Q: I have an award and scholarship from undergrad – do I put that in my CV or is all undergraduate stuff too old?

Yes. If these are cool awards and scholarships (have something to do with your discipline or are for academic excellence), your undergraduate study is not too far away. Put your two awards/scholarships right underneath your education — you want them to see that right away no matter whether you’re applying for a RI job or a community college job. That’s my opinion, at least. Awards and scholarships, from my perspective, set a precedence of excellence. That you were secretary of a club — that sort of thing is dated and not too useful, but awards — yes.

Q: What version of Word should I send an electronic letter or CV in, if they ask for them via e-mail?

If you have the newest version of Word that saves things automatically as a docx file, resave all your materials in the Word 97-2004 doc format. Those you’re sending the file to may not have the newest Office.

Q: How do I know whether to put research or teaching first in my cover letter and CV? For example, a job I’m looking at now is a 3/3 load and says, “This position requires a Ph.D. in English or related field by August 2009, as well as the expertise and ability to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in __________, and undergraduate courses in composition. Demonstrated evidence of effective teaching and an active research program are required.”

For this example school, most definitely put research first. They even say “an active research program” is required. For most schools you’ll want to put your research section first and teaching second. You can keep teaching first for community colleges, unless you do know they value research as many community colleges do, and perhaps a school that you’re absolutely positively sure doesn’t care about your research agenda too much. There are a couple of things you can do to be positive either way:

1.search the website of their college (probably the College of Arts and Sciences or its equivalent) for their tenure requirements. This information should all be online these days. Find out exactly what kind of research they want – 4 articles or a book for tenure, research encouraged but not mandatory, teaching excellence, etc. This information should be described clearly. If they have any mention of research “counts” – put your research first. During your Dean visit in particular, if you do a campus visit, s/he will be trying to assess whether this is an employee who will make tenure or if this is an employee who will be a waste of money and time.

2.Is the job a 3-2 load or a 3-3 load? If yes, they want you to do research and you should put research first. This is because faculty positions are actually on a fraction kind of system. I can’t remember if it’s 8 parts whole or 10 . . . but it’s something like a 3-2 is 5 parts teaching and then another 3 (if it’s supposed to equal 8) is research time. I was told here at ISU just recently that each course I teach is 25% of my salary, so that means that when I teach 2 courses a semester I am earning 50% of my salary, and the other 50% I earn in my work toward publication (and service). When I teach 3 courses, I am earning 75% of my salary and so should still be spending a bit of time (25%) on research and service. SO, if your position is a 3-3 load, that means 25% of your time each semester should be on research, unless they specify in their tenure requirements that that’s not the case; the other 25% is for service, then. And so you can see why a 4-4 load is not including time for research.

What you cannot go by is a statement in their ad saying they value excellence in teaching, or that being able to teach at the undergrad and grad levels is required. Everyone wants excellent teachers, and the bit about being able to teach undergrad and grad levels is kind of legal jargon for programs that have grad degrees. They have to make that a requirement for the job for HR, in part.

Q: I wish I had publications to put in my “Research” section.  This job is the most competitive one out there this year for __________ jobs so I hope the fact I have no publications doesn’t hurt me too much.

Publications certainly are important and mean something on a job application, but search committees also recognize that not all grad students working on their dissertations or nearly finished will necessarily have published just yet. Then, it is about the originality and rigor of your dissertation and 2 things past that, which you want to work hard to establish in your cover letters: 1) how you will turn your dissertation into a book (or series of articles) and 2) what projects you have lined up to work on past your dissertation. Showing that you have articles in progress even if not submitted now is good to talk about in your cover letter. Showing that you will be submitting to the big journals in your field shows you know what’s significant, quality publication vs what some of their other applicants will have, which is publication just for the sake of having something in print. Committees can and will see right through shabby publications — those mean little more than 0 publications.

Committees will be looking at ABD applications and apps by postdocs and those already working as assistant profs somewhere else with an eye toward what that candidate SHOULD have done by that point in their careers, not counting and comparing two scholars at obviously different points in their careers.

