Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Made The Difference?

In comments, anon 9:58 asks:

How about a thread where people can post who were successful this season? I don't just mean grad students from Leiterrific departments with 0 pubs and unpublished brilliant writing samples and famous dissertation advisors. I think a thread, specifically with people from departments with little prestige, preferably who were multiple times on the market. What went right this time? Did you do something different, or was did your pubs etc reach some critical mass? How long were you on the market? What did you do in the way of networking? What kind of temp positions (e.g., postdoc, VAP) are more likely to increase your desirability as a candidate?

I think that's an excellent idea. If you were on the market for a while a while before you nailed down a tenure-line job, what do you think made the difference? What's the deal?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Perhaps folks will forgive me for being pre-emptively snarky, but a couple of comments on this thread:

1. TWO posts in a single day on the Smoker? My head might fucking explode.

2. I very much doubt that anyone will have anything instructive to tell us. Everything on a thread of this sort is bound to be singularly anecdotal. The fact is that there is too much variance (probabilistically speaking) in this shithole market to expect reproducable results. Successful applicant A, can have a dossier that is virtually identical to that of shitcanned applicant B. Chance plays such a huge roll that the controllable variables just cancel out. With the exception of # of positions applied for that is. Given the variance, the only +ev strategy is massively broad application.

Anonymous said...

I landed my first tenure-track job this year after 8 straight years on the job market. I've been a VAP at 3 different universities and also taught one year as a part-time adjunct. My Ph.D. is from an unranked department that has a good reputation in my AOS. In all but two years on the market, I had at least 2 first-round interviews. This year I had 9 first-round interviews and 2 campus interviews.

It is hard to say what happened to work this year. I think the following factors have made some positive difference:

1. I've acquired a huge amount of teaching experience, teaching a broad array of classes, including ones that are in higher demand for undergraduate education.

2. I've been able to publish on average about an article per year in good journals in my AOS.

3. Most years there are, relatively speaking, a good amount of jobs advertised in my AOS.

4. I've been told that I have excellent reference letters, including one from a well-known figure in my field, and three letters which speak to my abilities as a teacher. Everywhere I've taught, I had colleagues visit my classes each semester, so that they could write me strong teaching recommendations.

Why was I successful this year, as opposed to past years? To some degree, I think that I just got lucky in finding the "right match." The factors mentioned above were able to secure me a good amount of first-round interviews. But to actually land the job, I think it was significant that I was able to connect really well with the members of the search committee, based on their research and teaching interests, personalities, personal interests, etc.

A couple other things I did different this year which may have played a role:

5. When I applied to teaching-focused schools, I made a special effort to tailor my cover letter (and CV) to emphasize my experience and interests in teaching. I also tried harder this year to tailor many of my cover letters to specific features of the school and the philosophy program (and how these features appealed to me or how I could contribute to them). I think this can help land the first-round interview.

6. I put a huge amount of effort this year into prepping for my first-round and campus interviews. I researched the schools, the specific committee members, and the administrative people I'd be meeting with. I prepared bulleted responses to interview questions that I'd been asked in the past or that I thought I might get asked in an interview. I spent a lot of time going over these questions and responses for days prior to interviews. I also tried to think of good questions to ask everyone who'd be interviewing me, to demonstrate my interest in the school and the job.

I hope this helps some people on the job market.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, 11:11. God forbid we forget for a moment that a significant percentage of us are doomed to never work in our chosen industry and whether we fall into that doomed percentage is largely beyond our control. It's not like reflecting on what might help could possibly have any benefit, even if it is just boosting morale.

Anonymous said...

This was my 2nd time on the market, first time with degree in hand.

During my ABD attempt, I had 2 publications (one short, one long) in good journals. I sent out 60 applications and got nothing, not even a first round interview.

I'm from a non-ranked Canadian school. This year I had 6 publications (which became 7 partway through the process), all in top 20 journals. I put out 35 applications and had 6 first rounds (including 3 APA) and 4 on-campus interviews (I turned down one first round late into the process, and one of the on-campus visits was straight to on-campus).

I did a complete overhaul of my application materials, and even had Karen from theprofessorisin.com help with my cover letter template. Although my supervisor and other faculty thought my materials were great, I now know that they don't really know what makes for an attractive cover letter. I think that *this* helped at least a little. That is, at least I'm confident that my cover letter didn't hinder me, and may have helped get me a closer look.

