Friday, November 21, 2008

Philosophy Jobs, part two -- writing a cover letter & CV for the CC...

So -- you've seen a job announcement for a CC --- and you think you could bring yourself to work there.... (If you need more convincing, see the previous post with this tag...)

The question is how to write your letter and CV so that you'll be an attractive candidate. The chances are that your usual letter will need a bit of modification, as the people at your research institution don't generally have a clue as to how to appeal to a community college. Don't worry, you aren't alone in that problem...

I'll start with some advice about your CV...

Overall, remember that your package will most likely be read by folks outside your discipline. There will probably be at least two or three people from your prospective department on the committee. There will also be faculty, staff and administrative folks from across the college on the committee as well. These folks don't know the buzz-words, trends and specifics of your discipline, so they won't be impressed if your CV is full of jargon and name-dropping. All of that kind of nonsense is a waste of space.

Generally, your research interests are significantly less important than your teaching experience. This section should be the last on your CV - behind one about your coursework and the one about your teaching...
  • Give a brief synopsis of your dissertation. Make it comprehensible to people outside your discipline and sub-field. Think about how you'd explain the topic to your mom and write that.
  • Move your publications to the back and only list the three most impressive discipline specific publications -- and EVERYTHING that is at all teaching related.
  • Summarize your discipline specific conference presentations and elaborate on anything that could be seen as teaching related.
Having a good preparation in the field is quite important. It should be the third section of your CV.
  • If your field has several sub-fields, indicate the coursework you've done that gives you a background in that field.
  • Include a brief description of the course, if you have space. Make sure that the descriptions, as a whole, indicate a broad view of the discipline itself.
  • Remember, you'll need to contribute to shaping the first classes students take in your field -- you need to show that you have the flexibility and knowledge to do so -- and perhaps to teach those classes.
Service is important -- be it on-campus or volunteer.
  • Include any departmental committees and especially any university-wide committee work. Show you are involved beyond your own research agenda.
  • It is great if your committee work involves projects that directly support student success, increase access for students or overall improve the lives of undergrads on your campus.
  • If you have off-campus volunteer activities that are academic or human-services in nature, include them. Here is where you'd mention that you've been tutoring inner-city kids in math, are a big-brother or big-sister or the coach of a high school debate league.
  • If you think your political or other kinds of activity will make you more interesting, then include it -- otherwise list it but only briefly.
Your teaching experience is very, very, very f-ing important. It should be at the first major section of your CV.
  • Make sure you include every kind of course you've had any part in teaching. We are looking for someone who has taught a variety of courses
  • Make sure you are clear about making distinctions between the courses you've TA'd and the courses for which you are completely responsible.
  • Be clear about the number of sections you've taught/TA'd. An entry like "taught ethics 2005-2007" is mostly useless, but "taught 4 sections of ethics per semester 2005-2007" is much more helpful, as we can get a real picture of how many students you've taught.
  • Not all TA positions are alike, so make sure you indicate whether or not you were pretty much a grader, whether you held your own recitations, met students in office hours etc. Generally, the more student contact the better.
  • Include any professional development activity that has focused on teaching. If your grad department requires a professional development course, include that in your teaching section and highlight the topics covered. If you've gone out of your way to do additional courses at your university about teaching (preparing future faculty etc..), include that as well.
At the very top of your CV you should list your career objective and your degree status. If you are ABD, include your MA as well as the fact that you are ABD. If you actually expect to defend before the job starts, include that information.

As for your cover letter...

We'll probably look at your CV and cover letter as a whole. If your qualifications and experience are clear on the CV, they only deserve a brief mention in the letter. Generally, your letter should be organized and jargon free. We'll read your letter as if you are talking to us -- and thus we'll get a picture of how you'll talk to our students.

What we want to see in the letter is how you might fulfill the minimum and preferred qualifications listed in the announcement. There are often things like "experience teaching with technology" and "contibutions to access / diversity" that can't be communicated easily in a CV. So, tell us about the fact that the undergrad population of your university is 40% minority -- or about how your TA experince includes TA for a class that does a lot of work on-line.

Tell us about your experience handling a classroom with students who have very different levels of academic preparation. Tell us about how you held special tutoring sessions with a small group of struggling students, and tell us how those students went from a D to a B in the course.

Tell us about your own experince with community colleges. Did you take classes at a community college as part of your undergrad -- either in the summer or in the first two years. Did one of your parents teach at a Community College?

Do you have some other reason to relate to our students? Did you work full-time as an undergrad? Was there a semester or year you had to drop back to part-time and take evening classes? Is there something in your life experience that would let you relate to someone who is barely holding on in college while trying to lead an otherwise busy life? If it is only something like seeing your mom go back to college in her 40s, so that you understand the struggles of our students -- it helps.

Overall, tell us about what makes you interesting, unique or special. Why would we want to have you come in to interview -- out of the other 250 applications on our pile. What do you have that will make our college better? What can you give us that the other 249 applicants can't.


Anonymous said...

I think that's great advice.

So great, in fact, that I made a post on my own site just so I could link to it. (My job hunt moaning from last spring brings me a bunch of traffic that's looking for exactly what you wrote here.)

One thing I might add is that it's a growing possibility that applicants for CC faculty jobs will only be able to submit materials through an online system. Some of those systems, instead of sending through attachments, require the candidate to type everything out in fairly limiting forms. Committee members get stacks of poorly formatted print outs to review. In those cases, it becomes much more difficult for candidates to set themselves apart or make a lot of progress in implementing your advice. Everyone loses, except, I imagine, the HR folks who sort these things out.

exapologist said...

Thanks so much for this very helpful post! I plan on going on the philosophy cc job market soon, and this really helps a lot!

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