Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Job Market: a few chunks of advice

This is the first opportunity I have had to really add anything here since our “reconstitution.”  Not for lack of things to muse upon!!  But as it is late September, the JIL has just released the first job list of the season, I thought I might toss a few things learned on both sides of the job hunt table. 

First, it is hard, and it is frustrating, to have to shape each and every job application to the school/job you are applying for.  But let me tell you: I’ve chaired a half dozen search committees in the last two years, and the last thing I want is to read a boilerplate application that doesn’t tell me anything about what you the applicant can do for my program.   Ninety per cent of the applications received are people who are just as qualified as you are.  And ninety per cent of those also sent in boiler plates.  The applicants that get looked at first are those who took the time to talk about what they want and can do for our program.  If the ad says we want X and you have X tell us how you fit!  If there is no reason for you to stand out of the pile, you won’t.

Second, if you are not qualified for the job, please don’t apply.  Yes, once in a great while, someone will get lucky.  But honestly, if you do not have the qualifications for the position, you are simply wasting your time and money as well as the search committee’s.  Your application will end up on the waste pile. 

Third, many state schools now have online applications.  FILL THESE OUT COMPLETELY!  Yes, you have to restate information that is in your letter and on your CV and so on.  But the state schools’ HR departments may not even forward your materials due to an incomplete application.  And if they do, the application is a key piece in your arsenal.  The application is on top of your materials.  We look at it first.  The application will tell us whether or not we should continue to read the rest of your materials.  So, after you’ve written the letters, the CV, the philosophy, etc etc, do fill out the repetitious, annoying, seemingly waste of time, application.  It could be the difference between and interview and the dust bin.

Fourth, PROOF READ!  It should go without saying, but an ungrammatical sentence in your application materials stands out.  Some committees won’t care; some will.  But look at it this way: when a committee is deciding whom to interview, why give them an excuse not to include you in their top list of potential interviewees?

Fifth, one of the counter intuitive things that I learned while on the market was that especially in the state public institution arena, the search committee is not the final say.  Sure, the search committee does all the work, and most of the evaluating when you are on a campus visit.  But the administration has a say in many cases, so you have to sell yourself to the administrators too; that part of the interview is not simply a formality.  In my university’s case, the administration has final say, and the administration makes the offer.  Usually the administration will go along with the search committee’s recommendation, but they don’t have to.  So you must sell yourself that direction as well. 

Sixth, know the market.  Look, one of the things that grad school does is force us to specialize.  In fact, the academy helps all think that we’re landing jobs in a Tier 1 school and will only teach Old English, or only teach Chaucer.  But the majority of jobs out there require more breadth than that.  The majority of jobs require a “medievalist” and quite frankly and rather unfairly are interested in Middle English, and even at that, interested in Chaucer.  Helpful if you have some linguistics in there.  That’s just an English example, but the situation is no different in other fields as far as I can tell. The point is that most jobs are going to require teaching outside of your dissertation area and area of specialization.  So the more teaching in areas outside your comfort zone you have, the better.  In fact, there are all sorts of reasons that being an adjunct sucks, but honestly a year or two adjuncting and building up your teaching experience in as many areas as you can.  Of course, you should also be publishing and so on….publish as broadly as you can.

Seventh, NETWORK!  Not enough graduate students take this seriously enough.  Network, network, network.  Personal connections can make a huge difference in every stage of the job hunt process.  If I’ve met you, I’m more likely to suggest or even argue for an interview for you.  Network, network, network.  

Eighth, and this is not easy to admit, but make sure the people from whom you have requested letters send them.  Look, I never would have thought that a faculty job takes as much time as it does, but I have few spare moments in the day.  Your letter too often will slip down the list of priorities as course prep, demands by the administration, other students, etc all demand my time.  So while I intend to send the letter on time, I might not have gotten to it yet, or might even have forgotten.  It is vital that you keep pestering.  And you might want to do something to make it easier, like using Interfolio.  Also ASK EARLY.  If you can start asking in fact in July, you have a much better chance of timely letters of recommendation reaching the desired destination on time.  

Ninth, do not get depressed or lose hope.  Just know that the competition is fierce, too much of it is dumb luck, and the best thing you can do for your job search is realize that you will be better off to spend some time as a post-doc, visiting scholar, or adjunct, before you are able to land that TT job.  This is not a bad thing.  This is good career building and networking.  So keep the faith, keep hope, and keep applying.

Tenth, when interviewing, have some good, not obvious but perceptive, questions about the school, student body, or department ready.  A natural part of the interview is for the committee to tell you things about the school, often times things that you can get from researching the school (and I should have to tell you to do that!!).  So when it comes time to ask "do you have any questions for us", have some!  And do not ask the search committee about pay, and that sort of thing.  Ask about what they see as your role in the dept, ask about their five year plan, ask about the intellectual life of the community, etc,  Develop a set of good questions that they are not likely to tell you in the normal run of conversation so that you have something to ask at that moment...and having something at that moment is always better than "gee, you answered all my questions."

Best of luck to all on the market this year!

Larry Swain

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