I also networked like crazy this past year (although I'd been doing it my entire graduate career). This partly involved branching out into a different field, which happened to be a project that made some waves. I also had a kickass website made by a web-designer friend.

I ended up pulling out of two searches and accepting a TT job (in addition to deferring the job for a year to take up a postdoc year).

I can't say what made the difference, though.

Anonymous said...

Sticking with it!

Exhausted? Don't give up!
Discouraged? Don't give up!
Worried that all those years of labour may have been for nothing? Do not give up!
It is like training for a race. Just keep running.

Or at least that is what I did. Here is the story:

I accepted a TT offer from a SLAC this year at a desirable location and turned down 3 other TT offers. This was my 4 year on the job market. 1 year as a graduate student at a non-Leiterrific, not very heard of grad program, and 3 years as a postdoc (at two different institutions). I had 0 interviews as a grad student but got the first postdoc that year. 3 first-rounds, no campus visits in my second year; 0 interviews in my third year, and 8 interviews, 4 campus visits and 4 offers in my fourth year.

I am giving the numbers here, because EACH YEAR IS REALLY DIFFERENT. So, do not automatically assume that you lost it if you had no interviews this year, as you may have more offers than what to do with next year... Keep publishing, keep rolling the dice, and whatever you do, do not give up. Here is what worked for me:

1. Publications, publications, publications.
My postdocs were research postdocs so they helped me publish A LOT. Some are in prestigious journals in my field, some are in not so prestigious ones but every bit helps. They increase your visibility, among other things. The title for one of my papers was very influential in getting one of the job offers: the dean loved it...

2.Conferences: Go, present your work, comment on others' work, engage with people in your field, stay in touch with them, ask for help for your work, ask for help in your applications. I was amazed by people's willingness to help me in this whole process. Some colleagues I met at the conferences offered to look at my job materials for instance, learning that I was pretty much on my own in the job market madness. It helped so much.

3. Cover letters. I cannot emphasize how important it is to customize the cover letters. Read the job ad carefully, see what the school is looking for, and tell them what you can offer. If they want someone who can teach Modern Philosophy, tell them why and how you can teach that course well. Do not expect the hiring committees make inferences about what you can contribute to their department. State. everything. explicitly.

4. Make sure your teaching dossier is also customized: I had 8-9 different syllabi. And depending on the position, I would select a combo and send them off. My area is very interdisciplinary, so doing this helped departments see that I can actually meet their needs. Yes, it is time consuming. I barely slept in the Fall. But you have to do it, if you are not from a Leiterrific school. (This also helped bring to the fore the dedicated teacher in me.)

5. Do not agonize or despair. In the first 3 years of the job market I neurotically read this blog, the Leiter, NewApps during the job season, which increased my anxiety. This year I did not. I would quickly skim through them see if there is anything useful, but then stop and go read an article, or write something...


7. Be confident. You do deserve a good job. Just keep plugging in.

zombie said...


I'm two years into a TT job. I spent three years on the job market, the first ABD, and the second and third while I had a research post-doc. I think I published my way up from a non_leiterrific PhD. But I also think the elusive FIT made a difference in my case. I had an interesting side career (interesting to me, and to a thoughtful and generous dept chair who gave me excellent teaching opportunities when I was an adjunct). I ended up in a department where I "fit" in three distinct ways.

True story: I know someone in another discipline who applied for a TT job recently. He happened to know the Search Chair well, and when he didn't get the job, the SC told him explicitly that "fit" was what determined their hiring choice. The winning candidate fit two distinct (and marginally related) slots for the dept. They weren't specifically looking for someone to fit the second slot, but presented with a candidate who could, they hired that person.

This is only of limited help. Fit is hard to glean from a job ad, especially if the ad specifies one thing, and the determinant of fit is somewhat tangential. On a practical level, it tells you to think about what you do, and what your interests are in terms of how they might enhance your appeal as a candidate. To some extent, it might help to think of yourself as someone other than a philosopher who does X. There are lots of philosophers who do X. What do you do other than X that makes you interesting?

Anonymous said...

On "fit":

It's on the applicant to show how well you fit. Yes, SCs may have something already in mind, but as zombie points out, sometimes "fit" means "this applicant presented with something we didn't need, but works really well for us."

