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Taking Chances: Applying for an Academic Job

Another Fall and another season for academic job seekers. The calls for applicants are going out in full force and I want to offer some points of advice for applicants. I’ve previously blogged about this issue, but this post is slightly different and will speak more so to the fact that so much of this process is out of your control. Seriously, it is. Part of the vetting process is the committee looking at the files and thinking, “Do I want to work with this person.” That is really outside of your control–it’s essentially gleaned from the overall file.

You have control over most of your file. You need to write a great cover letter and put together an overall strong dossier. You hope that your references are strong and that the entire package stands out to the committee. But, unless you are part of the long list or lucky short list—it’s really out of your control. A great dossier makes it clear that you have looked closely at the call for applications and that you have done your homework. You have included teaching evaluations, publications, a research statement, and teaching statement. (I’m assuming here that these documents or parts of the dossier were requested in the call).

The department or faculty unit has put together a call that might be rather vague and offer them a “let’s see what we get” expectation or the call is so specific that they either have a candidate or two in mind or have made it so that the pool of applicants will be a small one. This is tricky. If the call is vague, you don’t know what they really want and they might not either! Try to find out more about the position–maybe send the department head an email. If it’s specific and it speaks to your fit, then go for it.

Remember to do thorough research about the department. Review the courses that they offer and speak to both the call and the courses that you are prepared or willing to teach. Also, explain where your current research is at and where you see your research progressing during the next 3-5 years. You should demonstrate that you are not only prepared to hit the ground running when you’re hired, but that you bring something special or specific to the department. You might also note why you would want to move to the region or join the department. Overall, be concise and promote yourself wisely.

Now, for the things that are beyond your control: there might be different factions in the department and Faction A wants a generalist and Faction B wants a niche candidate, then Faction C doesn’t particularly like your file,your dissertation, and/or your letter writers due to the pedigree and sub-field. There are some moments that you just have no control over, when you’re applying for a job. The other important thing to understand is that no job is “your job.” Be careful. You don’t want to go on public record diminishing the application process and you also don’t want to possibly piss off the hiring committee. Even if you have an inside track (occasionally this does happen) be careful. You need to impress the department, the Dean, and the Provost (in most hiring instances).

And, yes, one time I did apply to a department and was told that I was a sure thing for an interview by several people close to the department. I didn’t get an interview. I kept my chin up and was very quiet about it. Everyone around me—librarians, colleagues, and friends were pissed off. Hell, I was pissed off for a few weeks, but kept quiet. It was the best thing that  I could have done. I got over it.

Related to this, if you don’t get short-listed or do and don’t get offered the job—please, please, please don’t be filled with sour grapes and insist that the “winner” was hired based on her gender, race, or connections. First of all, that sounds very unprofessional and do you really want to be that person making possibly false and hurtful assertions? You might in fact be correct or just plain wrong, but be the consummate professional. Each discipline and sub-discipline is smaller than you think and words always seem to make the rounds and then you might feel really embarrassed when your claims of discrimination or just plain sour grapes makes it way around to the person who got the job, around the campus or the discipline. Looking for work in higher education requires patience, thick skin, and good luck. Well, this is in my experience in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

With that–I do wish anyone on the job market in higher ed or other wise–some good luck!

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