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My first year, I applied to 50+ schools, had two TT interviews and one non-TT interview. I received the non-TT job. I learned the ‘spray and pray’ strategy was not for me in terms of time, money, and reward. The ‘open’ jobs never go to my subfield. (Actually, now that I think about it, it might be worth seeing which *have* received the Open/Open jobs in past years.)
My second year, I applied to 6 schools, had one TT interview and received nothing.
This year, I’ve applied to over a dozen TT jobs, was interviewed by about a third of the total, and have had flyouts to most of them.

In that time, my dossier has become much, much more polished. I’ve done a lot more stuff, including a few publications, taught classes that showed my range of teaching better, added a letter of recommendation or two, and beefed up my cover letter and teaching statement. It’s hard to say what did the trick. I’m tempted to say it’s been the getting more publications and writing more detailed cover letters, but a lot of it is probably luck and practice. In interviews, especially, I’ve mastered the art of conveying all I wish in very short responses.


I have significantly more publications in good journals this year than last, but still no interviews. My advisors tell me I need some in top 5. So, that's what I'm aiming for. But so far more publications hasn't seemed to make a difference.


I attended a public university with an unranked program. My first year on the market, I applied for 40+ positions. I had no publications, was ABD, but I did have a few years of teaching experience. I got one interview for a non-tenure track position at a state research university in the Midwest that I am grateful to still be in. By the next year I had published my first paper in Philosophical Studies, but I applied for 50+ positions that year and got zero interviews. I've published 2 more papers since then, one in Religious Studies. I've also had papers accepted to about a dozen refereed conferences. This year I've applied for 60+ positions, and I've had zero interviews. So, I cannot say that publishing has made any difference for me at all on the job market.

Soon to be ex-academic

I had several publications, prestigious awards, a sterling academic record, glowing letters my first time around last year as an ABD. Applied to around 100 jobs, got 1 TT interview and two non-TT interviews. This year, I have even more publications, PhD in hand, updated and even more glowing letters, and expected to do better but though I applied to more than 50 jobs so far (mostly TT, but also postdocs) I've received no interviews. I don't buy into all the nonsense about 'ranked' journals or programs for that matter (elitist claptrap) but my publications have been prestigious enough - one in an Ivy League specialist journal that's the top place in the English-speaking world to publish on the topic of my article, for instance, and another in a journal at one of the most distinguished universities in the UK. In any case, there won't be a third time around for me later this year. I'm not willing to remain part of a profession where a person can be deigned one of the best ABDs in the nation across the humanities and social sciences one year and the very next year fail to receive a single interview. From what I can tell, there's no integrity to the job hiring process. It's a cross between a random lottery and a corrupt patronage system.


Soon to be ex- ...
Can you clarify what you mean by this:
"my publications have been prestigious enough - one in an Ivy League specialist journal that's the top place in the English-speaking world to publish on the topic of my article, for instance, and another in a journal at one of the most distinguished universities in the UK"
Why are you identifying journals with specific schools. Indeed, Phil Review is at Cornell, and J Phil is at Columbia. But most journals are not tied to an institution in the same way. There are only EIGHT Ivy League Schools, so one is left wondering what journal you are publishing in.



I find it interesting that you mentioned 'beefing up' your cover letter and teaching statement. I was just considering whether I ought to do the opposite. Currently my cover letter is 1 1/2 pages. I thought that was about right, but then I have been hearing search committee members claim it should only be 1-3 short paragraphs.

One thing that often seems forgotten is that this is a zero-sum game. I think it is cool that there are now various ways for less advantaged applicants to get help on the market. But I can't help but think that this only raises the bar. A certain number of us just are not going to get jobs, and there is no amount of help, advice, or publishing that will change this.

It would be great if we could create a fair playing field so that those few number of jobs go to the most 'deserving'. Yet I am not sure how we make this happen. If search committees are biased in their applicant review, an improved CV might not help that much. And as long as there are far fewer jobs than applicants, there will be many people who keep trying, who publish and improve their CV, who basically do all one can reasonably expect and, perhaps with no one to blame, never ends up with that TT job.

Ex academic - I agree that the process is biased in the way you suggest. However, I think you are sounding a bit presumptuous. There are lots of very talented candidates out there. Seriously I understand your frustration - I just would watch how you come across.

Soon to be ex-academic

Journals and Bob: forget I said anything. Shouldn't have bothered. Don't really have the time or energy to sort out what's been misconstrued. At least with me on the way out, there's one less person out there competing with you or your proteges. Best of luck.

Marcus Arvan

soon-to-be-ex: I have to confess that I'm a bit puzzled as well. I'm not sure what might have been misconstrued. Your point about publishing in journals at particular schools was odd, for the reasons "Journals" mentioned (journals don't tend to be located at particular schools--though maybe I'm missing something). In any case, it's your choice whether you want to clarify--but I don't think the questions raised are strange.


I spoke with an interviewer recently who said, “I’m always surprised when candidates have very short cover letters, it makes them look like they aren’t interested in the job.” This might very well vary with respect to institutions.
FWIW, I had two cover letters: a ‘teaching’ cover letter and a ‘research’ cover letter. Both were about two pages, though with differing content. I scored three interviews from each cover letter even though I only used the teaching cover letter four times and the research cover letter 11.


Thanks for explaining, lost. That's helpful. I think I will just stick with what I have now.

Marcus Arvan

Bob: My experience and advice I have heard also support Lost's suggestion.
I've been told that 1 page is good for research schools--that longer letters than that may look out of place (they care far more about CVs and writing samples).. Teaching schools tend to prefer longer letters that show the person took the time to look into the job and institution. Mine for teaching schools was close to
2 pages.


That makes sense. Thanks Marcus.

No Luck (Yet)

Thanks for raising this question. I've been wondering about this quite a bit, so I feel obligated to share:

I've been on the market for 3 years. I've submitted between 15 and 25 applications each year. I've had one interview.

Year 1: I had one top-tier publication but very little teaching experience. I had NO interviews.

Year 2: I gained some teaching experience and vastly improved my cover letter for teaching-oriented schools. I added new letters of recommendation from fairly prominent figures in my field. I landed ONE interview with a top liberal arts college.

FWIW: I didn't get a flyout. The chair informed me that they liked me but believed that I would be too research-oriented for their department. (Let's just say that lessons were learned.)

Year 3: I had a few new publications (articles in pretty good philosophy journals and a couple invited chapters). I had more teaching experience and darn good evals. I added a glowing teaching/collegiality letter from a colleague. I generally improved the organization and look of my dossier. About 25 applications out. Alas, NO interviews.

Best of luck, fellow job-seekers!


My dossier is a bit better than the last time I went seriously on the market a few years ago: Two respectable (though not fantastic) publications, some presentations, better teaching experience, and better letters. But I went from four interviews to none. I wonder though if part of this isn't how I packaged myself. Last time I packaged myself as someone who did mainly ethics and political and dabbled in continental in the cover letters and research statement, whereas this time the continental stuff was more prominent in both. I'm thinking that, while honest, that was a mistake as far as selling myself goes. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any experience or thoughts on that. Have you changed how you sell your work and did that help? Also, as is everyone who's a few years out I'm wondering what people think of the whole staleness thing. I'm wondering if being further out has hurt me. Does that only apply if you're not publishing?

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous: it's hard to say without actually talking to search committee members, but I would not be surprised if making the continental aspects of your work more prominent might have hurt you. I personally know people who are *seriously* "anti-continental." As for staleness, my case may not be representative, but I did not appear to have a problem with "staleness." I was on the market for seven years, and each of my last four years on the market, my number and quality of interviews increased compared to the previous year. As you note, I suspect avoiding staleness depends on whether you're publishing and improving the rest of your dossier.

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