The French Review, vol. 72, no. 6 (May 1999)

 Market (Un)Realities -- Job Search II

Job Search Suggestions for the Graduate Student
(gleaned from MLA Newsletters)

[An invaluable resource recently available is Christina Boufis and Victoria C. Olsen, eds. On the Market: Surviving the Academic Job Search (Riverhead Books, 1997)].

1. Start looking for a job the first year in graduate school in order to develop job search skills and to get into the habit of practicing these. What deans and departments can now ask for in a candidate is something special. Spend some time in graduate school acquiring the kind of knowledge that you think departments will want. To assess this, look at MLA Job Information Lists and discuss trends in education with your professors.

2. Participate in conferences and conventions. The more professional contacts one can establish at different institutions, the better chance one has in obtaining interviews. Remember: no one you meet is unimportant, on a professional as well as personal level.

3. Publish. Departments are interested not just in publications, but in promise, so you need to develop research projects if only to discuss these during interviews and in correspondence. Try to have a published paper of some sort in your area(s) of specialization by October of the year that you go on the job market.

4. Teach. Short of "full-time" (non-T.A.) teaching experiences, teach as varied an array of courses as possible -- including conversation and composition, if possible. Learn as much about various FL teaching methodologies as possible. At least one reference in the dossier should evaluate your achievements in the classroom. Thus, you may need to approach professors and invite them to observe a class in order to form a basis for such an evaluation.

5. Write the kind of dissertation that you are willing to send out for consideration for publication. Conceive of your audience as a wide-ranging group of professionals. Be ready to send out a chapter during the job-search/interview process.

6. Keep the placement dossier up-to-date. Don't allow two-year-old letters to state that your first chapter shows promise when indeed the dissertation is done. Ask your references to write new letters if your progress warrants it, and provide your referees with a current c.v. to show them your ongoing activities.

7. Try to obtain letters of reference from professors at schools other than those you attended (thus, the importance of conferencing). Make sure the references are based on a current assessment of your work, be it dissertation, an article or a professional paper.

8. Write the c.v. carefully. The cover letter and the c.v. are all that stand between a job interview and an outright rejection. Collect the c.v. of others long before you do your own. Provide information on your area of specialization early in the c.v., either separately or in the "Education" section. As for the cover letter, use your department's letterhead paper; discuss the dissertation, but do so SUCCINCTLY (one long paragraph, or two moderate-length paragraphs). DO discuss your interest in teaching, briefly in letters to research institutions, at greater length in those to smaller institutions (e.g. liberal arts colleges). Write (or at least appear to write) each letter specifically for the job description, mentioning the department by name and, wherever possible, any details you might have on the department's program.

9. Look for a job while still an ABD, but do not expect to get an offer -- especially not a good offer. The value of looking as an ABD is that it a) serves as a dry run, b) places your name and dossier in circulation, and c) just -might- result in a job offer.

10. A world of difference lies between the ABD and the Ph.D., and many job announcements are listed as "Ph.D. in hand" (i.e. defended AND deposited). The rationale, right or wrong, is that because you have completed the first "hurdle" in the professional career, you can be trusted and treated with more respect.

11. The October JIL has the first crop of jobs, but the December list (published shortly before Thanksgiving) is the definitive list for MLA interviews. However, some institutions only publish announcements in one or the other, so consult both. [The newly created electronic JIL can keep you apprised of the latest additions to the List between paper editions: contact]. The first round of jobs (a.k.a. the most interesting, usually) are gone or are in the campus interview stage by the time that the February JIL appears. If you are still waiting for a job in late March/early April, give serious thought to waiting another year, unless you are willing to go anywhere. However, be aware that due to unforeseen circumstances, some schools must wait until later in the year to begin the search.

12. Attend the MLA Convention -- before you look for a job in earnest. Try to attend with a friend and/or colleague, and maintain contacts with any of your professors also attending. Learn how the meeting operates and use this knowledge to your own advantage when the time comes for the search.

13. Most interviewers are not so much interested in what you know as "who you are." They would like to see the spark of a human being and of what promise the candidate might hold for the particular program and for the institution generally, especially for tenure track positions. If you feel good about yourself, your work and the profession, the interview should go well. Remember: each interview is an opportunity for you to meet colleagues in the profession and to assess their skills at questioning and relating to you as a human being. The very best interviews unfold as an earnest conversation, but if an interview does not seem to go well, this is as much, if not more, the fault of the interviewer(s) as/than the interviewee. The process is tense enough without beating oneself for things beyond one's control.

14. When invited to the campus interview, remember that you are interviewing them nearly as much as they are interviewing you. This may be your new home. If you present a demonstration class, realize that this is an artificial exercise (i.e. this is not -your- class with which you have been working), so prepare as thoroughly as possible and then go in and enjoy yourself. If you also present a formal lecture, provide handouts and any materials that communicate clearly the points you wish to make.

15. Rejections (pre- or post-interview) are a fact of life, but one can avoid discouragement by considering any rejection at whatever stage of the job-search process as an opportunity for learning more about this process and for improving one skills in future applications. Remember: if you are in any way qualified for a position, do not hesitate to apply for fear of rejection.

16. If you should receive an offer, be sure to ask for time to reflect on it, after receiving a clear and complete explanation of all the terms. Things to consider in the offer: course load and possibility of first year reduction; moving expenses (all or only a percentage); computer; office space; travel expenses (regular and possibility of supplemental); internal research grant possibilities; provision of funds (if appropriate) for obtaining H1-B Visa and Permanent Residence status. For additional information, see Chris M. Golde, "After the Offer, Before the Deal," Academe (January-February 1999): 45-49.

"Simply to get a job now, one has to have the kind of credentials that fifteen to twenty years ago would have gotten one tenure."