AcJoSer 2: Buy Post-Its

Yesterday, I listed some strategies for dealing with the emotional and psychological toll of the academic job search. (In my head, I've started to refer to it as the AcJoSer, like AcBoWriMo. I think they both sound like rare tropical diseases.)

A week into my job search, I had my first I-want-out-of-this-right-now moment. I read through call after call, but I couldn't seem to make sense of any of it. I had, only a few hours earlier, felt ahead of the game because I had written my application letter template and reworked my CV. My letters of recommendation were requested (via Interfolio) months before. I scheduled my diss writing so I was handing a copy of the complete draft to my committee the day before the list became available. I am powerful, I thought. Job market, I own you! 

Oh folly. Oh pride.

This school wants letters of recommendation, but that one needs an official transcript. Schools Three and Four want student evaluations, but one of them needs a teaching philosophy and the other wants a research agenda. Some school needs a writing sample that isn't my dissertation, but which school? And who else needs a sample? And who the hell needs nine individual documents for the first round?

Clearly, I needed a system.

In this post, I want to offer some points of practicality, drawing from my own struggles. The material demands of the job search are directly relational to the emotional and psychological drains. I found that a few simple maneuvers helped me control the out-of-control clutter and, in turn, kept me sane(r).

In this post, I'll detail the search itself, because it is a search. It's a search in the way that some very painful life experiences can lead us deeper into ourselves, to self-revelation.

It's the end of the semester, so my mind goes here:

The Academic Job Search : You :: Samwise and Frodo : the journey to Mordor.

Both journeys take far too long to complete, there may or may not be orcs, and, when you find that you can't take one.more.step, you can count on your Sam to get you there. (In this analogy, a system for organizing your search is Sam, as in, "I can't carry the ring for you, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you!" May your system carry you when you can't carry yourself.)

End Geek Rant. Onward.

1. First things first: The Job List. When the list drops in September, the servers overload, your mind short circuits, and you become thoroughly convinced that the slow webpage load time will cost you a career. Step 1: Breathe. Step 2: Stop hitting refresh. Step 3: Go to bed. Those jobs will be there tomorrow, and none of them (should) have deadlines in the next week. In the meantime, check the Chronicle, the WPA job board, and (if you're thus inclined) the Academic Job Wiki. Finding job calls is the first step. Most departments maintain a subscription to the MLA in order to give job seekers direct access. I decided to join the MLA so I could get job list access and also receive the publications.

2. The job search is, at its black heart, a game of paperwork wrangling. I'm visually oriented, and so I wanted obvious reminders of the jobs I had applied for, what they required, what I had sent, and if they had requested additional materials. I maintained hard copy file folders (organized by application due date) containing copies of the job ad, my letter, and a list of the materials they had requested. If they wanted letters of recommendation, I printed my Interfolio confirmation and included that too. A handful of schools had claimed that they never received my letters, but I could quickly confirm the date and time without sorting through my email.

3. I also taped four differently colored post-its to the front of each folder, one each for due date, a summary of the job, requested materials (and the dates they were sent), and "notes," which were idiosyncrasies about the job or the file. Since I was applying for multiple jobs simultaneously, I found it helpful to be able to pull a file and glance at the front to make sure I wasn't pushing a deadline or to confirm that I had sent all required materials. Once a job application was completed, I cycled the folder to the back of the stack. Sounds tedious (and it was) but I'm certain that hard copy filing saved me time and stress. Diss Buddy maintained digital files, which were probably far more streamlined than my stack of dead trees. Work whatever system works for you. Incomplete applications are almost never considered for the next round, so it pays to stay on top of the paperwork.

4. Think the neurotics end there? I'll see the file folders and raise you a chart. I used the backs of blotters to make charts which listed each school, the due date, the date I applied, and a summary of the job. In this way, I kept the jobs straight in my mind. This strategy paid off when a school called my cell phone one afternoon for a pre-phone-interview phone interview. (I know, I know.) I was in the office and could glance at my chart for a quick breakdown of the job, the materials, and the timeline. (Beware, though: People may be frightened by your chart.)

5. I'll recap: We have file folders, and we have a chart. I also maintained digital files of every application I sent. I can't emphasize this point enough: Keep a copy--digital or paper--of every single letter you send. Your legacy with each school begins and ends with your dossier. You'll want to review these materials before you interview. Each job letter is an opportunity to foreground some skills and background others, depending on the demands of the job. You'll want to remember what you've highlighted for each school. Most candidates, in addition to maintaining a search, are teaching multiple sections and working on their own scholarship (a dissertation, a book, or articles). I'll pause to note that these three levels of organization--files, the chart, and digital copies of every application--were put in place because I knew I would be exhausted and probably forgetful.

Managing the "search" part of the job search involves much planning and tending to the files (again, either hard copy or digital). But the payoff for this management is control. So much of the process is beyond an individual candidate's influence: flight costs, committee squabbles, unspoken job expectations, the insistence on a prohibitively expensive interview process. What we can control is how we approach the time suck of applications. Though I'll be the first to admit that my three-step process may be a little neurotic, I also took comfort in the fact that I had a system that I could enact every time I came across a relevant job ad. Instead of feeling buried by the market, I organized it, sorted through the opportunities, developed a protocol, and followed that protocol to promote consistency and attention to detail.

Next, interviews!


Laura said...

Not only do I find your system awesome, but I think it's brilliant that you are blogging about it.

And this: The Academic Job Search : You :: Samwise and Frodo : the journey to Mordor.? <3

Casie Fedukovich said...

Thanks, Laura! I fretted all weekend because I think my analogy elements are off. Then I remembered that it doesn't matter that much. ;)