Monday, December 31, 2012

10 reasons why you never got a phone interview

Today's post is for the academics in the crowd, especially academics seeking employment on the tenure track. Prepare for some tough love folks, because I'm about to tell you why (as a search committee chair this year) your applications sucked. Some of them sucked incredibly and amazingly hard.

Let's start with a few caveats: (a) I've only served on a handful of search committees in my day, and this year I'm chairing one. So by no means am I a gray-bearded sage in the search process; (b) the following points likely don't apply to all schools, all committees, or all areas of study, but I'd be willing to bet that several of these points ring true for a majority of places; (c) this is going to sound less like constructive criticism and much more like an anger-fueled, cathartic diatribe (in order to understand why, I suggest spending a few weeks of time you don't have to work through 200+ applications that suck, then get back to me. Plus, this is a humor blog).

So here are 10 reasons why you never got a phone interview, let alone a campus interview (from our school at least):

(1) You applied to the wrong position. If you want a teaching-oriented job, then don't apply to a research-oriented job. If you want a research job, then don't apply to a teaching job. You people were super easy to identify, but it still wasted our fucking time.

(2) You never meaningfully addressed our school in your application materials, except for that one spot in your cover letter where you cut, copied, and pasted in the name of each school you were applying to. You idiot.

(3) Your cover letter wasn't on letterhead [see EDIT below]. For the love of god, this is a professional letter -- make it look like it by using letterhead from your current organization. Otherwise, you might as well just write your letter using crayons and construction paper, and send us your very best popsicle stick creation as well. Note: macaroni cards can be submitted in lieu of the popsicle stick project.

[EDIT: So controversial! Haha, I know I placed this one on the list, but no one would ever realistically get dinged for not having letterhead -- it was merely a curious trend that I noticed. Some of my fellow committee members would mock me for even including #3 (that's where the humor blog part comes in). But in all honesty, do what you can to make your app look professional. Electronic letter head on simply your cover letter alone can do the trick. I've been made aware that many students don't have access to this stuff, which is understandable. Again, in retrospect, this shouldn't even be on the list. But I needed something to vent about :-) ]

(4) Your cover letter was way too long, so we stopped reading at about 2 pages and went to the next applicant. Your letter should be around the 2-page mark, or else it says to us that you don't know what you're doing in this application process -- it tells us that you don't "get it." Write clearly and concisely or else get a job outside of academia.

(5) You padded your CV, you raging douchebag. You're not fooling anyone, you're just making us angry. I could fill a hundred blog posts with examples of this, but I'll settle for just a couple. For instance, giving a brown bag presentation is not an "invited talk." Having your friend ask you to cover one of his lectures last semester is also not an invited talk. Having a college/university fly you out to their school for 1-2 days in order to give a talk to their department on your recent line of research and perhaps work closely with one of their labs during your visit... that's an invited talk. While we're on the topic of CV padding, get rid of that damn section you call "manuscripts in preparation." Some people go either way on this issue, but it was our opinion that everyone has stuff "in preparation," otherwise you wouldn't be in academia. So talk about that stuff in your research statement and leave the CV for manuscripts that actually exist. 

(6) Your application materials were devoid of concrete examples. Reading pages of blabbering that amount to nothing more than empty claims of "I love teaching" or "I'm going to do meaningful research" makes us want to stab our fucking eyes out with dull instruments. Instead, tell us EXACTLY HOW you have been a great teacher/researcher (which of your novel research ideas ended up as publications, what activities/demonstrations have you used in the classroom, etc). When you say "I'm an excellent teacher," we're not going to take your word for it you moron (we're cynical, I know). Put on your thinking cap and give us specific, concrete examples that support your arguments. Wasn't persuasive writing covered in any of your high school or college classes?

(7) If you did have concrete examples, they sucked. Here are a few examples we saw in teaching statements: "I use technology like PowerPoint!" or "In class, I show video clips and have students write papers in APA format!" Well holy shit, how have you not been awarded a Presidential Teaching Award yet?! Those statements are like saying, "Some examples of my amazing and innovative teaching skills are having my students enroll in the course and come to class. I also assign them things to read!" Now that you've established a superb baseline for understanding what a college course entails, how about taking off those diapers and moving on to a few actually innovative teaching techniques, shall we?

(8) You don't know what "evidence of teaching excellence or evidence of research excellence" means. I'll cut to the chase here. Evidence of teaching excellence/effectiveness: include recent teaching evaluation ratings (in summary format), a statement of teaching philosophy, a couple recent syllabi, and maybe a separate brief description of activities, demonstrations, and techniques that you have used in the classroom (if this wasn't adequately addressed in your statement). Evidence of research excellence/effectiveness: include two to three samples of your highest quality and representative publications and a solid statement of research (which includes what you have done, what you plan to do over the next few years, how you have or can secure outside funding, and who you may be able to collaborate with in the department -- if you get the vibe that collaboration is valued at the school).

(9) You had stupid-ass quotes plastered all over your application materials. Get rid of them. No one reads them. The committee doesn't sit around in the evenings sipping brandy and pondering your far-reaching intellectual tendrils via cheesy, nausea-inducing quotations. We do, however, sit around the conference table eating bagels, swilling coffee, and making fun of applicants that have quotes at the beginning of their statements. So on second thought, leave the quotes -- they're good comic relief for us.

