We get letters about all kinds of strange and remarkable providences here at Historiann HQ: guarantees for the biggest “male package” are popular, as are letters from a Nigerian prince in exile with eccentric syntax who brings the wonderful news that we can share in his inheritance if only…well, you get the picture.
Please ask your readers what they think about my choice to wrap up my job letter with the following: “At present, I do not plan to attend the AHA convention; to be frank, I do not believe I can afford to do so on my current salary.” I follow it up with a suggestion for an alternative interview possibility, then a normal “closing” section. Am I shooting myself in the foot? Do you think phone interviews are an advantage or a disadvantage?
As you historians know, the American Historical Association’s annual conference this year is in New York–a cross-country trip for Barry. That’s quite a trip, with jet fuel going for what it does these days. There are other reasons why some of you might want to avoid the whole convention interview scene–perhaps you’re only applying to a select few jobs, or perhaps you’re applying to an institution that’s local, so it seems wasteful of time, money, and petroleum to fly to another city for a 30-minute interview. (Well, quite frankly, it is wasteful. Convention interviews make sense only if you’ve got several lined up.)
My instinct is for Barry say nothing in his letter unless and until he hears from the search committee that they want to meet with him. Up to that point, when you’re just a CV and a letter of application, the only thing you want to stand out in people’s minds is your awesome qualifications, extensive and impressive publications, and your deep and meaningful commitment to teaching–not your assessment of your personal bank balance. Search committee members may be inclined to think, “well pal, everybody else is doin’ it, including unemployed ABDs, so cry me a river.”
If you hear from the search committee, you might propose a phone interview or local interview then, but I’ve never seen someone for whom we did phone interviews make it onto our list of finalists. (I know of one instance when a locally-arranged screening interview yielded an invitation for an all-day on-campus interview, but in the end, no job offer. Sample size N=1 here, so I don’t think we can draw any conclusions yet.) My guess is that it’s better to advance through the interview process along with all of the other candidates. If they’re setting this job up to have screening interviews at the AHA convention, then that’s their vision for how the process will work. If that’s impossible, and you get the sense that the search committee is interested in you and willing to accomodate you, then an in-person interview would be better than a phone interview.
Et vous, cher Readers? Barry’s application is due any time now! Most of you urged caution for Tenured Tammy last month, and talked me out of my advice to Tammy urging total honesty. What do you think Barry should do?
UPDATE, 10/17/08: Barry wrote me this morning to say the following: “I was totally persuaded that I shouldn’t mention either my finances or my plans not to attend the convention. I just wrapped up by saying ‘I hope to hear from you as you work your way through the search process.’ Totally bland and non-commital–let them be interested in me before even worrying about the next step of the process.” Well done, readers! Thanks for steering Barry to a happy resolution of his question.