More Isn’t Necessarily Better: Some Thoughts on the Job Search Process

Another job search season is upon us and, not yet knowing if our Department will be lucky enough to search for a new tenure track line (this year I submitted requests for two, in fact), I thought I’d offer a little unsolicited advice to people on the job market (and simultaneously solicit anyone else with experience on search committees in our field to contact me to consider writing a guest blog for our site, reflecting on these very issues from their point of view).

In case it doesn’t go without saying, let me me clear: the advise is idiosyncratic (for this is how I see things) but, for people on the other side of all those online application systems, maybe it’ll still provide a helpful insight into how at least some people go about the work of finding a new colleague.

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Historic Artifact? An Open Letter to Department Search Committees from 1997


The following (co-written with my then co-editor at the now defunct Bulletin of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion, the late Tim Murphy), first appeared as an open letter in our inaugural issue (26/1 [1997]) and was then reproduced as the appendix to chapter 6 of The Discipline of Religion (2003).  Though many things about the academic labor market may have changed over the past 20 years (e.g., many universities have moved to online application systems, complete with PDF uploads and automated emails to applicants, making the mention of self-addressed postcards an historical relic), it is re-posted here in its original form since, in large measure, the topics it addressed have — sadly — not changed much at all.

Given the characteristics of the current North American job market in the humanities and social sciences, where each year the number of qualified candidates far exceeds the number of tenure track openings, search committees sometimes fail to follow reasonable advertising and hiring procedures. In so doing, they increase not only their own workload but the workloads of all those who apply for positions. Overly detailed application requirements, coupled with vaguely defined job advertisements, suggest that search committees often do not define their departments’ needs before venturing into the job market. A casual survey of current job descriptions will suggest the manner in which candidates are sometimes confronted by virtual wish lists that few, if any, actual applicants could ever satisfy. Continue reading

Applications Everywhere

2756494307_a0380a96e0_zMany of our students have been writing personal statements for grad school, applications for Fulbright fellowships and other international opportunities, and cover letters to send with their resumes. But those tasks are not something that they will conclude when they finish their education. They will probably continue to revise narratives and letters for applications throughout their careers. Those who go into academia, for example, will have to apply for jobs, tenure, and grants. For example, right now, the department is working on a significant grant application to submit to the National Endowment for the Humanities towards the end of this semester. Continue reading