You can boost your chances in this regard, and it takes a little bit of time, a an effort at customizing your application documents:

1. Know the school's mission. The more you can tie your teaching and research into that mission, the better.
1a. Know the rest of the university. If you work in an area that allows you to productively collaborate with other departments/programs, make that explicit.
2. Know the department's strengths and weaknesses. Being able to boost a strength while also filling in a weakness will help.
2a. If you overlap in some ways with what they already have, spin it in your favor. Do you add something new? Is your work complementary to what that other faculty member already does? (Never underestimate a potential colleague's desire to guard their territory.)
4. Know the area. Why does it make sense for you to be in that area, not just at that school? Are there resources, libraries, programs, etc. that you could productively work with?

I know many people who do such tailoring in their initial letters of application, and some who don't do this work until they have a campus interview. From where I sit, I don't know how much it matters (except in those cases where, in applying to a school with a religious affiliation, you need to make that clear in your letter and supporting application materials). I just don't know that SCs are concerned with "fit" on the first read of applications. But this work is *essential* when you fly out to the campus interview.

Anonymous said...

9.51 'I'd be gratefulif you would clarify what you mean by 'Never underestimate a potential colleague's desire to guard their territory.' Do you mean that a potential colleague won't want someone working in the same area because they are a threat? Or that they will want someone working in the same area so they can cooperate with him/her in defending it? I always assumed individuals would like to have colleagues interested in the same subject.

Anonymous said...

9:51 seems like bad advice to me. Yes, learn about the department, but you as a candidate have NO idea what they consider 'fit'. As Zombie's story shows, it's often impossible to glean this information as an outsider.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to comments in the other thread, I don't think 4:04 is shamelessly advertising for TheProfIsIn. Instead, I think the fact that an academic consultant might have made a big difference is a sign of how messed up the job market. I assume that 4:04 is as talented as s/he has always been. The thought that such cosmetic (i.e. not philosophically-related) changes matters is a sign of how bad search committees are at cutting through the noise and identifying the underlying talent.

Still, take the academic consultant's advice. Try to activate all the right kinds of implicit biases. The market is highly noisy; try to make the kind of noises that sound good.

Anonymous said...

I always assumed individuals would like to have colleagues interested in the same subject.

(I'm not 9:51, by the way.) This is really representative of the gaping chasm that exists between the academic culture of programs that train graduate students and the culture that exists at the other 95% of institutions in higher education. At Ph.D-granting R1 programs, of course faculty are delighted to bring aboard new colleagues with similar interests: among other things, it can strengthen the department's standing in that sub-discipline, and hell, you have another person to talk to. However, at practically every other institution, a colleague with overlapping interests -- while perhaps providing an opportunity for stimulating conversation now and then -- is someone with whom you will likely have to take turns teaching the upper-division undergraduate courses in your area of expertise. Very few of us prefer teaching another section of Intro or Critical Thinking instead of our usual advanced undergraduate seminar. There are lots of even pettier considerations that come into play as well, but this is the first that jumps to my mind.

Folks love to discuss the various ways in which graduate programs inadequately prepare their students for the ugly realities of the job market. To my mind, this is one of the most serious problems, and yet it seems to be (mostly) neglected: Ph.D-granting R1 programs prepare students to function effectively at institutions with Ph.D-granting R1 programs. But in the few cases where a job candidate successfully lands a tenure-track position, practically none of those positions are at institutions that operate, either at the university or the department level, like these graduate programs.

This is very relevant to the current discussion, by the way. From my few experiences serving on Search Committees, it has seemed to me that successful job candidates are those that demonstrate an appreciation of how most academic institutions actually work.

(And they don't seem horrified by it.)

Anonymous said...

I have been several years on the market, and used to apply very widely, for anything even remotely within my AOC. For the first 2 years on the market, I had only a couple of first-round APA and skype interviews per year. I then landed a postdoc at a top philosophy department. During that third year, I had more first-round interviews than during the previous years, two on campus interview, and one TT job offer. What made the difference?

