As Jennifer Furlong and Stacy Hartman point out in the July 21st issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, writing the cover letter for your first faculty job application can be a challenge. Furlong and Hartman offer excellent advice for tackling this task, but they do omit a number of tips widely recommended by experts in the field. Here are 7 of them:
Downplay geographical preferences. Don’t say that you want to teach at Duke because your aging parents live in nearby Chapel Hill and your mother has a serious drinking problem that you need to keep tabs on. And under no circumstances should you send the Search Committee a photo of your mom.
Promise that you won’t be a complainer. State categorically that you will never grouse about the shortage of faculty parking, the 15-credit-hour-per-semeser teaching load, or the mango/yak incense stick that the secretary burns each day in the department office. Include a short video that shows you crossing your heart as you make these promises.
Avoid controversial topics. Even if you feel strongly about the matter, resist the temptation to indicate in your letter that you think it would have been better if Bruce Jenner had never made the decision to transition to Caitlyn Jenner.
If you describe your flaws, be honest. For the love of God, don’t bullshit readers with self-praise disguised as critique (e.g., “I admit it, I’m a perfectionist.”). Far better to be unflinchingly candid (“I should shower more often.” “I fabricated a bit of the data in my doctoral dissertation.” “I once purchased a voodoo doll to put a curse on a grad school classmate I envied. The next day she was hit by a truck.”).
Don’t make threats. This should be a no-brainer. It’s never a good idea to intimate that “something bad” might happen to one or more members of the Search Committee if you’re not offered a job.
Be linguistically flexible. Inform the Search Committee that you’re comfortable using the phrase “lived experience” in everyday conversation on campus if that’s consistent with the culture of the university, but that you’re also okay with employing the less redundant term, “experience,” if that’s the norm.
Display sensitivity to local/regional context. For example, if you’re applying for a faculty job in Texas, be sure to mention that you look forward to packing a firearm in class, and that some of your fondest memories are of Grandma Tess taking you hunting at the neighborhood dog park when you were a kid.
There’s a terrific position out there in academia waiting for you. Start writing that cover letter.