The Job Applicant

I’ve mentioned before that I hesitate to write about job applications for many reasons. First of all, it’s just not smart to sit down and post anything on the Internet that says “I’m applying to this place!” Being on the academic job market is a roller coaster of emotions and hard work and waiting and angst. In many ways, it’s also a somewhat mysterious project: in my earlier grad student years, I’d hear of people being “on the market” and knew (from rather early on in the grad school process) that being “on the market” would entail applying for jobs nearly a year in advance of the position. I’ve also picked up ideas and recommendations from bloggers (some already tenured) who discuss how to navigate conference interviews and what not to do and so on, and paid particular attention to all those who said that humanities PhDs on the academic job market really ought to have a Plan B.

But what I do feel comfortable writing about is the same sort of thing I always write about: my process. I’ve written about my writing and research processes, so why not share how I’ve approached the behemoth that is applying to academic jobs? So here goes.

Finding the Jobs
The job listings begin to emerge from their hiding places in early fall. Or, as happened this past year, even earlier: by  mid-July I already had a list of four or five jobs to which I planned to apply. I created a Gmail label solely dedicated to job searching things and emailed myself links to the job ads. I kept those unread in my job search folder and just sat on them until late August.

Each week this past summer, I searched the “Usual Suspects”: AHA, OAH, H-Net, The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, and Higher Ed Jobs. I kept it to a once-a-week search until late August because there was really no need for more: deadlines for my field were no earlier than October 1, and it’s truly possible to drive yourself mad by checking the job boards too frequently. For awhile in September, I stepped it up to three times a week, until I realized that H-Net was just sending the jobs to my RSS reader anyway, OAH posts very rarely, and AHA only updates on Fridays. Now, I check in twice a week to see if anything new has been added.

Keeping Track of the Jobs
A folder of job links, however, wasn’t going to cut it for organizational purposes. Spreadsheets can be great, but I find them tedious and annoying for data entry. Insert Google Forms, then, as my own personal solution: I created a form that included fields for Name of School, Position Title, Link to Job Ad, Items Required, Deadline, Date Sent, and Other Info. I copied all the info from my emails into that form and voila: my spreadsheet was done and accessible anywhere I went with Internet access (if needed). Also, it’s really easy to get to the job site links from my Google spreadsheet.

Next, I created a folder on my desktop – I call it JOBQUEST 2010-11, but that’s because I have a flair for the dramatic and needed something that could seem less serious and perhaps entertaining at times. (Never underestimate the power of bringing some light to a process like this!).

The next question was how to organize my folders for each school. I decided that the first level of folders inside JOBQUEST 2010-11 would simply be given titles corresponding to deadlines: 10-1-2010, 10-1-2010, 11-1-2010, and so on.

Inside each deadline folder, I created a folder for each institution AND included the application deadline in the folder title: “SCHOOL A 10-1-2010”. (Where School A, of course, stands for the name of the hiring institution.) I also copied and pasted the entire ad for the position into a document and saved that document to the school’s folder. This gave me an easily-accessible full job description that I could look at while I prepared my materials.

From there, it’s simply a matter of ensuring that each school file has all the appropriate materials required for the job.

Letters of Recommendation (or, How Interfolio is a Total Lifesaver)
My advisor told me she’d prefer to write a letter for each institution, since she’s my advisor and the one closest to the dissertation aside from me. My other recommenders, however, uploaded their letters of recommendation to Interfolio for me. While Washington University does offer a dossier service for sending out letters of recommendation, its options aren’t as robust. Yes, I paid for a membership to Interfolio, and I pay every time they send something out for me. But I would also pay every time I shipped something at the post office AND for my school’s dossier service.

Interfolio has become – from where I’m sitting – the best decision I made for the application process. Not only do I have confidential letters of recommendation sent from there, but I’ve also uploaded cover letters, writing samples, CVs, teaching philosophies, and other documents that institutions request. If an institution asks me to send my application materials in hard copy, I upload all the materials to Interfolio as one “shipment” – including my recommendation letters – and have Interfolio send everything as one delivery.

What does this mean? It means I save time on printing, printing-related expenses, postal materials, and trips to the post office. When you’re finishing your dissertation and applying for jobs, this is a HUGE benefit. (Interfolio will also email letters of recommendation or upload them to confidential websites, too.) Interfolio’s staff members are also quick on the draw if you have any problems – the first time I uploaded my first application, the system converted my Word documents to PDF and lost the formatting and font. (Although I quickly resolved the problem by simply uploading everything in PDF to begin with, staff members responded to my query on Twitter within ten minutes.)

The Materials
The thing is, all job applications want different things. Some simply ask for a CV, cover letter, and recommendations. Others requested teaching philosophy statements, research statements, statements of teaching interests, teaching evaluations, syllabi – you name it. For me, it became most practical to first address the institutions with the earliest deadlines, then prioritize the ones that wanted fewer materials to allow plenty of time to work on those needing more materials. So think ahead: plan for what you might need. Prioritize.

Waiting, and Other Things
Once everything’s put into play, then it’s simply a matter of waiting. Fortunately, I’ll soon have dissertation revisions to keep me busy once again, but I’d like to just say: don’t get too hung up on visiting the academic job wiki. It’s addictive. Useful – thus far – but addictive (and I’ve heard the site can get – shall we say complicated? – the further into the search process one goes).

Also, I never stopped to think about how much this thing would cost, financially speaking. Mailing materials, for what it’s worth, isn’t cheap, even if you decide against a dossier service.

Coming into this year, my department had already offered some excellent workshops on preparing for the academic job market. Yet – no one ever addressed the logistics of everything I’ve laid out above. How one approaches the job market is like how one approaches research: we all have our different methods of what works for us. I would have loved to have seen more info on how people handled their job search organization, which is why I share my own approach here. (If you’re on the market or recently have been – please feel free to share your own approach in the comments!)

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2 thoughts on “The Job Applicant

  1. Pingback: Academic Job Market Retrospective, Part 2 | Dude, where's my Tardis?

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