Issues in Philosophy Advice for Applying for Academic Jobs in Philosophy: Indiana University Bloomington

Advice for Applying for Academic Jobs in Philosophy: Indiana University Bloomington

The aim of this series is to provide APA members with some insights into the hiring process from a variety of sources and perspectives.  If you would like to submit a contribution, we’d love to hear from you.  Please contact us via the submission form here.


by Allen Wood

This is the first of a series of six posts on how a job candidate in philosophy should put together a dossier and apply for academic jobs. I am not sure I am in any better position to give such advice than a lot of other people. My experience has all been at research universities: Cornell, Yale, Stanford, and Indiana. I have had experience advising my own Ph.D. students who are job candidates. I’ve also served (a couple of times) as job placement officer in Ph.D. programs (at Yale and Stanford) and served on many search committees at Cornell, Yale, Stanford, and Indiana. At Stanford and Indiana, I have also been involved in, or have myself conducted, a number of searches for postdoctoral fellowship positions, including the Ruth Norman Halls Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Philosophy at Indiana University, which has now been awarded to four different people over the last five years. I will approach the subject by describing what I do when I am doing a search or am part of a search committee. But I will look at this from the standpoint of a job candidate, suggesting what candidates ought to be trying to do to improve their chances.  Those who are applying for jobs at community colleges would be wise to consult Robert Muhlnickel’s post, which is much better informed about that than mine.

In the post below, I address the job dossier, including AOCs/AOSs, letters of application, and CVs. In future posts, I will address the writing sample, research statement, letters of recommendation, teaching credentials, publications, job interviews, campus visits, job offers, and reflections on the process.

The Job Dossier

Academic job searches these days are fundamentally conditioned by the hard fact that virtually every advertised position has many, many applicants. The first task of anyone doing a job search has to be to eliminate as many candidates as possible from consideration as quickly as possible. Consequently, if you are a job candidate, your first task has to be to minimize the chance that your dossier will be one of the vast majority that is eliminated the first time through. Another hard fact is that your chances of surviving the first cut are often proportional to the prestige of the institution and department where you got your Ph.D., and to the reputation of your recommenders. A candidate from a lesser-known school would benefit from getting a letter of recommendation from a well-known philosopher from a bigger name school. Some can do this and some can’t. If all this seems unfair, then that’s because it is unfair. But search committee members have limited time to do their work, and they are also fallible human beings. They are going to use whatever factors they can to winnow out, as fast as possible, from dozens or even hundreds of applications, the very few candidates who will be given serious consideration. If you are a candidate from a lesser known institution, your chief hope of being taken seriously rests on the chance that your writing sample will be so immediately engaging and impressive that it can overcome the disadvantage weighing you down. There would be at least this much fairness in the process if every writing sample were read carefully the first time through. But that is hard and time-consuming work. I try to do it, but can understand it if not all search committee members feel able.


Another way in which the whole hiring process in philosophy (and in academia more generally) is both unreasonable and unfair is this: Jobs generally are listed in terms of specialtiesArea of Specialization (AOS) and Areas of Concentration (AOC) that have been shaped by a cookie-cutter. AOSs/AOCs include: metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, action theory, ethics, bioethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy, medieval, early modern, Kant, German idealism, “continental” philosophy, feminism, gender studies, experimental philosophy, cogsci philosophy, etc. The list could be extended indefinitely, but no matter how many items you add, these categories are no way to think about what real philosophers are interested in or what is interesting about their work. From the reasonable human point of view of a young philosopher, it is offensive to be required to package yourself as a commodity and put a brand on yourself, expanding or lopping off your philosophical interests to make them fit these Procrustean categories. But looking at things from an instrumentally rational, institutional point of view, this is how deans and hiring departments have to frame their searches. So a job candidate who seeks a professional academic career has to put a brand on him or herself. This process should have begun well before you start your dissertation and should have played a role in your selection of a dissertation topic. If you can brand yourself differently for different positions, you ought to do that, since it improves your chances.

If you are applying for a position for which the advertised AOS and AOC are clearly different from yours, then you should realize that no matter how good you are at what you do, your application is very likely to be eliminated right away solely on the ground that you are not suited to the advertised position. You should always try to present your credentials in a way that shows how you do fit the advertised position. If you can’t do that, you probably should not waste your time applying. Panic may make it seem like a good idea to adopt the “shotgun” or “carpet bombing” tactic of applying to every position advertised in philosophy, regardless of the mismatch between your qualifications and the advertised areas. But that is a sad, desperate illusion.

The Letter of Application

The first thing I always look at in a job dossier is the CV. I often read this in conjunction with the Letter of Application, if there is one. Given my practices, such letters should not be too long. It applies to the whole dossier that the easier you make things for the readers of the dossier, the better your chances. Less is often more when it comes to the length of things you write. Given the way I do things, if your application letter is more than a couple of paragraphs, it probably won’t be read carefully, at least the first time through. (And for most applications, there will be only one time through, because most will be eliminated on the first reading.) If you can make a case for your appropriateness to the advertised position, you might do that, but only if it can be done succinctly.

However, remember that what I’m doing here is describing my own practices. I’ve been told that for some readers of dossiers, especially not at research universities, the letter of application is the most important thing of all. If it is too short, the applicant has little chance with such readers. I suppose the moral of the story is that what will help you at one place will hurt you at another, and you often have no way of knowing which is which. (Welcome to the job market.)

The CV

I read the CV to find out where the applicant has been educated, where and when they’ve gotten, or precisely when they will get their Ph.D., where they’ve taught already, and what their AOSs and AOCs are. If you have publications, or have given public presentations at conferences, these should be listed. Any other qualifications of a more unusual nature should also be brought to the attention of the reader of the CV. All this information should be presented in as clear, brief, and accessible a manner as possible. The arrangement of information on the page is important. The facts must leap out at the reader. If the CV has to be read slowly and carefully to get the essential information, then it won’t get across to a reader who is in a hurry, as search committee members always are.

Most CVs offer a summary of the candidate’s dissertation. You have only a few precious sentences in which to get across what your dissertation is about. Some may think that a dissertation summary is a place to make an interesting philosophical case. But that is not possible. Save it for your writing sample. If a dissertation summary requires the reader to turn to a second page, then don’t count on the second page getting read. In fact, a dissertation summary that takes more than one short paragraph is likely to be merely skimmed rather than read in its entirety. That’s not what you should want.


Please keep in mind that these are only my opinions and impressions. Others who are at least as well informed as I am would surely disagree with some things I say. I emphasize also that my practices may not be everyone’s practices. I have only casual and fragmentary knowledge about how others do things. The way applications are read at research universities is somewhat different from the way they are read at liberal arts colleges or other institutions that emphasize teaching and care less about research. Along the way, I will try to add a few comments (based on reports of others) about the practices of institutions different from the ones where I’ve worked.

At points, I will express disapproval of the way the hiring process works. I will sometimes combine my disapproval with doubts about whether in our world there is anything that can be done to correct what I disapprove of. But the APA Board of Officers has created a committee: The Subcommittee on Best Practices for Interviewing.

Parts of the present document, especially its bitter or sarcastic tone, might easily be seen as disparaging or even despairing of what this Subcommittee is trying to do. I urge you not to read it that way. I do disapprove of the whole interview process, as I will say later. But as long as it goes on (which it will, no matter what I may say), it is important that it be done as well as possible. Instead, interpret what I am saying as making a case for what this Subcommittee is trying to do. They clearly understand the process of interviews, campus visits, and academic hiring better than I do, and from more sides than I can. They are trying to improve the process. I applaud their efforts, and though this is not the place to review the documents they have produced, I endorse much of what they recommend. The point is that here I am not interested in advising those who conduct interviews. I am trying to look at things as they presently are from the standpoint of job candidates, and help job candidates deal with the world as it presently is.

My remarks are intended to be sobering, but not demoralizing. I admire all who devote their youth to the study of philosophy, and I wish there were more academic jobs for them. I am angry at the system, and I’m on the side of the job candidates, even of those I describe myself as eliminating in a job search the first time I look at their dossiers. Job candidates should keep in mind that many now successful philosophersprobably some of those now reading your dossier or interviewing youfailed to get a job their first year on the market, or even their second. It is up to you to decide if and when to give up your hope for an academic career. Nobody elseespecially not a search committee that has eliminated you (perhaps hastily and unfairly)can do more than give you one fallible datum bearing on that decision.

Please see below for other posts in Wood’s series:

Allen Wood is the Ruth Norman Halls Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University Bloomington. He is also the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, where he teaches short courses and participates on Ph.D. dissertation committees. Find out more about Wood here.


  1. “From the reasonable human point of view of a young philosopher, it is offensive to be required to package yourself as a commodity and put a brand on yourself, expanding or lopping off your philosophical interests to make them fit these Procrustean categories. … So a job candidate who seeks a professional academic career has to put a brand on him or herself.”

    I don’t disagree with anything you say here, and I appreciate your candor. But if the necessary conditions of an academic career are on offense against the humanity of young philosophers, wouldn’t the philosophical community be better served by advice on how to pursue serious philosophical inquiry independent of such a career?

