Karen Kelsky

Founder and President at The Professor Is In

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The Professor Is In: Here’s My Application, Take Two

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I applied for a job last year, and they ended up not hiring anybody. The search is reopened this year. Should I apply again?

My advice is: Yes, you should apply, as long as a) your record is significantly better, and b) your materials are significantly better. These are two separate things.

If you had planned to submit just the same basic package of materials, then don’t bother. If those were going to work, they would have worked last year.

No, this year you need something different. I would hope that, in the space of one year on the job market, you’ve added at least six new things to your CV—one or two new peer-reviewed publications, one or two national conference presentations (or better yet, panels organized), one or two new grants, perhaps a new letter-writer from outside your dissertation committee, a new course or two, a book proposal in submission to presses (if you’re in a book field, of course).

Beyond that, I would hope that you’ve improved your application materials. All of you know that I run a business helping academic job seekers correct and refine those documents. In that capacity, I suppose I’ve seen about 2,500 sets of application materials, and I can tell you that they are, by and large, awful.

Really, stunningly awful: Cover letters that are vague, muddled, desperate, and caught in a painful dual vortex of grandiosity and hysterical humility. Disorganized, mystifying CVs that show not the foggiest familiarity with this most basic element of the academic record. Cringeworthy teaching statements filled with the same weepy, saccharine sentiments as hundreds of others.

Those of you who follow me on my blog know that I put the blame for this sad state of affairs mostly on faculty advisors. I consider it an abnegation of professional responsibility, not to mention ethics, to neglect the basic duty to help graduate students prepare for gainful employment.

However, advisors still get to eat even while their advisees starve. In other words, it’s job seekers who suffer when the application is bad. Of course, it goes without saying that in an era of 75 percent adjunctification, even sterling records and materials don’t guarantee anyone a job. But still: Do better.

Get all the help you can from your advisors, then move on, and get all the help you can from everyone and anyone else. Seek out other professors and contacts within your field. Look at books and websites. Individual disciplinary associations as well as various departments and career centers around the country maintain websites filled with information on effective job documents. The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as this site, is also a rich mine of information. I have loads of free advice available on my blog. I’ve had more readers than I can count write to tell me that they completely overhauled their job documents just by following the advice on my blog, and came out the other end with their first campus visits—and their first tenure-track offers—after years of trying. You don’t have to pay money for this help! (Although I’m available if you want to.)

But get help. If your job documents didn’t work for you last year, then improve them, and improve the record that they are meant to share.

Dear Readers: Have a question about the academic job market and/or professionalization? Send it to me! I welcome any and all questions related to the job market, preparing for the job market while in graduate school, coping with the adjunct struggle, and assistant professorhood. Send questions to me at gettenure@gmail.com.

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