Saturday, October 25, 2014

Maybe a little bit more advice on the job letter

I've written a bunch of posts full of advice about the job letter, and I don't want to repeat myself so this will be short.

As far as I can tell, the advice has not changed from blog to blog or year to year, but there are a couple of points in otherwise good posts that I would like to challenge.

1. Karen Kelsky (Professor is In) usually has good advice, like about tailoring a job letter. (Of course I think it's good; it's advice I've given myself. ) I did read somewhere that it's too much of a burden for the applicant to tailor a job letter, but if you're applying for a job you are serious about, what do you think?

 But she thinks Interfolio and non-tailored letters from your faculty recommenders are a sign of the apocalypse, or anyway serious professional laziness on the part of faculty.  I'm happy to write personalized letters, but as a member and/or chair of a search committee, I certainly didn't expect personalized letters from faculty members that had tailored them to our specific hiring needs.

2. Philip N. Howard's helpful Inside Higher Ed essay on the lines needed in job letters has a lot of good advice, too. Amidst this excellent advice, though, is one thing that might not be true:
"Address your letter to the person heading the search or the department head. A greeting such as 'Dear Committee Members' shows you haven’t done enough research." 
"Research" in this case may involve defying the HR requirements of posting the ad, which for various reasons may not list a name at all but may instead  specify that the letter has to be addressed to "Search Committee Chair" or some such. I don't know why they do this, and I'm not brave enough to go to HR and find out.

So "research" in this case may involve using the name of the department chair, or calling the department and requesting the name of the search committee chair. I get why Howard would think this is important, but what if 300 applicants all call the administrative assistant to try to get this information in the name of "research"?  It's nice if you have the name, but don't lose any sleep over it if you don't. It's a salutation, not the Holy Grail.

Let me assure job candidates who may be reading this that, as a search committee member and/or chair, I could not tell you whether the hundreds of letters I read had my name, the department chair's name, "Dear Committee Members," or "Dear Bozos on the Bus." Quite honestly, we skip to the first paragraph -- AS WE SHOULD-- and get right to the substance of your qualifications and interest in the position.

3. The letterhead issue is another one that bloggers, CHE, and IHE have written about for the past ten years or so. Karen Kelsky points out that you should be able to get an electronic version, or, in a pinch, Photoshop a version of it for your electronic publications.  I'd only add that your department probably has this for the asking for grad students (although some don't give it out).

 In a funny reversal, when I asked for this letterhead template a few years ago, various Northern Clime admins assured me that we had no such thing for faculty or students. What was I talking about! Didn't exist! A student did have a copy of it, though, so that's how I was able to post much better-looking versions of letters to job portals and Interfolio. For the most recent logo redesign, we were officially sent the template, which is a step in the right direction.


heu mihi said...

As a frequent search committee member and (currently and last year) chair, I want to agree with you on two points:

1) I do not care/expect faculty to tailor recommendation letters. Interfolio is lovely.

2) I do not care if you address your letter to me, Search Committee Chair, Search Committee, whatever. Does not matter. At all.

There are so many more important things to worry about when you're on the market!

undine said...

Thanks, heu mihi, for the confirmation!