Academic Job Search Resources
The Job Market: Picking Apart Your Application
It’s October, which means — for academics on the faculty job market — it’s time to stop searching for jobs and actually start applying for them.
The first application deadlines come as early as October 15th. I hope you’ve already begun the knotty process of updating your CV, writing cover letters, soliciting letters of recommendation, and deciphering what potential employers really want in a “diversity statement.”
I’m not a career counselor but as an assistant professor I’ve served on search committees and read hundreds of academic job applications. So allow me to shed some light on how search committees comb through the dozens of pages in each application. Understanding that process may help you assemble a package that showcases your talents in the documents that matter most to the hiring committee.
The CV. The first thing many search-committee members skim over in your application file is your curriculum vitae. It relays the most basic information about you as a candidate. In my experience, committees remove approximately 10 to 15 percent of applicants from consideration at this early stage because they have the wrong degree or lack the required experience. If 100 people have applied for the opening, we are already down to 85 candidates.
The cover letter. After confirming that you have the basic qualifications for the position, the next item we review is your cover letter. I view it as the single-most-important document in an application package. In fact, most candidates crash and burn because of weaknesses or mistakes in this letter. Here is where a committee gets a sense of your professional qualifications, an overview of your research agenda and accomplishments, a peek into your teaching repertoire, and, most of all, a perception of which of those you prioritize.
For the most part, applicants do a decent job of including the correct content in their cover letters. But for the roughly 15 percent who don’t, here are some tips:
- Early in the letter, identify the position you are seeking, your degree level and field, and your area(s) of expertise (those three things are not necessarily the same).
- Make sure your letter responds to all of the components of the job posting.
- Order the letter’s content based on the needs of the position and the mission statement of the institution (that is, put teaching up top for a teaching-oriented institution).
- Add details to substantiate large claims.
- Identify existing and additional courses you can teach for the department.
- If you’ve published in a peer-reviewed journal, mention its name.
Including the relevant information will ensure that your application is not immediately eliminated. However, the most comprehensive content can’t overcome a poorly written or badly formatted letter. Some general advice on this front:
- Tailor your letter specifically to the institution, the department, and the position.
- Address it to the chair of the search committee or, if you don’t have that person’s name, to the search committee itself.
- Date your letter (that helps show it’s a tailored letter).
- In your signature block, include your name and contact information.
- Sign it either manually (and scan it in) or electronically.
- Font sizes below 10 and over 12 are unacceptable — as are “fun” fonts (e.g., comic sans).
- A one-inch margin is standard.
- Use professional (not personal) letterhead.
- Avoid online templates.
- Write in first person.
- The absolute maximum length should be two pages, single-spaced.
- Triple check your grammar (punctuation, syntax, diction, active voice).
I would estimate that 50 percent of applicants are removed from the pool because of incomplete, poorly written, and/or badly formatted cover letters. That leaves our hypothetical search committee with a pool of 43 candidates.
The writing samples. This is where candidates distinguish themselves. Almost every academic job requires some form of writing sample as part of the application. In the humanities, and sometimes in the social sciences, this is likely to be an actual sample of your academic writing.
Typically, search-committee members view your writing sample alongside your research statement with one primary goal: to ascertain the quality of your research. Because we are usually in your discipline, or at least peripherally situated, we read your writing sample in the same way we would review a peer-reviewed article. Meaning: We really want to see what your contribution to the field will be.
Following that metric, here are some things to consider when choosing a writing sample to include in your application:
- Pick something recent that reflects where your research is headed.
- Be certain that your sample reflects your knowledge of notable authors and texts in the field.
- Follow writing conventions in your discipline, while also ensuring readability for committee members who may not be in that field.
- Make sure the sample can stand alone. Even if it’s an excerpt from a larger manuscript, comprehension shouldn’t be dependent upon absent text.
If the job posting doesn’t require a writing sample, consider submitting a sample as supplemental material. A high-quality writing sample can leverage one candidate above another.
Even if you are not required to include a sample of your scholarly writing, you will probably be asked to submit some other kind of writing — in the form of a research statement, a teaching statement, and/or a diversity statement. The first should be easy to compose so I won’t spend time on that here.
