I went on the job market two years ago, the year I thought I was graduating, and while it did not result in interviews, not even first rounds, I did learn a lot just going through the process, and have also been through my university's job market prep workshop twice. So while there are a TON of websites about how to navigate the job market, and what to do, how to prep, I thought I'd share my experiences- the things I wish I'd known.
This is by no means comprehensive, and is specific to English literature, so I encourage you to seek out field specific advice. I also suggest that you read widely the blogs and advice that is out there, but make sure you're in a good head space when you do it, don't do it for hours on end, and never, ever, internalize the crushing despair (that last one is hard).
So, here's my list:
- Create an Excel, or Google Sheets so you can track your applications. Put the school, title of position, deadlines, material asked for. I also color coded ones I got confirmations from, when they went to interviews, etc. This helped a lot.
- A tangent for this- Because I went on the market a few years ago, I've stayed on the jobs list, so I've seen jobs that were posted three years ago, then two, then last year. These are warning signs. I suggest that when the MLA joblist comes out you select all the ones you think you're a good fit for, then sit down with your director or advisor. If you haven't been watching the list, they have, and can warn you against applying for those positions.
- I suggest creating your documents in Google Docs. It makes them easy to share with people to comment on. It also makes it easy to search and make changes.
- I made a CV, a template cover letter (one for teaching, one for research), a teaching statement, and a research statement.
- In my applications, some schools wanted a diversity statement. I included this in my teaching statement.
- You might also need a writing sample. It's usually an odd length- 20-25 pages, so you'll have to expand an article or cut down a diss chapter. Ask your director what they recommend.
- Two years before (I know, if you're already here, it's too late): Start sending things out to try and publish, ideally in the fields you'll apply for. Most of my publications have a throughline, but are more folklore/pop culture based. I feel confident I can explain these connections in an interview, and have tried in my letters, but I was never advised to publish strategically, and I know it's a weakness.
- Summer before September MLA Joblist: tell you social media networks you'll be on the market. Ask them to keep you in mind for jobs, ask if anyone is willing to look at your materials. Your friends will be an invaluable resource- they've been on search committees, hiring committees, know what people are looking for.
- Ask them too if they're willing to share with your samples of what got them their job.
- Prep good templates for all your materials. You should still tailor your applications (I like to do this specifically in the intro, to explain why I fit the ad requirements), but good templates will save you a lot of work.
- Go ahead and order a couple of copies of your transcripts. Electronic will be handy but for some you may need actual, official ones. These take time. If you already have them, you won't delay anything.
- I suggest merging all the electronic ones for ease of uploading.
- Beginning of August: ask your recommenders for letters, aiming for end of September. This gives them time before the semester starts, and plenty of time to write them.
- Join MLA so you have access to Interfolio. THIS WILL SAVE YOU A BUTTLOAD OF MONEY. Otherwise you're paying like $6 a pop, something I didn't know until partway through my season and it got REALLY expensive.
- Here's another tip- most of your recommenders will NOT tailor your letters. Your director probably will, but no one else. When they upload their letters, you can generate a hyperlink to their letters. Put this on your CV under their names under references. This link can also be what you put on the ridiculous amount of online applications you'll have to fill out.
- The MLA Joblist drops mid-September. I would suggest everything done by then. That way you can spend the fall tweaking, tailoring, but don't have to worry about creating from scratch.
- There are some field specific groups on Facebook that might have postings the MLA doesn't.
- Same with Vitae.
- Set up an alert with Higher Ed jobs to weekly email you position openings.
- Some will allow you to apply through Interfolio. Some will have ridiculously redundant online applications.
- You'll spend most of the fall applying to the jobs initially posted. I suggest treating it like a job, setting regular time aside to work on applications. Take time to tailor, think very hard about personalizing.
- Once the initial flurry has passed I suggest setting one day aside each week to check on any jobs that are late postings.
- By the end of the fall semester, I'd have a real, honest discussion with your director/advisor. Start coming up with a Plan B.
- Does your uni hire graduates as adjuncts to fill gaps?
- Do you have alt-ac jobs you can make contacts for?
- Start lining these things up now, revise your CV into a resume, network, make contacts.
- You don't want to have it suddenly be May and you have no income, no way to pay rent, buy food.
- I also think this is where the internet and social media can help- ask people what they did, what they recommend, if your department or advisor can't give you these tools.
- By December, you should hear about making the cut for MLA interviews.
- You might be tempted to check the jobs wiki. I advise against it. First, the webpage is buggy and will affect your computer. Second, it's vitriol. Yes, you'll be able to read about jobs that have gone to interviews, know what you're out of the running for. But I don't think this information is worth the damage it'll do. It's a death spiral, and on top of everything else, I don't think you need it.
- By February/March, you should hear about making the cut for campus interviews.
- Having never made it to these two points, I'm going to point you to others for advice on this.
- In addition to making your social networks aware that you're on the market, I suggest asking what friends of yours are on the market. Start a support group. Share materials. This will not only help with prep but will help with the experience.
- Avoid the idea of competing with your friends. Don't be nasty.
- I'd say set up a Twitter DM, or Facebook group, somewhere where you can ask advice, vent, but try not to lead each other down the rabbit hole of despair.
There are lots of alt-ac scholars who have written about how to leave academia. How to transition. Even if this is your first year on the market, I still recommend reading them. They will let you know there are other things out there, and provide a way through, for this year, or for longer.
I don't know what this year will bring. I taught high school for years, and am happy doing it. I am certainly less stressed knowing I'm paying rent, and buying Nehi kibble this year without problems. Of course, I've worked very hard to earn my PhD, so I'd love to make the move to professor. But something I've learned from all the alt-ac people I follow is that my identity as a teacher, scholar, activist will not disappear if I don't get a tenure track job. While it's what I want, it certainly won't define me if I don't earn it.
Some recommended readings:
- Understanding Your Academic Friend: Job Market Edition
- The Job-Market Moment of Digital Humanities
- On the Academic Job Market, Does Patience Pay Off?
- The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s
- Category Archives: Major Job Market Mistakes