Preparing NOW for Next Year’s Job Market

Runners on a starting lineMost of us are wrapping up another semester’s worth of teaching, grading, and working to effectively integrate writing and research into our schedules. We’re now ready to take advantage of a few months’ time for dedicated work on our larger projects (whether accompanied by teaching obligations or not). About the last thing that you want to do is start thinking about what you’ll be doing in five or six months since you already have so much you need to do now. But in the crazy world of the academic job market, the search for employment tends to be a marathon rather than a sprint, and the sooner you can begin the race the better off you’ll be. And so while you should be using your summer break to advance work on your dissertation, articles, or monograph, you would also be wise to begin preparing all of the materials you will need this fall. (While this post is largely aimed at graduate students or the recently graduated–Congratulations!–it will hopefully be useful for those looking to make transitions as well.)

Of course, it can be very easy to let the preparation of job materials get in the way of your most important writing. But rather than letting job materials act as a distraction to writing you can use them as a warm-up to your daily writing practice–just make sure that you use a timer so you don’t spend too much time on these materials. You could also treat some job material preparation as a task that you can delegate to your less effective self. Or you could devote one day a week to working on these materials. Choose whatever method seems like it will integrate best with your current approach to writing.

Regardless of how you go about getting the materials prepared, you will probably be most effective if you set some deadlines for yourself on when particular documents will be finished. To date, I’ve made a run at the academic job market three times (a fact that might beg the question of why I’m writing this post), and setting my own deadlines for when I would finish tasks was the only way that I could ever convince myself to stop tinkering with these documents and get back to what was most important. If you find it hard to be accountable to just yourself for deadlines on writing projects–as I often do–then grab a colleague or someone in your grad school cohort and form your own job-market writing group. Working with two good friends on my materials throughout the summer not only helped keep me up to speed, but also provided some welcome opportunities to discuss how the rest of my writing was going at that point.

And given the amount of materials you’ll need at hand, it turns out that you’ll have plenty to discuss. Here’s a list of what you would want to have on hand if you were applying for jobs in English literature. While that’s my own field, discussions with friends in other areas suggest that these materials are fairly common across disciplinary boundaries:

What You’ll Need

  • A cover letter: I’ve heard repeatedly that this cover letter is perhaps the most important thing that one writes in her academic career. Plan to spend plenty of time here. Each discipline will have conventions for the length and the order of the paragraphs; your mentors can best help you with understanding what these are for your field. As you’re writing, you should think about how you would craft the letter for different sorts of institutions. I use Microsoft Word’s commenting function to house alternate sentences that I can easily swap in and out depending on where each letter will go.
  • A curriculum vitae: Hopefully you regularly update your vita throughout the year, which will make this step much easier. Still, you should look to add the classes you’ll be teaching in the fall or any upcoming conference presentations that you might not have added yet. Double-check all the formatting to make sure it’s consistent and easy to scan.
  • A dissertation abstract or description of your current project: In my field, we keep these to two pages. Use a paragraph or two to write an overview of the project and then have short paragraphs for each of the chapters of the work. This document provides search committees with a chance to learn more about your research than what you can say in your cover letter.
  • A writing sample: If you’re anything like me, your chapters tend to be much longer than the 20-25 pages that are asked for in most writing samples. Unfortunately, you cannot simply excerpt the requisite number of pages. Instead, what you send should stand alone as an argument. Essentially, you need to write an article. But look at the bright side: once you’ve done the condensing and re-framing of your work that the writing sample will require you can begin sending it off to journals. If you’ve already got a published article, you might be able to use that as a writing sample. But remember that you’ll need something that is aimed at the job you’re applying for. As much as I hate to say it, then, you might have to have more than one writing sample. (I had three.)
  • A statement of teaching philosophy: This short reflective essay on how one teaches is one of the newer requirements of the job market, so your advisers might not have had to write them. But you can talk to recent hires in your department for tips on how to effectively craft such a statement in your field.
  • Teaching evaluations: These last few items are nice in that you will not have to write them yourself. But make sure you have them organized and at hand for the schools that might request them. In other words, you should scan them if they are not already in an electronic format.
  • Letters of recommendation: You will need letters from several faculty members or colleagues to accompany most of your applications. Since writing letters takes a fair amount of time if one wants to do a good job (and you will certainly only ask those who will do a good job on your behalf), the sooner you can ask for these letters the better. In all likelihood, your letter writers will want to see more than one of these aforementioned documents, so you’ll have that as additional motivation for getting them completed.
  • Transcripts: I have never understood what makes the paper that transcripts are printed on so special. But it must be because they can cost a lot of money. What’s more, they take a while to receive if you are not currently at your graduate (or undergraduate!?) institution. You don’t want to be late in applying for a job because you don’t have the materials at hand, so consider laying in a stock of transcripts ahead of time.

That’s a lot of material to keep organized. Later today, Julie will have a post on one of many ways to manage all of these different materials. (Spoiler: she’ll be discussing Interfolio).

At the risk of saying one more thing that is perhaps obvious (which is, after all, one way of expressing the ProfHacker ethos of making tacit knowledge visible), I should mention that just because you’ve been on the job market once does not mean that you can simply recycle the materials that you’ve used from the previous year. After all, you will have likely grown as a scholar in a year’s time and have a better idea of exactly what your work is really about. For example, I believe I put in more work on my job materials before my second year on the market than on my first. A large part of this was that in the meantime I had finished my degree. When I was still ABD, I could only talk about the work my dissertation was doing insofar as I understood it at that point. But when it was finished, then I could really articulate its central argument. The clarity that came with having finished the project led to major restructuring of both my cover letter and dissertation abstract. My fellowship during my final year of graduate school also helped me to better understand who I was as a teacher, which led to reconfiguring other portions of the cover letter and my statement of teaching philosophy. As little as you might feel like revising documents that you already slaved over just a few short months ago, see this as an opportunity to present a fuller and more accurate picture of who you are as a potential colleague.

Again, I know that neither you nor I want to prepare materials for jobs that haven’t even been listed yet. But preparing now means that you’ll be ready to hit the ground running in the fall. And I can guarantee that you’ll thank me for it. (Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee any jobs. ProfHacker is not magic. Yet.)

What do or did you find to be the most effective method for you to prepare your job market materials? What other documents should someone be prepared to provide given different disciplines?

[Image by Flickr user jon_marshall / Creative Commons licensed]

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