Ask Your Comradde: Reaching Out to Individual Faculty in Departments You Are Applying for Faculty Positions

Our correspondent is a post-doc embarking on the faculty job search and is wondering about reaching out directly to faculty in departments he is applying to:

I’ve been advised to identify someone in each department and write a short, friendly email to put my application on their radar. In some cases this is easy for me to do, when I know someone who I know knows me and we do similar work, so it is not too awkward.

But what about the cold-call cases? Do you get such emails from applicants? Do you think they are annoying idiots?

Here are a few thoughts about this:

(1) If you know someone personally, there is nothing wrong with e-mailing them, although it is likely to have little effect, since they already know you.

(2) Receiving an e-mail from a faculty job applicant whom I have never met or heard of concerning our department’s job search would not annoy me, per se, but it certainly wouldn’t serve any purpose whatsoever vis a vis “getting on the radar”.

(3) There is a much more important point that isn’t even touched on in the correspondent’s question: Your fucken *mentors* are the ones who should be working the phones and e-mails of their colleagues in the departments you are applying to. This is the only thing that can really move the needle; communication from the applicants themselves outside the metes and bounds of their applications is meaningless. We already know *you* want a fucken job, and your zeal means nothing. However, the extent to which other people–mentors and other colleagues–are willing to expend the time and effort to call or e-mail has some meaning.


  1. postdoc says

    Talking to people in my field (Math) who have served on hiring committees, I know that for any institution that is not “top tier”-meaning of this of course being relative to the type of job, i.e. slac or R1 postdoc or wevs- the search committee will try to ascertain whether a candidate is serious about the job before spending time and resources on a campus visit. So, in some circumstances evidence of “zeal” would be useful to the search committee.

  2. eeke says

    Can you expand on point #3? I agree with what you’re saying, but when I’ve explicitly asked “mentors” to stick their necks out for me like this, they will NOT do it except to write a nice letter of support. As a mentor myself, I have done this to the extent of getting feedback for my student who interviewed and was turned down for a post-doctoral position. Why would a phone call from a mentor colleague carry any more weight than that of a job applicant known to someone on the search committee? Moreover, wouldn’t the mentor have to be a BSD of some kind? What if you’re a superstar coming out of a small start-up lab?

  3. says

    If your mentors won’t make a call or write an e-mail, then I don’t know what to tell you. And I already explained in my post why contact from more-senior people other than the applicant carry more weight, and the reason also explains why contact from even a non-BSD mentor or colleague carries some weight.

  4. says

    I agree with CPP. Another point: your reaching out to a faculty member is only going to matter if they also happen to be on the search committee. You know that not every one in a discipline is going to serve on the committee that makes the initial list of candidates, right?

    Zeal might be good, but the bottom line is that in this market we’re swamped with applications, and the #1 criterion is always going to be suitability for the position, followed by evidence of accomplishment. “Zeal” is going to be somewhere down around #3,468. If in the interviews, in two otherwise equally accomplished candidates, one is ho-hum about my department, and the other is enthusiastic, we’ll pick the enthusiastic one. Otherwise…irrelevant.

  5. anon_postdoc says

    Thanks for addressing this question!

    In my case, my mentors have been supportive, but I have no expectation that someone will be reaching out, personally, to each of the many departments I am applying to this year.

    I think the argument for a candidate to reach out is not to demonstrate zeal but to increase the chance that the application will be reviewed by an interested party. Searches get hundreds of applicants and not all applications are reviewed by everyone. If an applicant contacts the person in the department that is most likely to be enthused about their research, it’s that much less likely to be dismissed, no? And of course it would be better if that person were on the search committee, but it’s not like people don’t talk to each other. Some of the searches I’m applying to are exceptionally broad. In such cases, applications aren’t necessarily winnowed down by fit/suitability. Rather, research programs that spark the enthusiasm of one or more members of the department are going to make the short list (following establishment of a baseline level of outstandingness, obviously).

  6. Brucee says

    I think more and more that colleges are moving to a more “professional” system, with formalized HR procedures. Some colleges will still be on the old way for a decade or more. In others, it would be considered wrong for a member of the hiring committee to use personal knowledge of an applicant. That could seem like an old boys network, keeping out a more diverse array of applicants. One’s good points should be in the CV or cover letter. Being able to know someone who knows someone could grow to be seen as unfair to good applicants who don’t know anyone. If I got a tip that a student of a friend was applying for some job where I was on the committee, I could go to the interview and say that I thought he was great, or sounded and looked great in the teaching demo, or something like that. But if I told the committee that he was endorsed by Dr. X whom I know, they would probably tell me the committee is not allowed to take that into consideration and to keep quiet about it next time. Fortunately, I think the better colleges are not so silly yet. Bu I think that is the trend in the professional HR world. A good principle can sometimes be overextended.

  7. Brucee says

    Also, CPP, are you currently posting from some part of Hawaii that is on the other side of the International Date Line? I figure it’s now about 2:26 pm in Hawaii on Friday, September 19. But the FTB web site says it’s the 20th.

  8. Isabel says

    This is really surprising to me. I would think contacting members of the search committee directly would be seen as an improper and possibly annoying thing for a candidate to do. Not sure why #3 would affect diversity. It could very well be used to encourage it.

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