The unsolicited adjunct job application – 5 fatal mistakes

Someone is bound to see my resumeHaving been in human resources inside higher education for more than 15 years, I have seen the good, the bad and the very ugly of cover letters. If you are applying for a part-time faculty position, it’s best to apply for a position that you know is open and available. Regardless of how well your cover letter is written, unsolicited emails with your resume/curriculum vitae (CV) attached have about a 90% chance of being deleted. If a position is not posted, there likely is not an opening. And even if a college or university tells you that they keep your CV on file, although that may be true, they generally will not go back to research CVs kept on file. Unless instructed otherwise, always submit your cover letter and CV to a college or university by email. Nowadays, paper gets lost. If there is a 90% chance that your unsolicited emailed CV will get deleted, then there is a 99% chance that your paper CV and cover letter will see the shredder. Right about now, you may be saying to yourself, “But I heard that companies must keep applications for a year.” Okay, that’s true, but guess what? The rule does not apply to unsolicited applications. Even though your chances of receiving a response from an unsolicited cover letter and CV are slim, you may choose to do it anyway. If so, don’t make these trash-can-bound mistakes.

MISTAKE #1: Addressing the email “Dear Sir/Madam” I get this frequently. Someone will take the time to find my personal work email address, so I assume they saw my name. Then they address the email cover letter “Dear Sir/Madam” or simply “Dear Sir”. To be honest, I do not immediately delete these emails. I look at the rest of the content of the email. If the person has a skill that we are in desperate need of filling, I will reluctantly forward it to the appropriate department head. However, if desperation has not set in for filling a job, I will likely delete the email. Here is why you are likely to get deleted: If you are going to take the time to find my email address but then not take the time to at least know if I am a man or woman (and I don’t have a gender neutral name), then I can’t trust the amount of attention you will give your class.

MISTAKE #2: Writing a long-winded rambling cover letter Your cover letter should be as short and simple as possible, while conveying the important points. Remember the KISS principle – Keep It Short and Simple. I know academics have the reputation of being verbose. Even so, your cover letter is not an academic treatise. Your cover letter does not need to include how you found me, unless a friend of mine referred you. I don’t need to know where you graduated high school or how you moved to the city where you now live. I don’t need to know your philosophy about the subject you propose to teach. And, I really don’t want to know that you taught at another school that undervalued your knowledge and expertise. Yes, I have received more than one cover letter detailing each of these things. Here is why you are likely to get deleted: Years of experience tells me that a rambling cover letter is a red flag that the person writing it is generally unfocused and will be a high maintenance employee.

MISTAKE #3: Sending an email blast without tailoring it to the courses taught at the university It is important to know the courses that are being taught at the university before you send your CV and cover letter. You may ruin your opportunity to teach an available course by being too generic. If you are going to take the time to look up where to send the email, take time to look at the courses offered so that you can list the appropriate course titles. Here is why you are likely to get deleted: If you say that you teach English, that doesn’t tell me whether you teach grammar, literature (and what kind), fiction writing, or business writing. So instead of calling you to find out what you can teach, I’m more likely to delete the email. List everything you can teach.

MISTAKE #4: Sending something that looks like a sales pitch instead of a cover letter. Higher education is not known for being whimsical or prone to fall for sales language. I once received a cover letter that looked like the front page of a website. The headline read, “Meilleur professeur de français disponibles à enseigner.” First, I had no idea what the person was trying to say. I realized it had something to do with a Professor of French, but did not know the other words. And when sorting through over 100 emails a day, I don’t have time to pause and figure out your cute way of telling me that you are a great French professor. The remainder of the email continued in English and explained why he would be a great addition to the language department. I was fairly certain that the French instructor’s approach was a bit too cheeky to impress our faculty, but I passed it on to the department. No surprise, the department head was not impressed. Here is why you are likely to get deleted: Much of higher education has an aversion to anything that smells of sales. Your sales pitch will likely repel rather than attract the decision-makers.

MISTAKE #5: Not putting your cover letter in the body of the email I have received emails that say things like, “Please see my attached application for a position in your science department.” Most universities have an applicant management system to receive applications for posted jobs. If there is a job posted, I will write back and ask the person to apply online. I will usually provide the link. If there isn’t a job posted the email will likely get deleted, especially if my name is not in the email. I figure if you don’t know who you wrote to, I have no obligation to get back to you. Here is why you are likely to get deleted: Opening an email that doesn’t contain explanatory text in the body of the email is a quick way to get a virus on your computer. So, if you simply say “see attached,” I am not taking the chance that your intentions are less than honorable.

All in all, I suggest not sending unsolicited emails for jobs, if you are going to do anything unsolicited, I suggest you pick up the phone and call the chair of the department where you want to work. Ask if there are any openings and give your qualifications. Don’t try to carry on a long conversation. Say what you have to say and if the reception is less than warm, say, “Thank you,” and hang up.

Have you have sent unsolicited job applications? What has been your experience?


2 replies
  1. Kristina
    Kristina says:

    No offence but this article sounds a bit mean and demotivating. One more prove that HR is the nightmare of job-seekers and they should do whatever it takes to avoid contacting it. Statistics says that 70-80 % of people get hired through unsolicited applications and you are saying : ” All in all, I suggest not sending unsolicited emails for jobs” . Meanwhile the HR is sitting there, playing with people’s fate and rejecting many skillful candidates.

  2. Lesa Hammond
    Lesa Hammond says:

    Dear Kristina: This article was not at all meant to be demotivating, but to provide information. Finding a job is not an exercise in sending your resume everywhere. This article provides ways to approach employers. Additionally, job boards can be helpful and networking is extremely helpful. I would like the source of your statistic of 70-80% of people get hired from unsolicited applications. If at all valid it more likely says 70-80% of people get hired through means other than applying from job ads. This would support networking and other means, not sending unsolicited resumes. Sending unsolicited applications is seldom a way that people get hired.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *