I’m on the job market this semester, and I’ve been getting as much feedback as possible on my job documents. This week, I started putting together my first cover letter for a position that seems like it could be a good fit. I sent a draft to my advisor and he responded with comments and feedback. “Don’t sound too cocky. You don’t want to step on any toes,” he said. Then I sent the letter to my partner who had a highly successful job search last year in the same field as me. His feedback on my cover letter was the exact opposite of my advisor’s: “Make bolder statements; tell them what you can do for them; be aggressive.” Who to believe?
Actually, they’re probably both right. The cover letter is such a tricky document, and it’s really difficult to strike the right kind of balance in tone. I want them to know that I’m awesome, I do awesome things, I think awesome thoughts. But I don’t want them to think that I think I’m too awesome. Otherwise, I’ll come off as a jerk. And, quite honestly, I tend to find it much easier to downplay my accomplishments. So I also run the risk of not impressing them enough to give me a second glance. At the same time, I don’t want to come off too beggy.
So what’s a job candidate to do? Get more advice? I’m certain that I could give the same document to five other people and get five different (and possible disparate) bits of advice. Indeed, there is no end to advice offered each year by folks The Chronicle (and along with it ProfHacker) and GradHacker. All the advice can get so overwhelming and frustrating.
Why won’t somebody just give me the right answer?
And that, right there, is one of my biggest realizations during this hunt for a job. There is no right answer or any one right way to do this. I have spent years being a graduate student, being told–if not what to think–then the many different ways that there are to think. “You could think about it this way” or “you could think about it like that.” I’ve been trained to see all the possibilities (or at least as many of them as possible), to stretch and flex my brain in many different (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways. Now’s my time to figure out which stretches feel the best.
I’ll listen to everyone’s advice, and, ultimately, I’ll take my own. Because this is what I’ve been training for.