An interesting article from “Inside Higher Ed” on writing a good cover letter for an academic job at a teaching institution.
An interesting article from “Inside Higher Ed” on writing a good cover letter for an academic job at a teaching institution.
A Community College Teaching Career (2006 MLA Article)
An interesting article from the Chronicle by Rob Jenkins
Here are a couple more links to useful advice about interview prepping:
Resources for the Academic Job Market compiled by Ryan Cordell. Some of the material is more directed toward the job market in English, but much of the advice is helpful across the humanities and even more broadly.
By David D. Perlmutter
It was a heady time for a graduate student at his national conference as he rushed from one job interview to another. Late to one and out of breath, he quickly began his introductory talking points: how he was just the right fit for the position, the department, and the university. The members of the search committee sat in silence until the student paused, allowing one of them to interject politely: “I think you’re in the wrong room. You’ve been talking about another school.”
The faculty-job-search process is a particular mix of the professional and the ad hoc, the programmed and the unexpected. Unlike in corporate America where a few people, or just one, may play a direct role in nonexecutive hiring, searches for assistant-professor posts may involve scores of people, from undergraduates who evaluate a candidate’s teaching presentation to a college dean who meets with the potential hire one on one.
The campus visit by a finalist is the subject of much scrutiny, but the equally vital meet-up that happens first is the conference interview. That is the point where you meet faculty members from your desired employer for possibly the first time, and potentially the last. Because of the importance of the occasion, the conference interview is worth planning—in detail. At the same time, it is also an occasion to accept the unhappy, the surprising, or the absurd with good humor and levelheadedness.
If you can, go. It is an old insight about politics and hiring that the world belongs to the people who show up. Conference interviews are not an endangered species, but their primacy has been challenged by the increasing costs of attending conferences, the reduced (in some fields) number of positions open, and the rise of the Skype interview as a replacement. Nevertheless, if you can manage it, go to the conferences identified by your advisers.
Conferences, despite their preplanned nature, are free-flowing entities. Unforeseen opportunities will pop up. Departments may have secured permission to hire only after the conference program went to press, and then decided to hold interviews at the last minute. Or maybe a job is not yet “official,” but the department is doing selective interviews in anticipation.
You may even have others connect the dots for you. During a recent research panel at a conference, one of our doctoral students impressed an attendee who then invited the student to interview for a position he had not heard was open. Impromptu recruiting is not unusual.
If you have a choice between doing an initial interview by phone or in person at a conference, choose the latter. I have no data to prove that people who interview at conferences tend to be invited more often as campus finalists than those who interview by phone or Skype. But it simply makes sense that you have a better chance of making a good first impression of the real you if you meet key players face to face. In an era in which a single tenure-track opening attracts hundreds of applicants, any narrowing of the odds can help.
Be ready for your close-up—all the time. A friend, now a professor, once described going to a conference as a graduate student looking decidedly casual in a T-shirt, sandals, and scruffy coiffure. He planned to tidy himself later for his paper presentation. Then he ran into some people who knew his adviser and who had an opening in their department. They were just finishing their interviews but wanted to squeeze him in—in an hour. He showed up dressed nicely, well shaved, and wet-combed. A member of the committee commented, “You clean up well, young man.”
Fields and institutions differ in their sartorial and grooming standards for job candidates. If you’re interviewing for a job as an assistant professor of painting at a freethinking liberal-arts college, the dress code is going to be different than if you’re seeking to become an assistant professor of accounting at a conservative religious university. There are few academic hiring situations, however, where being “cleaned up” will make a bad impression.
Of course you must also be ready intellectually. A spontaneous interview might erupt at any moment in an elevator. Last-minute schedule changes could force an earlier-than-expected meeting: “Hello? I know we planned to meet on Friday, but we need to do our interview now because our chair is leaving early.” Furthermore, in today’s hiring environment the whole world is listening. I have heard graduate students make comments in hallways and coffee shops at the conference hotel that would not go over well if heard by members of a search committee. And who is to say they are not sitting at the next booth?
So prep for a job interview before you leave home, and be ready to go into candidate mode at the extension of a hand to shake.
Know the players and the playhouse. That 10,000-times-told piece of advice about job interviews is always right: Personalize your application, especially when you are meeting anyone face to face. If possible, try to find out which members of the department will be conducting the interview. Once you have their names, do your homework—their history, accomplishments, role in the department. You don’t need to get too chummy, but recognizing them and having something to say about a topic you share in common is always a good icebreaker and shows you care about your potential colleagues and the open position. Make sure to send their names to your references and advisers, asking if any of them have a connection.
Do research on the department, too—what it does, what it wants, and where it’s going. Take your notes to your interview. It is both helpful and impressive if you can pull out a file card (or a screen on your iPad) that lists, for example, the courses the college offers that you think you can teach.