  2. I’d like to add to Allen’s excellent post something more about the CV. Candidates need to be careful about how they categorize their work. I suggest not categorizing papers submitted or in progress and books manuscripts under consideration or under contract as “Publications.” Likewise, applications for fellowships are not “Honors.” Many of us reading dossiers see this sort of thing often. The candidate who does this looks at best like someone who does not know how to put together a CV, and at worst like someone purposely trying to deceive. Good luck to all job-seekers!

    (And congratulations to Lewis for getting this blog up and running!)

  3. Elizabeth, thanks for the comment.

    Is the suggestion that we should only put things that have *in fact* been published in the publication section? I thought it was fine to put (under contract) if in fact a contract has been signed. Usually, once a contract has been signed there is a date attached as to when the finished product will be complete. It doesn’t seem to be deceitful to put this in the publication section as long as one is clear to put (under contract-expected date 2017). After all the content is about a publication that has been contracted.

    The same for something that has been accepted but has yet to appear. (to appear) seems to be fine to me for the same reasons as (under contract is okay). Now, the journal might fold and it never appears. BUt then I would change my CV accordingly. Likewise, the volume might not go through because the editor passes away or the press goes bankrupt, but is it normal to have something contracted and it never appear? I’m new to this so I ask in earnest.

    In both cases, the info is telling of a publication in the works that has not yet been released but both seem fitting for the publication section of one’s CV.

    Here’s one reason why I lean toward leaving contracted things on the CV: It’s not easy to get publications so if one is contracted to do several, that should speak to the applicant’s ability to get their work noticed and to their ability to write something that was accepted. Usually chapters are vetted by editors or longer abstracts are accepted as promises. In either event, it seems that the applicant got noticed which would be a good thing for a respective department to know. I have several pieces under contract right now and I am not trying to be decitful and I think I know how to write a CV. There isn’t one way to write a CV and your comment suggests that there might only be ONE correct way. I’d like to hear from others on this as well. Maybe me, and those who have stated that it was indeed good for me to put these sorts of things on the CV, are in the minority and that would be good to know.

  4. Applicants should keep in mind other things on the CV that can serve as “red flags” to search committee members. One is to list job talks from previous job searches as “invited talks.” If you gave two or three (or more) talks in January and February, at a variety of schools (possibly all the same talk), it’s pretty obvious they were job talks, and you didn’t get the job. Just leave them off the CV. Another is to change your AOS/AOC to fit the job ad, when there is absolutely no other evidence on your CV to support your qualifications in the AOS/AOC (such as having published papers, or having taught classes).

  5. “Search Committee Assumes False Thing” is probably no more newsworthy than “Dog Bites Man” or “Plane Lands Uneventfully,” but I’m surprised that job talks would be thought irrelevant for inclusion on a CV. For one thing, the fact, if it is one, that one gave multiple job talks should, in this market, be regarded as impressive. For another, what’s supposedly pretty obvious about January and February talks is, in at least my case, false rather more often than not.

    Is the objection really to including job talks at all, or rather to describing them as invited? I just list “presentations” with no differentiation, although at this point in my career, I suppose it might be time to divide things up.

  6. This might be a case of a peculiar preference, or false assumption. I don’t claim that search committee members don’t have those. I don’t think it is standard practice to include job talks on a CV — I certainly never did it. (Likewise, we don’t consider a single class taught for a campus visit teaching demo to be a “guest lecture.”) In the current job market, just getting an interview is an accomplishment, but we don’t include those on the CV, and the mere fact that something is “impressive” doesn’t warrant its inclusion on the CV.

    In any case, I’d be happy to hear from others who have served on search committees about this practice.

  7. Thanks for the reply, Syd, if I may (and so belatedly–eek, sorry!). The last point is a good one. I think an earlier draft of that comment said “noteworthy,” and that seems more apt, at least to me.

    I join you in hoping that others will weigh in about these questions, and more. It turns out that there is an APA-produced guide to CV construction at but it doesn’t address any of the questions raised in the comments here so far.

  8. To Justin Caoette

    Do NOT list ‘under contracts’ as publications. Unless it is finished and actually forthcoming it is not a publication and you will annoy the hell out of search committees by listing it as such. The thing about contracts is that there is many slip between cup and lip. All having a contract means that somebody has agreed to accept you product IF you complete it and IF it turns out to be up to scratch. You might not finish and it might not be up to scratch which means that it is at least two contingencies away from an actual publication. If you present potentialities as actualities, then search committees are likely to feel a) that the wool is being pulled over their eyes and b) that their time has been wasted since THEY have to do the work of distinguishing the potential from the actual. This is labour they would have much preferred to be spared. Perhaps there are saintly types who would not hold a grudge about this but I would certainly not be one of them. Remember, search committees (even nice ones ) are LOOKING for reasons to eliminate people. This is one that you don’t need to give them.

