Guide to Job Applications

The following page will provide a guide for securing an academic position. Much of the information was adapted from the American Philological Association guide to the job search process and from Mary Corbin Sies’s article, “Questions One Should Be Prepared to Answer for Job Interviews”. Enjoy and Good Luck!

Before the process begins:

Talk to faculty at your home institution, or, if you have a temporary position, to your colleagues, to find out as much as you can about the hiring process from the institutional point of view. This will help you to understand the constraints under which search committees and departments operate and make you readier to be a professional colleague. Watch out for the rumors and misinformation that often circulate among job candidates: these will not make you seem aware or savvy, only naive or worse.

Find out as much as you can about academic life. Many job candidates clearly don’t fully understand the actual demands of faculty positions. Ask teachers and colleagues about the job requirements typical of their institutions or others at which they’ve taught. Faculty members in tenure-track and tenured positions are normally evaluated on some combination of teaching, research, and service (institutional and professional), but different institutions value these categories differently and sometimes mean slightly different things by each. Some prior investigation in this area will not only help you understand the different kinds of jobs to which you are applying, it will also make the job itself easier to do once you get it. Helpful in this regard (and in other ways too) is The Academic Job Search Handbook by M. M. Heiberger and J. M. Vick (3rd ed., 2001: University of Pennsylvania Press).

Most importantly, consider yourself a member of the profession before starting the job search. Applications and interviews are always stronger if the applicant comes across as a member of the field who is exploring career possibilities within it rather then a suppliant begging for admission to it. Join your professional society. Know who you want to be in terms of your career and your profession. What characterizes your work? What links your research interests into a coherent professional identity? Thinking through some of these issues beforehand can help you seem like a professional and less like a student in need of further mentoring.

Before Applying:

Set up a dossier, preferably with your home institution’s placement service. The dossier should contain (in order of decreasing frequency with which these items are requested):

1. Your curriculum vitae
2. 3-5 letters of reference
3. Transcripts (graduate transcripts usually suffice);
4. A writing sample;
5. A research plan;
6. A statement of your teaching philosophy;
7. Teaching evaluations, sample syllabi, etc. (but these are almost never requested).

Some Advice:

Write a History CV, not a business resume!
Keep it short, clear, and truthful.
Design the layout so that even a casual reader notices what you want to emphasize.
List what you have done, not what you think you could do.
Don’t list professional affiliations; these are assumed.
Don’t list the catalog numbers of courses taught; these are irrelevant.
Design two templates of cover letters, one targeted at research institutions, one at smaller colleges with an emphasis on teaching.

When Applying:

Apply to as many positions as possible, and don’t limit yourself unnecessarily with regard to geographical location or types of institutions. You should be aware that such limitations often keep qualified candidates from getting jobs.

Take the time to inform yourself about the institutions to which you are applying and adjust your cover letters accordingly. For example, don’t express your interest in teaching graduate courses when you are applying to an undergraduate institution. Furthermore, remember that only about 10% of all applications reveal any kind of familiarity with the hiring department’s program and needs and that these applications have the best chance of making the first cut. Print out your cover letters and proofreed them carefully before sending to make sure that you have made all the appropriate changes on your template (e.g., that you have used the correct institution name).

In general, make sure that everything you send has been proofread as carefully as possible. Careless mistakes, however minor they seem to you, give the impression of a careless applicant. Have someone, preferably faculty members at your home institution, read both your cover letter and CV. They will often have useful advice on everything from format and phrasing to the way that such materials are likely to be received by hiring departments.

Don’t apply to jobs for which you are not qualified. For example, if almost all your experience is in modern biological sciences, you will probably be wasting your time applying for a medieval medicine position.

Submit with your application only materials requested by the ad, and not more. (The ad may not request copies of published work, but if you have recently published an article, you may mention this in your cover letter and offer to send an offprint.)

Plan on attending the Histoy of Science Society annual conference, Although the HSS does not host a job market, many schools interview at the annual meeting.

Though it is not especially common, you may learn about a last-minute interview at the meeting.
If you don’t get an interview, you can at least attend sessions, meet people, and make sure that somebody recognizes your name when you apply for temporary positions after the convention or for tenure-track positions the following year. Departments generally want to hire individuals who see themselves as active members of the field; being willing to attend the convention only if you have interviews may imply that you are serious only about getting a job, not about having a professional career.

The costs of attending the convention are an investment you need to make if you want your applications to be treated seriously. In the past, the National Science Foundation has funded travel grants for graduate students who are accepted on the meeting program. Plan on presenting prior to the year you are searching for a position.

When you get an interview:

First of all, congratulations!

Do your homework. Inform yourself about the members of each department, their specialties, and their program’s strengths and weaknesses. How might your interests and abilities intersect with their interests and needs?

While it is advisable to gather as much information as possible about the institution and position when applying for an advertised job, direct inquiries to the department may not be received well. This sort of personal contact may be perceived as an attempt to exert unfair influence on the application process. If you must contact the department for clarification of the advertisement, do so as succinctly and impersonally as you can; consider using e-mail rather than a phone call.

Prepare yourself for the interviews by thinking about answers to typical questions such as the following (a good sample of typical questions and the rationale behind them can be found here.

What is your dissertation about? What is new and interesting about it? Be prepared to answer this question in one sentence, three sentences, or in a longer monologue. In any case, it is better to emphasize why the work is important rather than give a detailed history of the project. Details can be supplied once you’ve made it clear that you’ve done something interesting and worthwhile.

What are your research plans (beyond publishing your dissertation)? What other projects do you have planned and what is the current status of these projects?

How would you teach typical History courses?

What kind of courses would you like to teach if you had the chance?

Be prepared to ask questions of your own—about the department, its goals for the next couple of years, its typical majors, the university, the city or town in which it is located, etc. If you have no questions about the job, department, or institution you will seem uninterested in the job. No one will understand why you would spend substantial time and energy on an institution that doesn’t interest you. These questions can be used to get information on everything from teaching load to the types of students you will teach, but they can also show that you are interested in the job and are aware of what you will need to know about it.

Try to set up a mock interview with your own professors or with any available professionals in the appropriate fields. Usually you will be able to find people willing to do this either at your home institution or at an institution at which you have a temporary position. Take the advice you receive seriously; the people providing the mock interview are likely to have had more experience than you do with both hiring and being hired.

If you are scheduled to give a talk at the annual meeting or at a similar gathering, make sure to rehearse it before an audience. This will help you make sure of timing, pronunciation, and other matters which may, without practice, come back to haunt you.

If you have an interview at the annual meeting:

Remember that the interview starts the minute you leave your house. The person who is sitting next to you in the airport, while you are speaking derisively about a potential employer may turn out to represent that now unlikely employer.

Behave like the kind of professional, friendly colleague that you yourself would like to work with for the next couple of years.

Be punctual but understanding of delays and organizational mishaps.

Be yourself. If you lie about your plans or desires, you’ll hate the job even if you get it, and your colleagues will resent you.

Don’t get drunk.

Eat and sleep well and try to have fun at the interviews.

Think of the interview as a professional conversation with colleagues rather than as an oral exam.

When you are invited to an on-campus interview:

Typically, you will be one of only three finalists for the position.

Be prepared to give a job talk and/or a teaching demonstration. In case you aren’t given full information about what is required, ask.

Make sure you know how long a job talk is supposed to last and do not exceed it!

It is very important that you tailor your presentation for its intended audience. Will it consist of professional historians only? of members of various departments or fields? of graduate and/or undergraduate students?

If you are asked to teach a sample class, make sure you have fully prepared any assignment in advance. Speak to the students; do not act as though you are lecturing before an audience of historians, even though faculty will be observing you.

If possible, rehearse your job talk or sample class before an audience.

Do your homework again and refresh your memory about the department, its members, and its needs.

Once you have been invited to campus, make sure that all travel arrangements are clear. Some important questions at this stage:

Will the interviewing department make travel arrangements, or will you? If you do it, how will reimbursement work? How long will it take?

Once you arrive, where will you stay? Most departments try to put candidates up at a hotel but occasionally other arrangements are made (e.g., you are asked to stay at someone’s house). Make sure you know in advance, since you may pack differently for different accommodations.

On campus, make sure that you take care of yourself.

Make sure that you get adequate food and sleep. In such a situation, it is easy to talk through meals or spend too much time without sleeping or at least resting. If you are offered “downtime” to rest or to prepare to give a talk, take it. These interviews are taxing, and you may well show the strain before you think you do.

Avoid alcohol, or at least drink only a small amount.

Keep asking questions. One of the worst mistakes you can make during an on-campus interview is to seem uninterested. Theoretically, this is a place that you could spend a great deal of your life; it only makes sense that you will want to know as much as possible about the students, department, institution, and community.

Common courtesy counts for a great deal; be polite and respectful to everyone you meet on campus (faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, office staff, administrators).

After the interview, ask when a decision is likely to be made.

Inform your hosts immediately of any job offers or if you accept a job elsewhere.

Optional: you may want to write a thank-you letter, especially if your hosts went out of their way to make you feel welcome.

Don’t be crushed if you don’t get the job. There are many qualified candidates vying for the same jobs, and success ultimately depends to some degree on things you can hardly influence, such as departmental politics and, frankly, a great deal of just random luck. After many meager years, the market is improving for job candidates, but it still takes a lot of talented people more than one round in the job market to find a permanent position.

You may wonder how to react or respond if you hear nothing from a school that has brought you to campus or if one only communicates a rejection very late. The high road is always best. Rudeness, even if you feel it is born from justified indignation, will never be forgotten. Give institutions the benefit of the doubt. Focus on your career and career development and not on past mistreatment.

However, if institutions have violated any of the guidelines that have been carefully developed by the American Historical Society, do inform the current chair of that committee. Your name will be kept confidential, and the information you supply will help to make the placement and hiring process more equitable for future candidates.

When you receive an offer:

If negotiating needs to be done, this is the time. There are a few things to keep in mind. Search committee members, department chairs, et al., can generally only pass on requests about salary and benefits to a dean or other administrator. Do not expect an instant answer to requests for, e.g., a higher salary or a spousal/partner hire. Keep in mind that both hiring departments and institutions (even large or wealthy ones) often have limited flexibility. However willing they are to meet your needs, they may be unable to do so.

Be careful, and respectful, of deadlines. Just as you wish to find a job and secure a contract, so hiring departments are eager to conclude searches. The search process is time consuming and no department really prolongs the process for frivolous reasons, however it may seem to individual candidates. If you need more time than you are initially given, ask for more. Be prepared to make a decision quickly if that extension is not granted. Remember that any extra time you take may mean that a department loses good candidates. Searches are sometimes unsuccessful because one or more candidates take too long to respond to an offer. Just as you will want to find the job that best meets your needs, departments want, and have a responsibility, to find someone who will meet theirs.

This is the time to clarify anything that is still uncertain. Ask any final questions. If any piece of information is vital to your acceptance (i.e., if there is a potential “deal-breaker”), make sure that you nail this down now.

If all goes well, congratulations!