Keep your answers short and on message. Think of a conference interview as akin to a press conference. You will get peppered with questions, ranging from the expected (“What attracts you to our opening?”) to the at-best inadvisable (“Hail from Utah, eh? So does that mean you are Mormon?”) to the zany (“If you could be any kind of nucleic acid, what kind would you be?”). Your level of coolness under fire will be one way people evaluate you. Whatever you are asked, come to the meeting with talking points and use them. If your research experience and publications exactly fit the qualifications stated in the job ad, make sure the committee knows that. Don’t let the interview end without enumerating your strengths.
Read the room. Preparation and rehearsal are vital to job interviewing, but anything can be overdone or come off as forced. And you need to be ready to adapt if you encounter topics you haven’t prepared for. Make your points, but don’t forget to listen to the members of the search committee and notice the subtler signals of body language.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about the length of your answers to questions. You should, however, through roaming eye contact, be able to gauge when enough is enough and your interviewers want you to move on.
Two rhetorical tools in your interview kit may help out in such situations. First, don’t just memorize a fixed answer to common questions. Develop both a short and long version of your answer. Second, have a “wrap up” comment in reserve that allows you to wind down when you sense they want you to finish. Example: In answer to a research question, say, “Anyway, I have much more on this in my most recent paper, and I can send it to you, if you wish.”
Don’t overschedule yourself. Conferences are expensive, budgets are tight, and the time passes quickly. Many graduate students on the job market try to maximize their investment by tightly scheduling their days and nights on site. That strategy is sensible—until it interferes with your interviews. The point is to be “tanned, rested, and ready” when your moment to shine is nigh. Showing up five minutes late, sweating and flustered, because you had another meeting that ran overtime does not make a good impression.
Plan some downtime. Rest, especially between interviews, if you can, and allow yourself Zen interludes to get ready mentally and review your notes for the next interview. Likewise, get to know the conference site plan; be realistic about how long it takes to get from one room to another. Keep in mind that while conference traversing is chock full of chance encounters with friends, it is also possible that new job contacts might surface and slow you down.
Come with handouts. A graduate student told me he had “aced” a conference interview: He had received great responses to his answers and felt like he had truly impressed his audience. The afterglow lasted for two days until he ran into a member of the search committee who obviously could not remember who he was without some awkward prompting. It turned out the panel had interviewed a dozen other candidates as well. (Not to mention that for senior professors, conferences are continual memory challenges, with hundreds of vaguely familiar faces alongside the well-known ones.)
One tactic to make you stand out is the handout. Bring extra copies of your CV, maybe even some syllabi, and so on. But also consider providing a short—no more than a page—summary of your qualifications. Some candidates go further to help memory prompts by including their photo on the page. Use that sheet to answer some of the obvious interview questions like: “Which of our classes do you see yourself teaching?”
Say thanks, but not too much. You will find wildly varying advice on the protocol of post-interview acknowledgments. My age and ancestry drive me to advise the formal: Send a written thank you (on a card, not copy paper) to anyone who interviewed you. Other senior faculty members will tell you not to bother, but I think some form of timely thanks is justified, especially if you were treated well.
A final note. One of the most tragic circumstances of modern academic hiring is that you can’t give candidates real—or really any—advice on what they did wrong. (In a future column I will talk about some ways to figure that out for yourself.) It is sad to see a candidate perform well in many ways but then display some flaws in, say, the research presentation that may eventually sink the person’s candidacy. Clueless about the error, the candidate will presumably make it again at future interviews.
A conference interview is no guaranteed bridge to being a finalist for an academic position. It does, however, afford an early test market for some of the ideas, talking points, manner, and tone that you will offer in the much more grueling campus visit. A conference interview is a great opportunity to learn what scores and what falls flat.
David D. Perlmutter is director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a professor and faculty fellow at the University of Iowa.
by Katy Meyers (via Inside Higher Ed)
During my first PhD anthropology theory course, it was suggested to us that we should start writing every single day. Our professor told us that we needed to sit down for an hour every single day, or most days of the week, and just write. We shouldn’t focus on a specific topic, or try to answer a question, but rather we should just write whatever is on our mind. Honestly, I’ve been a fairly good writer since high school, and I wrote a lot in undergrad, so I wasn’t concerned with it. I had to do half a dozen 25 page papers during my masters, and I had just finished writing my thesis. Practicing writing was the least of my worries.
However, writing was a slow process for me. I wrote out detailed outlines, took weeks to fill them in with perfect sentences and dozens of citations. For a final paper I had to begin the process of writing at least a month or two in advance so that I could carefully make my way through it. My thesis only took two months to write, but I spent nearly 8 months planning out every single detail.