1. My pubs had been incrementally increasing year after year, but I've been told that once n > 5 or so, it doesn't really matter how many you've got, so I don't think they made a difference (I had already a few good pubs as a grad student, and were > 5 by year one on the market).
2. The postdoc certainly seemed to help, as the SC members made reference to my being member of [prestigious school] often during the on campus. My department is unranked, but the prestige of a good postdoc place does rub off.
3. I applied more selectively during my third year, only to jobs squarely within my AOS. With 'selectively' I don't mean the locations of schools or their prestige, but the extent to which my teaching and research fit the job description. To compare: I used to apply for 40-50 jobs/year, but that year, I applied for 15 or so only. Many job candidates seem to believe that there are no downsides to applying widely, but all those cover letters, tailored syllabi, tailored research statements etc take time. Unless you don't tailor, which is a mistake - you need to do your homework for each department (I do not use consulting services for those materials, btw). So by applying widely you think you are increasing your chances, but you also end up sending low-quality files (and not inconceivably, if you apply to 50 or so schools, you might make mistakes in the salutation, name of department etc!)
When I applied selectively the final year on the market, I carefully tailored each package to the school, making reference to peculiarities of each as I found on their website (e.g., an interdisciplinary project the philosophy department is involved in, where I could see myself contribute).
3. Letters of rec: If you don't come from a department where these are vetted, it's a good idea to give your writers plenty of info on yourself and on the job, to help them make a good letter. Small hints like "I'll be applying for this job, and if you could specifically mention my teaching in X that you've seen and were impressed with, this would certainly help, since they have teaching needs in X". Again, since your letter writers will not do this for dozens of applications, this is something that you can mainly do when applying selectively.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to second "fit" as a likely factor. I'm confident it played a large role in landing my TT job this year. But I don't want to flag it as something one can improve on. I didn't realize what the Dept was looking for until around my on-campus interview and even more so after being hired. But they knew I was a good fit probably from my CV. There was nothing I could do in advance to help given that what they wanted was not really on display.

So I'd say control the things you can, like publications, networking, good teaching evals, external letters, being smart, friendly, professional, etc. But beyond that it's largely out of your hands. Use this fact to take a useful Stoic attitude to what you can't control.

FemFilosofer said...

I spent two years on the market, one ABD and one with the PhD in hand. My PhD-granting school is unranked.

The first year, I had three interviews: two for TT jobs and one for a multi-year VAP. I was offered one TT job and one VAP. I chose the VAP for personal (and some professional) reasons. I had 3 years of solo teaching experience, and no publications to speak of.

The second year, with my PhD in hand, I had four first-round interviews and three on-campus interviews, with one TT offer, which I accepted. I still had no publications, but I had broader teaching experience because of the VAP.

I will echo some of the advice already on this thread;

1) Know thyself! (and the schools to which one is applying). I applied broadly, but 3 of the 4 on-campus interviews I got were with schools that share a mission with my PhD granting institution.

2) Clean up your application materials. I worked with a grad student this year whose materials were highly-formatted and for that reason, difficult to read quickly and find relevant information.

3) Think about your letter-writers. Most of my letter writers were newly tenured faculty, and while this probably worked against me at some schools, our personal relationships probably made the letters better for those schools looking to learn about me as a colleague and person as well as a philosopher.

4) Monitor your online presence. You can't control Ratemyprofessor.com, but you can control your Facebook page. My colleagues said they nixed few candidates because of the things that showed up on their FB pages from a quick Google search (e.g., sexist, racist, classist language and rants). Remember that the academic world is small, and sometimes friends-of-friends can see your comments and such.

5) Acknowledge and be reflective about your strengths and weaknesses. This goes double for interviews with potential faculty and Deans. The cover letter may not be the place to explain where you struggle, but in your Teaching Statement and Research Statement, I think acknowledging the weaknesses that others will most definitely find in teaching evals or research record shows that you aren't oblivious to your own performance.

Anonymous said...

The thing about 'fit' is that I worry it sometimes goes beyond teaching and research. If during an on campus interview I bond with potential colleagues over shared hobbies, doesn't that make me stick out in their minds more? In a way, I'd be a better fit than other candidates merely because I share the same hobbies as some of the SC members.

Unrelated to this, does anybody have more advice about what to do when some of your interests overlap with another faculty member's? I'm talking about small departments and talking about R1s where this would be a good thing.

10:51 said...

Argh! I meant to say that I'm NOT asking about R1s or large institutions where the overlap wouldn't matter.

Anonymous said...

"The thing about 'fit' is that I worry it sometimes goes beyond teaching and research."

Fit *always* goes beyond teaching and research. "Fit" is shorthand for "unexplainable qualities we can't put into the job ad, but become very important when choosing between 2-3 very excellent finalists."

Anonymous said...

The best case scenarios for 'fit':

1) Your friend from grad school is the search chair.
2) Your friend from grad school is the department chair.
3) Your uncle/father/brother etc. has a "special" relationship with the Dean or President
4) Your uncle/father/brother is the Dean or President.

God bless 'fit'...if it weren't for fit, the most deserving candidates might get jobs!

10:51 said...

I'm sure that the scenarios mentioned by 12:27 and 1:34 are not at all uncommon, but Zombie and others have mentioned cases where fit played a legitimate role. My worry is that the cases mentioned by Zombie and by 12:27 and 1:34 are on opposite extremes of the spectrum and that there are cases occurring in the middle where it is difficult to tell whether or not anything wrong is going on.

Anonymous said...


It's nice to know that the most deserving candidates aren't getting jobs. Makes mine feel so much more special.

Anonymous said...


The problem here is that some people refuse to believe that there are multiple - in some cases, quite a few - people who are (in some way) "perfect" for a job. People who get jobs after being told that they were a good fit, will feel as if the decision was the correct one. Everyone else, unfortunately, will feel like they have been screwed out of what was rightfully theirs, and complain about the most worthy applicants are not getting jobs.

No matter how clear, reasonable, or transparent a SC is about the hiring process, everyone who didn't get that job will assume that the SC made the wrong choice, and very often assume that som sort of underhanded or deceitful game was being played.

Anonymous said...

This was my 4th year on the market. I adjuncted for a year, and had VAPs at 2 different schools. This year I had 7 first-round interviews (only 1 at the APA), and 4 campus visits, plus 1 each first-round and campus invites that I turned down after being offered a TT position.

My PhD is from a department that is unranked, but respected in my AOS. I can point to a few things that were different this year, which I'll list in order (though I do think that generalizing from experiences here is dicey, as this whole thing revolves so much around luck):

1. I was able to talk with committees in interviews as a colleague, not a student. Having spent time at multiple institutions--involved in teaching, student life, and governance--I have formulated coherent responses to issues of pedagogy, institutional structure, and the general day-to-day of work in the academy. I look back on my previous interview experiences, and I think I must have looked so green. Now, when I talk with committees about teaching, or the vagaries of service work, I'm able to speak intelligently and confidently about these things, and as a colleague rather than a supplicant or idealist. Having real examples to draw on helps in this regard, so even though I think the institutions that had me doing extra-classroom work as a VAP were being exploitative and horrible, I was able to use those things to my advantage. I hesitate to recommend seeking out extra work to people, but if you're the sort of person who gets into university policy and structure, or student organizations (I do), then this is an added bonus of doing this sort of thing.

2. I had a couple additional publications, including an edited volume forthcoming in a recognized series in my field.

3. I did significant research of each institution ahead of time, and paid very close attention to even the smallest passing mentions of new programs, gen-ed restructuring, etc. When you see those sorts of things in ads, I think it's a good idea to find out all you can about them, and be able to speak in a coherent, non-bullshitting way about them, and how you, specifically, see yourself in relation to them--in quick form for the cover letter, and expanded form for the interview. I also spent quite a bit of time researching the individuals I would meet in campus interviews, and made sure to think about good questions to ask each of them (again, legitimate and interesting questions where at all possible; not bullshit ones).

I hope that helps. I was ready to give up after this year (and I still think that's a legitimate response to the horrors of this market), but I was fortunate.

zombie said...

1:34, the examples you cite are not "fit," but nepotism. Believe it or not, there is a difference. Believe it or not, when SCs have multiple and equally satisfactory candidates, something has to break the tie. "Fit" can be that tie-breaker. Fit is not always something the SC knows they desire until they actually have a candidate who fits in a serendipitous way. So there you have it: The way in which Candidate X fits is like an iPhone. Nobody knew they needed it until it was available.
Pretty obviously, not every candidate who gets a job has some personal/family connection to the school. If that was required to get a job in philosophy, I wouldn't have a job in philosophy, and neither would a whole lot of other people. Or, we'd all just end up working for our alma maters.

Anonymous said...

For those who have been on the market for several years: Do you expect your recommenders to update letters each year? Do you hesitate to ask at some point? Is it impolitic to re-use a letter from last year without informing your recommenders? I ask because I've been on the market for several years, 4 to be exact. I have no problem asking my director and other writers from my grad program to update their letters, but I also have a letter from a well-known figure in my area, who was not at my institution. While I would obviously like to include this in my dossier, I am a bit hesitant/embarrassed to ask him/her to update a letter yet again. Would it be wrong to just send out the same letter again this season? Would search committees look poorly upon that?

