Market Madness


My unconventional journey along the tenure track has inevitably led me back to the arduous task of juggling a job search in addition to research and teaching. I admit, I have been an avid reader of advice columns and blogs about the academic market in recent years.  I have had my share of horror stories and interviews from hell as well as experiences with the increasingly popular Skype interview.  Needless to say, the job search has definitely changed since I first got my feet wet as a doctoral candidate with an “in-progress” dissertation.  I feel impelled to share some thoughts—not to be mistaken for advice—on my particular experiences.  Consider them things I’ve learned along the way.

My graduate mentoring about the job market focus solely on scoring the coveted Modern Language Association interview. Well, if you wanted a tenure-track job with benefits and your own office that is.  That certainly is not the case nowadays. There are actually more jobs being advertised post-MLA than ever before.  In fact, some of the jobs in American and African American literature at Research I institutes were advertised in late December and through January with little thought to adhering to the MLA job search schedule. That doesn’t include the number of tenure track jobs announced at smaller, 4-year institutions or liberal arts colleges.  Indeed, it can no longer be said that the job search has no life after MLA.

Apparently, the new hot thing is the academic job wikis.  For all the web heads, this is THE space for up to the minute news/gossip on any particular job search for the current academic year. I only pursued the searches in the Humanities disciplines, most of which have their own dedicated following. It was great to know what moves the search committee was making—interview requests, requests for additional information, when job talks were scheduled.  The wikis really helped to level the playing field and have a one-up on the elusive search committees. I did more information seeking on the wikis than information sharing, but it was still a great tool to have. It just seemed a bit much to register an account and participate when I needed any and all extra energy to be focused elsewhere.  Shame on me. Maybe.

“Fit” applies to both the hiring department and the job-seeking candidate.  With the “shortage” of jobs—or maybe the over abundance of PhDs in the Humanities, it would seem foolish for any candidate to turn down a job offer, right? I’m not so convinced about this one.  We job-seekers can probably fill a bathtub with emails and letters of kind rejection about how we were not the right “fit” or how some other candidate most closely “fit” the needs of the department.  I can dig it. But what I have discovered is that sometimes, the candidate may just need to return that sentiment to the hiring institution.  Depending on your career path, how desperately you need job placement, or how far along you are on the tenure track I would tell anyone to consider how great a fit any department is for their needs as much as the department is considering you. 

I mean, jobs are not a dime a dozen these days but I do think job seekers still have some room to be choosy. That is, weigh all your options and if, in fact, you have several options be sure to completely evaluate all of them.  And in the words of a good colleague of mine, while one offer might  not be the best fit for your long term goals it still may be a “great place to leave”—a stepping stone for achieving the career goals you have set out for yourself.  But if it is absolutely just not a place you can stomach…then, it maybe kinder to leave the job for someone who actually wants it and pursue those other options. Think of it as job search karma.

Lastly, I suppose I will direct my thoughts on another “new” turn in the job search for me.  In my early days (I have to chuckle at that), it was standard to receive a phone call requesting an interview with a particular department.  Out of about 8 interview requests, all but two of them arrived via email.  I actually prefer the email request for time management reasons and to have a written record of the language, but I did find the phone conversations welcoming and more personal.  As a self-declared introvert and shy-guy, I am likely more uncomfortable on the phone than others but I was still a bit surprised at how hands-off the whole process has become.

It is mid-March and I am still actively engaged in the job search with promising options to consider.  I am hopeful that the academic gods will have mercy on my time and teaching and bring this sucker to a swift close.  It has been an eye-opening experience just in the way that the process has changed in a few short years.  I’m actually glad that I decided to get my feet wet again as I feel I am in a much better position to mentor my students on the realities they will inevitably face.  Times, they are a-changing.

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