docs yourself. (In my experience, at least one member of the seearch committee wants a hard copy.) That leaves all the computer problems, from compatible software versions to formating graphics on the page, to the applicant.

    At my school, we care about both research and teaching, so we do actually read the stuff we request. It also gives us a chance to evaluate writing ability (or ability of poor writers to find somebody to fix their mistakes - still a point in favor of that applicant). If they can't follow our basic instructions for completing a job application, they'll never correctly submit a grant proposal to DOE.

    Other than that, an applicantg stands out wearing plads mixed with stripes and a fish tie.

  12. As a veteran of many hiring committees, a couple of things stand out.

    One is knowledge of the department and the school. A generic application letter looks generic, and feels generic. Why should we pursue interest in you further if your application is generic, when there are a stack of nice applications that actually looked at our program and our school, and mentioned it in the letter? This approach translates as disinterest on the part of the applicant. We don't need you. You need us. We've got fifty other people just as good as you are who'd love to teach here, even though it's in the middle of Ass, Nowhere and you can't get Thai food within a hundred miles. We've always gotten our first choice, even when times were better. Some applicants seem to recognize this. Others, not so much.

    If we teach 4/4 and your application letter indicates you are OMGTEHSTARZRESEARCHGOD! we are not interested in you. If you want an R1 job and you're applying to our school, try to fucking hide that and prioritize teaching. If you can't hide it in your job application, we're going to assume you can't hide it on the job either.

    In tandem with that, recs are key. If you want a job in an R1, but Jesus it's tough out there and you'll take a job here because you have to pay off your student loans and you'd like to actually have some benefits and a regular salary, well, get a couple of different types of recs and make sure that your recs highlight what you want to get hired for here, not somewhere else. Tailoring your application to a teaching college, and then sending recs that all trumpet how great your scholarship is, with little mention of your teaching, doesn't impress us.

    Lastly, and I can't stress this strongly enough, if you are on the market, have your "confidential" file sent, including all recs, to a (VERY) trusted friend at another university, who will read it and let you know if anyone in there is clotheslining you. Obviously you have to be careful about this, but I have come to believe that is a necessary risk. I regularly throw away applications because they're tainted with letters of "support" that were, quite honestly, career-dooming. There are people out there wondering why they never got any interviews at MLA, who never got interviews because their own recommenders sabotaged them.

    This is terrifying, but I have to tell you it happens all the time. Protect yourself. Have them sent to a friend and ask that friend if you see anything to worry about in the recs. You don't have to ask for quotes. But if there is a rec there that is going to trash your entire career, you need to know.

  13. Stella, that's a really useful bit of sneaky advice. Thanks for sharing.

  14. i'd really like to know the answer, too. i've published articles, translated four books, have outstanding teaching reviews, a ton of administrative experience and professional service, fabulous letters of rec, three major grant awards, a book contract, a CV as long as a Peter North, and an honestly humble presentation in my cover letters, and i can't get an interview. What more do these people want ? What more can i give them ?

  15. as a post-script, i follow much of the advice that's been given here : research the school (there are a few generic paragraphs, sure, but these are complemented by highly customized paragraphs), emphasize teaching (which i honestly love, unlike many CM correspondants), had my letters checked out, etc. I also give greaet head. So seriously, what else ?

  16. If you don't have a trusted friend, the grad director of your program is a really good pick of who to ask to send the letters to in order to double check them.

    Since I'm on the market (successfully so far) I can really only add the weirdest things I've been asked to provide:

    1. Whether or not I'd been a foster child.
    2. EVERY single traffic ticket I've ever been given including date and county.
    3. Entire syllabi for courses for their school plus assignment sheets.
    4. Statements about finding Christ as my personal Lord and Savior which I answered honestly (and never heard back)

  17. Bright clothing makes people stick out in the woods where Mathsquatch lives. Perhaps interview them and pick the one with the brightest clothing. Safety Orange will be "the new black" in academic clothing!

    Mathsquatch out.

  18. We introduced the teaching philosophy/course outline a few years ago, and have discovered it to be really useful. If you can't write 2-3 coherent pages, or you send us a copy of the course outline exactly as the current adjunct is teaching it, or you plagiarize (!) something off the web, you are out.

    We have had people submitting false transcripts, false doctorates, or asserting that they work at fancy company X when in reality they have been kicked out long ago. A colleague called company X and asked to be put through to the candidate when she smelled a fish. No one of that name here...

    As a state school we have guidelines on what we have to have in a tenure-track hire. We have these little boxes we have to check off: education, research program, teaching experience, yadda yadda. I *love* people with a concise page putting all of this together with the documentation nicely organized behind.

    I hate CDs. I hate CDs that automatically start a goofy animation when popped in with pictures of your kids spouting "My daddy is the best for your job". Really - I am not making this up!

    Oh, and if you have already applied to our school 10 times and we have not invited you for an interview yet, you can save the postage on that 11th application.

    Dean Suzy


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