(10) Finally, enjoy some random nuggets of unique shittiness!
  • "I posses excellent orals and written communication skill." No, no you don't.
  • Person who spent over 4 pages talking about their dissertation alone -- we spent nearly 5 seconds skimming past it after reading the first few sentences, and the next 5 minutes joking with each other about it.
  • Person with the 11-page cover letter... BWHAHAHAahahahHAAhahaha! Are you fucking serious?
  • Person who said, "I think your department would be privileged and honored to have me become a faculty member," please see my response to the point above.
  • The cover letter that opened with "Dear gentlemen of the search committee," was printed out for the sole purpose of being physically ripped apart and thrown away, you sexist fuckhole. It was so blatantly ridiculous that I'm convinced it's part of an elaborate psychology or sociology experiment.

Try not to take this so hard -- your shitty mentor/advisor should take most of the blame here since many of them fail miserably at preparing students for the job market. The problem is, you are the one applying for the job, not them. So do your homework, get the leg-work done to create and amazing application, and better luck next year (or enjoy whatever other job you got).


  1. Ha! I agree with MOST of these - I just helped a friend fix her shitty cl with bad examples...but I do disagree with the letterhead one :P To me, it would be weird if you used letterhead from your current job - I'd think it was tacky. But, your "edit" is duly noted

  2. Wow. Seriously? I disagree with the letterhead but everything else...I am glad there is velcro for people like this, who could otherwise not tie their shoes in the morning.

    A few years back, a friend had someone apply for a job she was hiring for and not only did the applicant have no relevant experience, her e-mail address was "hotpussy99@..." Kid you not.

    That was almost as entertaining a story as the person training with another friend to be a phlebotomist who passed out at the sight of blood.

  3. Uh, may I quote you when you say "stupid-ass quotes?"

  4. @ Gia: Yea, like I said about the letterhead, it was simply a preference thing. But I truly feel the other things are spot-on.

    @ Riot Kitty: Velcro helps them all! Also, I love the inappropriate emails -- your example may take the cake!

    @ dbs: Yes sir, you may :-)

  5. I'm not in academia, but I think some of these can work on regular job applications too. Maybe I should look my resume over to make sure I'm not coming across like a total moron.

    On a side note,if you've seen some of the difficulty most of my lecturers have using the class projectors to show videos & PowerPoint presentations, no. 7 mightn't seem so far fetched.

  6. Maybe it is different in academics but I don't think my company would think to highly of writing a cover letter on their letterhead.

  7. "The committee doesn't sit around in the evenings sipping brandy and pondering your far-reaching intellectual tendrils via cheesy, nausea-inducing quotations."

    AHAHhAHhAHhAHhAHhAHahAHh!! OMG. You crack me the hell up!

  8. This is mostly sage advice, albeit a little cynical.

    Here's a challenge for you; what would this list look like if DocOpt wrote it? :)

  9. I had a potential grad student identify me, another female professor and a male professor as potential advisors - the student addressed their individual statement to "Psyc Girl, Otherfemaleproffirstname Lastname, and Dr. Male Prof." That's as far as I read that application...

  10. Whenever I saw 'Dear gentlemen of the search committee' I moved on to the next application.....I was given a hard time for this BUT these applicants weren't even near the top 50....

  11. Well I just had my first phone interview for a 50/50 teaching/research split, so I guess I did something right! And then they called me for a campus interview! YAY! So now you should give advice on face to face interview, because I'm freaking nervous.

  12. @ Vinny C: Hey man! Yea, I'd say the vast majority of professors out there probably go no further than PowerPoint -- and probably don't do it that well either. Kinda sad.

    @ Bearman: Indeed, using company letterhead to apply to another job outside of academia would be ridiculous :-) It's very different in academia (at least for fresh PhD students hitting the market). Typically, they'll want to "advertise" the program that they just graduated from -- assuming it's a high quality program/school. It will also look good for their current school; it typically gives their program pride/reputation for sending their students to good jobs in academia.

    @ meleah: Did you snort your drink too? Cuz that's my bar for good comedy :-)

    @ Antares: Cynical indeed! If not downright mean and rude. I've been in a pissy mood lately :-) Also, I like the challenge -- I'm sure Dr. Optimism will show his face around here someday soon... muwhahahahhaha!

    @ PsycGirl: It's fuckin ridiculous, right?!

    @ Dr. Clam: Good! Can't believe they gave you a hard time for pointing out something obviously flawed like that. If people are sexist shits, they don't deserve jobs.

    @ L-Kat: CONGRATS!!! If you're getting campus interviews, then they definitely feel like you're a good fit. My best advice is to be truthful and be yourself throughout the process -- you're interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you.

  13. I can't believe you didn't like my macaroni art. I even incorporated your school logo.

  14. If you are still hiring I would like to throw my name into the mix. I have no teaching or researching experience and my salary requirements are rather high. Also, I must be able to work entirely from home. If the teaching requires me making appearances in front of the students I can skype in or something but I was more hoping to just teach some of those online courses. Here's a quote:

    "Who am I that you should trust
    A wind that turns a stone to dust
    A mountain to surrender all its gold" - Air Supply

  15. @ Didactic Pirate: Wait, didn't you get our invitation for the campus interview?! Yours was the best macaroni art we've ever seen!

    @ Christian: Your application is now in the top 5 my friend. Can we just hire you to make us laugh all day? It beats doing real work.

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