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When applying for academic jobs, it is common to apply to multiple positions and use essentially the same cover letter for all the applications. The danger is that you might forget to change some of the details from one cover letter to the next. I realized that I have done this recently. How bad is it? Specifically, I applied to a call in area X by saying I'm applying to area Y. (Thankfully, I got the name of the university right. And X and Y are not very different.)

Perhaps someone who has experience on hiring committees can tell me how much of a detriment it is to an application to have the wrong details in a cover letter. I assume this is a reasonably common mistake that is largely overlooked, but it gives the wrong first impression.

  • If you correct it, it gives the impression you are sloppy, but is probably not going to weigh heavily. I'd imagine if you do NOT correct it they'll discard you immediately as both sloppy and out of their scope. – Fred Douglis May 5 '17 at 17:09
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    @FredDouglis: Contacting them seems like it would be quite annoying to them and they will probably just say it is too late to change your application materials. – asdf May 5 '17 at 17:16
  • Sure, but if you don't, and you applied to Y when they want someone for X, will they consider you? Depending on how similar they are of course. – Fred Douglis May 5 '17 at 17:17
  • In this case X and Y are quite similar, so I don't think I would be out of scope. However, I clearly copy-pasted from the wrong call. – asdf May 5 '17 at 17:20
  • Your edit makes a big difference. Though it's still hard to say, without knowing the terms involved. – Fred Douglis May 5 '17 at 17:23
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Sometimes mistakes like this happen. Also, faculty search committees recognize that candidates are applying for multiple positions at one time, so it wouldn't necessarily send up red flags. Most candidates will use a template for their cover letter and change things around. I've chaired search committees and will say that having the university name correct, but the area (you mention it is related) incorrect would not be a fatal flaw for a candidate. However, I might be extra careful at looking at his or her other content/materials for fit and would be more likely to view any additional typos or mistakes as basic sloppiness.

However, it also depends on how competitive that specific position may be. If there are a number of stellar candidates and one made the mistake, it would be easier to rule that person out to make decision making easier. I do not suggest contacting the faculty search chair or members. It will only emphasize that you made the mistake.

Maybe to boost your hopes...I searched for my first faculty position during the recession and applied to 120 positions over a two-year period (many schools lost funding for positions after they were posted, so it was advised to apply for EVERYTHING). One school called me for a campus visit and I was excited. To prepare, I reviewed the cover letter I sent them...only to realize that I wrote the wrong university on the cover letter! With 120 applications, I gave myself some grace for the error. However, it didn't stop me from getting interviewed for the job - the rest of my application made up for the error. Good luck!

5

I have looked at a lot of things. When I see references to the wrong project or company, where it is supposed to have my project or company referenced, I don't let it stop me from reading the rest of the proposal or application. People make mistakes, and it is natural for them to look for employment or sales options.

It tells me they missed it in proofreading (by computer or person). I don't like it, but I don't automatically stop and throw it away. I might miss something very good because of some silly "rule" I made up. It's not Scripture.

If I see lots of them, I start to worry. In an application, I am apt to let it slide, as long as it is not a lie. You lie. You out.

  • Agree. But I'm not sure if every hiring comittee operates like that, – Shake Baby May 5 '17 at 19:05
  • Probably not. You never know who gets stuff and/or why something gets booted sometimes. – johnny May 5 '17 at 19:13
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I see this frequently in applications for faculty positions. It creates a bad initial impression (it suggests that you're careless and didn't put any thought into the application), but if your CV otherwise would be of interest, I'm not going to throw your application out on that basis alone.

This becomes a much more serious matter when we start doing telephone or skype interviews with candidates. At that stage, you should be clear about the name of the institution you're interviewing with, its location, and other aspects of the position.

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