The ultimate job cover letter.

I haven’t been around in a while-mostly it just turns out there is, in fact, a limit to how many things it is possible to write at once, and blogging had to move aside for articles and conference papers and thesising. That should all calm down around the middle of next month, but hey, every time I say that, ten new things come up.

What I have been doing, as a soon-to-be-released-upon-the-world PhD, is applying for jobs. This is the cover letter I wish I could send.

Look, here’s the thing. I’ve been applying for a lot of jobs lately, and I just don’t think I can take it. You know how it goes. You spend days translating the criteria from Jargon to English, then writing answers, then translating them back into a kind of pidgin-buzzwordese that tries to include the right number of references to ‘impact,’ ‘engagement,’ and ‘forward-thinking student-led research’ without completely destroying your will to live. Then you wait and wait for that form letter – you know, the one that says ‘we’ve decided to see other people – it’s not us, it’s you.’ You’d ask what happened, if you could. Did you just not see eye to eye on the methodology? Not enough publications? Too broad, too specialised, they didn’t like your shoes? It’s a mystery, but you will never know, because even though you slaved over your letter for days or more, a note at the bottom explains ‘it is not our policy to give feedback.’ You will never get an acknowledgement that you, a human being, submitted a thing and not the kind of conversation bot that used to hang out on AOL.

I can’t take it anymore. So I’m just going to give it to you straight, and explain why you should give me this job.

Underneath it all, what you’re looking for is someone who can do really good research, and who can teach. The research should be easy to turn into soundbites so it can be sold to the public, and equally easy to expand into pages-long quantifiers for funding bodies. The teaching should be interesting, and students should learn stuff. These things somehow turn into magic money pots for universities, though nobody is entirely sure how. It’s apparently kind of like alchemy. So let me tell you why I am awesome at those things.

If you ask me about my research, I will talk a lot; it’s what academics do. But if you wanted it summed up in three words, those words would be ‘sex and violence.’ There has literally never been anything in the history of civilisation that has been an easier sell to the public. Sex and violence are what keep the wheels of humanity turning. They convince people to buy cars, clothes, cheap beer and horrible-smelling body spray. They lurk at the heart of practically every story or historical event ever. The power of this great evolutionary impulse to procreation and mayhem is what I offer you. That years of academic institutionalisation has conditioned me to be able to say that in bigger, fancier words is just an added bonus.

As for teaching, don’t let the fact I own a daringly hipsterish tweed jacket fool you. I have also had professors who stand at the front of the room droning on like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, eventually lecturing to a room full of small recording devices. I am not one of them. See, in addition to knowing a lot of stuff about literature, I also teach an actual class on how to get up in front of people and be interesting. I got this job because through a convoluted sequence of events, I ended up doing an Eddie Izzard impression at the interview. I’m not saying I’m going to grow up to be a great comedian or anything – that ship has probably sailed – but you have to agree that anybody who gets a teaching gig on the basis of pretending to be an evil giraffe is at least not going to put people to sleep.

That said, I should probably come clean and admit I do hold a few unpopular opinions about recent developments in education. I think, for instance, that if people are going to pay an amount that would have made them extremely eligible marriage prospects in the early nineteenth century for a single year of education, they should probably actually get that education. Some universities seem to see their students as disposable sources of money – you, of course, are not like that, and that’s why we’re going to get along. But some do, and so they concentrate entirely on getting people in the door, and once they get there, don’t bother to actually let the faculty teach them things. I won’t be doing that. I don’t really have to. Medieval literature is already inherently interesting. We’re telling stories, and then talking about those stories. Again, sex and violence. It’s not a tough sell.

There are a few other things you’re looking for, I know. The perfect person for you to hire would actually be a saint, because they are endlessly patient, are willing to undergo any amount of torture, can perform actual miracles, and be in two places at once. As saints are generally in pretty short supply these days, you might consider settling for a regular human instead. I am an especially excellent human. Before you send that note, we should at least talk things out. I really think we could make it work.


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