Seeking Advice: Applying for Academic Positions

I am in the process of writing a dissertation and applying for a host of positions (if I can use the word “host” for the amount that are available!).  Now, I am aware of the general process–how to write a letter of application, how to decide who would serve as the best letter writers, etc.–but I am curious to get some insight from those who have gone through the process (either successfully or unsuccessfully . . . . I trust I can learn a great deal from both!).

Basically, and quite generally, there are a few questions I have (and feel free to add whatever else as well):

-are there particular do’s/don’ts that you found surprising?  helpful?  harmful? (i.e., emailing professors at the school to which you are applying and introducing yourself . . . . good idea?  or not?)

-any specific experiences you are willing to share that were especially eye-opening?

-are there things that absolutely, without a doubt, MUST be in the application letter (and phrased a certain way), and things that have no place at all in such a letter?

Put simply, I am after any insights regarding this whole process.  I understand it is highly subjective and political, but what may heighten one’s (read: my!) chances of getting an interview . . . . . and a job?



20 thoughts on “Seeking Advice: Applying for Academic Positions

  1. James McGrath says:

    I wouldn’t contact anyone at the school unless you already know them, but if others have done so and had a positive experience, I’ll gladly stand corrected. I’m an introvert, and that may have more to do with it than anything else.

    If your supervisor or a senior academic who knows you well knows someone at the school, they can contact their old friend without any hesitation.

    The only other thing I’d add is start sending articles to journals as early as you can. People who’ve already begun publishing or at least sending off completed articles always stand out from those who have not.

  2. John Anderson says:

    Thanks, James. You should check out my CV page. I have one article currently published, and another currently under review in CBQ. I do think that sets me apart (and hopefully will in the eyes of the various committees).

  3. Nijay Gupta says:

    I have been told to make sure my cover letter is tailored to the job post and not just a ‘generic’ one. So, if they are looking at someone that can teach particular courses, mention your ability to teach those specific ones and why. Same with your CV – if it is a ‘teaching’ institution, put your teaching experience on the first page rather than on, say, page 4.

    I am hoping for success soon in the job hunt as well!

  4. John Anderson says:

    Nijay: Thanks. I have indeed been tailoring every letter to the institution and job description. The point about the CV is a very good one I had not thought of; thank you.

    Good luck as well!

    Brian: Thanks! Unfortunately, I kind of need this information now!

  5. John Anderson says:


    Not particular at all. When I say “I want a job,” that’s exactly what I mean! Each has pros and cons. University’s have great resources, libraries, and reputations, but larger class sizes. Seminaries (and other schools, yes) would allow me to teach higher level students, masters or even Ph.D. Small liberal arts schools, like the one I went to for undergrad, have a special place in my heart, and I very much like the class sizes and intimacy of a small campus. Ideally, wherever I am I will strike a balance between teaching and research . . . . and no, I don’t think those two are or should be mutually exclusive.

    At bottom, I’m not terribly picky. At this stage, if the job description has the word “Bible” in it, I’m throwing my hat in the ring.

  6. Jason says:

    John: Would the theological atmosphere/environment of the school be an issue for you? I only ask because it is a big issue for many. I certainly don’t think that research and teaching are mutually exclsive; quite the opposite. I think that if one attained a position as research professor, that would be the ultimate job!

  7. John Anderson says:

    Jason, thanks again for your question. I am curious if you have something in mind that is causing you to raise them?

    Either way, I tend not to think schools are as homogenous as many may assume. We all have our idiosyncracies and methods of reading that will be shaped and reshaped as time goes on.

    That said, I don’t think the theological atmosphere would ever be an issue for me. My undergrad was quite liberal, Duke Divinity is, well, Duke, and a divinity school to boot . . . . and Baylor has a certain reputation (though I would challenge that in some respects). I have studied in and thrived in a great variety of theological environments. So long as I feel the school is doing good, sound, honest scholarship and teaching, I don’t foresee a problem.

  8. Brian Small says:

    John, I think perhaps it is a question of what is the best fit for you.

    Small, private liberal arts colleges may put an emphasis on teaching, so that you may have to teach 4 classes a semester, allowing for little time to do your own research and writing.

    University settings usually require that you are doing research and getting published on a regular basis.

