Monday, August 9, 2010

Then I went downtown. To look for a job.

In my time in academia — not unvast by human scale, but pretty insignificant compared to geological eras — I've had the good fortune to be on only three search committees. I Chaired one of them, which just goes to show you how hard up people can be.
Normally, I pride myself on my ability to make myself invisible. I served three years in the Faculty Senate, and this august body's meetings spend lots and lots of time appointing subcommittees whose chief charge is to write a report that no one reads. In my three years, I served on none of them. The Chair of a committee is, by definition, visible.
The last composer search committee I was on was about five years ago, and I can report that, yes, it's pretty time-consuming. Not soul-sucking, but close. To wit, here are some statistics.
  • There were 165 applications for one job. This number is actually low.
  • I myself spent 40 hours looking at the applications. That averages only 15 minutes per application, to read CVs, read letters, and check out the music. I do not know how much time the other committee members spent on this part.
  • The committee met three times for a total of seventeen hours whittling the 165 down to 5 interviewees.
Going through so many applications while I was also teaching an (uncompensated) overload was bound to make me cranky, and it did. I emerged with even less hair (the genes from my dad had something to do with that, too), and a list of common things that composer job applicants do to make the likes of me scream, cry, pull my hair out, or clap with one hand in a decidedly unironic way. Later, I commiserated with my friend Stacy Garrop, who was also doing a search, and we collaborated on a list of helpful hints for the growing number of composers getting advanced degrees plunging into the quest for a shrinking pool of available academic jobs. Plunging into the quest is a newly coined phrase, soon to disappear mercilessly from common parlance, and it's about time. Doing a few (super-secret!!) panels, as well as some graduate admissions since, has given me more items for the list. So edit the list as you please for your personal circumstances.

  • If possible, send in applications as far in advance of the deadline as possible. They will get more attention.
  • Read the job description and make the cover letter fit it. If the job says "teach comp and theory and design new courses" don't just say you can teach comp and theory. Include new courses you deign yourself fit to teach.
  • 2 pages max for the cover letter, depending on how specific the job announcement is. Do not make the paragraphs too long or the letter will not get read. I still remember that 7-page rant disguised as a "teaching philosophy".
  • Don't send MORE materials than are asked for. It just makes the committee angry.
  • Put the track listing on the CD case, not just the CD itself. (This is the most common miscue, and it always, always aggravates the committee) This one is important enough to restate: Put the track listing on the CD case, not just the CD itself.
  • That one is so common, and makes the committee so cranky — especially if yours happens to be, say, the fifth consecutive application that does it: Put the track listing on the CD case, not just the CD itself. Alternatively you can simply include a printout with the track listing.
  • Professionally bind scores with covers. Stapled scores scream unprofessionality. And that's not even a word.
  • Don't refer the committee to things on web pages unless web page design is part of the job description.
  • Do not send posters and programs as part of your CV. Xeroxed reviews are okay, as long as they are clearly a part of the CV and not free-floating.
  • Do not used colored paper for your CV items: white or cream-colored only.
  • Include the years your degrees were earned.
  • Remove pre-piece talks and applause from your listening samples.
  • Be aware that the committee is going to read the phrase "I am a composer of growing national reputation" a lot. Find a more original way to say it.
  • Do not send shrink-wrapped CDs. Take off the shrink wrap before they are sent. Having to remove the shrink wrap in the midst of listening to 60 applications unendears you to the committee.
  • Do not send cassettes or VHS tapes. Expend the effort to get all your work into digital format. Similarly, do not send DVDs unless video production is part of the job description.
  • Include EVERY course you have taught or TA'ed for on your CV, line-at-a-time. A list separated with commas does not make the right effect.
  • Put CDs with music samples in plastic cases — do not put them in paper cases, or flexible cases, or tape them to the samples. Reason: a good chance they will break en route.
  • After you burn your CD(s), check that they play. Many an application has gone bye-bye when this rule is violated.
  • Do not send your work samples on CD-RWs. They don't play in CD players, and a lot of computers won't read them.
  • Don’t put a sticky CD label on the CD itself. Reason: the preferred method of CD playback is often a computer with a slot-loading CD bay. The increased thickness of your CD often makes it unplayable, or worse, unejectabl, on such a computer.
  • If you have a personal web page with samples, do make note of it with your materials. Often those that violated the item before this one were rescued by the availability of materials online.
That's my story, so far, and to it sticking is being done by me.