Monday, May 30, 2011

"Honing" your application and ruining your summer

Anonymous asked here:
Could you specify what it takes to 'hone' an individual application? I've never been on the market. I'm sure you can tailor the cover letter to each institution, but what can you do other than that?

That's a good question. Anon 7:48 responded thusly:
One big thing you can do is to tailor your CV. At the very least, I think it's worth having one CV for "teaching jobs" and one for "research jobs," in which you reverse the order in which you present your experience and accomplishments. In some situations, you may want to tweak your AOCs (e.g., listing 'History of Ethics' instead of 'Ethics' or vice versa) or include an AOC that you normally wouldn't. Many recent Ph.D.s could probably develop an AOC in any one of several subdisciplines that they have not previously taught, but you'd look like a jackass if you list all of them as AOCs. You'd also have a lot of explaining to do if you got the interview. So pick one or two of the AOCs listed in the job ad, and amend your CV accordingly. In some cases (e.g., the job I have now), a job will request an AOC that you have that no one else will care about (because it's obscure, interdisciplinary, or otherwise not something you'd teach in most places).

Other than tweaking your cover letter and CV, you might choose a different writing sample, if you're in a position to do so.
Excellent advice, IMO.

My two cents:

I'm of the school of thought that a cover letter should be about a page to a page and a half long, and is an opportunity for you to emphasize your strengths, your experience, your interest in the particular job, school, department, etc. But to do that, you need to know something about the school and the job. Study the department website. Know what their departmental focus is -- analytic? Continental? Applied ethics? Religion? Do they have an affiliated research institute, ethics institute, new grad program they're launching? Are they looking for someone who can generate grant money? (And have you ever successfully applied for a grant?) Familiarize yourself with the courses they offer, but also what courses they do NOT offer, which you would like to teach. (I think having multidisciplinary skills/interests here helps. Use the word "multidisciplinary" at least twice in your cover letter.) Do they emphasize teaching or research? Is it a SLAC or a big university? Do you have teaching experience in a school like it? Do they teach a lot of GenEd courses? Do you like teaching intro and gen ed courses?

The cover letter is an opportunity to show that you're interested in the specific job or program, to show why you're the One, and to show you cared enough to read and respond to the job ad.

Obviously, tailoring your letter will include emphasizing your teaching if it's a teaching job, and your research if it's a research job. Respond to whatever requirements or desires are listed in the job ad. If they're asking for a research statement and/or teaching statement, you can keep these things brief in your letter, rather than repeating what you've already said elsewhere. If they're interested in someone in applied ethics, or clinical ethics, or phil of law, etc. mention your relevant experience. If you have some other work experience or interests that make you special (and you are all very
special), mention that if it is relevant to the position, especially since these are things that don't fit very well into the academic CV format.

How to ruin your summer:

Those of you who will be on the market in the fall should be thinking about getting your dossiers in shape over the summer, so that you'll be ready when the October job listings drop. The more you can get done in advance, the better off you'll be because (a) it will give you more time to customize your letters and dossiers for specific jobs, and (b) it'll be easier to make the earlier application deadlines.

Prep includes:
  • Writing, updating, or tweaking your teaching statement and research statement
  • Creating a few different templates of your cover letter to handle different kinds of jobs
  • Tweaking and updating different versions of your CV for different kinds of jobs
  • Putting together a pdf of your teaching dossier, with syllabi, student evaluations, and a teaching statement.
  • Writing some fantasy syllabi for courses you'd like to teach.
  • Last year, I also created a website that included links to all elements of my dossier, which I continuously updated as things like publications, conferences, etc. changed. I concluded my cover letters with the url, noting that other materials were available there, or would be sent upon request. It took me probably four or five hours to get the whole thing up and running (using a free Google site), but those are hours I would not have had if I'd waited until the job season was underway. You can also use tracking to find out (more or less) who is visiting your site to gauge interest in your apps.
  • Decide how you're going to get your reference letters out. Do you have an Interfolio account? Will you use your school placement office? Get that set up.
  • In August, before the term starts, contact your references and ask them to write and file your letters, or update the letters already on file. Remind them if you don't have new letters by mid-September.
  • If you have papers to submit to journals, submit them now. Once everyone leaves campus for the summer, papers will just sit in the editor's inbox. You have a tiny window here for reviews to happen, otherwise, you'll have to wait until fall or even winter, depending on the journal. A paper "under review" on your CV will look better than a file sitting in your computer.
I found it hella useful last year to create a spreadsheet listing all the jobs I was applying for, their deadlines, and whether the apps had to be mailed or filed electronically. I dated and checked them off as they went out, then sent my ref letters from Interfolio immediately (for e-apps) or after a few days for mailed apps. I color coded them depending on how soon they had to go out, or if they had been completed. Then, as I got rejected, I redlined the jobs. Luckily, not all of them were redlined. Doing this helped me stay organized, and track my progress, although it had no impact on my job prospects, except to the extent it helped me meet application deadlines.