    With forthcomings it is different. True, editors may die and publications may fold, but on the whole this is not very likely for reasonably prestigious journals and publishers, that is the ones you would want to list. Generally speaking forthcomings are more like future actualities than potentialities which means that it is OK to list them as publications SO LONG AS the final draft has ACTUALLY BEEN ACCEPTED. ‘Revise and Resubmits’ are not publications until the revised submission has definitively been scheduled for publication.

    I would also (and for similar reasons) strongly advise clearly distinguishing publications from presentations. And I would regard including job talks under ‘invited presentations’ as dishonest and in my case at least it would mark you down. CVs and letters of application are, of course about bragging but nobody likes a dishonest braggart, especially a braggart who forces you to waste your time distinguishing between real achievements, (such as publications), less significant achievements (such as presentations) non-achievements and would-be achievements.

    For more on these and related themes see:

    More generally, we have had several threads on what Search committees actually do (as well as on what they ought to do) on Leiter, for instance at

  9. To Justin Caouette,

    I agree with Charles Pigden. When I see a piece listed under “publications”, I infer that it has already been published, or that a journal or press is committed to publishing it — i.e., the work is finished has been completed and fully accepted for publication in its present form.

    Work in progress and work under review should be listed under “work in progress” and “work under review” and not under “publications” — even if that work has been invited or is under contract. If you put a paper under “publications” with “under contract” in parentheses, I am not sure what the paper’s status is: is it finished, fully vetted and accepted for publication in its current form, as well as under contract? It is finished but not yet fully vetted, as well as under contract? Do you have a contract for a paper that is not yet finished? This is relevant information.

    I think it’s fine to leave contracted things on the CV, but I would put them in the right categories: under “publications” if the work is completed, fully vetted, and accepted in its current form; under “work under review” if the paper is finished but the vetting process is not over; and under “work in progress” if the work in not finished.

    To Syd Johnson.

    I think that a job talk is, in fact, an invited talk: you’ve been invited to campus to give a talk, and you’ve given it. In reply to your claim that “it’s pretty obvious they were job talks, and you didn’t get the job”, I know people who have job talks listed on their CVs for jobs they were offered but turned down. When I see job talks listed, I have no negative reaction, but maybe that’s just me. It’s never been an issue when I’ve been on search committees (I’ve been on a number of them).

  10. At a public college or university that must make its decisions based on the qualifications noted in the job advertisement, knocking someone out of contention for a position for which she or he meets the minimum qualifications because one didn’t receive degree(s) from a “prestigious” place or department, or did not receive a recommendation from a person of “prestige,” is the epitome of unfairness. If prestige is going to be used as a determining factor in decisions, then it ought to be stated specifically in the ad that one must have a degree from a prestigious university or department and/or a letter from a “prestigious” recommender. When on a search committee, I couldn’t care less whether a person received degree(s) from the University of Maine, Miami, or Oregon, Florida, Georgia, or Alaska — or from Harvard, Indiana, or Timbuktu as long as the University is properly accredited. There are plenty of people who have received degree(s) from “prestigious” places who are lazy, minimally effective teachers, or who aren’t any more successful at publishing than Jo Schmoe. And there are plenty who received degrees from lesser known places who do a solid and commendable job, who are good teachers, and/or who are also very good in the realm of publications. If a person doesn’t want to read the applications, then perhaps such a person shouldn’t be on the committee. Granted, the CV can indicate pretty clearly and quickly whether a person meets the minimum qualifications as they are written in an ad. If a person doesn’t meet the minimum, then rejecting that person right off makes perfectly good sense. But for those who get through that first round, their applications deserve to be read not only in fairness to the applicant, but for the benefit of the department and University considering the applicant. Plenty of excellent potential colleagues are apparently shoved aside simply because they don’t have a fancy pedigree. That’s really despicable.