For what it's worth, it's not as if I've been completely unsuccessful. I've gotten some VAPs, lectureships, etc., but not the elusive TT position.

Thanks in advance.

zombie said...

5:20: You should update your letters. Do you have something new to add to them? Recently published (or very good unpublished) work? The point of the update is really to update, but if you have nothing new to add, the letters can at least be "refreshed" with a new date.

Ask the famous philosopher for an update. S/he can always decline. You should also get a letter from a recent employer, esp. if they can provide you with a good teaching reference.

My last year on the market, one person on my diss committee never updated his letter (or at least never submitted it to Interfolio), By then, I had other good letters, so I didn't especially need it.

Anonymous said...

3:09, you are special...perhaps a special beneficiary of your buddy's generosity (notice I wrote 'perhaps').

Zombie, technically the first two are cronyism...

The difficulty with cronyism and nepotism is that the beneficiaries are rarely if ever 'outed'. If they are, then the department representative just says that these candidates were the ideal 'fit'. I know of two perfect examples of cronyism in philosophy faculty hiring in the past five years, one a west coast school where the hire was an inside candidate and a grad school friend of the department chair...and the other an east coast school where the hire was an outside candidate and also a grad school friend of the search committee chair. BTW, I have a TT job, but I did not get it through a friend or relative. So, I'm not saying....ALL philosophy faculty hires result from cronyism or nepotism (that should be ridiculously obvious, but sometimes we have to state the obvious in order to repel the objections of philosophers lacking anything that remotely resembles common sense). Still, enough hires result from nepotism and cronyism to warrant a thread where we 'out' them....of course, with evidence.

Bobcat said...

For people confused about "fit", here are three examples:

(1) Two candidates might be equally good from the perspective of having impressive publications and teaching credentials but one might have a better fit in this way: the department advertises as an AOS, "continental philosophy". Candidate 1 is a Heidegger scholar; candidate 2 is a Foucault scholar; the department's undergraduates are more interested in Foucault, and have been clamoring for more Foucault for years. Candidate 2 is a better fit.

(2) Candidates 1 and 2 are equally good philosophers up for consideration at a small liberal arts college with a 3 member philosophy faculty. The department really doesn't want to have someone it hires leave. Candidate 1 is from the area where the small liberal arts college is, and has lots of friends and family there, and so is deemed to be less likely to leave after a few years for a more prestigious job. Candidate 1 is a better fit.

(3) Candidates 1 and 2 are both equally good philosophers and teachers, and both do the same subject -- let's say, Plotinus (weird, I know). But candidate 1 also does logic, and the department has a greater need for logic, whereas candidate 2's other AOS is philosophy of mind, and the department already has someone who does philosophy of mind. Candidate 1 is a better fit.

I don't think there's anything objectionable about finding the more fitting candidate to be better than the less fitting candidate, at least in the above examples.

Anonymous said...

I think the kind of case that people worry about when we start talking about fit isn't one in which, when presented with two equally qualified candidates, the search committee goes with one of the candidates because of something additional to their qualifications that addresses one of the department's unstated needs. It's when search committees are presented with two candidates, one with more publications and more good teaching than the other, but the committee goes with the one with less qualification because something about that candidate fit some of the needs of the department. In other words, when fit supplants scholarship and teaching excellence as primary criteria. Now I don't know whether this kind of thing happens a lot, but let's not kid ourselves that people are worried about fit being a tie-breaker. The worry is that fit plays a role earlier in the process.

Mr. Zero said...

I think the kind of case that people worry about when we start talking about fit... [is] when search committees are presented with two candidates, one with more publications and more good teaching than the other, but the committee goes with the one with less qualification because something about that candidate fit some of the needs of the department. In other words, when fit supplants scholarship and teaching excellence as primary criteria.

I'm not sure I see what the problem is with this kind of case. (I presume that 'fit' isn't just a euphemism for cronyism--it seems to me that when people say it was "fit" and it was actually cronyism, they are lying, not being euphemistic.) Your average search committee isn't trying to find the person who has the most publications and the best teaching (whatever that means). Your average search committee is looking for the best person for the particular position.