    Many seminaries are more interested in training people for pastoral ministries and other Christian ministries. Although a few, like Princeton, have a strong emphasis οn publishing and research.

    Is there a particular theological perspective that you are most comfortable with? Would you be comfortable in teaching in a Catholic school? Would you be able to teach in a school with a Reformed perspective? Wesleyan? Pentecostal? None of the schools you mentioned in your own education is what I would call a very conservative school, so could you teach at a school which requires you to sign a confession of faith, perhaps even adhere to some sort of inerrancy statement? On the other hand, secular universities may be completely devoid of any religious emphasis whatsoever–would you be comfortable in that environment?

    Bible colleges put a great deal of emphasis on teaching the Bible without the larger context of a liberal arts education.

    Some programs don’t teach the Bible per se, but Christianity within a World Religions context.

    If you taught at a small school, would you be willing to teach outside your area of expertise? A World Religions class, for example? Or Classics? Or History? etc.

    Certainly all of us want to find a job when we finish our degree and we may not get our ideal job when we first start out, but I think ultimately you will have to decide what kind of college environment will be a good fit for you.

  9. John Anderson says:


    These are indeed questions I have asked myself. Thank you. I am well aware that being dishonest about who I am in the interest of getting a job will only make me unhappy.

    On a sidenote, we may be operating under a different definition of conservative. For me, I am talking about various gradations . . . . Duke was more conservative than my undergrad; Baylor too, though I think the Bible program at Baylor should not be described with such sweeping terms. Similarly, at Duke I studied with Jim Crenshaw, who hardly could be called conservative; but many others on their faculty I would say are. Not all, but some. That’s why I say above I don’t think any school or faculty is a monolithic entity. But, I do believe the three schools I have studied at have approached the text adn teaching from very different perspectives, and for that I am grateful.

  10. Brian Small says:

    Certainly conservative and liberal are not monolithic terms but should be seen along a continuum and certainly at schools like Duke and Baylor you are going to have people who could fall anywhere along that continuum.

    But I can name schools that make Duke and Baylor look very liberal in that they require their faculty to adhere to a certain confessional statement. To my knowledge neither Duke nor Baylor requires that of its faculty.

  11. Jason says:

    John: I hope that my questioning has not given the impression that I know of a position open–that would be a most unintended consequence! I only ask because I hope to be in your position some years down the road. I know the world of biblical studies teaching positions is indeed a small one, but God will place you where he wants you. It’s funny that so many of the scholars I read teach at places I’ve never heard of; perhaps someday we’ll read on a dust jacket or article your name and institution! 🙂

  12. John Anderson says:

    Jason: Fair enough! I welcome your questions; they help me to think through and clarify things for myself. I appreciate it.

    And, if you weren’t aware, there is an article out there currently on which you can indeed see my name and institution: “Jacob, Laban, and a Divine Trickster: The Covenantal Framework of God’s Deception in the Theology of the Jacob Cycle,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 36 (2009): 3-23. I have another under review with CBQ that I am hopeful will be accepted. It is indeed pretty cool.

  13. Jason says:

    John: I tried to locate a copy of your article in PRS, but I was not successful. I would very much like to read it–I assume it is part of your dissertation research?

    If you don’t mind questions, I may send a barrage of them your way when I get into Brueggemann’s An Unsettling God. But don’t worry, that’s still a few months away!

  14. John Anderson says:


    It hasn’t been indexed by ATLA yet; my understanding is that it takes a few months for the article actually to appear after the release of the physical journal.

    I never mind the questions; ask away. There are plenty of Brueggemann threads in which you can pose them!

  15. Charles Halton says:

    Several of my friends got adjunct positions just by sending CV’s to schools in the area. I would advise you to do some limited adjunct work for teaching experience but taking on a full load will be very difficult while trying to write the dissertation. Furthermore, many programs will be leery to hire you full time this early in the game.

  16. John Anderson says:


    Thanks. I am open to adjunct work if the need arising.

    Perhaps I should clarify. The plan is to have the dissertation done in the Spring 2010 semester. Given that I have two chapters of it more or less done already, I think this is attainable. I am teaching at Baylor this Fall, but not in the Spring. This schedule, I believe, will allow me to get it done in this time frame. So, I hope programs will not be leery, given I will most likely have the Ph.D. in hand come the end of the Spring semester.

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