Then I started writing my blog. It was literally a way for me to keep up to date with journal articles. I figured that twice a week I would read a journal article that had nothing to do with my own personal interests, but something broadly from archaeology. I would then writeup a summary of the article, add some of my own critiques and publish them online. Honestly, I didn’t even think that people would read it.
My first post was August 2010, and I’ve written almost two posts per week since then, coming to a grand total of 180 posts to date. The posts are about 600 to 800 words long depending on the length of the journal article or my opinion. It used to take me about two hours two write that many words. Now it’s about an hour, and the posts always range on the longer end of the spectrum. I honestly didn’t realize until recently the writing benefits that I had been getting from an activity I consider to be a hobby. I now have the power to sit down at my computer and pound out 800 words with little difficulty.
Since writing is a major part of graduate school, its important that we start developing this skill. That way when we get to the dissertation we’re not paralyzed by the writing. Here are some tips:
1. Write almost every day: My suggestion is not that everyone start writing a blog, but try writing more often. Try sitting down every other day and just writing for an hour or even a half hour. Emails and facebook messages don’t count. Writing isn’t a big deal if you’re doing it all the time.
2. Break it down: Writing a ten page paper isn’t daunting, but writing a 200 page dissertation is. Don’t think about the ultimate goal, think about the proximate ones. Instead of listing ‘finish thesis’ on your to do list, write down each chapter, or even sections within the chapter. If you’re practice writing a thousand words a week, getting out a section won’t seem so scary.
3. Strive for progress, not perfection: The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. We’ve got computers so we can write really rough drafts and edit them later. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time, just get it out! I think of it as doing a ‘mind vomit’. Just get the ideas down on the screen and make them pretty later.
4. Take a break: After you’ve finished your brain dump at the computer, and the words are roughly strewn across your screen, walk away. Take a breather, go for a run, maybe even close the document down for a few days. When you come back to it you’ll be refreshed and ready to make those rough ideas into a document you’ll be happy with.
So just do it. Sit down. And Write, Damnit! I promise it’ll hurt less the more you do it.
We Write Alone
Writing is a solitary process. It must be. You’re writing your own ideas. Yes, you are in “conversation” with other scholars, but your writing is your individual contribution to that conversation.
But writing can be very isolating, can’t it? If writing is your primary activity, your days can be pretty lonely. If you are squeezing your writing into a busy day, the solitude can be a relief, but it is still you, writing silently.
We urge you to speak up! At some time (usually multiple times!) in every writing project, you need to find a person and actually speak.
Why Should You Talk?
You think while you talk. How often do you say to a friend or family member, “Can I talk this over?” or “Would you like to talk about it?” or “I was saying to our friend….” You do think through your ideas using speech.
But the unwritten rules in academia are “Don’t admit that you’re unsure,” or “Don’t let anyone know what you’re thinking.”
It’s time to contradict those messages! We’re all unsure at some point in our writing! There’s no shame in sharing your partially-formed ideas!
When you speak, you have to make sense. You can hear your unclear places much better when you actually use your voice. That’s the reason that writing experts recommend reading your written work out loud: what makes sense to your eye does not necessarily make sense to your ear.
Talking with someone else also reduces the isolation we can experience. As important as solitude is, and as valuable as written exchanges between scholars are, spoken interaction is one of the best tools in your writing kit.
When Should you Talk?
Talking with another person is a big, scary step, but it pays big dividends. Some strategic points in your writing process that call for conversation are:
The best person to talk with depends on the stage of your project. For example:
|If………||Find someone who is ……..|
|You are just starting out, with free writing or a Zero Draft (not even a first draft)||…a friend and very gentle and will listen to you charitably as you fumble around|
|You are figuring out whether you are finished, or whether you need to back to more research||…a fellow writer and would know what questions to ask you|
|You are checking that your major argument fits well in the literature of your discipline||…even more well established than you: a mentor or senior colleague|
|You are framing your focus statement, or the “elevator speech” you use to answer the question, “and what are YOU working on?”||…a good listener who loves you. A mom can do it, a spouse if not too busy, and a precocious nine-year old is perfect.|
|You are almost ready to rehearse your conference or interview presentation||…as above. These wonderful folks love graphics too!|
What Should You Talk About?
Framing a conversation about your work maximizes its value for you, and also maximizes your chances to ask again. Here are some phrases to employ:
It’s time to talk!
Boice, Robert. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Needham Heights MA: Allyn and Bacon.
If you have not seen this article on Inside Higher Ed already, here is gradhacker on “Your Academic Twidentity, or, More About Twitter and Academic Identity.” Yes, it is a brave no longer oh so new, but still new world you are entering into. Good hack!
Here are some helpful comments by Wesleyan’s Clarie Potter, who blogs as Tenured Radical at the Chronicle of Higher Education: