If You’re Going on the Academic Job Market

Up early on a Sunday, I’m catching up on emails, and just saw an email with a link to a video I participated in last spring that is about, among a few things, what it’s like to teach in higher ed these days, and how to prepare for the academic job market. After a recent email from a friend who’s going on the job market this fall, I figured there might be others out there looking for advice on how to plan their approach. If you’re up for watching a bit of a video, I wish I’d found something like this, “Teaching in the Modern University: A Conversation between Urban Education students and professors,” when I started out looking for a job as an assistant professor last fall, especially the section that starts at 57:29 and goes to 1:21:17. Either way, read on — below you’ll find some tips for how to approach different stages of the process.

Remember that this is just one perspective, and lots of people out there have advice. There’s no magic wand, but there are things you can do to be prepared:

WHEN TO START LOOKING: The academic job market is a roughly one-year process. Universities start posting jobs at the end of the summer or start of the fall semester for the following academic year. Each listing has its own deadline.

WHERE TO LOOK: You can sign up for email lists through research associations and organizations; look in the Chronicle for Higher EducationHigherEdJobs, and Indeed; do regular Google searches; or visit Human Resources webpages of colleges and universities. I was surprised to find that the latter approach yielded quite a few listings I didn’t find using other avenues — I highly recommend using all of these approaches.

MATERIALS TO PREPARE: Each university has different requirements, but there are a few materials they almost always require.

  • curriculum vitae: make sure your CV is up to date, and accurately reflects the three areas of experience and potential the search committee is looking for: teaching, service, and scholarship. You may want to consider tailoring it to reflect teaching first if you’re applying to a teaching university, or publications and presentations first if you’re applying to a Research I or Big-R research institution. The one I have posted online follows the same format of the one I used when applying for jobs.
  • letter of application: your letter is your first contact with your potential new colleagues, and you want to give them a glimpse of who you are–primarily as a teacher, scholar, and communicator. Make sure to see if there is a central focus or a specific question you’re supposed to answer in your application. Make sure to gear your narrative toward the specific field. Even though I wanted, and gratefully accepted, a position teaching literacy methods, the jobs were few and far between. I ended up applying to generalist and technology education positions, too. I looked for jobs in educational studies as well, but found even fewer of those. I included a version of my letter of application here:[gview file=”http://opencuny.org/mediated/files/2013/10/sample-letter.pdf”]
  • recommendations: some universities will require two or three written recommendations up front; some, as in the sample, require the names of a certain number of references. Make sure you give your recommenders ample time to prepare their materials as necessary.
  • teaching philosophy: you may be asked to present a 2-3 page statement about your pedagogical approach to teaching. You can see mine online here (keep in mind there are a variety of approaches to this, which vary by discipline).
  • supplementary materials: you may be asked to send writing samples or copies of recent publications, transcripts, sample syllabi, etc.
  • digital CV: before I headed out on interviews, I created a digital CV. I purchased kierstengreene.net and used OpenCUNY.org to host my site. By having a readily available digital presence in this way, I was able to send search committees to my website, demonstrating my seriousness about a life of scholarship and a commitment to staying technologically relevant. I was also able to use this site to house any supplementary materials for teaching or research presentations I gave during my interviews.Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 10.33.14 AM

THE PROCESS: Academic jobs are few and far-between right now. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back about all of your applications–you are up against hundreds of other people, and some colleges and universities won’t respond to you at all. I heard back from 9, or 75% of the 12 universities to which I applied: 6 were rejections, and 3 were invitations to interview.

  • First contact is usually a phone or Skype interview. Search committees are generally comprised of 4-6 faculty members of the department, program, or school to which you’re applying. They usually ask from 7 to 10 questions.
  • In order to prepare for my interviews, I combed each university’s website, and discovered things I was excited about at the university that I would want to highlight in my interviews. I also took a look at any research or publications by the members of my search committees. I wanted to go into the conversations with a good idea of who I was talking to; the best way to get an idea of this, I felt, was to take at look at their research. I also researched the geographic area. I applied to jobs primarily in the New York City and Hudson Valley regions, as my partner and I wanted to stay in the vicinity of New York. I also applied out in the Pacific Northwest, where we have family. I don’t necessarily recommend limited yourself by geography — it’s a bit of a gamble.
  • The job market seems to be space in which anything goes. It was unpredictable, overwhelming, and scary, but I learned a lot about myself in the process.

It was funny to revisit this post, “And the Search for Next Year Begins,” where I describe the fears I had about the job market when I was just starting out. It was only a year ago, but it feels much longer!!

WHEN YOU’RE INVITED TO CAMPUS: Getting a campus interview is a big deal. Only 2 or 3 candidates are generally invited. Usually all your expenses are paid–hotel or bed and breakfast stay, meals, and travel for one or two days, depending on the structure of the interview.

  • Be prepared. your presentation will generally follow one of two formats, or perhaps both. There is 1) the classic job talk, which is mainly a research presentation in which you present your latest research. I used my dissertation for the basis of any job talks I gave. The other option is 2) a teaching presentation, in which you’re expected to teach a lesson to a class. In both cases, I was expected to present for about 45 minutes. Each presentation is usually followed by a Q & A session. A range of people–administrators, faculty, staff, and students–are generally invited to presentations, so be prepared for the room to be packed (but don’t worry if it’s not!).
  • Know the campus. Have some reasons prepared for why you’re excited about potentially working there–you don’t want to say things like, “I applied because it was one of the only listings I found in my discipline.” They want to feel like you hand-picked them from the pile of job listings, so you should have something to answer with when you’re inevitably asked, “Why do you want to teach at x university?” I had it easy — I was born less than an hour away from the university where I now teach, and my grandmother lived an hour and a half away. In a way, I felt like I was coming home. While it wasn’t enough to say, “the Hudson Valley is near and dear to my heart,” I was able to work that into the conversation. There were a number of programmatic things that attracted me to New Paltz initially, and I made sure to talk about them when I was asked why the job and university appealed to me.
  • Bring sustenance. You’ll be fed, but I found it helpful to have some snacks on hand when I felt my energy waning after the third interview of the day. My schedules included as many as four interviews plus one presentation in a day. It was exhausting.
  • Wear something appropriate. I was planning on pulling some tweed skirts and jackets out of my closet, but my advisor warned that I needed to wear suits. It was an expensive investment, but well worth it. While affordable suit fashion has yet to catch up with current trends of the tapered leg in pants, wearing a suit boosted my confidence when it came time to presenting in front of thirty some-odd strangers.
  • Listen, but also speak. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to show people how brightly you shine. You want to talk about why it is you’re the best person for the position. You want to wow them with your accomplishments and ideas for how you think you can be an asset to the program, department, or school.
  • Enjoy yourself. This was one of the best pieces of advice I received when I started frantically calling people to help me figure out how to prepare for my interviews. You’re going to be wined and dined and the focus of attention for 24, maybe 36 hours, so you might as well get into it.
  • Have a change of clothes for dinner if you go out. I didn’t always change, but I was glad to have options when necessary.
  • Remember you’re interviewing them, too. This was hard to remember at times, but a handful of people shared this same bit of advice with me–you have to keep in mind that you should want to end up at the place that offers you a job. If the feeling isn’t mutual, it’s not a good fit.

There’s so much more to talk about. If you have a specific question, please add it to the comments. I’m sure you’re not the only one.

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