Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Job Letters

Having finished yet another letter of recommendation, I thought I’d take a minute to blog about a) what greeted me in my mailbox yesterday and b) what one definitely does NOT want one’s letters of reference to look like when they reach the search committee: a single page that is sloppily folded (i.e. at a crooked angle) into a tiny, 4 x 6 envelope that has a semi-circular bit of roach or rodent chewing along the bottom edge. Further, one does not want this chewing to have gone right through the envelope to mar two different folds of the letter, so that when it is flattened out and inserted into one’s file, what committee members will “see” (regardless of how brilliant the words on the letter may proclaim you to be) is:

1. A letter from someone who didn’t have, or didn’t take the time to send one’s letter off in a business-sized envelope.
2. Six extremely haphazard folds that will, inevitably, be vying for attention over and above whatever the letter writer composed on behalf of the candidate.
3. Two small, but very visible chew holes—approximately 2 ½ inches apart—that allow one to peer right through the letter to the document beneath.

This (okay, probably not the chew marks), from a JHU history professor. Perhaps the intent was to make the letter look like it has been around for a good century?

Since I wasn’t planning to work on campus yesterday, I took it right over to our administrative assistant to place in the candidate’s file. Looking slightly surprised, he said to me “You’re kidding, that really was a reference letter? I saw that it was addressed to you as search committee chair, but I figured, ‘Who would send a reference letter in a tiny envelope like that?’ ” And then, taking note of not only the chew holes, but also of the crappy folding job (truly, it looks like a 3-year-old slapped it into the envelope), he remarked “That’s bad!!”

I completely agree. Fortunately, I received a very carefully crafted and positive letter this morning by email from the same candidate’s dissertation chair. If the hardcopy arrives looking like a complete and total mess, I’m going to wonder about the campus mail room at JH.

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