That's an extremely long-winded answer to a short question.



Anonymous said...

Too many people take the advice to "reverse the order" of the teaching and research paragraphs and do just that...with no subsequent revision. As someone who has been on hiring committees at a "teaching college," what I like to see is *how* the applicant discusses the teaching. Specifically, making an effort to connect the teaching to the research goes a long way. Too many applicants simply list the areas they can teach in (or have taught in). I want to see how the research and teaching complement one another.

And seriously, don't just "reverse the order" of the paragraphs. You'd be amazed how many letters do just that, and then have some version of "and as I explained above" in the first substantial paragraph, referencing something that, in the new letter, is discussed below.

Euthyphronics said...

Might I add: No writing sample is so good that it can't be further polished. Unless you're planning on sending an offprint, I'd spend some time working on the writing sample, too. Can you make the structure clearer? Can you shorten it without sacrificing philosophical content? (The shorter your writing sample is while still being philosophically good, the more kindly your overworked sample-readers will be disposed to you.) Are the structures of the overall dialectic, your paper, and your arguments in it crystal clear? Could it benefit from another going-over with the Bennett-Gorovoitz treatment? It's nice, as philosophers, to think that only the content of a paper should matter and the vehicle is just window-dressing. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth: 9 of 10 philosophers are at a stage where they will get more mileage from an hour improving the writing in their papers than they will from an hour improving the philosophy in their papers.

Anonymous said...

"It's nice, as philosophers, to think that only the content of a paper should matter and the vehicle is just window-dressing."

This is something that also kills bright but obtuse philosophers from getting jobs at "teaching colleges." An inability to explain oneself clearly - which some philosophers take as a badge of honor - does not impress SCs at "teaching colleges."

Anonymous said...

One tension within the advice given:

Sending different CVs to different jobs, highlighting or stressing research v. teaching, is somewhat tricky if you are also posting your materials (and particularly your CV) online.

Depending on how much tailoring you do, it might start to look a little shady or just unconvincing...


Anonymous said...

"Sending different CVs to different jobs, highlighting or stressing research v. teaching, is somewhat tricky if you are also posting your materials (and particularly your CV) online.

Depending on how much tailoring you do, it might start to look a little shady or just unconvincing..."

Only if one of the CVs contains false information. Different versions of a CV is not at all uncommon. What you send to a SC may differ from what you send to a grant application may be different from what you give to your supervisors at your home university...etc.

The CV is a rhetorical document. It's meant to convey information. Tailoring it so that it effectively highlights the most important information for the intended audience is a marker of the applicant's sophistication, not trickery.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I think 10:06 has a point, particularly with respect to Zombie's AOC-tailoring advice.

If you list A and C as AOCs for one job, and B and D for another (because those fit the description better), you don't have to be presenting any "false information" for it to be weird to know what to put on your website. (All four could be AOCs.) Do you list A, B, C, and D on your website? Then both jobs might find it somewhat odd.

I'm not saying it's immoral or anything, just that it will undermine the efforts at tailoring.

Mr. Zero said...

I send out one CV to everybody. On it, I list the AOCs that my teaching experience and graduate coursework justify. I then include a more tailored "I am prepared to teach the following" list in the cover letter, which includes both things that are ready to go and things that would take some work to get going. But I'm not going to send different CVs to different schools, for exactly the reason 5:31 mentions. I keep a CV online, and people look at it. At least one representative of every department I have ever interviewed with has visited my academic webpage.

zombie said...

I put all my AOCs on my online CV. When I send out my CV, I might reorder them to emphasize the ones to suit the job. But there's nothing on a CV I send out that they can't also see online. I think that would look dodgy.

Anonymous said...

I don't list AOCs on my online CV, partly for this reason. (The other part is that AOCs are important for a job application, but it seems less pertinent to the general philosophical public.) You can figure out what I do and what I've taught by looking at the rest of the CV and the rest of my web site. Other than AOCs, though, the tailoring of a CV would consist mostly of reorganization. And I don't see anything shady about a CV in an application being organized differently than one online.

As Anon 12:47 pointed out, different CVs have different audiences--including your online CV--and there's nothing weird about tailoring documents to suit their respective audiences.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this!