Last week I asked how search committees and departments should best select from several hundreds of applications the 20-30 that will receive close examination. The discussion yielded an insight for job-seekers: since the first examination of files is necessarily less careful, and, in the worst case quite cursory and subjective, they need to defend against the first cut.
1. The cover letter. Lisa Shapiro (Simon Fraser) emphasized its importance. Candidates should realize that this is independent of other elements of the dossier. It is an opportunity to present yourself for the particular job; don’t just repeat what can be found elsewhere. Why are you worth taking seriously? Say a few words about the department you are applying to, and how you would fit in. Say a few words about your experience in the area(s) of specialization/competence. Say something about teaching: emphasize this if it is a liberal arts college. Ideal length: 1½ pages.
2. Letters of reference. You have little control over these. Most people agree these are somewhat discounted, and used primarily to eliminate candidates. It’s a good idea to make sure that the range of letters attests to the breadth and depth of your preparation, and that cumulatively, they demonstrate that you are held in high regard in your department. It’s good to get a letter from one specialist outside your department, if you can.
Placement officers should be riding herd on letter-writers: editing, suggesting, etc.
3. Research statement, writing sample. The statement should be informative about your future; the writing sample should demonstrate both your vision of the field and your ability to execute. The writing sample should not be unduly dense: move the most technical bits to footnotes, if possible. It should not exceed 8,000 words.
Think about ways to create interest in additional materials that you make available on your website. Be creative with regard to website design. Think of ways to entice interested individuals to it, and to keep them there when they arrive. Ideally, it should contain not only your own writings, but also other materials that would be useful to like-minded researchers.
4. Teaching materials. Kate Norlock pointed out how important these are. Any experience you have should be flagged in the cover letter. The materials should include teaching evaluations, syllabi, and if possible a report from a faculty member who oversaw your teaching performance.