Sign in or create an account

| Forgot Password?

Conducting the Job Search

Posted on


By David Schmidtz


The Problem


Suppose you are just starting graduate school, hoping to be a professor in five years or so. If you were an undergraduate, you wouldn’t wait until your senior year to find out what you need to do to complete the major. If you want an academic job, it’s time find out what you need to do to get one.


Imagine someone saying she intends to win a gold medal at the Olympics three years from now. You ask her what her training regimen is like, and she says, “I’ll start training when the time comes. I work better under pressure anyway. I need looming deadlines to spur me on.” You would, of course, think that such a person doesn’t grasp the concept of intending to win a gold medal. If she truly intended to win, rather than vaguely dreamed of winning, she would have investigated Olympic competition, and would have found that the pressure is already on for those who truly intend to win gold. Maybe the people around you aren’t going the extra mile, but they aren’t your toughest competition either.


Start by understanding that it’s your life. Don’t approach the job market like a lost lamb. Take charge. For you, the job market is the end of the world as you know it. For your mentors, it’s normal. They go through it every year. They wish you well, but they know from long experience that it’s not their problem. If they got tied up in knots about your plight, it would ruin them, since their situation—namely, having students in your situation—never changes.


Panic and anxiety aren’t appropriate responses here. Panic leads to avoidance. Avoidance leads to unemployment. Don’t panic. Instead, focus. Focus on what’s within your control. Right now, three main things are within your control. I’ll call them Passion, Organization, and Respect.


Three Ingredients of Scholarly Success




This is a discussion of career strategy, but my first and best bit of advice is to make sure there is a point in having a strategy. You want to succeed, but you also want to deserve to succeed. The life of a scholar is a glorious life. You get to make a living by reading, and thinking hard about what you’ve read. You walk into a classroom, tell your students what you think, and they take notes. Even better, if you have some passion for the material, then so will many of your students. Better still, you then go back to your office, write up your thoughts, and send them off to be published. Some day, years later, you Google the name of your published essay, assuming you’ll draw a blank, and find that hundreds of writers around the world have referred to your essay in their own work. (A word for the wise: However much fame you achieve, it’ll be enough. Welcome it, but don’t grasp at it. The less compelled you are to prove yourself in comparative terms, the easier it is to feel peace.)


Being a scholar is hard work. To get things done, you must love the doing. Two keys here. First, if you want to maintain your passion for the work, and want other people to be better off in virtue of having read your work, or in virtue of having been your student, then you have to put honest scholarship ahead of your ideological commitments. Insist on the truth. If the truth turns out to be incompatible with your ideological agenda, then change your agenda. If people scoff at your goal of seeking the truth, that’s their private hell. You have no obligation to join them. It’s a matter of being moral, and making sure you deserve to succeed. It’s also a prerequisite for being proud of whatever success you achieve. You have to do your work, your way. But if you put your ideological commitments first, then the work isn’t really yours. You’ve become a parrot for an “ism.” You won’t succeed, you won’t deserve to succeed, and even if you did, you wouldn’t love it. When people begin to think they know what you’re going to say and they’ve heard it before, you’ve lost something you can’t afford to lose. When you stop surprising people, even people with similar commitments will think less of you.


Second, there is something even worse than putting your ideological commitments first. Namely, putting someone else’s ideological commitments first. What a sad thing it is to see people “go native,” coming to believe whatever the most vocal people around them believe, and for the same reason – people cave in to social pressure. You must meet your colleagues and teachers halfway, maybe more than halfway, but you must also do your work, your way. Success is not everything. It is not more important than deserving to succeed. You are not an island, though, and you wouldn’t be doing your job if you were. Your job as a scholar is to communicate, not to talk to yourself. Therefore, to deserve to succeed, you must learn what others are saying, and why. You must engage them, which means you must search for the truth in other people’s opinions. But the other part of deserving to succeed is that at the end of the day, you have to be able to look back and say, “Here is what my career was for. These are the values I would not compromise. And they were my values—precipitates neither of social pressure nor of any pre-packaged ideology. I did my work, my way. I stood for something. It mattered that I was here.” Take it for granted: other people will see things differently and react differently. A certain amount of disapproval is inevitable. It’s not fun, but neither is it a big deal.