Last, the more you write to their specific job ad and address what they’re looking for, and the more you do your research on that school, the more your application will stand out regardless of publications. Most applicants will not do that kind of research or personalize their letter; some who have publication even feel less of an urgency to do that because they think they can rely upon their publication to peak committee interest, when in fact they should also have been more personal in their letters.

Don’t worry! If the job’s meant for you, it will work out. Publication is only part of the picture when you’re applying right out of grad school.


Q: In a few of the job ads I’m looking at, they mention transcripts.  In one it says “copies of transcripts” and in another it says “unofficial transcripts.”  Does this mean that the first one implies they want official transcripts?  I’m thinking that by saying “copies” they mean unofficial transcripts.  Either way, how do I get unofficial transcripts?  I know to get official ones I need to go to the registrar…would I go there for unofficial ones as well?  Also, when they ask for transcripts, are they asking for only PhD and Master’s program or do they also want undergrad transcripts?

“Copies of transcripts” — that should mean it’s ok to send unofficial copies. If they want official they need to say specifically “official.” Of course, if the expense isn’t too steep, it’s always a good idea at the beginning of the job season to go get 10 or so official transcripts so you can include those just to be safe. I say this is your call — if you have official ones or it’s not much to get them, include those. If it’s a pain, send them copies. That is how they worded it.

Yes, you can get unofficial transcripts from the registrar, too — they should be able to just print you out a copy. If you have an old copy, you can just photocopy that. You might e-mail them to see what’s easiest — they may even be able to e-mail you back a copy.

I would imagine they only mean graduate school transcripts. This is certainly something you could check with them about politely if you wanted, OR it would certainly be safest to include all of them and they can sort through and realize that they didn’t specify as they should have! Depends upon how difficult it is to get your undergrad ones?


Q: Writing sample – they say they want a writing sample but they don’t mention how long it should be.  What’s the normal length that I should work with?  I’m thinking I would use my specialization comp but it’s 31 pages, not including my works cited pages.  I’m thinking that’s too long.  Would it also be a good idea that I have my writing sample be different from what I’m doing for my dissertation?  Besides my comps, which will morph into my diss, I haven’t written anything for a while.

Typical length for a writing sample is 25 pages but, again, they didn’t specify and that’s their fault! 31 pages isn’t outrageous by any means. 40 is, but 31 should be ok if they didn’t say. I would look through that essay and be revising anyway to make it even stronger, so it may naturally get more concise and shorter. Look most closely at the first paragraph and the first 3 pages — most committee members won’t read much; only the specialists really interested in your work will. So the whole thing needs to be good, but you can get to the next stage with a marvelous first few pages alone. Writing samples are a big part of figuring out which 3 from MLA to invite to campus. BIG part.

Q: Should I print my CV, job letter, transcript copies, and writing sample on fancy resume paper (mine is a yellowy color) or would plain white paper do?  If so, should I get a high quality white paper or doesn’t it matter?

Put your CV on resume paper (though if you have a white resume paper, that looks best).

Your cover letter should be on department letterhead. Roberta just told me last Wednesday that it is ok for all of you to use the dept. letterhead you can get out of the supply room. Take what you need and not more than that (but take all you think you need total, so you don’t have to go back for more).Or you can download the letterhead logo from online — Cheryl did a blog entry on it — and make your own stationary.

Writing sample should be on your plain old regular printer paper.


Q: If a job ad says they will begin screening applications on a certain date, does that mean that any that come in afterward but are postmarked by the screening date would still be given full consideration?

If a job ad says it “screens” on a certain day, than that is their deadline and they probably won’t be looking at anything after that unless it really catches their eye and they happen to have time. But it’s a gamble. But if it says “begins screening” than they will look at everything that comes in after the deadline, just perhaps not as closely the further from the screening date things get.

If they say screening begins on that day, than they are open to applicants arriving later. Plus, they probably won’t be meeting on that day specifically but a bit later when they can coordinate their schedules, so they might not even notice if your app comes in just a day or two later.

