Lessons from the Job Hunt

ouws_front_0309_ohiogrI recently finished my PhD in Classics from the University of Cincinnati, so I have been on the job market all year.  I am happy to say that I will be teaching as an adjunct professor for the Department of Classics and World Religions at Ohio University in the Fall.  I’m not so sure about the Spring yet but I’m looking forward to the Fall because OU looks like a great place and a great community within which to start my post-graduate school career.

Since I’ve spent so much time this year working on job applications, I thought I would share some of the lessons that I’ve learned from the process (even if they are not very profound lessons):

  • Ask for advice. I had no experience writing or reading these materials, so I asked professors in my department, looked at the advice on The Professor is In or on The Chronicle‘s Vitae blog, or googled for advice on how to write certain documents. Finding examples of other people’s documents can help guide your style, format, and ideas.
  • Know the source of your advice. Some of the websites I found were not geared towards Classics, and each field has its own idiosyncratic practices, so some of the advice needed to be adjusted.  This is true for people too–they may have an idiosyncratic personality or they may offer advice for a research-focused school and not a teaching-focused school.
  • Revise and revise and revise.  These documents will need to be updated throughout the year as your work and interests might evolve, or as the schools and jobs you’re applying to change.
  • Ask people to read over your materials. Whether it is just for clarity or not, it is very helpful if someone reads over your materials. They can also suggest ways to make your documents more appealing.
  • Talk with someone about how to market yourself. You are essentially marketing yourself to schools and employers. So talk about what your strengths and weaknesses are: what you need to downplay or spin and what you need to emphasize–sometimes you may not recognize these things or what employers are looking for. Sometimes it also helps to talk about your dissertation and get experience explaining it.  One afternoon, I met with my friend to talk about my dissertation and figure out how to market it. It was a very helpful experience in understanding the project as well as how to market it.
  • Look for “the right fit.” Schools are looking for someone who will fit into their department’s culture and meet their job expectations–so often a rejection is not about qualifications but more about whether you seem to meet their needs and desires.  You should look for jobs (and towns, if you’re lucky) where you think you would be happy and comfortable (or at the very least, not utterly miserable). I know that I applied to many high schools as back-up options even though I knew I wouldn’t be happy teaching at that particular school–teaching at a high school could be great, but I would not be a good fit for some schools.
  • Tailor your materials to the job you’re applying for. Show them you want that job, and that you know what that job is.
  • Practice makes perfect. Keep revising, have mock interviews, talk with people about how to improve it. As you continue thinking about it, you find ways to improve everything or devise new tricks to make everything sound better. I know that my practice this year will make me a better applicant and a better interviewer for next time–and my job at OU will make me a better person to hire.
  • It is stressful. Applying for jobs is an incredibly stressful, draining, anxiety-inducing process.  It is good to have a support network as you apply for jobs–and I had some great friends and family that were good to talk to and share the experience with–but you should not talk to everyone about everything. You could even clarify this for your friends and family about why you don’t want to talk about things. But, it is also good to hear from people who have looked at your application from the other side.  Sometimes you hear very positive things from them–do not shrug them off.
  • Remember the job market can be rough. Depending on the job you are applying for and its location, you may not be considered simply because of where you live or how far you are with your degree or some other factor that helps hiring committees easily narrow down the number of candidates. These are not necessarily judgments against you.
  • Don’t expect your dream job right away. We have to climb the rungs in any career. Just as most people don’t start as CEO, you may not start in a tenure-track job, but in an adjunct/temporary position then a visiting/one-year position, then a tenure-track position. Even though I knew this intellectually, emotionally it took a little getting used to.  But, now that I am used to the idea, I am very happy to be starting in an adjunct position where I will gain great experience teaching, where I have heard the faculty discuss their teaching practices, where I can research and discuss ideas, and where I will be around friendly people.
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