Ask a candidate: how to put together your best possible faculty job application

Interfolio's Dossier | Topics in Higher Education


This is one of a series of infrequent posts by a onetime faculty job seeker, now academic-at-large, on the job market.

The best faculty job applications are self-assured and well-curated. Every assertion and bit of evidence contained therein should be part of your coherent argument, and the argument goes like this: I’m already putting my mark on my field. I’ll be a good colleague. I’m ready.

  1. Spare your readers the arm-long CV. A CV with each and every grad school accomplishment on it can push ten pages, or more. Try to edit your CV so that it contains your most shining—and relevant—accomplishments.  If you spent your first few years in grad school writing book reviews and encyclopedia articles, don’t feel bad! It happens to the best of us. But don’t include references to these low-prestige publications on your CV, unless you think the credit really illustrates something about you that you’d like to showcase. If, for example, you’re applying for a job outside your discipline, but have published some book reviews in that area, the publication credit may do you good. Otherwise, leave it off.
  2. Try to give your cover letter some life. Yes, we know. You are writing many documents (too many) in the process of applying for a faculty job. But try to resist copy-pasting your description of your dissertation project from a grant application, or transferring it from letter to letter. A lot of boilerplate language lards up your cover letter and makes it uncongenial to read, just in the area where you should be transmitting the most enthusiasm—your discussion of your own work. Try to step back. Read what you’ve written out loud, or try rewriting that paragraph without looking at anything you’ve written previously. Your audience is likely to be disciplinary colleagues, so you don’t need to eliminate specialized language altogether, but try to make sure that you don’t over-rely on long sentences larded with fifty-cent words. Paradoxically, you will sound less like a terrified newbie if your language is simpler.
  3. Make sure your recommendation letters say “This job is for me.” Be attentive to context when determining who you’ll ask for a letter. If it’s an interdisciplinary job, and you come out of a more traditional department, include letters that can show that you’ve worked with people outside your discipline. Conversely, if you’re an interdisciplinary Ph.D and the job you want is in an old-school department, make sure to include letters from professors from similar departments in your grad institution, attesting that you know what will be expected of you in a more straight-laced disciplinary environment. Tell your recommenders what kind of job you’re applying for, and ask them if they can make sure to talk about your suitability for that job in their letters.
  4. Check to confirm those rec letters portray you as a colleague. As a recently minted Ph.D, you will doubtless offer recommendation letters from your advisor and at least one member of your dissertation committee. But in subsequent years on the job market—and even in your first year out, if you can swing it—try to include recommendations from people who aren’t employed at your grad institution. This could be professors you worked with on a conference panel, or faculty you traded drafts of papers with, or somebody you’ve served alongside on a professional association’s committee. (The more contexts this person knows you from, the better.) The inclusion of letters like these shows that you’re already a future coworker, not a student.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, and send their materials anywhere in application to faculty jobs. Learn more about Dossier here.