Like Bardiac, I spent part of the weekend reading job applications, and like Bardiac, I also came across some eccentric ones: applicants who weren't remotely qualified for the position, or who submitted highly peculiar job letters, or both.
But although the weirdo applications are the more amusing to talk about, the for-real ones inspire stronger emotions. First, of course, is enthusiasm: it's invigorating to learn about so many interesting projects and to be introduced to so many interesting applicants. Second, however, come the sobering reminders of what awaits so many of these promising applicants.
Hints of their fates--or if not their specific fates, then the fates of many like them--are readily apparent in their cover letters and vitae. A surprising number of candidates are U.S. citizens now teaching overseas. In some cases, I imagine, the gig is a largely or entirely positive experience: a one-year immersion in a foreign culture, a chance to teach a wide range of classes to an unusual group of students, and a welcome adventure after the long slog of graduate school. But in other cases the applicants have spent many years abroad, often moving from country to country, and in positions that don't permit them to teach within their area of specialization.
Then there are the applicants who are still here in the States, but stringing together several adjunct positions two or three or five years after getting their degrees. There are a few who have actually stopped adjuncting, and hence teaching, bowing to the need for a more reliable job--but who are still hoping they might be viable candidates on the academic job market.
And finally there are the superficially more secure candidates: those comfortably ensconced in cushy visiting positions, cranking out multiple publications a year, possessed of sterling letters of reference from some of the biggest names in the discipline. . . but who can't seem to land a tenure-line job. Usually, they're not a good fit for our position, and not really a good fit for any position according to the conventional job-market categories. I'm not talking about someone whose work spans, say, the Victorian and Modernist divide (although those people can struggle, too); I'm talking about someone who's written a book with one chapter on Marlowe, one on Blake, one on Oscar Wilde, and one on Lady Gaga.
Let me be clear: none of the above scenarios is necessarily a dealbreaker or a kiss of doom; we all know people who took three or five or ten years to get a tenure-line job, but eventually wound up with a great one. But I look at these applicants and I think: Gawd. This fucking profession.