A strategic thought came together for me a while ago, and it seems sufficiently distinct from the more technical best practices issues Mohan is pursuing that I thought I'd put it as a separate post. The question is how risky to be in your public presentation. This comes up often in the context of putting yourself out there politically. People ask folks like us a lot over things like the Synthese controvery, or sexual harassment, or other LGBTQ issues in philosophy whether they should, as people on the market, make public forays into these issues. The thought is that they might offend someone and thereby not be taken seriously for a particular job. But here's the thing:
And I think that the fact that you are inevitably going to get rejected without an interview at the vast majority of jobs you apply for means something here. Now of course other things being equal, the more interviews, the more likely that a job offer will come. So obviously you don't want to throw those away. So doing something that could make some people reject you and won't really help anywhere is bad strategy. Just gratuitiously insulting continental philosophers, or religious philosophers, or epistemologists is foolish. But there are other things that will likely offend some and make you more interesting to others.
To make this concrete, say you were considering making a new and interesting point in the big punch-up a few years ago around schools that discriminate against LGBTQ philosophers. Say also that you are a really good philosopher,coming out of a 20th ranked department, neither the absolute star coming out of Rutgers, nor someone who really shouldn't have a job. That is, you are someone that the majority of departments would be happy to welcome as a colleague, but in that not really much different from 50 or so other folks on the market. And say there are 20 jobs that really fit your area and that you have a reasonable shot at. What is the default base-line? In this market, I think there is a perfectly good chance you will get zero interviews. And there is very little chance that you will get more than a couple.
So what effect does your bright, well-thought-out, politically powerful, but controversial entry into this debate do? Well, it might alienate a few people. Say 4 or 5 departments will see your name on the application and say "fuck that guy. He thinks we should be shunned. Throw that shit away." And 2 others say "Oh, I remember this guy. He stood up for LGBTQ philospohers in a really brave and smart way. Let's read this file." That is a net gain. Absolutely. If we had a market in which most files were read carefully at most schools, it wouldn't be. But we don't, so it is.
I think this applies to all sorts of things. People worry about looking a bit idiosyncratic in their areas, or interests, or approach. I think that can be a very good thing, because you need to stand out at a few places, something to make you look different from the 100 perfectly good, well trained philosophers that we have sitting in a file. When hits are rare, and it makes no difference if you strike out immediately rather than foul off 20 balls and then hit a single, taking risks makes sense.
Returning to the other side, there's clearly a balance. You don't want to sacrifice 90% of the departments in the world so as to appeal to the left-wing of the New School. And I have no algorithm. But I do think people are WAY too cautious in general. Put yourself out there. Generate a public personality. If one department falls in love with you and the rest hate your guts, you win.