Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Don't go crazy"

How can writing cover letters be so hard?  I mean, they're kind of easy:

Hi pals!

I'm applying for your job.  My diss is pretty and I'm going to be super done before you hire me.

Did I mention I'm good for your job?

-SS

That seems simple enough, but somehow the 'I'm good for your job' is impossible to say in a nice, clean 4 sentence paragraph.  I  mean seriously.  I am good for the job.  My interests, your needs.. they go together like bananas and peanut butter.  It may not sound good at first but try it!

So I'm just going to spend a little while longer on this lovely saturday night rewriting a fine but not great paragraph while my non-philosophy friend tells me not to go crazy (note: this somehow doesn't help).

-- Second Suitor

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been on about 10 SCs. I *never* read the cover letter - they're totally pointless. I go to the CV first - if you deserve a 2nd look, the letters, if a 3rd, the writing samples. It's the CV that needs to capture and hold attention, not the cover letter - work on that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:42,

And when one is in the process of applying for the job market, it's too late to change what's on the CV that would "capture and hold attention". So what you're pretty much saying is that it's the information about the candidate, such as PhD institution, publications, AOS/AOC, dissertation topic, conference presentation, rather than the CV as such.

Or do you mean that the formatting, structure, and other features of the CV itself, independently of the content, that needs to "capture and hold attention".

David said...

This advice seems way off base; I've been on 5 search committees in four departments at 3 schools, and the cover letter is what says I WANT TO WORK WITH YOU rather than I WANT A JOB. St schools at the MA Comp or undergrad level, that is what is most important to the search committee.

Your CV makes you ready for ANY job. The cover letter makes you attractive for THIS job.

Anonymous said...

Everything I've heard about primarily teaching jobs, particularly at liberal arts colleges, contradicts what anon 1:42 says. I've heard from several good sources (on search committees at small colleges) that the cover letter is very important.

Just for a little balance...

Anonymous said...

I applied for jobs, TT and temp, about 100 a year in two disciplines (Phil and Poli Sci) for 3 years ABD. Not once did I get an offer from a Phil Dept, and this is becoming the norm, so I hear (unless you are a potential affirmative action hire or you are getting your Ph.D. in a Phil department at an Ivy). While ABD I only worked for one year full-time and it was in a Poli Sci department (my secondary, non-Ph.D. discipline). Two years out of my Ph.D. with plenty of publications in good journals, Phil Departments are finally taking an interest in my candidacy. If my experience is generalizable, then applying for Phil positions ABD is a waste of your time and resources. Finish your dissertation and pray for a better job market.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap people. Surely we've gone over this enough to conclude that writing a good cover letter is a sine qua non of getting your foot in the door at some places and with some people AND totally irrelevant with regards to other people/places. It seems like we can safely generalize about which places fall into the first camp and which the second but, as is usually the case with such generalizations, there will be exceptions. So: no more "I don't care about cover letters" and "I do care about cover letters." What would be particularly helpful would be some concrete advice from people in the second group (some of which has already appeared in other threads - thanks for that). Examples would be nice: "I recall a letter that said something like XYZ, which we were all impressed by," or "Someone once said ABC which totally turned us off."

David said...

Advice for writing a good cover letter for the MA Comp and Undergrad institutions.

1. Know and reference the programs the department houses (majors, minors, participation in liberal education, interdisciplinary centers).

2. Know and reference specific courses taught in the department. Not just the senior sems; across all levels taught by TT faculty.

3. Know and reference the student population -- if the MA attracts five students a year but there are 100 undergrad majors, apportion your interest appropriately in the letter.

4. Demonstrate some level of synthesis in teaching and research beyond the "I can teach a course in my research specialization and slum it to fill out my load" that appears in highfalooting apps.

This is time-consuming, but you are looking for a job for life, right? Take the time.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anon 8:14: Maybe the fact that prior to getting your PhD and publications in good philosophy journals, phil depts roundly ignored you should tell you that prior to getting your PhD and publications in good philosophy journals, your dossier was for shit. The simple fact that you applied to poli-sci depts tells me that the kind of work you do might not be appealing to philosophy depts. The simple fact that you think affirmative action and the "Ivies" are to blame for you not getting a TT job ABD tells me that you are an asshole and an idiot.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if anyone pointed this out yet, but they're talking about writing sample length on Leiter:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2008/10/writing-samples.html#comments

Anonymous said...

If my experience is generalizable, then applying for Phil positions ABD is a waste of your time and resources. Finish your dissertation and pray for a better job market.

No one's experience is generalizable. Because whether you get a job and what job you gets depends mostly (on average) on how good you and your work are (though you can certainly sell yourself slightly better or worse than you are). And we are all different on that score.

irony police said...

No one's experience is generalizable.

Oh, the delicious irony, incluuding the generalized advice given in the rest of the post.

Anonymous said...

Irony police:

If you'll read the post more closely, you'll notice that there was no advice given in it (general or otherwise), nor was there a generalization made from an individual's experience. It would have been different if it had read "Given my experience on the job market, and no other empirical facts, no one's experience is generalizable..."

"No one's experience [on the job market] is generalizable" is also not the same thing as, e.g., "All empirical claims are false." Note that "experience" is not supposed to encompass all possible evidence gathered through experience, but the more modest "things that happened to me on the job market," as should have been clear from the content of the post it was responding to, in which the person said something like "I didn't get a job ABD. If my experience is generalizable, you won't get a job ABD."

But maybe you were being "ironic" in objecting to the post? (Or maybe I need a visit from the "Lighten up, it was only a half-hearted attempt at a joke Police"?)