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Posts Tagged ‘Sociology Job Market’

One of the biggest questions that I had when deciding to go on the job market again as an advanced assistant professor is how my record would be perceived in comparison to other candidates. Although I was wary of of lowering my publication expectations to meet the requirements at my current institution, I also faced the reality of life as an assistant professor with a 3-3 teaching load and high advising and service expectations. As a result, I had several concerns:

My first concern was how my record compared with the records of candidates who were ABD. Although I taught a lot of courses as a graduate student, my teaching experience since that time coupled with strong course evaluations was likely hard for ABDs to match. On the other hand, I have only published a few peer-reviewed papers since graduate school, so it is likely that many ABD candidates had stronger publication records than me.

My second concern was how my record compared with the records that search committees imagined candidates who were ABD having by the start of their fifth years. Again, my teaching probably compared favorably (or at least was not a liability), but it would have been easy for search committees to imagine the publication possibilities that awaited a freshly-minted Ph.D. Comparing my “real” publication record to the “potential” of another candidate (whether or not the candidate would ever reach this potential) was probably not in my favor.

My final concern was how my record compared with the records of others who were going on the market again. Because the job market was bad for a number of years after I obtained my current job it is likely that there were a lot of people who were attempting to improve their situations. For example, of the 124 hires currently listed on the Sociology Job Market Forum, 46 are clearly identified as people who had been tenure-track faculty, post docs, or visiting assistant professors. Again, my teaching likely looked fine, but there was the familiar question about my publications.

In the end, the extent to which these comparisons mattered probably depended on what the department was looking for. There were a lot of schools that I did not receive interest from, but I have no way of knowing why they weren’t interested. In some cases, these sorts of comparisons may have come into play. In others, they may have disliked the font that I chose for my CV or had a grudge against one of my graduate school advisors. As I’ve argued in the past, there is nothing one can do about these sorts of mysteries of the job market, so it is best to focus on the things that can actually be affected.

As a point of comparison, the institution that I will be joining in the fall has a ranking that is very similar to an institution where I interviewed when on the market the first time. When I compared my record to the person who was hired by that institution instead of me, I found myself lacking. Comparing our records today reveals an even larger gap, suggesting that they may have made the right choice (or that the lower teaching load and higher levels of institutional support allowed that person to focus more on research…).

Interestingly, though, the institution has hired several other people since that time and none of them have a record that is comparable to the person who was hired instead of me back in 2008. At the time, I thought that I was not qualified for the position. In hindsight, it appears that it would have been hard for anybody to compete with the candidate who was hired and in another year I might have gotten the job. I also don’t know what stood out to the search committee that decided to hire me over other candidates this year.

Idiosyncrasies like these are of no comfort to those on the market who do not get jobs. Neither is the statement that “there were many qualified candidates” that I have seen in so many rejection e-mails. At the end of the day candidates are left to do the best they can and hope that one of these idiosyncrasies tilts the opinions of a search committee in their favor.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. Then wonder why I don’t use more pictures in my posts to fill up that space to the left of the links.

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While I don’t think that the job market experience will ever be considered “good,” after going on the market again as an assistant professor there is one thing that I think would improve the job market for both candidates and search committees: don’t request everything up front.

For me, a complete set of job market materials typically consisted of: cover letter, CV, teaching statement, research statement, evidence of teaching effectiveness, and letters of recommendation. Sometimes, schools added to this with requests for diversity statements, unofficial transcripts, or, worst of all, official transcripts. Even once I got rolling with the application process, it typically took me at least an hour to put all of these things together. This time included visiting the school’s website and tailoring my cover letter and evidence of teaching effectiveness for a particular job. The thing is, some of these schools probably didn’t look past my cover letter and CV before deciding that I wasn’t going to make the cut, so again I implore search committees: don’t request everything up front.

Submitting only a cover letter and CV would have reduced the amount of time I spent on each application dramatically, while still giving search committees the chance to see if I made the first cut. Not only would this have made my life easier, I suspect that it would make things easier for search committees, too. I found that for schools that requested everything up front, I tailored my evidence of teaching effectiveness to include only relevant courses, but left my teaching and research statements largely the same. For schools that requested cover letters and CVs first, followed by a request for more materials if I made the first cut, however, I tended to tailor my teaching and research statements as well. Knowing that the search committee had at least some interest in my application allowed me to put a bit more effort into it than I did otherwise, which likely gave them a better idea of how I would fit into their department and allowed them to make a more informed judgment about my application.

I’m sure that some candidates put this level of effort into all of their applications, but this probably isn’t feasible for those who cannot dedicate all of their time for a semester to applying for jobs. Since nearly everything is electronic now, giving candidates a week to submit additional materials would seem to be a worthwhile delay in the hiring process. The more schools that do this, the more time candidates can spend tailoring their materials for the schools that are actually interested in them and the less time will be wasted getting things “just right” for schools that will take one look at their CVs and place their application in the “not a chance in Hell” pile because they used Arial.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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Five years after going on the market as an ABD graduate student, I went on the job market again this year. Although I had applied for a different job before, this year I decided to conduct a full search (some of the reasons for this will be detailed in future posts). This included another stop at the ASA’s meet market, countless applications, phone interviews, Skype interviews, and campus visits. Here are some things I noticed this time around:

The market moves more slowly now. Although there are still schools that post positions over the summer, this is not as common as it was when I was on the market the first time. Going by my records of jobs I applied for, here are the numbers posted in each month for 2008 followed by 2013 in parentheses: May – 4 (0); June – 10 (2); July – 14 (10); August – 4 (5); September – 1 (4); October – 4 (12). My sense is that many schools, especially those with less money, are waiting for the final word from administrators before posting their jobs, which wasn’t the case in 2008. Of course, I don’t know how many of the jobs I applied for in 2008 went unfilled because of the economy.

Almost everything is electronic. Most of my job market materials in 2008 were sent by mail. This time, I sent four applications by mail. The rest were submitted either via e-mail or online application forms. Rejections (when sent) are also handled by e-mail. In 2008 it seemed that I was constantly receiving envelopes from various schools containing letters telling me that they had hired somebody else. This year I think I received one. In fact, I became so accustomed to receiving e-mail rejections that I was sometimes surprised to find that an e-mail from a school was actually requesting more materials or a phone/Skype interview.

The market is still a mystery. Once again, there were several ads that seemed to match my qualifications very well that I never heard from, while there were also some that seemed to barely match where I had phone interviews and even campus interviews. The school where I accepted a job is more highly ranked (for whatever that’s worth) than the school where I currently work and I applied to a large number of schools between these two positions, many of which had no interest in my application (though one school did tell me that I had made their long list in my rejection e-mail).

Going on the market while working at a full-time job is difficult. In 2008, I was on fellowship while I looked for a job. In 2013 I was teaching three courses in addition to writing, advising students, and fulfilling my service obligations. People often say that being on the market is like a full-time job, and stacking that on top of an actual full-time job is incredibly difficult. It seemed like I was constantly writing cover letters, compiling evidence of teaching effectiveness, and even just keeping track of the positions to which I needed to apply after my paid work had ended for the day. I still feel behind.

In the end, it was a grueling experience but I am hopeful that it will pay off. I am excited about my future students, colleagues, and institution. Now there’s just the small matter of surviving the rest of the semester.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. And let me know if this is as annoying as Fabio’s constant Grad Skool Rulz reminders!

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As we approach August and the unofficial beginning to the ’12-’13 job market at ASA, the pressure is already starting to show at the Sociology Job Market Forum, where those who are new to the market and those who have been through everything before combine to see who can worry the most. There is a lot of useful information on the forum, but it can also be a haven for showboating (“I have five single-authored papers in ASR and twenty other papers in lesser journals, do you think I will get a job?”), frustration (“I have five single-authored papers in ASR and twenty other papers in lesser journals and I didn’t get a job”), and things that make me wonder if some people slept through every sociology class they’ve ever taken (“I have five single-authored papers in ASR and twenty other papers in lesser journals but I didn’t get a job because I’m a white male.”). I think that the most dangerous aspect, though, is the potential for nitpicking every part of the process (“I prefer 12-point Times New Roman but my advisor said that he won’t even read applications that are in anything but 12.75-point Helvetica.” “What color should I wear to an interview to maximize the potential that it is similar to the favorite colors of my interviewers?”).

Beyond what I’ve written on the subject in the past (and ignoring the fact that since my department can’t even get approved to hire somebody, I really have no idea what I’m talking about), there are two major pieces of advice that I gave to a friend who is new to the job market this year: 1) try not to worry about things that you can’t control, and 2) once you apply for a job, try to forget that you sent the application! The worst part of the job market seems to be the uncertainty, so the less you can dwell on it (and the tiny details that are outside of your control), the better!

Good luck to all of you!

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I’ve talked about my own phone interview experiences in the past.  I preferred one-on-one interviews to group interviews in general and preferred group interviews where interviewers were in their own offices (so that they couldn’t share nonverbal cues with each other).  While this article at Inside Higher Ed argues that Skype interviews are preferable to conference interviews in some cases, and despite the admitted problems with phone interviews, I am fairly certain that I would prefer them to Skype interviews, which seem to be increasingly common.

While I should probably admit that I’ve never participated in a Skype interview, it seems that they promise all of the awkwardness of a phone interview with a visual aid and the potential for technical difficulties.  Does being able to see somebody’s head and shoulders give you a better idea of that person’s ability as a teacher or researcher?  I would be interested in hearing about actual (as opposed to speculative) experiences with Skype interviews.

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Reading job market forums it is clear that one of the most frustrating aspects of the job market is the waiting.  Even successful candidates must submit applications and then wait, receive requests for more materials and then wait, participate in telephone interviews and then wait, participate in campus interviews and then wait.  In the early stages of the job market I found that being a forgetful applicant worked for me, by which I mean that I paid no attention to the status of a school on the Wiki after I had applied.  In the later stages, after phone interviews and especially after campus interviews, this approach is much more difficult.  The waiting, and the reasons for the waiting, are part of the mystery of the job market.  A recent article at The Chronicle gives some insight into the other side of the waiting game and indicates that candidates often are not the only ones who feel like they are blowing in the wind waiting for answers.

As the author states:

It is difficult for folks who are external to the inner workings of searches to understand just how complicated things are in the final stages of a search. Let’s say a committee has decided to invite two candidates to campus and the position is greenlighted for both interviews. The calendaring person must then poll to see when everyone in the department will be in town and match those dates with the dates when the candidates are also available.

Throw out days that just don’t work for anyone (large events or even local festivals that make logistics more difficult), and everyone is essentially fighting over the 24 to 28 days that are reasonably available. Now, heaven forbid that the latest Snowzilla storm or wave of the Porcupine Flu strikes and forces rearrangements of dates. Or that Candidate 1 for the position receives an offer elsewhere and pulls out of the search, requiring the committee to drop to Candidate 3, who must now visit campus two or three weeks after the other candidate, whose visit was already scheduled and who must then wait for the conclusion of the department’s deliberations.

A commenter shares the frustration from the department’s standpoint:

More maddening for me, as one who has chaired several searches, is the “after the interview” wait. We on the committee have done the hard work above of finding the times, making travel arrangements, booking the times with the dean’s and provost’s office, sending out announcements, on and on. . .only to find the paperwork stuck on someone’s office, most frequently the office of Social Equity, who needs to approve the search was compliant with appropriate rules. Once it clears, then the offer can be made (which can only come from the provost, who is not in the same hurry that you are on the committee). Then a negotiation begins with the candidate, which can take weeks (as ours just did the last month or so). All this goes on without the search committee in the loop, so we are also twisting in the wind. (We know that the other candidates out there are frustrated but we cannot communicate with them, since the search is not officially closed.)

I think that all of these factors lead to the sorts of fuzzy dates that frustrate candidates.  When a committee says they will be deciding which candidates to invite to campus “soon,” that could be a day or it could be a week (or more).  The challenges that departments and administrators face also lead to false hope or dejection via wiki updates.  I wrote off a school that I had been particularly interested in after seeing that they had scheduled phone interviews on the wiki.  A few weeks later I received a call for a phone interview at the same school and was invited for a campus visit within hours of the phone interview.

Although I haven’t yet been on the other side of the hiring process, I suspect that another factor in these vague dates is that departments want candidates to think that they are the first choice even if they are not.  When I interviewed for my current job I was told that bureaucratic holdups may delay the job offer such that it could take place in a few days or a few weeks.  After being hired I learned that this statement was made so that if the job was offered to somebody else and that person declined, it could be offered to me and I would be none the wiser about the previous offer.  Thankfully, I received the job offer within a few days.  While I negotiated my contract, however, the other finalists (and even the department, since I negotiated with the provost) were likely left blowing in the wind.

