Ah, the elusive full-time job in the academic world…. It is hard to come by these days. How do you get it?
I originally wanted to write a satire on the academic job search, but I figured that this approach would be less helpful. Instead, this post is somewhat serious. Somewhat.
I have received a great deal of advice over the past several years—some good, some bad. While I am not an expert in the academic job market, I have gleaned some wisdom about the job search itself: the do’s and the don’t’s. Of course, details will vary from person to person, and from institution to institution. I can only share what I know from my own experiences, and from the experiences of those around me. Because I have received so many direct and indirect questions concerning this matter, I decided to write a quick, informal blog about it.
I am speaking to academics; namely, I am speaking to those who are seeking a teaching position at a college level institution or higher. Because most of my experience is with the Christian world, I am specifically speaking to Christians, though anyone seeking a professorate could find some value in this. (I hope….)
Importantly, as usual, I sometimes write in a humorous tone. If something sounds snarky, it’s probably sarcasm. If you don’t like humor, please stop reading this and refrain from comments. The academic world can be a pretty cynical place, so I think the best way to convey the spirit of it is through humor.
8 things to do in no particular order…
- Get Teaching Experience.
Whether they explicitly convey it or not, most schools want a minimum of 2 years teaching experience at the college level. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your position), schools care less about scholarship than in the past. They want experienced teachers, first and foremost.
Consequently, teaching experience is one of the first things you should consider early in your PhD work. If a local college is hiring, apply for the job. Don’t be picky. Community colleges are excellent places to work and get experience. One of the best places I have ever worked was at a community college. Simultaneously, try to find online positions. If there are no colleges hiring, apply for positions at private high schools or the like. These positions typically count for some experience (though, honestly, my high-school level teaching experience was not considered by the hiring committees I’ve confronted).
If you don’t have any teaching experience, do something else. If no one is hiring, then publish. If you can’t publish, then pastor. Of course, not everyone is meant to be a pastor…. (I, for one, would be a lousy pastor. Just ask my wife.)
Regarding some ministry experience, Christian colleges definitely want to see it. Every school grilled me about it during interviews. Now, if you have significant teaching experience and/or publish, don’t feel like you have to overcommit here. Serve in some way and be present with people, but don’t feel like you have to be a pastor, an adjunct professor, and a writer, etc. I often observe people try too hard. It’s kind of sad. You can work without overworking, and you can still get a job.
Again, you don’t have to be everything to everyone. Work 40 hours and then stop. Don’t overcommit. It’s lame for you; it’s lame for your spouse. It just isn’t worth it. Only be present and humble enough to serve.
- Network well
This is perhaps the most important item on this list. Connect with people, care about them, and learn from them. This process will vary, depending upon who you are and who they are. Here are some useful tips, though, again, the exact nature will vary.
Networking does not mean that everyone must like you. They won’t. Don’t try to make everyone like you. If you try, you’re a phony. Don’t be a phony. Yes, some people will not like you. Yes, things will go wrong. But it’s okay. That’s the nature of life. Be yourself, connect and serve people, and it will go well.
I can’t say that I’m a great networker. I’m the kind of person you either love or hate, and I providentially met several influential people who happened to connect with me.
Moreover, much of what I learned about networking was from my wife, Laura. So, now, the next point…
- Marry well
You probably have faults. You probably stink at something. Perhaps you are even awful at something. If you can’t think of any problems you might have, you are a bit narcissistic and delusional, and that doesn’t bode well for the job search. Let’s face it: academics are rarely the center of attention at a party.
If you do have faults, marry someone who makes you look good. Take my (dreadful) example: I’m an INTJ. I am great at doing things, but I generally prefer books over people. My wife, Laura, is an extravert, business-minded, and truly cares about people. And….she doesn’t even fake it! Use your wife’s gifts. Seriously.
Also, a message to single people: marry someone who complements you. If you are lame, marry someone who is cool and likeable. (If you are reading this blog, I assure you: You’re at least a little lame.) Then, once you have a spouse that is cool and likeable, bring him/her to conferences and other professional events. Easy-shmeasy.
I realize that this might sound like you are using your wife. You are. Alternatively, who doesn’t try to marry the grooviest spouse, a person who complements your gifts/faults? Who doesn’t want to live all of life together with their spouse? Wait, don’t answer that question. Again, the world is a cynical place. Use it to your advantage.