The teaching statement, however, can be a hurdle, especially for Ph.D.s with little or no teaching experience. My best advice is to craft a statement that articulates the type of professor you wish you’d had. Include the following in your one-page teaching statement:
- An overarching learning theory that guides your philosophical approach.
- Your pedagogical goals. Are you more interested in content acquisition or cognitive-skill development? Do you attend to students’ learning behaviors? Are you invested in their socioemotional well-being?
- The types of learning materials you (will) assign students. Hint: the more diverse, the better.
- The types of assessments you (will) give. Be sure that your assessments are aligned with the type of content you will be teaching.
Where possible, provide specific examples. The search committee should be able to envision you in the classroom after reading your teaching statement.
As for the diversity statement, your best bet is to craft one that doesn’t pay empty homage to “valuing diversity.” Instead, write something personal — about an experience you’ve had, what you learned from it, and how it shaped your professional identity/aspirations. The search committee wants to see how you conceptualize diversity and how you plan to deal with intersectional diversity through your research and teaching. Interpret that as you will.
High-quality writing samples — academic or otherwise — can help us separate weak candidates from the strong ones. When a search committee reads those documents, we are reading your words. We therefore interpret everything you write as a reflection of your personal and professional values and commitments. Usually by the end of this stage, we’ve found that 20 percent of the remaining applicants are a poor fit for our institution. Another 10 percent are removed from the pool because their writing just isn’t up to snuff. About 30 candidates remain.
The letters of recommendation. They are the final piece of the puzzle before we decide who we will approach for a phone or Skype interview. In reading the letters we’ve received about you, we are looking for: (a) confirmation of details found in the CV, cover letter, and writing samples; (b) assessment of the quality of your current scholarship and the value of your future research; (c) insight into who you are as a colleague.
Follow these tips when assembling your recommendation letters:
- If you are a new Ph.D., your dissertation chair/adviser must write a letter on your behalf. The absence of that letter is a massive red flag.
- If you are a not-so-new Ph.D., your current department chair or supervisor should write a letter.
- Give each writer a specific topic so that, collectively, your letters speak to the priorities of the position but, individually, they don’t all cover the same ground.
- Do not write your own letters and have someone sign them. By this point, we’ve spent hours reading your writing. We are familiar with your writing style and tone.
- Encourage your writers to tailor each letter to the specific position. A writer who takes the time to craft individual letters communicates a deep belief in your potential.
Letters of recommendation become the make-or-break aspect of an application. With 30 candidates left in the pool and only 10 phone-interview slots, search-committee members read every word of every recommendation letter. The most contentious conversations on the search committee tend to happen after reading those letters. We must cut 20 people, so we begin eliminating applicants who don’t have the required number of letters or whose letters are too short (i.e., a paragraph), too formulaic, or too lacking in valuable information.
From there, we go back to the CV. We may consult academic transcripts. At this point we are looking for reasons not to interview you. Small grammatical mistakes, missing coursework, or unclear articulation of professional goals can be enough to eliminate candidates from consideration. It’s not necessarily a “fair” process, I admit, but it is theprocess.
So make sure that each application accurately represents the professional you intend to be once hired. Then, when you are one of the remaining 10, prepare for what I think is the most difficult part of the hiring process and the topic of my next column: the campus visit.
See the full article here
Academic Job Advice
Thanks to funding from the ODU Center for Learning and Teaching, we are able to provide you with various resources for navigating the academic job search. These resources include videos on five important topics related to the job search, and FAQs related to each of the topics and videos. You can access the videos here:
(Login using your MIDAS or access as a GUEST).
The FAQs are listed below.
Getting the Academic Job
Dr. Nina Brown provides a description of the steps in the process of obtaining your first academic position. Watch video.
How should I handle long-distance (Skype, phone, etc) interviews differently from face to face interviews?
Telephone interviews are used to narrow down the initial pool of job candidates to a few individuals to be invited to campus. To present yourself in the most positive light it is critical that you 1) know the institution and 2) know the job you are applying for. Read the departmental website carefully and review the ad for the position. Questions asked are likely to be related to how you would fit the position described in the advertisement. Make sure you have a quiet place to take the phone interview call where you will not be distracted. Put all the relevant documents into a portfolio or folder that you can easily access at a moment’s notice. Prepare for the most obvious interview questions such as, can you tell me a little about yourself. Also prepare a few questions to ask the interviewer. Write down the names of the interviewers and jot down notes that will help you answer the questions. Keep your answers brief but informative and relate them to the position, if possible.