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While I typically follow the job market vicariously through friends who are experiencing it, once in a while I get pulled back into the Rumor Mill again.  One person posted a link to a recent Chronicle article about “Why your last hire was a freakin’ disaster” that looks at the job market from the perspective of outcomes.  Berlinerblau (is that a real name?) even indulges in my recent pastime of making up numbers to state that: “For every 10 hires, I would estimate, 2.2 are ultimately “keepers”; three are “indiscretions”; as regards the other 4.5, well, the less said the better. (As for the remaining three-tenths, they failed to apprise you of their actual visa status and never made it back to the States).”

I’m not sure if those on the job market will, as the original poster states, find it comforting that the practices of search committees are so random or if they will simply use this as another data point to conclude that they were, in fact, better than the candidate who eventually got the job (though in some cases, they were clearly not).

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Even though I have been off the job market for quite a while, I still visit the US News rankings from time to time to look up information about various schools, such as enrollment or location.  During a recent visit I put in the name of my own school and was surprised to find that it now has an actual numeric ranking rather than being placed in the alphabetical “Tier 3” category.  The reason for the change was not, it turns out, that my school has gotten remarkably better since my arrival.  Instead, US News has decided that they have enough information about liberal arts schools to rank those that are in the top 75% instead of the top 50% as they have done in the past.

In the past, the top 50% made up Tier 1, the next 25% made up Tier 3, and the final 25% made up Tier 4.  In addition to numbering more schools, the bottom 25% is now designated with the more respectable “Tier 2″ moniker.  For schools like mine, the symbolic meaning of this change seems quite large.  Students and job applicants who check these rankings when considering schools may be more likely apply to a school that is ranked between 100 and 200 than they would have been to apply to one in Tier 3, even though nothing about the school has changed.  Additionally, this revised ranking may be more impressive to those who have never heard of my school.

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For a number (how large a number I can’t say, but I am positive that this is true for some number) of job market candidates, writing a statement of teaching philosophy is a daunting task.  First of all, candidates have to decide whether or not they have any teaching philosophy at all.  Then they need to either explain that philosophy or make one up.  Unfortunately, search committees these days are unlikely to accept a candidate who says, “I’m a good teacher.  Trust me on this.”

Personally, I didn’t realize that I had a teaching philosophy until I actually sat down to think about the classes I had taught.  While I had the benefit of having taught a lot of different classes, anybody who has taught should be able to think about why they arranged their class(es) the way they did and anybody who has not taught should be able to think about the qualities of their best classes as students and how they can replicate those qualities in their own courses.  This is only the beginning of the actual writing process, but it obviously helps if you know where you’re headed before you leave the station.

A recent post by James Lang over at Inside Higher Ed details four steps to creating a memorable teaching philosophy.  Some of his advice echoes my own experiences, but while my focus was largely on writing something about my teaching, Lang places his emphasis on writing a statement that will not bore search (or tenure) committees to tears.  He concludes:

If you follow my advice, you’re probably still going to end up with a teaching statement that looks pretty similar to the rest of them in some ways. Every fingerprint has swirly lines, and every teaching philosophy will very likely include whatever buzzwords and catchphrases are making the rounds in academe.

The best you can hope for is that, if you take the time to craft a good one, the same principle that applies to fingerprints will apply to teaching philosophies: They may all look the same to the untrained eye, but the experts can tell them apart.

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When I was on the job market, I had an interview at a school that was ranked much higher than the school at which I accepted a position.  Because the school was also in a less-desirable location I thought at the time that if I had received an offer I would have had a difficult choice between that school and my current employer.  Of course, I didn’t have to make that decision but I did wonder about the candidate who was offered the job.  In the fall I checked the websites of a few schools that had interviewed me in an effort to see who had eventually been hired but none of them had been updated.

I had forgotten about this curiosity until a few days ago when something reminded me of a faculty member at one of those schools and I returned to the websites to look again.  Regarding the position at the highly-ranked school all I can say is that I apparently never needed to worry about making a choice because the person that was hired has qualifications that far exceed my own, to the point that I am not sure why I was interviewed at all.  Of course, even at a highly-ranked SLAC there is the potential worry on the part of hiring committees that a promising candidate will accept the job only to leave after a few years and continued success, but the gulf between my modest C.V. and that of this other person causes me to question whether they would have offered me the job even in the event that all other candidates declined.

In the end, I suppose that there are two ways to look at this situation.  The first is that I never had a chance (all the more reason not to spend time worrying about things that you cannot control while on the job market).  The second is that my meeting with this department at the ASA Employment Service and my relatively interesting dissertation topic carried me much farther than I expected them to.  Of course, the most charismatic person in the world is no match for a killer C.V.

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