The Insider

Since I am just a few months into a two-year postdoc, this fall I’m pursuing only a couple of dream jobs. As it turns out, a good friend of mine was recently hired at one of the institutions that has caught my eye, so I called him up before sending off my application.

Mainly I just wanted to ask if he thought I would stand a chance. Since the position is open rank, I know senior scholars will be attracted as well. After all, the school enjoys a wonderful reputation in the field, is located in a particularly desirable part of the country, and attracts exceptional students.

Not everything my friend told me was comforting. For instance, he let it slip that one of my recommenders is also applying. Still, he encouraged me to give it a shot, and he let me know that he would tell his friends on the search committee to keep an eye out for my dossier. Perhaps more importantly, he was able to give me an insider’s perspective on the department, one that made the place all the more attractive: their fiction writer, it seems, is every bit as charming and generous in person as he is on the page; faculty members seem to actually like and respect one another; the university-sponsored literary magazine is really going places, etc.

Now, nothing I learned in our conversation was particularly helpful for the preliminary application, but it strikes me that a clear picture of the place (beyond the university Web site) could be a distinct advantage if I were to make it to the interview stage in the process. Have you ever had a friend on the inside? If so, how did you make use of his advice and insight? What ethical pitfalls should one guard against in such a situation?

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