  11. I quite agree with Nancy Stanlick that search committees SHOULD NOT use the lack of pedigree as a pruning tool to eliminate candidates from the list. Indeed I have argued at length that pedigree should not count at all when, as is usually the case, we have better evidence of philosophical ability in the form of publications. See for instance my contributions to these threads, one on Leiter, the other on Daily Nous:
    BUT it is obvious from the responses I have received that in these respects I differ from many of my colleagues in America. It is abundantly clear, for instance, that a great many US Search Committees DO self-consciously and deliberately take pedigree (or the lack of it) into account as well as pedigree-related factors such as the prestige of letter-writers. Since this is so, and since we are trying to be helpful here, the sensible question to ask is this: if a candidate’s pedigree is less than stellar, what can they do to make up for it? THAT is a question that might actually provoke a useful response.

    But there is another issue here. Although I agree with Nancy Stanlick that the lack of pedigree should not be used as a pruning tool, there is a need for a quick heuristic to rank the often vast array of candidates. Nancy writes:

    Granted, the CV can indicate pretty clearly and quickly whether a person meets the minimum qualifications as they are written in an ad. If a person doesn’t meet the minimum, then rejecting that person right off makes perfectly good sense. But for those who get through that first round, their applications deserve to be read not only in fairness to the applicant, but for the benefit of the department and University considering the applicant

    But what happens if, after eliminating those who fail to meet the minimum, you still have a hundred or more applicants? If you have a hundred applicants each with a writing sample of 4000 words that involves reading 400,000 words the equivalent of four thick (and difficult!) books or four lengthy (research-only) PhD theses. So if search committees are not to use pedigree to create a preliminary ranking, what are they going to use, given that reading every writing sample is often not a practical proposition?

    My answers to the two questions I have posed are related.

    1) If your pedigree is less than stellar then go for a short punchy CV emphasizing publications (if any).

    2) If conscientious search committees, moved by Nancy’s arguments, decide to forswear pedigree as a ranking tool, they should use publications weighted by prestige of venues and divided by the years out from the PhD to create an initial ranking, selecting the top ten or twenty candidates for a more detailed consideration. That way candidates will be being selected for their ability to do at least ONE thing that they will subsequently be required to do, namely to produce publishable papers. There is still a certain amount of unfairness here (as some have more favorable opportunities to produce publishable papers than others) but I would suggest that this policy is better blend of practicality and principle than using pedigree as a proxy for quality.

  12. Speaking as someone who has only worked at (and done searches for) colleges that value teaching, I would like to add something about the issue of “prestige”. I would say that for some colleges like mine that value teaching, the way to make up for a perceived lack of pedigree is with teaching experience. We often select people who have lots of teaching experience for our first cut, even if they don’t have a degree from a high prestige Ph.D program or lots of publications. That said, however–and this may just be personal preference–I don’t like being given “selected” evaluations of teaching. I’d rather have access to all the evaluations, and then I can decide if I want to read them all or not. Sometimes a flawed (but complete) teaching record is better than a pruned and selective set of teaching evaluations, especially if the applicant has a story to tell about how he or she responded to the more critical comments about his or her teaching. At my college, the ability to respond constructively to criticisms is one of the things that the tenure and promotion committee looks at, and so someone who has shown that he or she can do that has shown us something about their teaching abilities.

  13. If that’s the way the job market does and should work, every job offering needs to be honest and state explicitly that the job offering will not even consider an applicant’s record unless their PhD is from a.Brian Leiter certified department.

    The American philosophical association is now a mere tool for Leiter’s gang, of which Wood is a proud member.

    I could say some things at thi$ point, but i won’t—for the sake of pure respect for the discipline of philosophy.

    • Dear Mac,

      I can’t speak to your broader concerns about the APA, but in terms of the content appearing on this blog, my goals as lead editor are to host content that members of the APA might find interesting, and create new outlets and forums for APA members to share their perspectives on various issues relevant to the full range of activities in our lives as professional philosophers.

      Every post in this series contains an open call for further contributions, and I have been doing my best to advertise our interest in hearing what other sorts of posts our readership is interested in seeing from us.

      If you have thoughts about the sort of content you’d like to see on the blog, or would like to contribute content yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us through our submission form:

  14. (1) With all appreciation of the work Professor Wood is doing in this series of postings, this detail: “But looking at things from an instrumentally rational, institutional point of view, this is how deans and hiring departments have to frame their searches” is false. They do not have to do it that way. There are people in the profession who remember when those headings (AOS or AOC) were at best very loosely interpreted. The institutions were more rational then and functioned better. Not that this matters to Wood’s story, which requires only that the description be true, not that it be necessary. (2) While I can’t improve on Professor Wood’s advice, job candidates are often at loss where to put information about their work. On the rational expectation that their writing sample will at best be glanced at, they may try to pack the thesis description. On the rational expectation that some readers won’t bother with the thesis description, they may overload the application letter. Etc..


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