In the comments section of our newest "how can we help you?" thread, anonymous writes:
I have a small question but it is one that I know a lot of people face. When applying for jobs, is it always best to send exactly what the department asks for? Or is it sometimes better to send more materials if you have them? (I think this has been discussed but I can't find where.)
Also, more specifically: if a job asks for, say, two research and one teaching letter, but it is possible to send them more (e.g. whatever system they are using allows for additional uploads), should you send them more?
My thoughts about this were as follows: it's probably different for research-focused and teaching-focused jobs, and you should try to identify which category the job in question falls into. I worry that sending additional research letters to teaching-focused jobs communicates that you think of yourself as a researcher/writer more than a teacher/philosopher, or perhaps that you are aiming to get a more research-focused job. But for research-focused jobs, you should send as many letters (within reason--once you hit six or so it's probably just annoying to have more) as possible, if you are sure that they are very strong.
This is a good query, one I wondered about a lot as an applicant and didn't get much guidance for. I'm curious to hear what readers who have served on search committees think. For my part, I'm inclined to think it may be good to submit extra materials (i.e. additional recommendation letters) when applying to research jobs. However, my sense is that it is probably not a good idea to submit additional materials for teaching jobs. Allow me to explain.
On the other hand, having served on three search committees at a teaching-focused institution (albeit one placing increasing emphasis on research), my sense is that it is probably not a good idea to submit extra materials. This is for a few reasons. First (and this might apply to research institutions, though I don't know), HR departments can have rules about this sort of thing--namely, that the search committee should consider the same materials from every applicant (as a matter of fairness in hiring). Second, my sense is that irrespective of formal rules, submitting additional materials may rub search committee members the wrong way--giving them the impression that the candidate thinks they can make exceptions to rules and wants to give themselves an unfair advantage. As I've mentioned before (and a few commenters have echoed), my sense is that people at teaching institutions are typically looking to hire "professionals"--people who are likely to perform well on the job and respect professional norms. And one general norm, believe it or not, is doing what people ask you to do. Most of us have been colleagues, I think, with people who make exceptions for themselves--and, in general, my sense is that people are rightly wary of colleagues willing to do so (in part because norm violations may lead to more serious violations down the road). So, I'm inclined to say, if you are applying to a teaching school and the job ad says "three letters", submit three letters--no more, no less. If you have additional letters, feel free to mention them in your cover letter and CV, and feel free to note that you would be happy to send them in if the committee requests them. But, or so I'm inclined to think, it's safest to leave that decision to them.
That being said, I could be wrong about this! All I have reported here is my sense--based on my experience working at one institution--on how hiring people might think about this. And my sense could well be wrong or unrepresentative. So, then, it might be good to hear from people who have served on search committees. Which kind of school have you hired at? And how do you think about candidates submitting "extra materials"?