Blog - Writing A Great Recommendation Letter
This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

With the spring semester coming to a close, now is an opportunity for higher education professionals to evaluate new career options, including entering the professoriate. Interestingly, while there are some explicit requirements for gaining a professorship like securing a terminal degree in your field (in most cases), there are also some considerations that candidates need to explore when securing a faculty position. In this article I share five considerations that are important when applying for your next professor position.

Build Your Scholarly Community to Gain Access to Opportunities

“Your network equals your net worth.” This quote is often used when discussing the importance of having a network if you want to become wealthy. This analogy directly applies to academia. Often many of the opportunities (i.e., professorships) are provided to individuals through an informal network. As a result, it is important to begin developing these relationships. For doctoral students, this can be done by becoming officers in your discipline’s research organization and/or consistently attending and presenting at these conferences. For current professors, your network can be developed by holding service positions and networking with colleagues in the field during your discipline’s signature conferences. For strategies on how to make the most of the conferences you attend check out one of my previous Smart Scholar posts on the topic.

In my field (education), the most important conferences tend to be the American Educational Research Association annual meeting and then a discipline specific conference which for me are typically the University Council for Education Administration and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education annual conferences.

Identify the Universities that Align with Your Mission

As faculty you are evaluated on your research productivity and impact, your teaching ability and innovation, and service to your department, school, university, and field. Often, I see a lot of scholars being given biased suggestions that they should only focus on research intensive universities. However, given all of the aforementioned evaluation criteria and the mission of individual universities, I recommend that on your faculty search that you find an institution that is in alignment with your own personal mission. 

For instance, do you get excited about teaching and student learning and want that to bear the most impact on your evaluations? If so, in your search you will want to find institutions that place a heavy emphasis on teaching. Or if you want to cultivate the next generation of researchers and engaging in the research process motivates you, then you need to find a research-intensive university that is aligned to your mission.

Begin Working on Publications

Whether we like it or not, the reality for many disciplines is that candidates with a publication history have an advantage in the job market. This in particular disadvantages scholars of color who often are not provided substantial opportunities during graduate school to publish. Groups like R.A.C.E (Research, Advocacy, Collaboration, Empowerment) Mentoring have served as leaders in supporting these efforts for scholars of color; however the mentoring around writing for publications is not consistent across graduate programs.

As a result, it is important for candidates to begin to engage in writing projects that will lead to publications in order to be more competitive when seeking faculty positions. Additionally, I began a Dissertation to Publication Mastermind to support doctoral students to turn their dissertations to publications.

Apply and Follow the Directions on the Job Posting

From my experience serving on search committees, you would be surprised at how many potential candidates do not follow the directions of the job posting. And do you know what happens as a result? Your application is often placed in the pile of rejections.

Because of these experiences, I want to caution job seekers to make sure that you follow the directions as listed in the job posting. I would hate for you to spend time putting your documents together and securing reference letters to only not be given serious consideration because you missed a document or provided information that was not requested in the job description. (If you are looking for an efficient way to collect your letters of recommendation, you might look at Interfolio’s Dossier service.)

Align Your Cover Letter to the Job Posting and Mission of Department/Institution

Similar to making sure that you follow the directions in the job posting, you will want to make sure that you align your cover letter with the job posting and the mission of the department and institution. First, aligning your cover letter with the job posting allows the search committee to see how you would be a fit for the position you are applying for.

Second, aligning your cover letter with the mission of the department and institution is an important yet often forgotten aspect of your application. To create this alignment, you will have to do some research about the department and institution. In particular finding the strategic plan will be helpful as you will gain an understanding of the institution’s priorities. With this information you can then tailor your cover letter to these priorities and explain how your research, teaching, and service will support the priorities of the institution. For instance, if the strategic plan of the university is emphasizing faculty research and extramural funding then you would want to make sure your cover letter touches on how your past experiences and future research would position you to publish and secure grants and other types of research contracts.

While there is a lot of nuance to securing a faculty position that I could not delve deep into here, I would love to hear your thoughts on Twitter about other considerations that are important to you when looking for a faculty position.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.