Archive for June 1st, 2009

As of today, there is one month remaining to preregister for the San Francisco ASA conference.  If you’re planning to go on the job market this year, you also have a month to register for the ASA’s employment service.  There is a perennial debate about whether the employment service is worthwhile, which has already started over at the new job market forum (I’ve shared some of my feelings on the job market blog/forum before), and there are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to participate.

First, high-ranking R1s almost never participate in the employment service.  If you want to meet with people from these schools it is probably best to have an advisor arrange an informal meeting for you (though I suppose you could also scrutinize everybody’s ASA nametag looking for big names and high-ranking institutions and then strike up an awkward conversation in the hallway of the Hilton).  Even if you have your sights set on this type of job, there are plenty of reasons to participate in the employment service.  One is the ability to get some practice answering questions and talking about your teaching and research in short, coherent statements.  Another is the fact that many people who want jobs at high-ranking R1s interview and accept jobs elsewhere, so this is an opportunity to find out more about the types of schools where you haven’t spent the past 5-10 years.

Second, some people argue that you cannot get a job at the employment service but you can lose one, so it isn’t worth the risk.  Their argument rests on the belief that the entire department is not represented by those interviewing at the employment service, so if somebody at the employment service doesn’t like your personality or your condescending attitude and you officially apply for this job later, the few people who met you at the employment service will speak up and prevent you from being invited for a campus interview.  If you hadn’t gone to the employment service, however, they argue that your impeccable record would have spoken for itself and the school would have interviewed you, giving the full department a chance to decide for themselves about your personality and attitude.

These people are overlooking two things: 1) No matter how many publications you have, you will not get invited to interviews by a vast majority of the schools to which you apply, so it is nearly impossible to isolate the effect of an employment service interview among the noise that is job market and 2) if your personality or condescending attitude is so abrasive that you cannot spend 20 minutes with people without effectively taking yourself out of the running for a position at their school, you have bigger job market problems than deciding whether or not to participate in the employment service.  For what it’s worth, there is at least a small possibility that a candidate can make a favorable impression on a school during the employment service meeting.  I was told at one of my interviews last fall that I had been called for a phone interview because I had seemed genuinely excited about their program at the employment service.

Another important thing to remember about the employment service is that it is bizarre.  Yes, there is a waiting area near the front where you will likely sit with other candidates.  Yes, there is a bell that rings to warn you when your time with a particular school is nearly up and again when it is up.  Yes, it takes place in a large room with numbered tables.  Yes, you will likely pass candidates interested in the same schools as you on your way to and from these tables.  The employment service is an experience unlike any you have likely had or will have again, assuming you get a job this year.  It isn’t going to do you any good to complain or fret about these things.  The employment service is the same for everybody and you are a sociologist, so sit back and enjoy the interesting social interactions that occur when nobody has a proper social script.

Next up is the employment service’s reputation as a “meat market.”  From my experience with the employment service last year, I think that others tend to project their own feelings onto the other employment service candidates.  You may hear others talk about how nervous the participants were, how they wouldn’t look each other in the eye or talk to each other because they were all competitors, and how socially awkward everybody appeared (see the first comment here).  Maybe I just didn’t spend enough time in the employment service area, but I didn’t see anybody who resembled these stereotypes.  Personally, I was slightly nervous about meeting strangers but I was also confident in my record and recognized that the likelihood of being invited for a campus interview at the same school as any of the other candidates I saw was extremely small.  If anything, the fact that we were all sharing the same bizarre experience gave us a sort of camaraderie.

This brings me to what is perhaps the most important aspect of the employment service: your approach.  I think that you will have a much better view of the experience overall if you treat it like a fact-finding mission.  This is also true for phone and campus interviews, but at the employment service you have more power than at any other stage in the process because you have the power to apply or not apply based on your impressions of the department and your potential colleagues.  This is your chance to ask about the teaching load, the publication expectations, and the local farmer’s markets.  Take detailed notes during your meetings and sprinkle details of your conversations into the cover letters of the schools to which you decide to apply.  Viewing the process as a fact-finding mission, the only way you can lose is if you refuse to participate.

Update: See the follow-up to this post here.

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