Sometimes that means publications and teaching; sometimes it means Ph.D. from Rutgers; sometimes it means background and experience dovetails just right with the department's needs and desires. If you have to give up some publications in order to get a person who's going to stick around for a while, or whose secondary teaching interest fills a gap in the curriculum, that seems fine to me.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is out of line. If so, I hope somebody will let me know. But to me it seems ok.

Anonymous said...

"but the committee goes with the one with less qualification because something about that candidate fit some of the needs of the department. In other words, when fit supplants scholarship and teaching excellence as primary criteria."

No, this is not the case. Both finalists were found to be fully qualified in terms of teaching and scholarship. Scholarship and teaching were not supplanted by anything.

Unless you are suggesting that hiring decisions should be boiled down to measuring the length of CVs. Which, by the way, I'm not opposed to. It would certainly improve my chances on the market.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is out of line. If so, I hope somebody will let me know. But to me it seems ok."

You are not wrong. But that's because you don't seem to be one of those who wants every SC to act in the exact same way, judging applicants by the exact same criteria, regardless of the differences between various departments and their individual needs.

Of course, even if we could agree that all SCs should judge by the exact same criteria, we'd never agree on what those criteria should be, as most people seem to want SCs to make decisions based on criteria that put themselves at the top of the pile. For everyone screaming that publications should determine all hiring decisions, there will be others shouting just as loudly that publications are not a useful marker in determining the most effective teachers. And still others will claim that publications don't equate to better scholars, given the inconsistencies, biases, etc. displayed by journals.

Anonymous said...

If you mean by "fit" the candidate that best meets the SC's hiring criteria then I don't see what the problem is -- that of course is going to have some idiosyncratic features relative to departments. If you mean by "fit" something like "unqualified" for the job given the SC's hiring criteria then I don't see that there is a problem there either, unless most SC's are akratic?


10:51 and 2:30 said...

@ Bobcat,

Thanks for the examples. I guess (1) and (3) seem completely unproblematic to me even though (1) seems highly unlikely. Cases like (2) are the kinds where I'm not so sure what to think. Suppose I'm a gay minority applying for a job where there are very few people like me. Will the SC judge that I'm less likely to stay and go with someone else because of that?

Disclaimer: I'm not on the job market, and I hope to one day be hired because of fit. Other posters shouldn't take this discussion to be another instance of complaining.

Anonymous said...


I don't have a general problem with 'fit' judgments (provided that they're not just a disguise or excuse for implicit -- or explicit -- biases, which I fear they often can be), but I'm definitely concerned about #2.

I see this a lot, and it puts some candidates in a "can't win" situation. I think judgments about whether a candidate is likely to leave are fraught with biases and misjudgment. Yes, hiring a local person is often safe for all sorts of reasons, not even related to 'leaving' per se (they're more likely to be happy, even if both candidates would have stayed for their full career).

I got a job at exactly one of these places where they're seriously afraid that I'll leave. But suppose that I'm really intent on staying for a good period of time (if not my whole career) and loving it: if they're basing their judgment only on my credentials (like a very strong publication record, and someone who will very likely have departments trying to pluck me down the road), they're making an unreliable judgment about my likelihood of staying (and being happy).

I understand that, to *some* degree it's rational for departments to think this way, but we have to mix ethics and rationality together here. For example, it's rational for departments to worry that if they hire a woman, they may have to deal with her becoming pregnant and going on maternity leave, but it would be *utterly* inappropriate (ethically and *legally*!!) to weigh that consideration in their decision to hire (or not) that candidate.

I worry the same is going on with judgments about whether a candidate will stay.

Anonymous said...

Zero and 4:08 are right.

I've been on lots of SCs, from faculty to administration to presidential. Fit issues come up at all of those levels. In my experience on faculty SCs at SLACs, idiosyncratic needs/desires relevant to the job always come into play (and they never had anything to do with cronyism). There are so many that it's not worth trying to explain them all.

For an SLAC job, the best advice I can give is to tailor your letter to what the ad asks for. Respond in your letter to every component of the ad. If it says they need someone who can X, Y, and Z, say how you can do those things, and why you can do them well. If the ad asks for Z, they are asking for a reason. Address it.

I'd also read up about the department and the school. Does the department have a vision? If the position requires contribution to general education, read about that university's general education curriculum - what are its goals? What is its specific vision? Is the department deeply embedded in the gen ed curriculum? A letter that reflects familiarity with theses sorts of things is a plus. An interview that displays a real familiarity with (and dedication to) those things is a very big plus. SCs at (S)LACs, for good reason, want to see that you are interested in their school, not just *a* job.