In summary, love what you do. Make sure you’re doing something that will bring you joy if you succeed. If you don’t work on stuff you love, you won’t be able to compete anyway. An obvious point: if you don’t love to do things that lead to success in a given discipline, then you need a different discipline. In particular, the cliché “Publish Or Perish” is ironic, because writing isn’t the cost of being an academic. Writing is the reward. If you don’t love to write, the academy is a bizarre career choice.


I hope I have managed to convey what a fantastic thing it is to have the opportunity to make a living as a professional scholar. It’s near miraculous that a civilization would get to a point of being able to fly across oceans, build skyscrapers, or push the division of labor so far that it becomes possible to be a full-time scholar. Needless to say, many airplanes, buildings, and professors turn out to be duds, but that isn’t the point. The point is, the profession you are contemplating is a sacred calling. If some of your colleagues are mediocre or worse, that doesn’t change the fact that this profession is a privilege that demands the absolute best within you.




Now I will tell you the downside of being a professor. There is no such thing as being done, or being caught up. Every day, there are more things worth doing than there is time to do, and more people worth helping than there is time to help. One of your students, someone you barely know, shows up at your door and says her brother just committed suicide. There goes the referee’s report you promised to have done this afternoon. Then the phone rings and a friend of yours, the one you did not have time to write a letter of recommendation for, tells you he has been denied tenure. Your doctor calls to say he wants to order a biopsy on a mystery lump that showed up on your X-ray, and as your doctor hangs up you see a line of people down the hallway needing to talk to you about their term papers. There will be days when you go home late, barely having started what you needed to do that day.


Time and stress management are keys to happiness and productivity in academics. Time pressure is a primary obstacle to professional success, and also a primary obstacle to enjoying the success you achieve. So long as you are an academic, you will be caught in the middle of a war between what’s urgent and what’s important. Don’t be a coward. When it’s wrong to say yes, say no.


Above all, when things get busy, don’t sacrifice research. Here is a nasty fact: research is the most important thing on your agenda, professionally speaking, yet also the least urgent. It’s the easiest thing to sacrifice when things pile up, even though it’s far more important to your career success than what’s pushing it aside. This problem never solves itself.


Here is my proposal. It may be my best bit of concrete advice. Use a weekly log to track your research time. I use a twenty hour weekly log. You need an ongoing, steady commitment to research. Daily, weekly, monthly commitments. Time commitments, page commitments, whatever, but I think time commitments work best within weekly time-frames. You will have many days you can’t control, but you won’t have many weeks you can’t control sufficiently well to get your twenty hours in. Get up at 5AM if necessary. Don’t let everyday chaos gobble up those precious few hours where you do what you have to do to make progress, and feel the satisfaction that comes from having created something.


Corollary: Live a full life! I use my log to define a maximum as well as minimum commitment to research. Earn breaks…then take them. Commit yourself to enjoying day to day life.


Related point: Don’t dwell on waste. Don’t worry about wasting time. Worrying about waste is a recipe for guilt. Waste in academic life is inevitable. Unfortunately, getting real work done is not. So, that’s the thing to focus on. If you can get up in the morning and put three hours into concentrated research, then it doesn’t matter whether you waste three hours at the end of the day. When I get up early, and do three hours of research first, I get more done with less stress, and I enjoy the rest of the day. Make time for concentrated research on pretty much a daily basis.


Suggestion about summer: Summer teaching is optional, so don’t do it. In the long run, you’ll make vastly more money writing an article than you will teaching a summer course. Teaching a summer course can get you maybe $2000. An article can get you a tenure-track job. After you get a tenure-track job, an article can get you a merit-based salary increment that will add hundreds or thousands of dollars to your salary every year for the rest of your career. Think about that before deluding yourself into believing you need the money more than you need the time. You aren’t a kid anymore. Your time is precious now in a way that it wasn’t even as recently as a year or two ago. If you can physically survive the summer writing an article, write an article. Most people don’t listen to this advice. We are wired to do what is easy, not what is best. Writing an article is hard, whereas contriving to not have time for it is easy. Self-doubt leads people to fill their days with rubbish so as to avoid finding out whether they’ve got what it takes to write an article. Have faith. Do what’s best, not what’s easy. Write the article.



Let me subdivide respect into 3 kinds.


1. Respect for Colleagues

Academics is not a war. It’s a marketplace of ideas. Your colleagues are customers. Don’t blame them if they aren’t interested in what you have to offer. If success is what you want, you have to start by deserving it. The way you deserve it is by having a product whose quality your customers can appreciate.


Academics is a conversation. Keep in mind that you do, after all, want to join the conversation. If you want your colleagues to respect you, start by respecting them. It’s your move. You can’t make friends by going out of your way to make sure they know you don’t respect their point of view. (And if they’re really so corrupt that respecting their point of view is beneath you, then maybe you need to find another line of work.)


2. Respect for Your Chosen Field

Learn to think and talk in the terms of your discipline. You have to learn the language, the concepts, the presuppositions. You have to learn the menu of hot topics, and you have to know enough about your discipline’s history to understand why hot topics are hot. Take hot topics seriously. That’s where your customers are. This does not mean you should take hot topics at face value. Bottom line: You want to be independent but you also want to belong in your discipline. If you can’t find a way to belong, you don’t belong.


3. Respect for the Craft of Writing

Everyone finds it hard to write, even though some people may make it look easy. If you aren’t enjoying it as much as you think you should, here’s a suggestion. Create first, criticize later. Creation and criticism are different processes. Creation comes first. If you start with a blank page and write down an idea only after you’re sure you can prove it, you end up with a blank page. You’re doing it backwards, and robbing yourself of the joy that comes with being creative. In a rough draft, even bad ideas are wonderful, because bad ideas (so long as you don’t cling to them) generate good ideas.


Suggestions for making writing more fun: 


Plotting The Course For Your First Job


Keep Sight On Your Goals. Be All You Can Be.


The job market is competitive, intensely competitive. When it comes time to apply for a teaching position, 300 people are going to apply for the same job. 290 who have made normal progress in decent programs won’t even get an interview. Still, somehow, people do get jobs, and you can too. What can you do to distinguish yourself?


Hint: Hiring committees aren’t looking for graduate students. They’re looking for assistant professors. Your main competitors will look like (in fact, many of them already will be) assistant professors. No one much cares whether you were a good student. The question is what kind of professor you’ll be. So, learn to be like an assistant professor.


You need to prove that you have qualities the hiring committee values. These will include: a good vitae, creditable publications, professional development, interviewing and presentation skills, an active research program that goes beyond your Ph.D., and credible recommendations. It helps if you can demonstrate that others know about you and your work and, ideally, that at least some of them are enthusiastic about your ideas.


A Good Dissertation Topic


Think strategically when choosing a dissertation topic. You will have to work on that topic for a long while. Be careful about pursuing a doctoral topic merely because your advisor thinks it would be interesting.


On the other hand, at this juncture you want your committee and other members of your profession to be really interested in what you are doing. If you choose to work on a topic in which you have always been interested, but in which they are not, you are heading for disaster. Clearly, what you need to do is to find a happy medium – a topic that you think is worthwhile and engaging and which they think is interesting, timely, and suitable for publication in a good journal or academic press.




Think of your dissertation in terms of publications. For example, explore with your advisor the possibility of writing the dissertation as a series of publishable papers. If you can get support for this, you cut down on the time it would otherwise take to turn your work from a dissertation into papers. In addition, if you focus on what might be publishable, you guarantee that your work is addressing the current concerns of the academic world.


Think about what makes a paper publishable. Look at the current journals in your field, and get a feel for the kind of conversation going on within them. Make sure your work can be considered to be a contribution to that conversation. It is also useful if you can learn how these journals function. Your advisor and your committee can give you advice, as they themselves should be publishing regularly.


Journal Articles From Your Dissertation


If your work is good, make sure that you submit it to good journals. (How can you determine the quality of a journal? Again, ask around. There is, typically, a well-known pecking order in your discipline, and some disciplines – e.g., economics – publish a standard journal ranking from time to time.) A friend who is the editor of a journal that is not highly rated and who asks you to publish with him, may not be doing you a favor if you end up giving him something good which could have been published in a better journal.


Other Articles


While you are a Ph.D. student, it is a good idea: 

  1. to submit to a refereed journal an article or two on a topic other than your dissertation topic, provided you are encouraged by your teachers that you have material of publishable quality. The IHS Summer Graduate Research Fellowships provide an excellent opportunity to turn a good paper into something publishable.
  2. to write some book reviews (but not too many). Journal editors are often short of reviewers because there is no incentive (other than the free book!) for faculty to do this. It is more important for them to be writing articles. Ask people on your committee if they know any review editors of journals and if they would recommend you. You might even write the editor to introduce yourself and your work and to ask if there is any chance of reviewing work in your area of interest. If you’re offered the chance to write, make sure that you produce something appropriate for that journal, and have someone (ideally, a faculty member) read it over before it’s submitted. Resist the temptation to be a smart-aleck. It is not a nice way to behave, and such an attitude from a graduate student will not be well regarded. And there is always the chance that flippant comments may come back to haunt you – as when you compete for a job you really want and discover that a member of the hiring committee has great respect for the work of the scholar whom you savaged, and she has read your review.


Why bother with such things? What do the above accomplishments indicate to a hiring committee? First, getting a review into print will give you confidence about publishing and teach you a bit about the “rules of the game.” Second, publishing an article in a refereed journal demonstrates that you can indeed produce quality material. Articles – or even reviews – demonstrate in a job interview that you have research interests beyond your dissertation topic to which you may lay claim in order to land the job.


Credentials, Personal Networks, and Other Experience


  1. If jobs in your field often require teaching ability in some other area of your discipline as well as that on which you have written your dissertation, make sure that you give yourself time to acquire the knowledge and experience you will need to develop competency in that area. Typically, you will interview with people who are specialists in that field, too. · Avoid doing a dissertation on a topic in which there are few jobs (e.g., the philosophy of social science). 
  2. It is also worth thinking about other things that might strengthen your credentials – e.g., taking an outside master’s in a subject which would boost your technical expertise in the field that interests you. Is your field one in which some practical experience is useful – say, clinical experience if you are interested in medical ethics, or laboratory experience, if you are interested in experimental economics? If so, make sure that you take the time to acquire it.
  3. Conferences serve two main functions: They provide a forum for the work being done in your field, and they help you to meet with people who should be part of your network. Find out which conferences are important to you. They are not always the big ones. Let me give a couple of examples.



Make sure, also, that you understand the “netiquette” of Internet – don’t post anything inappropriate or offensive, and don’t send off messages in haste which you may come to regret! Remember, you may be Googled!


More On the Job Market


The American Economics Association has an annual convention in January; the American Political Science Association in September; the American Historical Association in January; and the American Philosophical Association at the end of December. Most schools seeking to hire at the junior level will do their first round of interviews at this convention. (Other disciplines have a similar process and even a similar schedule.) Schools will accordingly have application deadlines, typically between November 1 and December 1. Advertisements for available positions will appear in discipline-specific publications (one example is Jobs for Philosophers) in late September. From this point on, you will be preoccupied with getting your applications ready and in the mail.


You will need to supply a nearly finished dissertation to your committee members by the beginning of September, so they can write high-octane letters saying, among other things, that they have seen most of your dissertation and they see no obstacle to your being ready to graduate the following spring. If they can’t say that this year, realistically this probably isn’t going to be your year. Good entry level jobs tend to go to people who have been out teaching for a couple of years already, and have already built up impressive publication records. If your main advocates can’t claim to have even seen your dissertation, it will be hard for you to compete. Lots of hiring committees, once they see from your letters that they can’t count on your dissertation being done, won’t bother to read any further. They have 300 applications to read in two weeks, and thus have no choice but to be looking for the dozen or so people who have a real chance of emerging as number one. They don’t need to gamble on someone who still looks very much like a graduate student, and they may not even have a right to gamble, given that their department and their dean will be expecting to receive a short-list of exceptional finalists.


Here are the rudiments of a complete dossier:


Your cover letter


Include phone numbers, e-mail, and a web page if you have one. (If you have a web page, make sure it isn’t full of stuff you wouldn’t want a hiring committee to read.) If you have a special interest in a particular place, say so.


Crucial: Avoid self-glorification. Draw up a brag sheet. Include anything you think you’d like someone to mention on your behalf. So, you were co-captain of the intramural volleyball team. Your advisor presumably will consider it not worth mentioning, but you don’t have to make that call. You play guitar, and maybe that’s not worth mentioning either. You did volunteer teaching at the local high school. Surely that is worth mentioning, but load up your brag sheet with everything you can think of, and let your advisor sort wheat from chaff.


Write one nice paragraph on what you work on and where your dissertation stands. Include a heartfelt comment about your teaching. Also crucial: Get feedback! Initial attempts tend to be embarrassing.




The purpose of a CV is to make readers want to interview you. Resist the temptation to fill up space with information that’s frivolous (e.g., you’re registered Democrat) or potentially damaging (e.g., you’re registered Republican). Put the important stuff first. That’s why reverse chronological order normally is the way to go with dated items. But rules are made to be broken.41 The guiding principle remains that you arrange material so as to make a case for granting you an interview. In different words, a CV is an advertisement, not a confession. Perhaps you are on parole, or have gone through a messy divorce, but those things aren’t reasons to interview you, so they don’t belong on your CV.


If you put something on your CV, you are representing it as a selling point. So, should you put ideological stuff on your CV? Let me put it this way. Being a Hispanic is to some degree a selling point. But if John’s CV says, “John Doe, Hispanic” then the signal John sends is not only that John is Hispanic but that John thinks jobs should be given to him because he’s Hispanic. That’s a disturbing signal. A committee may not care that you are a Marxist, feminist, libertarian, or whatever, but putting it on your CV implicitly declares that your commitments are qualifications for the job. That takes your commitments out of the realm of personal values and forces the committee to decide whether to agree that those values make you more qualified for the job.


Again, a CV is an advertisement, so your main selling points should be on page one.


Generally, though, here’s what readers expect, so, other things equal, give it to them:



Letters of recommendation


The next part of your dossier, after your cover letter, and perhaps a departmental cover letter, and then your CV, are your letters of reference. You’ll need at least three from faculty in your profession. Think now about your prospective referees. What are you doing to make them see you as a great colleague? It’s fine, up to a point, for them to talk about the A they gave you, but readers want them to talk about how much they have learned from you, and how they have come to think of you as one of their most interesting and most trusted colleagues. However, this is one of the points at which you will benefit from strategic choices that you have made, and work that you have done, much earlier. Do bear in mind that people who write a strong letter on your behalf are putting their reputation on the line, too. They will look foolish if they commend you highly but your work is, in fact, of little value.


Writing Sample


You don’t want a writing sample that’s impenetrable to nonspecialists. It has to be selfcontained. An original idea is better than mere critique. A good short paper is far better than a good long paper. Topics relevant to particular job description are best. Anyway, these are relevant factors, but the bottom line is to send your best work. A perfect dossier isn’t an option. But an excellent one is. Strive for excellence.


Imagine a hiring committee sifting through 300 applications. Suppose they have two weeks at the end of the fall semester to read applications while also trying to get their grading done. So let’s say they have four hours per day, five days per week, for two weeks. That’s forty hours for reading applications. A long time. Probably more time than they actually have. Even so, if they have 300 dossiers to read, that’s eight minutes per dossier. Think about that before you bet your career on the brilliant insight found in page thirty-seven of your writing sample. That writing sample had better have a hook by end of the 1st page. Otherwise, you aren’t serious about your career. A great writer is a great salesman. Page one has to sell the paper.




My sense is that having a section on teaching has become important in recent years. You need evidence that you are a very good teacher. Your letters of reference have to back you up. So, if your professors don’t insist on visiting your classes in order to find out how good you are, ask them to, then ask them to write a letter for your file. It is a nice touch if one faculty member volunteers to look at your file and write a letter summarizing the high points of these faculty evaluations over the years.


In your teaching section, official statistics and written comments from student evaluations could be good. A complete set from one class probably is better than a “greatest hits” collection. Everyone has a few students who rave about them. What makes an impression is seeing a complete class’s feedback—seeing that even students who don’t like you and aren’t satisfied with their grade still respect you. You might also consider a teaching statement consisting of a page or two of discussion about your philosophy of teaching—the things you do to get students to learn, not merely cram, how you try to distill general principles, how you try to make the historical context come alive, that sort of thing.


Convention Interviews


So, you spend the last six weeks of the fall semester in agony, staring at the phone, willing it to ring. And eventually, it does! When you get the call inviting you to interview, ask who’ll be there. You don’t want to walk into the interview and ask the distinguished-looking gentleman what sort of work he does. He thinks you already know. So, do your homework.


Wear your name tag! They’re tired, and they’ve already met too many people.


Your main objective is to be the most interesting person they talk to. Most candidates seem not to get it. They act as if the objective is to avoid failing the exam.


The main worry is not something passive like “What questions are they going to ask?” but rather what do you want them to learn about you? And what do you want to learn about them? If you don’t take charge, it won’t happen.


Talk to people who’ve been through the interview process. Everyone has a different perspective. There are many people conducting interviews and they’re all different. In general, though, it may be more important to communicate how much you’ll love them than how much they’ll love you.


You must communicate intense enthusiasm. A small group (relative to the pool of applicants) get offers. What makes them different is, they take an interest in getting people interested. Prepare a statement about your further plans. You needn’t be “The Expert” when discussing plans, so you can have a more normal discussion. If44 you don’t have plans, it’ll be hard to explain why they need you around. More than anything else, having plans will make you look more like a professor than a student. If they give you the option, consider discussing your plans first.


Presenting a Paper on Campus


Main Objective: You want your visit to be the one they enjoy the most. They aren’t nearly as familiar with your project as you are and almost all of the votes will be in the hands of people outside your field.




  1. Keep it short. Leave them a bit hungry. I avoid going over 40 minutes.
  2. Make your best point ASAP. Don’t overestimate their attention spans. The objective is to knock their socks off, right away, not take up time.
  3. Speakers sometimes seem to go in with the aim of not losing a battle. Wrong aim. Your aim should be to make your audience better off.
  4. They’re looking to hire a person, not a paper. Be a person. Don’t just recite your paper; give a real talk. (I know, you’re nervous. Just keep in mind that you aren’t there to avoid failure. You’re there to be the most interested and interesting person they’ve met during this search.)
  5. Don’t let them fill your day with 45-minute interviews. Demand the time you need to rest and be fresh for your paper. Believe me: when they assess how well you handle questions, they won’t make allowances for your fatigue.
  6. Offer to stay an extra day, preferably after the talk, so the talk can be a basis for further conversation. You conserve energy and they get to know you better.


Question Period




Conferences present many opportunities for the young scholar. If you participate you will strengthen your vitae, have a forum for your ideas, and meet other people who may become part of your growing academic network.


To make effective use of conferences, in my judgment, you need three things:

  1. good material to present
  2. self-confidence and good presentational skills
  3. an understanding of how conferences work.


The first of these depends on you and your committee rather than on me, so let me turn to the second two.


It can be a bit intimidating to think of presenting a paper at a conference. You can get experience and build your confidence if you start small. Practice with a group of graduate students, and make presentations to each other. If there isn’t a forum for making such informal presentations, consider starting a brown-bag lunch program and invite your fellow students. Identify local or small regional conferences (but make sure that their programs are not just by plenary session) or conferences just for graduate students. These can be great places to get a paper accepted. The audience will not be large, but you will get the experience that you need, and you will, typically, get some useful feedback. (Note also that you might be able to serve as a discussant if you don’t actually give a paper.) If your paper is accepted, you must make sure that you do a decent job. Find out how long you are to speak and respect the time limit. Remember, oral presentations almost always take longer than you estimate.


Make sure that you can speak effectively on your topic from notes or, if necessary, from a written paper. If you do this, however, rework the paper so that it is appropriate for oral delivery. Read with expression, maintain eye contact, and pace the delivery so your listeners can follow you. Before the conference, practice the presentation with an audience (a couple of friends will do), and pay attention to their comments. Always strive to do excellent work among your colleagues; you never know if someone who sits in on your presentation will show up later on a hiring committee.


Few speakers, however experienced, speak effectively without preparation, and you must be sure to make your points clearly and effectively in the time available. The development of public speaking skills is important to an academic, and there are many ways to improve your abilities over your lifetime. Additionally, you may be lucky enough to be able to get assistance from your own school.


It is always beneficial to view yourself on videotape. Practice and critical feedback are really important, and if you plan to be an academic teacher, it is really to your advantage to be an effective speaker. Besides making use of the usual self-help books or public speaking courses, you can apply for the IHS Career Development Workshop which includes invaluable instruction on many of these topics.


Job Applications


In any job search, the value of personal contacts can never be overstated. Some hiring committees review hundreds of applications, and in such circumstances, it is difficult to get your name to stand out. Any positive personal knowledge that the committee has of you, your work, or your references will give you an advantage. The committee will, at least, give your application a second look if someone knows you and knows that your work is good. If your advisor offers to make a call to recommend your application and endorse you personally, encourage him, and, in any case, ask if he knows people at the places to which you are applying. Your friends at IHS may have good contacts, too, and should be part of your network. Do bear in mind that, at this stage, what matters is that people can honestly say that your work is good rather than just that they know you. If they are to be able to say that your work is good, they need to have seen what you have written.


All this, however, is an area in which you must operate with great sensitivity. You must give other people the opportunity to indicate politely that they are not very interested in what you are doing or do not feel that they can write strongly on your behalf. Successful academics are typically very busy and also have students of their own – don’t presume that a few friendly words of encouragement is an invitation to send them copies of your work. (If you phrase any enquiry about sending them your work in terms of whether they would have time to look at it, this allows them to decline without embarrassment.) Above all, never assume that someone is willing to write a strong letter in your support, or to approach other people on your behalf, unless she has indicated that she will do so; and – as for people not on your committee – I would not recommend asking them unless they offer to do so or express great enthusiasm for your work.


Some departments organize students’ job applications in great detail. If your department does this, don’t proceed without first clearing your activities with the people involved; otherwise they may get upset. Should you have any questions that what you are doing is appropriate, always check with your dissertation advisor or with your committee – they have an interest in your success, too.


More on Interviews


At the interview itself, you should expect to discuss:



Two final points about your interview:


First, make sure that you get the practicalities right: be on time, have copies of your vitae and dissertation abstract available, dress appropriately, and avoid alcohol before the interview. Make sure you can be contacted at the conference. Ask if there are any additional locations where messages might be left for you, and remember to check for messages. Above all, be pleasant and courteous, no matter what happens; you really can’t tell from their manner what committee members think of you!


Second, if you don’t get an interview, it can be discouraging. But don’t immediately conclude that this reflects a personal judgment upon you. You really do not know what is happening on the committee. The merits of your application might simply have been overlooked. Affirmative action, or other considerations which do not relate to your personal merits, may have been operative, or there might have been some internal arguments between departments in the university that worked to your disadvantage. They may have decided to fill the position at a senior level. Funding for the position might even have been withdrawn. Bear in mind that jobs are also advertised later in the year. Filling appointments at more senior levels often frees up junior positions for which you may compete.


If the first round goes well, you may be invited for an on-campus interview – a “fly-out.” This interview will be much more in-depth and will typically involve you in a very long day or two, which may include meetings with individual members of the department, a formal interview with the committee, the presentation of a paper based on your research, some teaching, and possibly a social event or meetings with various university notables. You need to pull out all the stops to prepare yourself for this. Find out as much as you can about the school, the department, job requirements, faculty preferences and personalities, and what – or who – might be of importance in this decision.


You will have the chance to find out what the place feels like when you visit. But the faculty will also want to find out about you, not only as a scholar and teacher, but also as a potential colleague and member of their academic community.


The job interview is not the time to wave red flags in front of the committee. Often they are searching for a reason to reject you. At this point you know nothing about the sensibilities of key people or how your remarks might be interpreted or misread. A very able scholar whom I know once lost a very good position, it seems, because he let fly on a controversial topic over dinner and upset one of the senior faculty members. All this is standard interviewing advice and smart people follow it. I repeat: don’t raise red flags! If you can’t stop yourself from spouting off when your career is on the line, then you won’t be able to stop yourself from spouting off in the classroom either. Your interviewers will know that, and will conclude that they owe it to their students not to hire you.


There is a time and a place for everything. You will have plenty of opportunity to discuss your ideas and concerns with your colleagues, at leisure and at length, once you have been appointed. Once they know you to be a decent person and a valued colleague, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. Before that, they won’t.


This entry was posted in Career Resources, Resources. Bookmark the permalink.