Furthermore, I observe a lot of couples—friends—who live separate lives, at least when it comes to the job search. They express that they don’t want the search to affect their marriage. I get that. There’s good reason for it. But I would suggest that this is not the best approach. Let your spouse “in” on your job search. If possible, let your spouse assist you with your applications. Even bring him/her to networking activities. Again, your spouse is gifted differently than you. And anyway, the academic job search is difficult, to say the least. If you don’t let your spouse into your search, then he/she will never understand why you are often dejected.
Side note: this is not to say that marriage is a prerequisite for employment in academia. My wife and I have simply found it helpful to support each other career-wise. If you are not married and do not intend to marry, in many ways you have more time to dedicate to your career or job search in academia. Congrats.
- Write cover letters well (and send them to the right people!)
This is perhaps the most underrated item on the list. I wrote cover letters for about 40 jobs over the last couple years. I heard back from schools only after I learned how to write excellent cover letters. Yes, it is that important.
It is important that your cover letter is tailored to the school to which you are writing. If you are using a template and changing a couple paragraphs for each school, you are doing it wrong. Stop it. Writing a good cover letter takes a lot of time and energy. It requires extensive research about the school, faculty, mission, values, etc. Basically, in the letter, tell the reader—the dean, committee, etc.—why you are a special fit with the faculty and vision of the school.
Everything I know about cover letter and CV writing I learned from Freddy Cardoza: http://www.freddycardoza.com/conference/ (Click: 2014 ETS Presentation, CV Session). Freddy is the one-shop-stop for all your job pursuit needs. In fact, his advice and the resources he provided were instrumental to me obtaining a full-time teaching position in the academic world.
If you are interested in improving these skills, as well as many others, he is leading the networking/career session at the ETS annual meeting in Atlanta. I would strongly encourage you to attend. I believe that his sessions are held Tuesday afternoon. I found these to be the most important sessions I have ever attended. If you do what he says, you will get bites for a job. He is a great guy as well!
Here’s some info:
Tuesday, November 17, ACADEMIC CAREER SESSION Hilton — 208, 2:00 PM—3:30 PM Freddy Cardoza (Biola University) The Quest for an Academic Position: Best-Fit Analysis, Search Tools and Strategies; 3:40 PM—5:10 PM Freddy Cardoza (Biola University) Academic Cover Letters and References: From “Bland” to “Grand”
Lastly, and importantly(!), do not think that you are done after you attach your cover letter to the online application and press submit. Many HRs are black holes: they suck all applications away from the eyes that actually want to see them. Send personalized hardcopies of your letter and CV to the dean, department head, or whoever is the contact. If you don’t know, ask; if they won’t tell, look up your future boss on the faculty page. (See what I did there? That was cheesy.) I have never heard back from a job without sending a hardcopy application/letter. Simple as that.
- Keep a Good Attitude
Wow, again, that sounded cheesy. But let’s face it: the job market is pretty miserable. Still, no one likes a Negative Nancy or Cynical Sam. This lackadaisical point is more important than you realize. Maybe it’s just because I am good at reading people, but I perceive this problem all the time. I imagine it is pretty unattractive to prospective employers. Stop it. Stop being so negative.
Moreover, don’t compare yourself to others. It is easy to fall into the trap of, “Maybe if I do this, I will get a job; maybe if I do that, I will get a job.” I know. It is tempting. But hey, just do you. Forget what others are doing. There is more than one way to land a full-time job.
Getting a job can take years. It is easy to give up, lose hope, and otherwise become defeated. Don’t. If you build a teaching record, network, and learn to write cover letters, the job will eventually come. Once it does, it all happens so fast. When it rains, it pours.
Did I say network? Networking is really important.
- Interview well
This last step is the make it or break it. How do you interview well? Be awesome but not too awesome. Answer questions *concisely*. Be friendly. If you have humor, use it discerningly. If your spouse or a close friend tells you that you aren’t funny, stop trying. The committee wants to know that you are a good fit with the school and the faculty.
Again, don’t be a wet paper bag; don’t act like you know everything; don’t say too much. Please, stop talking once you answer the question.
As it turns out, it works. There were times when this job search seemed bleak and pointless. But if God has called you to a teaching ministry, he will provide a way in his own time. Pray for sustenance, for opportunities, and for sincerity. Pray to be willing to go wherever He will send you. Pray for your family while you are in limbo, and for you all to be prepared for the transition when something does go through.
Let me stress again: pray to be willing to go. There is a 99% chance that you will have to move to teach in academia. Don’t rule out opportunities that may be across the country or overseas. God may call you somewhere you would never consider on your own.
I am probably missing something, but, hey, I’m tired of writing this post. Again, what I said in this post worked for me. People are different. Schools are different. I hope these points help you.