Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't hate the player...

...hate the faculty search? From the inbox, a frustrated reader:
Back story: I'm currently a postdoc in [Western Europe]. I'm currently applying for faculty positions... 
So, when applying for faculty positions, they always ask for 1) CV, 2) cover letter, 3) research proposal, 4) statement of teaching philosophy.  Now, all this is fine and to be expected.  What bothers me is when they ask for 3 letters of reference - right off the bat.  During my first wave of applications, I played along and asked/prodded/poked my references - all of them busy fellows - and got them to send out letters of recommendation.  Out of ~15 applications, I had one interview (didn't get it), and the rest... dead silence.  Ok, so why did I hassle my references if I most likely didn't make it past the first round?   
On my 2nd, current, wave of applications, I'm not going to send out references along with my other documents.  They can read my stuff, and If they are interested and want to advance me to a second look, they can contact me (or my references directly - they are on my CV) and I would be more than happy to get letters sent out.  Am I putting myself at a disadvantage here?  Is this unreasonable? If it is unreasonable on my part, then how do I deal with this without trying the patience of the kind folks who are good enough to be in my corner.  And who is responsible for this nonsense - HR?  
On an unrelated topic - as I mentioned, I'm a [North American] doing a postdoc in [Western Europe].  I'm applying for positions in North America.  Do you think that my geographical location places me at a disadvantage - all other things being equal?
I do think that you're putting yourself at a disadvantage by not having your letters with your package. Faculty search committees are probably overwhelmed by applications and would like nothing better than to discard an application because it's "incomplete." I don't think it's unreasonable to ask of your recommenders -- likely, they knew what they were getting into when they agreed to write letters in support of you. They're in your corner, so they'll be willing to cut-and-paste in your favor. [As for who's responsible, it's probably the faculty themselves; I have a difficult time believing that university HR ever gets involved in faculty hiring decisions (at least until the final choice has been made.)]

As for your location in Western Europe, I suspect that it does not particularly matter; it might make interviews a little bit difficult or expensive. As long as you've been publishing in well-recognized journals and the like, you're probably okay.

But the closest I'm ever going to come to the faculty club is cutting the lawn in front of it. Readers, you're a lot more knowledgeable than me. Your thoughts, please.

15 comments:

  1. I can second CJ's comment. Unless you carry some HEAVY credentials, most departments aren't going to think twice about pitching your application because it's incomplete.

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  2. The reference letters HAVE to be there. Absolutely HAVE to be there. We are looking for any reason to cut down on the mound of reading we have to do when choosing candidates. A great reference letter can put you up on the top of the pile. Good reference letters will keep you in the pile. No reference letters will put you in the waste bin.

    ... Sorry ...

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  3. Make sure your [Western European] reference writes you a [North American]-style reference letter. The latter tend to be more superlative and effusive, and lack of those qualities in a letter tends to raise some eyebrows when read by a [North American], who probably is expecting a letter stating that you can walk on water and form carbon-carbon bonds just by looking at them.

    Reference letters are part of the first round, so if you don't send 'em, you're not making it past round 0, which is the departmental secretary.

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    1. And how exactly does one do that, may I ask..? Highly esteemed Prof So-and-so, can you please not write my reference letter in your bland, unassuming and overly modest manner, and instead make it sound like Im some sort of comic book action hero? Thank you!

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  4. You're dead right on reference letters, though this has always seemed to me unfortunate.

    I also don't like the idea of sending out detailed research plans in the absence of a CDA (which no university would sign).

    I don't know for sure, but I suspect at some smaller schools at least the added expense of travel from Europe could be a negative. This extra $500 clearly makes no sense over the cost of a faculty member for 30+ years, but I would not be shocked if it did.

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  5. Regarding only getting 1 interview, this brilliant piece of insight should help you: http://www.biospace.com/News/why-isnt-my-resume-generating-job-interviews/270804/Source=CareerTips

    Yup, all you need to do is start chatting up the person with the rutabagas in the line at Vons. Problem solved!

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    1. You've just given away your location by mentioning Vons. But yes, Biospace is a site full of uselessness, be it networking tips to fake job ads that never go anywhere.

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    2. If I'd said Gristedes?

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  6. Yes, the reference letters need to be in that packet. One possible solution is to have your references send you a pdf of the letters that you can send out with multiple applications.

    Europe might be a negative, depending on the departments involved. See if you can set up collaborations betweens universities as a way to justify travel and cost. And sweeten the hiring deal. You could also see about inviting speakers from prospective employers to talk at your current institution.

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    1. I would disagree with the PDF idea. The letters will have more weight if they are sent independently. Knowing that the subject of the letter will read it will compromise the writer's objectivity.

      And yes, the letters are absolutely key. Don't be shy; this is your future at stake!

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  7. I think sending an application without references is perfectly fine! A little bit of hubris is what's expected by the faculty search committee. They're looking for that, out of the ordinary candidate.

    (Shit, how many other people are applying for faculty jobs? And one of my key (for the resume) papers isn't even accepted yet... Better spread bad info to destroy the competition. Fools. I will crush them during the interviews. If not I can always do that MBA instead...)

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    1. Ah dammit! I wrote the stuff in brackets out loud... Oh well, doesn't matter. I will crush you 'frustrated reader'!

      And if not, hopefully the girlfriend will so at least one of us has a guaranteed income.

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  8. I agree with CJ and many of the commenters: It's imperative to have the letters up front. Having been on many faculty search committees, the volume of applications combined with the pivotal information found in the letters makes it necessary to have the application complete as soon as possible. If the letters aren't there, the file sits in a pile called "incomplete," often on an admin's desk.

    And don't worry about the letter writers. They know how the system works, so when they agree to write a letter for you, they expect to write as many as it takes. I never found this to be a burden.

    Best of luck!

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  9. Hey Guys, letter writer here. I just wanted to thank you all for the feedback. I guess Ill get on the horn to get those letters out. The Canadian in me hates to "cause a hassle" but you gotta do what you gotta do.
    Cheers!, Nodz

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  10. Having sat on numerous faculty search committees, we gave (at most) a cursory glance at incomplete applications. When there are 150 (or more apps) for one position, you are looking for reasons to cull down to a reasonable number (~12-15). Then you select ~4-8 (depending on area/broadness of the search for visits, more if multiple disciplines would be acceptable or multiple hires possible).

    Lack of letters of recommendation are a non-starter, unless you happen to work for someone that is a former colleague of the chair of the search committee. Then the chair might (stressing "might") call up said person to chat IF you happen to be exactly in their area of interest.


    That reminds me of a 2nd point.... Many factors (which aren't documented or available to the applicant) can negatively impact your application to faculty positions. These factors are often completely out of your control as an applicant. One key factor is your area of research interest. Most departments have a "target" area that they are trying to fill (either to create a critical mass or to fill an unmet need). If you are outside of this area, your application will almost certainly fail to reach the cut for interview even with exemplary letters/ideas/proof of fund-ability. Let's not even discuss the vagaries of actually obtaining an offer after achieving said interview.....

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