What is the normal progression of the interview process?
Typically, an on-site academic job interview takes approximately two days. Surviving it and performing well requires stamina, pacing, and good preparation. You need to know all that you can about the institution, department, faculty, and students. During the time you are on campus, you will likely be asked to do most of the following:
- Meet with undergraduate and/or graduate student groups-many departments take their students’ input very seriously
- Teach a class in your specialty area-faculty observers and students will likely provide feedback to the committee
- Give a research presentation to the department (12-25 people asking difficult questions)
- Participate in an interview with the job search committee (4-6 people asking questions specific to the position and the institution)
- Have lunch, dinner, and conversation with faculty from the department
- Have one-on-one meetings with the department chair, dean, provost, and/or president.
How much time should I budget between interviews at different schools?
The logistics for most interviews is generally that they will fly you in for 1-2 days. Doing more than two interviews in a week would be very difficult and likely to affect the quality of your interactions.
How familiar should I be with the work of my potential colleagues?
It is a good idea to conduct some good background research on the people you will be meeting. This information can be sourced in a number of ways. The single best resource is probably to go online to the university’s website. Look at the particular department and staff who work there. Many faculty will have a link to their CV. If you are particularly interested in someone’s research it never hurts to check it out some of their publications.
What are effective questions to ask the graduate students?
Be ready to sell your candidacy to the graduate students. Making the separation between being a graduate student and teaching them is not easy. Put some thought into how you will handle this before the interview. You can ask them about their experiences in their graduate programs. You can ask them what they are hoping for in the person who fills the position you are a candidate for.
How should I dress?
The standard recommendations for job interview clothes are based on common sense. Be tidy, smart and relatively conservative and understated. Job candidates are expected to dress more formally for the job interview than once they are in the position. Dressing more formally for your job interview sends the message that you are aware of and respect the importance of the interview situation. But also be aware of comfort issues. The days will be long and you may have to hike across campus for some of the interviews and experience highs and lows in terms of temperature.
If I have not been chosen by a school, is it appropriate to ask for feedback on how I can improve as a candidate?
Actual qualifications are not always the sole or even the primary factors that determine the outcome. Factionalism can split departments such that the only acceptable candidate is the one found to be least objectionable to all. If you feel that you have established a rapport with the search committee chair, it is acceptable to ask him/her for feedback on your visit to campus.
How specific should my plans for possible classes be?
Be ready to discuss how you would teach at least 3-4 courses, undergraduate and/or graduate depending on the requirements for the position. Most of these should be classes you know they expect you to teach. One should be something special, entrepreneurial–something drawing on your strengths that could really enhance their curriculum and that other candidates would not be able to offer.
What are common mistakes to avoid in the less structured parts (meals, etc) of the interview process?
Exercise good manners and display collegiality at all of the social occasions. There is NEVER a time when you are visiting that you are NOT being interviewed. Be aware of everyone at the table and try to include them in the conversation; try to avoid spending all of your time/energy on one person, despite appearances he/she may not be the person with power. It’s an obvious point, but watch your drinking.
How should I prepare for a meeting with the Dean of a school?
If you are booked for an interview with the Dean, this will be an important interview. Be prepared to explain the importance of your research to someone who has no training in your field. Be able to demonstrate your “connectedness” and high regard within your field. The Dean wants to know whether landing you will enhance his or her college’s standing. Also, be sure to listen. Dean’s often want to tell you what they expect of you in the position.
How many current faculty members should I try to meet with?
It would be best to meet with all of the current faculty members if possible. That way you get to know who your potential colleagues are and how they interact with one another.
Dr. Robert Wojtowicz provides a guide for reading and interpreting job ads. His advice will help you zero in on positions that fit your academic career goals. Watch video.
How many positions should I apply for?
There is no strict limit on the number of positions to which you may apply. Be sure, however, that you select schools whose mission and location intersect with your professional goals. If, for example, you couldn’t possibly imagine teaching at a small, liberal arts college in Montana, don’t apply. That would be a waste of your time and the search committee’s time. On the other hand, all academic positions are competitive. Applying to only a few positions may mean looking elsewhere or waiting another year!
