Fun fact: The APA had a session at the pacific last year on best practices for hiring and placement. It was not well attended, but it is worth acknowledging when the APA is working to provide the very thing you suggest would be ideal.I also think the name 'Bearistotle' is pretty awesome.
Among the noise at the comments here about cover letters, John Doris provides what seems to me to be good advice:
I'd suggest: write a generic letter that treats both research and teaching, and is long enough to not risk insulting those who might be insulted by perceived cursoriness (1-1.5 pp. ?). Then, tailor pretty selectively, where 1. There's reason to think the institution has retention anxiety ("While the homicide rate in St. Louis is off putting, I just love those plucky Cardinals.") or 2. You are an *especially* good fit ("I'm delighted to see you have an AOC in Philosophy of Baseball; I was a minor league utility infielder for three seasons.") I'd be pretty selective about this selection, and not stretch too much: my cover letter to an appealing SLAC arguing for fit on the grounds my sister went there did not, sad to say, take me very far.I might add also that if you are a member of an underrepresented population in philosophy, that you mention that also.
Anyways. Many of the other, more detailed comments on the thread are good too. I wish all job market advice looked something like some of the comments on this thread. So, please everyone who writes into these threads, keep writing in; it's a great courtesy and much appreciated.
However, speaking more generally and separate from any particular comments in the thread, I do think that it is time to dispense with personal anecdotes that sound like so much ad hoc reasoning justifying past practices. I also think that job market advice should not be framed in terms of how annoyed one is by reading certain parts of dossiers: "You stupid applicant. You think your stupid cover letter is going to help you get this job. Stupid. I'm so offended by your stupidity that you think you can pull the wool over my eyes with your stupid cover letter. Gah. Stupid applicants. *SIGH*" I find such framing offensive and I'm probably not alone. (YOU HURT MY FEELINGS!!!! I'M JUST TRYING TO GET A JOB!!!!)
Finally, I think something like what Anonymous Job Seeker suggests in the same thread is right:
The simple fact of the matter is that the hiring process is so variegated that nobody has any real idea how it happens outside their own local experience.Ugh. Job market.
What would be *really* useful to job seekers and search committees alike is a compendium of best practices. This would outline profession-wide norms and expectations, against which individual institutions and applicants could then note differences. Everything from what goes into a dossier to timelines and procedures. The short notices in the back of the JFP are as insufficient as they are ignored.