It's been a while since we've talked. I'll be moving in the next month with my family. Rocket has taken a job at the Rocket Central in Rocket City. I'm still working on my own, seeking post-docs, faculty posts, grants. I've got a few articles under consideration, a few more in the works, a feeler out to [Publisher] re: a couple book ideas.
It would be great to catch up with you over lunch or coffee sometime before I move, if you can find the time. I hope you are doing well. I'd love to hear about all your latest projects and progress. Please let me know if you can spare the time.
Articulate,So, yesterday we met. I had sent him a draft copy of my new base cover letter. The first paragraph of which read:
I would be happy to meet with you, and to update my letter on our behalf. How about an afternoon coffee this week. Tomorrow at 2, the shop here in [town]?
I seek above all a faculty post in a department where interdisciplinarity is prized, at a university where cross-disciplinary collaborations are the norm; where the intellectual climate, provides sufficient training and appropriate respect for the tried and true techniques of our discipline, while endorsing experimentation with novel or unusual methodologies; where students are encouraged and faculty expected to challenge the assumptions of their own education and background, at times even the foundations of their discipline, to follow compelling questions along the avenues, sometimes straightforward, at other times gardenpath, which these questions themselves indicate.The second paragraph proceeds to articulate several of my leading questions, which motivate my research, then to say:
I have taken these questions and continue to present them to audiences as diverse as first-year non-majors at a community college and graduate students at my own doctoral institution, scholars at international [Field 1] and [Interdisciplinary Field] conferences, well-heeled patrons of the [Prominent Public Event], and the general listening public of the [radio network where I was interviewed on my research a couple years ago].The third paragraph discusses my research, dissertation, and background. The fourth begins:
Unabashedly excited by research, I take great pleasure in engaging student's minds with the fires that drive my investigations, ever seeking to emblazon their own questions with these flames; taking [aspects of Field 1] out of the realm of the far distant, and directly into the sometimes familiar, sometimes discomforting, experiences of their own lives.I proceed to articulate a few more specific questions relative to the courses I would likely teach.
Two more paragraphs follow, which outline my specific accomplishments and experience. I plan a paragraph to discuss my current projects which was merely indicated in the draft, followed by a closing paragraph:
If you believe [Your University Here] to be an appropriate venue for my continued efforts, I would be delighted to discuss the possibilities with you. For more information regarding my interests and activiites, I invite you to peruse my website [PRW's URL]. I thank you for your time and interest, and look forward to hearing from you regarding this opportunity.He suggested that my research ought to be moved up to the head paragraph, and that I might wish to tone down the "self-praise" as in:
My student evaluations attest to the energy with which I teach. My CV attests further to the drive and discipline with which I pursue my research.But here, perhaps is the key. His comment in the margin to the opening paragraph, quoted above:
Very aggressive. Too aggressive and puts the reader on the defensive.This I believe is the crucial matter. During our discussion, he contended that one possible tack, and one which he believes to be most successful, is to appear beige (his word, not mine), like the decor of a modest hotel. Fit in. Blend in. Then try to look a bit different.
I smiled, and drew a pie chart, with one slice missing. I pointed to that absent slice: Do you really think I'd get hired in a department that thinks like this?
In my initial consultation with a career coach a couple months ago (I decided to forego the services for now) he described one of my concerns as a dichotomy between marketing and patience. Do I concentrate on marketing myself to appear like what they want, or do I simply have the patience to wait for what I want?
I told Jim that I felt my letters have become ever more beige during the job search, and that it has garnered me less and less attention. My first full year on the market (two seasons ago, when I was in the midst of finishing and filing the dissertation) I received three calls, and one campus interview. This past year, I received one call (no telephone interview, just an invitation to come to campus) and that for a one-term sabbatical replacement post. My hope in scrapping the old basic form and replacing it with a new one is two-fold: 1) to return to it my true voice; and 2) to present myself as a teacher as well as a researcher.
To some extent it's a question of courage. Do I have the courage to put myself out there, aggressively me, knowing full well that it might turn off quite a few committee members, in the hope that what might emerge is an offer to come and serve fully as the scholar I am? The threat of course, is that it will turn off enough people that I won't make it to a single short list.
What makes a stand-out truly remarkable? What is it about some candidates, or some letters, that prompts committee after committee to invite them to campus? What does it take to excite enough committees to receive multiple offers? What shines so brightly that makes them want you? Or is it really the case that I need to appear as just another shade of beige?