What is the best way to find out about jobs opening up in the future?
Check the online job postings of the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/section/Jobs/61/), HigherEdJobs (http://www.higheredjobs.com/) and those of your discipline’s professional society. Also check the list servs for any professional organizations in your discipline. Ask your faculty mentors, too, if they have heard about any open positions from their colleagues at other institutions.
Who are the best resources for finding out specific information (i.e. the future direction of schools in terms of teaching and research) about potential schools?
For general information about a potential school, scour its website. The more you know about the department to which you are applying the better. For specific information about research, teaching and service expectations, ask the search committee if your candidacy advances to the interview stage.
How concerned should I be about my interests overlapping with a faculty member at a potential school?
At the interview stage, it is a good idea to ask a general question about how much freedom one has to develop new courses and/or new research directions. One might also ask about a department’s commitment to collaborative teaching and/or research, as well as related interdisciplinary initiatives. Listen carefully to the committee members’ responses. If you hear a mixed message, the department’s commitment might be lacking and you might find yourself in unpleasant competition with another faculty member.
How concerned should I be about my interests having little relationship to my potential colleagues?
This should not pose a problem, especially in a small department. If, at the interview stage, however, there is NO interest expressed in your teaching and research interests, then take note. This situation will not likely improve over time.
While tenure-track positions are obviously preferable, are there any downsides to adjunct professor positions?
It is difficult to land a tenure-track position on the first application cycle. There is no harm in accepting an adjunct teaching position in the interim; you will gain valuable teaching experience that will serve you well in the next application cycle. How far ahead of the application process should I begin looking for potential positions?
Begin you job search the semester before you defend your thesis and/or dissertation. But also remember the search for many tenure-track jobs will start in the summer or fall before the Academic Year in which the position starts, so be prepared to begin applications at those times. New positions, however, will continue to be posted, so keep looking. And remember – persistence pays!
Dr. John B. Ford describes seven critical steps in the process of selling yourself to obtain your first academic position. Watch video.
What qualities do schools look for in a candidate (presumably these qualities are different for different kinds of schools)?
Certain things will be helpful for any school. Obviously energy and interest associated with your subject matter will be positively viewed. Being organized will also help. Another important quality is willingness to work with others. Many departments look not only for a good teacher and researcher, but a good “departmental citizen.” Also, current research trends encourage collaborative research efforts in which two or more researchers (depending on the discipline) are working together to present the best research possible. Depending on the specific position, you may want to emphasize your research/scholarship or your teaching. But for all positions, both research and teaching will be expected and strengths in these areas will always count.
What are the best ways to get my name out there?
The best way is to use the networking process so that you make contacts with people who might be reviewing your materials for possible employment. While in graduate school join selected professional organizations and attend their conferences. Many conferences hold job fairs where faculty from institutions with open positions can meet potential job candidates. Ask your faculty mentor to introduce you to his/her colleagues. You will also meet their graduate students who will become your colleagues. Also present your research/scholarship at conferences and, when possible, get your work published. The key is to make as many contacts as you can and pave the way for getting noticed by potential employers.
What is the time-frame for the application process?
Start considering the process once you are a candidate for the degree, having finished any comprehensive examinations. However, potential employers will usually want you to be close enough to completion of your dissertation to ensure that you can finish it prior to actually beginning in your new position. In most cases this means that you should at least have defended your proposal before beginning a serious job search. Students sometimes take far longer to complete their dissertations once they have left their university to take a new position, so many schools are wary of students that are too early in their dissertation process. You should find out when the normal interviewing meetings take place in your academic discipline (which might be at different times during the year) and plan to send materials out early enough so that the selection committees know you are a candidate for the position before they begin applicant consideration.
How important are skills outside of teaching and research (i.e. familiarity with technology, organizing extra-curricular organizations, grant-writing, etc.)?
In most cases these are clearly secondary to teaching and research. Of course it will depend on the discipline as to whether grant-writing is also an important aspect of the research component. It is helpful to be familiar with what have become basic teaching technologies such as Blackboard to fit seamlessly into a new position, but chances are you have had to learn about the technology and environment in completing doctoral work and teaching during your doctoral program.
Should I present myself as very specialized in my field or as having a wide range of interests and expertise?
This will depend on the specific institution and position for which you are applying. The key is to study the advertised position and focus on exactly what they indicate they are looking for. That will indicate whether you should present yourself as more specialized or more general. The bigger the school and department, the more likely that they will have specific wants that they will have mentioned in the ad for the position. It is always good to have a specialized focus for your research, but it may be beneficial to show a potential employer that you are versatile in teaching so that they see more value in hiring you. Much of this should be apparent from the wording of the position advertisement.
Does it matter how early I apply?
The biggest problem with applying too early is that you wouldn’t be done with your degree in time to begin your new job. A typical timeline is that schools advertise in the summer or early fall for a hiring process which would see them bring 2-3 candidates for on-campus interviews in October or November. This would allow them to make a offer to a final candidate in early December, with a starting date of usually July of the following year. In this case, then, they would want you to have defended your dissertation by the summer, so that you will be done (or at least close to being done by the time you arrive on campus to begin your employment). Schools certainly do advertise at other times of the year, but still want assurance that you will complete your degree prior to beginning employment. Thus, apply when you have a reasonable expectation that you will finish your dissertation by the start date listed in the ad.
How much of a reality is the “diversity hire”? If I am a member of a minority group, are there any short- or long-term advantages (or disadvantages) to emphasizing (or de-emphasizing) this aspect of myself?
You should be careful about depending on this aspect of your application. While all schools are going to look favorably on minority candidates, you need to present yourself as the best candidate for the position. The minority status should not be overplayed. Just show why you are the best candidate given the needs of the university as presented in their position advertisement. If it turns out that you are also a minority candidate, then it may be a plus, but it is better to let the department and search committee decide this for themselves.
Preparing Your Job Application
Dr. Sheri Reynolds has important advice on preparing your application packet. Her strategies and tips will help you make the best written impression and increase your chances of being selected for a telephone or campus interview. Watch video.
What if I don’t have much teaching experience?
EXPAND ON WHAT YOU HAVE! Your CV should accurately reflect all of your teaching-related experiences. Be specific about courses taught, lectures given, and presentations within the university and outside it. For example, be sure to list talks at professional meeting, guest lectures, etc. Use specific lecture titles and course numbers and define who the audience was. You can also include a section “Professional Development” and list workshops you have attended or courses you have taken to support your teaching credentials. You can also include these in your teaching portfolio.
Are there ways to develop teaching skills without a teaching position?
As suggested above, taking courses on teaching in your discipline, attending workshops at conferences or on campus can help you develop your teaching skills. You may also be able to volunteer to work with a “teaching mentor”; that is, a faculty member in your department who you would assist with his/her classes in exchange for this experience. You could give guest lectures in classes, assist with grading, and read teaching-related literature as part of this experience. Your mentor could then provide a letter documenting these experiences.
What if I don’t have many published papers?
As a graduate student, you can include a section titled, “Manuscripts under review” or even “Manuscripts in preparation.” [We would expect to see only published or in press MS once someone is established.] Don’t go overboard, however, on the “in preparation” section! You should also have a section on conference presentations and these can show that you are actively pursuing a research program. Although all academic institutions look for publications, this will be less important for lecturer or adjunct teaching positions.
Is there such a thing as a bad publication?
There may not be a “bad publication,” but certainly some could be heavily discounted, that is, not count much in your favor. Be aware of the reputation of journals in your discipline. Generally, refereed journals (that is, where contributions are reviewed by an editor and external reviewers prior to being accepted for publication) are viewed more favorably than non-refereed ones. Conference Proceedings may or may not count, depending on the discipline. Talk to your mentor about the best outlet for your research efforts.
How helpful is attending conferences about teaching in your field?
This certainly shows that you are serious and committed to teaching and they can count towards professional development of your teaching skills. They may be particularly important in applying for positions that emphasize teaching (community colleges, private colleges, and lecturer/adjunct teaching at larger institutions).
How important are awards and honors when candidates are evaluated?
Awards and honors are always good! They show that someone selected YOU as the most deserving of the award. On the other hand, being nominated is not something to list. Although it may not be true for you, nominations are often self-initiated and so listing this may appear self-serving.
How important is having a book deal?
This is very discipline specific. If it is the custom for dissertations to be turned into books in your field, then this will be a plus. Other fields would rather see your work in peer-reviewed journals.
What should be included in my teaching portfolio?
You should develop a teaching statement that outlines your Philosophy of Teaching and Learning. This document should be text and include a discussion of your teaching goals, methods, and assessments. Include a list of the courses you have taught (or would feel comfortable teaching), any teaching-related conferences or workshops attended, and any teaching recognition or awards. Appendices should provide examples of class assessments, activities, and other course materials. Finally, include copies of course evaluations, if available.
What should be emphasized in my statement of teaching philosophy?
Be as specific as possible about how your general philosophy of teaching is implemented in the classroom. That is, outline what methods you use to “encourage critical thinking” or “promote active learning.” Focus less on what you do and more on the outcomes for your students.
How much should I ask my recommenders to emphasize my teaching in their letters, and what are ways to demonstrate my prowess/passion for teaching to them?
Provide your recommenders with a copy of the advertisement of the job(s) you are applying for. This will help them tailor their letters to the position. If you are applying for a teaching position, provide them with copies of your course evaluations and/or teaching statement so that they can be specific about your abilities.
Is it worthwhile to tape a class that I taught?
Unless it is requested, don’t send a CD of your class presentation with your application. You might consider placing a video (if you think it is a good representation of your skill) on your personal website. Then provide the link in your teaching statement.
In terms of student evaluations, should I include only positive evaluations?
Do not edit your course evaluations to present only positive comments. Course evaluations always include a mix of positive and negative comments. However, if you have a particular class experience that you need to explain, do so in your teaching statement by addressing how you have worked on addressing the feedback provided by your students.
The Job Talk
Dr. Bryan E. Porter discusses the critical importance of the job talk in interviewing for academic positions. He provides strategies for making sure that your job talk is memorable and strengthens your chance of being offered the job. Watch video.
What level of expertise should I assume the audience has?
This is something that you can ask the chair of the search committee. Establish whether your audience will be composed primarily of undergraduates or graduate students and faculty. If you are applying for a teaching position, the presentation may focus on your teaching skills. However, even a research presentation will be viewed as an indication of how good a teacher you will be.
Is there a basic format that my talk should follow?
For a research presentation, be sure to emphasize your own research. Also, be specific about your methods and findings (don’t spend a lot of time on theory and background). End with indications of the next steps in your research program.
How specific should my research plan be?
Be able to articulate at least 2-3 studies that will follow from your current research. It is especially important that it is clear what research you would begin when you come to your new institution.
How specific should my discussion of my dissertation be (i.e. should I include data and discuss data analysis)?
Ideally, your dissertation is not your first piece of research. If you have done other studies that have been published or are in press, start with them and add your dissertation as the follow-up with as many specifics as you have available. If your dissertation is your only study, then give as much information as you can. Definitely include analyses along with your hypothesized findings, and, if supported, where you think this would lead you in future research.
How much of my information should be on the slides as compared to information delivered orally?
Your slides should be only an outline. Do not read them! If you have graphs or tables to discuss this is good. Otherwise, less is better.
Is it appropriate to make jokes?
Natural humor is fine, but don’t force it.
How much weight should I give audience reaction during my job talk, in terms of judging my performance and possible adjustments while presenting?
It is difficult to adjust while presenting. You should prepare AND PRACTICE your job talk prior to going to the interview. Seek multiple venues to give your talk (parents, friends, fellow grad students, faculty mentor, etc. You should be able to give your talk in your sleep by the time you go to an interview! Do, however, be sure to leave time for questions/comments and listen carefully and respond effectively. Avoid being defensive but be prepared to discuss your area of research beyond the information that you present.
How specific should I expect questions to be?
Very specific. Don’t say anything you cannot explain. For research presentations, be sure you understand analyses thoroughly. You never know when there will be a statistician in the audience.
Are there any behaviors to avoid while presenting or answering questions?
There are too many to list! Here is another area where practice and feedback is critical. Your test audiences should be able to tell you whether you say “ah” or “um” too much, don’t make eye contact, or seem uncertain. Basically, good presentation skills are key, but knowledge and expertise in your area of research/scholarship are also what your audience is assessing.