In a recent advice column for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rob Jenkins, a professor at Georgie Perimeter College, shared ways that job candidates can avoid “nixing themselves” from the list of candidates in today’s highly competitive academic job market. Much of his advice echoes the kinds of things the Future Faculty Leadership Council and the Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership (ITLAL, www.itlal.org) have been spreading the word on for quite a while now. While many of us are in the midst of the tenure track job market, these tips are worth reproducing here.
So what is it that Jenkins, a professor with considerable hiring committee experience in the humanities, advises? His advice is aimed at getting applicants to the interview phase.
1.) Don’t apply for every single job ever.
This one might feel a little scary or risky given how few jobs are listed in certain disciplines. But, Jenkins argues that job ads these days are much more specific than they used to be. So even if you think you’d like a particular job, if you don’t meet the minimum qualifications at least, don’t spend the time to apply. His advice is not only based on the sheer number of applications a committee will read. More than that, he argues you don’t want to potentially create a bad reputation for yourself (i.e., applying for jobs you’re not qualified to fill makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing) just in case that institution ended up with a position you are qualified for in the future.
2.) Don’t miss deadlines.
This one is easy, right? Don’t submit an application late, including your letters. As Jenkins points out, there are probably 100 other people that got their materials in on time, and surely the committee will find qualified applicants in that bunch. And yes, your letter writers need to get their materials in on time, too. Give them as much time as possible, and don’t be shy about sending reminders and follow-ups. You might consider using a dossier service online where your writers can upload their letters and you choose when and where to send them (these cost money, but if you get a job out of it, then it was worth it!)
3.) Give the committee what they ask for—and nothing more.
This is a tough one, I’ve got to say. Jenkins says you should only send the committee exactly what is requested in the job ad. This goes in both directions—don’t leave any materials out that the committee requested, and don’t send things they haven’t asked for. He also notes that if you don’t follow the instructions to the letter (i.e., you send unofficial transcripts when they’ve requested official transcripts,) your application will likely be marked incomplete and not considered for the position.
I’d add my two cents to Jenkins on this one. Sometimes, hiring committees aren’t entirely clear in what they’re asking for (while most of the time they are). Some request a teaching dossier, but don’t explain what that is—you could send a full teaching portfolio only to find that’s not what they wanted. If anything is unclear to you (and to your mentors and advisors) in a job ad, you should contact the department and ask for clarification.
4.) The cover letter is the most important document.
Jenkins says that most candidates are similarly qualified for any given position. The cover letter is the place where you set yourself apart…in a good way. He advises that your letter be 1 and ½ pages long and tailored to the job, department and institution. Your cover letter should address the specific qualifications outlined in the job ad. And again, I’d add to Jenkins’ advice…make an argument in your letter.
5.) Finally, make good use of the internet.
Clean up your Facebook account! Make sure there’s nothing embarrassing out there. Google yourself, you know potential employers will. In addition to this, consider setting up a personal webpage, what Jenkins calls an online portfolio. A great advantage of the online portfolio? You’ve worked really hard to craft some really amazing documents for the job market (e.g., a research statement, a teaching portfolio, etc.) but not all committees will ask for them. Stick them up on your website and you can always direct potential employers here for more information. Chances are, they’ll stumble across your site when they google you and perhaps they’ll read an additional document that wasn’t required in the original application.
So that’s Rob Jenkins’ advice to move you from one of the many, many job applicants, to a candidate they interview for the position. For the full version of this column, and to find more advice for the job market, follow this link: http://chronicle.com/article/Making-It-Past-the-First-Round/142253/