Remember, most (S)LACs have philosophy departments trying hard to fight for resources, for university support, attention, etc. Moreover, the university itself is fighting for its life in the midst of a hostile higher-ed landscape, and so doesn't want people filling TT positions who are not excited by what that university does and ready to contribute to its mission. For many of those places, you need to be able to show that you can not only do the things they need done (the X, Y, and Z), but that you're ready to hit the ground running and make contributions to the department's and university's goals. Evidence of these latter strengths comes from familiarity and excitement with what those departments /universities are doing.

Is this lot to cover in an application? Yes. But that's what will put you in a good position for the job.

- SLAC SC Junkie

Anonymous said...

Hmm, so if I am getting this fit thing right, this is how the job search situation stands:

Departments make hires based on scholarship and teaching, except when they don't, and when they don't, it's because the preferred candidate fit the department better in at least one of multiple dimensions.

Yep, I think we're screwed--and I don't mean just the people who haven't gotten jobs. Even if you've gotten a job based on this amorphous standard, it doesn't make it any less problematic. And I'm surprised that people are defending this way of hiring as they are. Oh well, I guess all I can do is publish and teach and hope that someone sees the je ne sais quoi within the penumbra of my CV.

Anonymous said...

"Departments make hires based on scholarship and teaching, except when they don't, and when they don't, it's because the preferred candidate fit the department better in at least one of multiple dimensions."

No, not quite. Departments take the several hundred applications and winnow them down to a short list, often (but not always, as we do need to recognize various biases regarding institutional prestige, etc.) based on publications and teaching as they address the requirements for the job.

Then, they interview a short list of applicants, some of whom will shine in the interview, some of whom will not. At this point, some SCs will consider fit, as they can only bring a small number of finalists to campus visits.

It's not an either/or situation, in the way you present it. Both sides of the binary you lay out are at play in hiring decisions.

zombie said...

My dept has done several searches in the last couple of years. In all but one search, the SC explicitly stated (to the rest of the dept) that they were happy with all of the candidates they brought to campus, and would gladly hire any of them. But they could only hire one, and how that "winning candidate" fit with strategic goals or teaching needs (present and anticipated future) of the dept were part of the fit consideration. And in some of those hires, they didn't get their first choice, and the second choice has turned out just fine.
We've also had new hires jump ship after a couple of years, which is a PITA for everyone. Had the SC known, via Magic 8 Ball or whatever, that Candidate X was not going to stay, they would have gone with Candidate Y. But it's pretty hard to know something like that, and making empirically unfounded assumptions (or, perhaps, inductions), is worrisome if those assumptions turn on questionable factors (e.g. family status, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.)

Anonymous said...

There are other weird factors that "fit" can cover. I've heard it said that Pitt, Harvard, Berkeley, and Chicago comprise (with several obvious individual exceptions) a school or way of doing philosophy. MIT, Princeton, NYU and Rutgers: same thing. This often trickles down to less prestigious schools.

I've had colleagues say during job hiring discussions that candidate x "really speaks our language." Sometimes it goes in the other direction: "not another INSERT_SCHOOL_HERE philosopher!"

Sometimes it doesn't matter if you are publishing good work if it isn't being done in the way that fits.

Anonymous said...


I don't think what you describe is weird. If certain programs have a particular "way" of doing philosophy, then it only makes sense that they would want to preserve that.

This, to try and address some of the comments others have made above, is one of the positive kinds of "fit," in that it is grounded in considerations of research and teaching.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I did:

1. I slew a yearling goat, collected it's blood in a large white ceramic bowl, and deposited its genitalia in another. I used part of the blood (and a brush made from the goats hair and a branch of holly) to paint sigils on my own flesh; then put the genitals and the remaining blood (which I had mixed with alcohol) into a brazier and lit them on fire. While they burned I consumed the goats heart, and offered prayers in dead languages to a variety of arcane gods.

Worked for me.

(Note: no actual goats, or any other animals, were injured in the writing of this clearly satirical post. Also, I do not advocate ritual animal sacrifice to arcane gods...since they are mostly assholes).

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of 10:35 is that it explicitly offers a one-step program for success. I almost decided to number this very paragraph "#1", in homage, but just in time realized that I am not worthy.