endgame--or, out of time

Apologies for a second, tenuous REM song/album title connection to a post. If you know me and are familiar with my previous forays into blogging, then you know how I adore blog titles that are a) only tangentially related to the blog topic and b) song titles or lyrics. Anyway, on to the point of this blog. This week the CRDM program sponsored an excellent roundtable discussion on the academic job market. The discussion included fourth-year students who were on the market this year and faculty members who have served on search committees recently. This productive conversation allowed for students in the program to receive perceptions of the market, but it didn't include a practical component with strategies for a successful year on the market. The biggest piece of advice that I have on this topic is simple: Know what works for you. Having said that, I'll tell you what worked for me.

Hit the ground running

I started the semester with a strategy for searching for jobs.

  1. I generally determined the kinds of jobs I would be most interested in. For me, that meant jobs in rhet/comp or media and/or cultural studies with specializations in digital or social media in areas I wouldn't mind living in. Whenever possible, I tried to get information on whether I would be interested in working in the department. After a discussion with a colleague, I did choose not to apply to a job that fit my other criteria based on his/her knowledge of the program.
  2. For years now, I have subscribed to a number of listservs related to my fields, and I began monitoring them closely for job postings appropriate to my skills and experience.
  3. I determined additional sites that would be appropriate to my job search. It depends on the field, of course, but I checked jobs on higher education sites (e.g., The Chronicle) about once per week.
  4. Once the MLA Job Information List was published, I checked it fortnightly for updates.
In addition to this commonsense search strategy, I also began the semester with an updated CV, a basic cover letter, and a teaching philosophy. (I wish I had also started it with a dissertation abstract, multiple writing samples, and evidence of teaching effectiveness.) I made arrangements with the members of my dissertation committee to provide me with letters of recommendation. (I should also say at this point that I subscribed to Interfolio and was able to request confidential letters of recommendation through the site.)

Choose a system of organization that works for you

I had a multi-pronged system of organization that bordered on obsessive. It centered on three things

  • Things for Mac: I use Cultured Code's Things for Mac to manage all of my tasks, and job searching is no different. When I found a job I was interested in, I copied it into a Things to-do item. This program allows you to right-click from a page on the interwebs and create a new task. I would actually create two tasks in Things for all new jobs: 1) the deadline for sending information about it to my committee and 2) the deadline for the position.
  • A Google Spreadsheet: I used a google spreadsheet to I shared with my committee that included all of the jobs I planned to apply for, their deadlines, the departments they were in, and the materials they required. It is highly important to track the required materials and to share them with the committee. Every school wants something different, and both you and your committee need to know that. I added columns as schools requested additional information or scheduled conference/phone and campus interviews. I also used highlighting to indicate completed applications and, later in the process, whether I was still in the running for a position.
  • Folders on My Laptop: I created a folder on my laptop with the materials I sent to each school.
  • Physical Folders: I'm old, so I also had physical folders that included all the same materials that were in the folders on my laptop. These project pockets (hello, years in industry!) also included a coversheet with a checklist of items required for the application.

Determine how long you think each app will take--then triple that

In order to customize materials for each job, I researched the program, department, university, and city. I tailored my cover letter to the needs of each department and university community. Whenever I had an interview with a school, I went into it with a detailed table that included information on all of the people I would talk to, courses I could teach in the department, courses I could propose for the department, an understanding of the department's structure and its role in the college (and the college's role in the university), and the university's strategic plan. It took hours to prepare each application packet. It took many, many more hours to prepare for interviews.

Remember that it has nothing to do with you

Probably the biggest piece of advice I can offer related to the job search is just to prepare yourself as best you can, put yourself in the best possession to get a job, take the process seriously, and then let go. The job search is a lot like poker. You can get your money in the middle in the best position to win, but you can't control how the cards fall. There are so many things out of your control, so many things that have absolutely nothing to do with you, that you just can't take it personally. If graduate school is soul crushing, then the job search is soul eviscerating. In order to survive it, even if it results in a fantastic job that you're elated to have (which is the case with me), it's still pretty much impossible to come through without a few nicks.