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Let us assume that a postdoc is applying for a tenure-track faculty position in computer science in an English- or German-speaking country. After submitting the application, the postdoc contacted certain faculty members of the target institution and gave them a heads-up about the application. Now, you are one of the contacted members. You work in the same field, but know nothing about the candidate; you have not cited his/her papers or vice versa, you've never chatted with him/her, and no senior person has spoken in his/her favor or against him/her. What is your usual approach towards the candidate's request for attention? Here are some possibilities:

  1. That's spam. You don't know the sender and don't have time to care; you move the letter to the trash bin and stay neutral.

  2. The applicant seems to be too weak, arrogant, or in despair so that he/she has to speak for himself (instead of his advisor); you decide to vote against him/her.

  3. The applicant's area is near to yours; you decide to take a look at his/her application to find out whether a future collaboration is deemed possible.

  4. You copy-and-paste a boilerplate standard answer. (E.g. "Your research and teaching statements as well as your CV are very impressive! Unfortunately, I'm only very marginally involved into the hiring process. If the hiring committee asks me, I'll bring their attention to your application.") You really don't wish to be influenced but get kudos in case the candidate gets the job.

  5. ... (your experience goes here) ...

(An aside: this question is different from How is the applicant's bringing attention to his/her own application viewed if you know little about him/her? : there, you know something, though little, about the candidate.)

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    For me, such an unsolicited e-mail would have the smell of desperation all over it: an outstanding candidate would probably trust the hiring committee to recognize the merit of his application. – lighthouse keeper Dec 27 '17 at 23:12
  • Is there any connection at all? e.g., even if the faculty member doesn't know the candidate, should they know their work? did they cite it? did the candidate cite them? If there isn't some hook, I think an email would be ignored at best. – AJK Dec 27 '17 at 23:20
  • @lighthousekeeper Thanks! I added "in despair" to the question. – Leon Meier Dec 27 '17 at 23:22
  • @AJK Let's assume that the field is the only common connection. I've improved my question in this regard. – Leon Meier Dec 27 '17 at 23:22
  • Why is this question asked twice? – padawan Dec 28 '17 at 1:34
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If you want to send such an email, you could contact someone in the department with whom you have some special affinity, and personalize the note. Aim to interest this person in not just you, but the specific sub-field you and that person share an interest in. Make it a friendly letter. After you draft it, read it over, imagining receiving it ten years from now. In this letter, you can mention names of people you and that person both know. To do this well, you will have to spend some time looking over the faculty and postdocs at the target department to choose a person with shared interests, and then looking over the chosen person's CV to get a feel for their research interests, how yours would complement and reinforce theirs, what people you might know in common. That last one makes it easier for that person to contact a common acquaintance for their impressions of you. Once you understand what the person's research program has been and what direction this person is going in now, you'll be in a better position to let him or her know what strikes you as exciting about what they're doing. You can send a reprint or a preprint if you have something that relates.

I'm not exactly answering your question, I'm suggesting a way of doing what you have in mind, that would maximize its effectiveness.

But this type of networking can also be done over time, at conferences and in response to your reading, prior to the application process.

At the application stage, the best use of your time might be to contact the people you have networked with over time, to let them know where you're applying, so they can put in a good word for you if they know someone at one of those departments.

  • Got it, aparente001. As you said, it's not an answer in the strict sense of the word. But it's tremendously helpful anyway! – Leon Meier Dec 28 '17 at 2:00
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My take is that it may not help, but it won't hurt. We get these emails all the time, so you contacting faculty members is not unheard of or out of the ordinary. I don't see it as a "desperation move".

The reality -- understood by all who make hiring decisions -- is that a candidate may be good but will in many cases be ignored if nobody in a department knows the person or has close connections to one of the letter writers. That's because departments get dozens or hundreds of applications for each position, and people -- for better or worse -- need to sift through them to whittle things down to a manageable number of candidates. It is just a true fact that it sometimes takes an unsolicited email for someone to actually take a close look at a file. There is no stigma attached with sending such email -- though there is also no guarantee that anyone will take the time to actually look at your file in great detail.

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