Q: The job add says “writing sample(s)” I am unsure of what the parentheses around the “s” mean. Should I send them 2 writing samples?

Curses! Why can’t these departments learn how to write job ads!?

If you have two awesome samples to send that show your versatility but within the specialty they call for, send those. But if you really only have one that you are working hard on and that you think really does showcase your skills and perspective, just send the one. Don’t send more than one just because you think more is more, in other words. Some applicants with publications will probably do something like send a condensed dissertation chapter, to show what their diss is about, and then send a copy of a journal article, to say, see how I’m published. They probably say “sample(s)” for those applicants who want to share a publication + chapter.

Another scenario is if the job ad asked for something kind of specific and you sent one sample that really speaks to that and then one sample that is a dissertation chapter.

Q: I noticed that this department I’m applying to recently lost a number of faculty members, including someone who was teaching in _______. I am interested in teaching in that discipline as well as the one I’m applying to. I’m especially interested in this situation and would like to say something about it, like “I noticed that you no longer have a professor who specializes in ___________ and I feel I could help fill that void” kind of thing but there’s no mention of it in the job ad. All the job ad says is children’s literature and undergraduate courses in composition. Is this something I should address in my cover letter or would that be out of place?

Tricky situation. I wouldn’t make any specific mention in your letter about how you noticed they are missing their _________ — it may be a very, very sensitive issue for them and something they’re hoping no one will notice — but this information (and that so many left this summer) is very powerful for you if you use it wisely. And, of course, this mass migration should put up a flag and make you analyze them very seriously if you get interviews, because this just might be an unhappy environment! Or it just could have been bad luck on their part. Maybe they’re the kind of school that’s great for a first position but then people go on to the next rung of their ladders. Some are climbers always looking for the next better position. Or maybe those remaining are really mean and drive everyone away. haha

If your work in ___________ is definitely partly focused on __________, than you can just play up the ________ angle of your work in your letter. Just do that, and if you get interviews, you can find ways to work that in OR take your cue from their questions. If you find them asking you often about your interests in ________, you can run with it. But if they don’t, it’s because they’re probably thinking of these as two different positions.

Let’s take an example scenario at X English Department in Y University as an example of how things might work behind the scenes. Say X Department lost their Chocolate Theorist. Some think that’s a huge problem and a priority to fill. Others absolutely do not and are even thinking Chocolate Theory is outdated. Now those who want it have two routes they can go: when other positions are proposed, they can hope they get someone who could also do Chocolate Theory. But that’s not really what they want. Those who don’t want it will suggest that as a compromise. Those who want a Chocolate Theorist want a full-time Chocolate Theorist and don’t want other areas to say, “Oh, well we have such-and-such who can teach that.” Because if someone is hired in as one thing and can teach Chocolate Theory, they won’t be teaching it all the time and so the gap still generally remains but there’s now no good curricular justification for having one full-time. Plus, those who want a Chocolate Theorist want someone publishing in Chocolate Theory and on the cutting edge of what’s happening in that field. Someone who does Chocolate Theory on the side may not be so up on the latest research. Everyone else in the department looks at it like, what’s your problem — it’s covered! So in summary, there will be some in their department who want a classically trained all-the-time Chocolate Theorist and others will like the idea of one person who can fill two things. And here you would be, hired in with no idea that some of your co-workers hate that you’ll be the resident Chocolate Theorist when they wanted their very own; or, if you aren’t going to do both Chocolate Theory and your main field, others will be thinking about how you should be. And you thought just getting the job meant the anxieties were over!

Since they had so many leave at one time, that might either mean that they are more open to combining positions than they normally would be, out of necessity, or they are incredibly sensitive about it and don’t even want to think that way. It’s impossible to predict their emotions, at least until you start to meet some of them and gauge their expressions and comments. So the safest choice would be to plant the seeds of ________ but not push it too much in your letter and then, during interviews, pay very close attention to what their attitude seems to be.

I don’t know if that’s clear advice or not! But strong emotions always lurk beneath even the simplest of candidate observations . . . 🙂