Preparing for the Academic Job Search

by Sophia Beal, Robert Newcomb, and Rex Nielson

The job cycle is fast approaching once again. With a desire to be helpful, we are posting here a series of thoughts to help graduate students (and perhaps others) prepare to apply to academic jobs for the first time.

  1. First, decide if you are ready to go on the market. Keep in mind that it is a time-consuming process and that it will eat into your dissertation-writing time. We recommend that you do as much preparation before going on the job market as you can before the jobs actually start to be posted in September and October. For instance, you can in advance ask for recommendation letters, and prepare your CV, teaching philosophy, and writing samples.
  2. Some people cast a wide net and apply to many jobs, while others only apply to jobs they feel they are fully qualified for. Keep in mind that each job application is time-consuming, so don’t waste time on an application for a job that isn’t in your specific field that you wouldn’t truly consider taking.
  3. Familiarize yourself with Interfolio, an online dossier service, and set up an account.
  4. Ask your professors for recommendation letters well in advance (at least a month). If you are applying to postdocs or any jobs other than standard tenure-track jobs in your specific field, let your professors know. Some postdocs will be advertised as early as August. Professors may frame their recommendation letter slightly differently if it will be used for more than just tenure-track job applications. It’s possible that you may want a professor to write you two recommendation letters geared to two different types of jobs (research universities/small colleges or postdocs/tenure-track) you are applying for. You can have more than one letter written by the same professor on Interfolio. It may make sense for you to have recommendation letters from four professors although you will probably never be asked to send more than three letters of recommendation for any one application.
  5. Courteously remind your recommenders to submit their letters as the application deadline approaches.
  6. Search for jobs on the MLA Job Information List. Tenure-track jobs are generally posted in September or October though possibly earlier, and some jobs will come up later. BRASA-net also posts jobs as does the APSA mailing list. You may be eligible for Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships in the Humanities or other more-specific postdocs. These may be listed on the MLA Job Information List or you can do an internet search to find them.
  7. Be sure to search under as many headings in the MLA Job list as you think might possibly be relevant. Many of the general humanities positions are not double-posted in individual language categories.
  8. You may at some point in the application process be asked to send a writing sample in Portuguese if you sent one in English or vice versa, so have writing samples in both languages prepared.
  9. Have an official transcript sent to your Interfolio account.
  10. It’s likely that you’ll be asked for sample syllabi at some point. You should prepare course syllabi not only for courses you have taught already (probably Portuguese language), but also for more advanced literature and culture-focused courses and possibly graduate seminars. Keep in mind that hiring departments are at least as interested in what you could teach their students assuming you are hired than what you have taught in the past, in a different university environment. You should tailor your sample syllabi to the specific job you’re applying for and to the department that’s doing the hiring. Applicants should study the courses currently on offer at hiring departments in order to get a sense for how their sample syllabi should be prepared.
  11. To help you prepare, look closely at the jobs that were advertised the previous year. This will give you a fairly good idea of what most schools will be looking and asking for.
  12. Finally, work with faculty mentors and trusted peers (especially recently finished Ph.D. students) to prepare your documents. Applying to faculty positions is in many ways like learning a new language, and mastering the rhetoric and format of the documents to be included in an application package will be significantly easier if you draw on the expertise of others.