Before Considering a Job Search

Questions to Already Be Asking Yourself the Summer Before You Go on the Market:

Being on the market means answering the big questions about yourself as a scholar and teacher, about why you are in this field and what you hope to achieve in it. The summer is the perfect time to start working through your answers to those big questions. While I advocate jotting down your revelations (you will be repeating them in your job letter and at interviews later, I promise, and will kick yourself if you came up with something good and didn’t write it down!), you should AT LEAST be thinking through them casually.

  •  At what stage are you with your dissertation?
  • If you got a job for next fall, would you be done?
  • What would you need to do to be ready?
  • Do you have funding for fall 2009?
  • What’s your dream job?  And what are you willing to settle for? (think teaching load, research  or teaching focus, dept. size, state/private, small/large, region, types of courses you would teach, etc.)
  • What, in terms anyone could understand, is your dissertation about and why is it important?
  • How are you contributing to your field?
  • If a potential employer walks away remembering only one or two things about you, what do you want those one or two things to be?
  • What makes you a good teacher?
  • What would make you a good colleague?
  • What would be my best writing samples? (20-30 page samples, usually more toward the 20-page end)
  • Do you have enough money to go on the market? (to get to MLA or other interviewing conferences and find lodging and food, to buy supplies, to pay postage, to be well dressed for interviews, etc.)

 Write, Write, Write:

 Recommendations: Write a preliminary and very polite e-mail to your recommenders (3-5, with 4 or 5 recommenders the ideal number) asking for letters for your job search. Follow up with a second e-mail the first week of the fall semester. Give recommenders an early October deadline even if applications aren’t due until November 1. Who do you ask to recommend you? Think variety. You need faculty (2 ideally) who can comment on your scholarship and contribution to your field, 1 or 2 to comment on your teaching (2 or more if you’re applying to teaching-focused schools), and another faculty recommender who may know you in another academic capacity (administrative work you may do, service work, leadership positions, or if you “straddle” fields a faculty member who can speak for the other area(s) you study).

 CV: If you don’t have a CV already, look at colleagues’ CVs and draft your first one. Cheryl and I will be happy to look at your CV, and we hope to have CV workshops in the fall for real-time help. In the meantime, make sure your CV is completely updated and look at the MLA’s website, “CV Doctor.” You can also find some sample layouts and content on this site.

Dissertation Abstracts: Even if you aren’t far along in your dissertation, write ONE paragraph about what your dissertation is about (often we write a description of what we wish our dissertation to be, not what it necessarily turns out to be, and that’s fine). Don’t worry if your description actually sounds like a better dissertation than what you think you’re writing – your description can help you make the dissertation better. After you have a paragraph, write 1 ½ to 2 pages maximum describing in more length your argument and what you accomplish in the chapters.

Teaching Philosophy Statements and Portfolios: If you haven’t already put together a teaching philosophy statement and portfolio, you’ll need to start at least with the statement and imagining what archives you would include to show how good a teacher you are. Many schools won’t ask for them, but some will.

 Job Letters: Begin looking at sample letters and drafting your own.  I recommend drafting paragraphs rather than whole “generic” letters, since each letter should be tailored to the institution. Some paragraphs can be pretty similar across the board, though, like the dissertation paragraph, the service paragraph, and to a certain extent anecdotes or main ideas expressed in your teaching paragraphs. We’ll discuss the structure of these letters in a workshop.

Buy Supplies

  • address labels you can print in your computer printer
  • printer cartridges and plenty of paper
  • return address labels with your preferred name and address (hint: you can print 50 or more of these ahead of time and save yourself work later)
  • white or yellow large envelopes to send materials OR express mail envelopes from the post office
  • an organized file system with folders for: Job Ads, CVs, Job Letters & Drafts, Resources, ISU Dept. Letterhead, Abstracts, Writing Samples, Deadlines, and Interview Schedule.
  • Grab a stack of dept. letterhead now while you’re thinking of it — but don’t be really obvious about it as the department only approved your use of letterhead for job searches last spring 2008.
  • Resume paper for your CVs
  • A schedule book if you don’t already use one. I also kept track of application deadlines and requested materials for each institution on a single sheet of paper and taped it to my wall, so I could see at a glance who needed materials and by when.

 Talk to Others

Ask colleagues in the department, friends in the program, past teachers, and even family and friends outside academe:

  •  What do you think is special about me as a scholar and/or teacher?
  • To your advisor: what do you see to be my strengths and weaknesses? This is how I see my work contributing to our field . . . what do you think?
  • Will you (advisor, other faculty mentors, family, friends) read my job letter and tell me what you think? Non-academic readers can be especially helpful when it comes to clarity. Academic readers can also help you with structure.
  • Will you ask me what my dissertation is about? It may feel awkward, but you need practice verbally describing your work to colleagues, family, and friends.