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A Guide to the Academic Job Search

Including a job search checklist and a short annotated bibliography

The academic job search is a daunting process, especially the first time through. The material below is the result of my own experience on the job market, as a candidate and a search committee member. Please feel free to copy it, distribute it, or otherwise use them as you see fit. (I'd appreciate getting credit!) These notes were originally written while I was a graduate student at the U. of Chicago; I have recently revised them to add some more information and remove specific references to Chicago's quirky institutions.

Confused by job search terminology? What exactly is "evidence of excellence in teaching"? See "Learning the Lingo" from theChronicle of Higher Education.

Applying for a lot of jobs? Afraid that your recommenders aren't as reliable as you would like? Consider opening a file with a credential service. The UMass Campus Career Network provides this service. You can open a file online with If you're applying for a lot of jobs, having a credentials file will save your recommenders time, and it will allow you to send your recommendations quickly if a position opens up on short notice.

A job search checklist

Deciding whether to go on the market

  • Will I be able to finish my dissertation by next June?
  • Does my advisor think I am ready?

Even if you don't go on the market, keep in mind preparation for the subsequent year. The job search is one of the final stages in a process of professionalization.

Deciding where to apply

  • Am I going to apply to a broad range of positions, or only to those which match my interests closely?
  • What kind of school would I like to work at?
  • Where is my spouse/partner willing or unwilling to relocate?

You can save a lot of time in the application process by deciding in advance what kind of job you want and the geographical areas in which you want to search. Better to find out now that your spouse refuses to move to Florida!

Bear in mind, though, that the academic job market is a national market. If you exclude many regions of the US, you will dramatically narrow your chances of finding a job.

Preparation for the market

  • Prepare polished writing sample.
  • Open credentials file.
  • Get letters of recommendation.
  • Discuss with advisors whether they are willing to write tailored letters for some positions.
  • Prepare curriculum vitae (possibly different versions).
  • Think about job talk.
  • Assemble teaching portfolio.
  • Join professional organizations.
  • Draft a sample cover letter.
  • Review literature in your field in preparation for interviews.
  • Think about your next research project.

Much preparation for the job search is best done in the spring and summer before going on the market. That will prevent the job search from consuming all your time in the fall and allow you to continue writing your dissertation during the search. But keep in mind that letters of recommendation may need to be updated in the fall to reflect your progress.

Give some thought to your future research plans. For tenure-track positions, search committees want to know that you have thought about what to do after your dissertation. You don't need a proposal, just a sense of direction.

Finding out about positions

  • Check H-Net and Chronicle of Higher Education job listings weekly.
  • Check Perspectives job listings monthly.
  • Check other resources as needed.
  • Create files for each position to apply for.
  • Create a master list of positions with deadlines, addresses, material requested.

It's most efficient to pick one day a week to do job-hunting tasks--Monday morning, for example, if you can face it then.

It's also helpful to make several copies of material you know you will need--CV, writing sample, and teaching portfolio--so you aren't always running to the photocopier.

Preparing the application

  • Reread the advertisement.
  • Research the school online.
  • Write/revise cover letter.
  • Choose which CV to use (if applicable).
  • Ask recommenders for tailored letters (if applicable).
  • Have recommenders update letters in your credential file, if appropriate.
  • Request that credentials be sent by your credential service (if applicable), OR have you recommenders send their recommendations.
  • Order transcripts (if requested).
  • Gather supporting material to be sent with the application.
  • Assemble complete application
  • Proofread all materials.
  • Reread advertisement and make sure that everything in your application is appropriate.
  • Wait overnight, then review your application to make sure there are no egregious blunders.
  • Mail the application.
  • Mark off in your master list and your file that you have sent the application.
  • Cross your fingers! (but don't hold your breath)

If your recommenders are writing tailored letters, lie to them and tell them that the deadline is earlier than it actually is! Faculty are busy and can get distracted.

Make sure to send your application well in advance of the deadline. This allows the search committee to inform you if any part of the application is missing. It also expresses interest in the position on your part.

After applying

  • Create a file for all job-related correspondence (one paper file will do if you use computer files for other material).
  • Check with recommenders who are sending tailored letters (if applicable).
  • Check with your credential service to make sure your credentials were mailed (if applicable).
  • Think about "Plan B" if you don't get a job this year.

Waiting can be stressful. The best way to avoid brooding about the job market is to work on something else (your dissertation, for example); don't let it consume you.

If a committee calls you...

  • Don't be flustered (take a deep breath if you're nervous).
  • Express interest in the position.
  • Have your interview schedule at hand (if you already have other convention interviews).
  • Don't schedule interviews too closely (at least an hour and a half apart; preferably two).
  • Ask about length, format, and topics of interview.

Preparing for interviews

  • Review your cover letter and supporting material.
  • Prepare to say more about everything in your application (teaching, future research, etc.).
  • Research school thoroughly (request a catalogue or other material if necessary).
  • Learn the names and research interests of everyone on the faculty.
  • Prepare a summary of important information to review before the interview.
  • Go over lists of possible interview questions (see the bibliography for some lists) and come up with answers to them.

For a convention interview at a hotel suite, make sure to find out the name under which the suite will be booked. It won't be listed under the school's name.

Have a few main points to discuss on each topic (research, teaching, etc.), but don't be too prolix at first. Follow the conversation as it develops, and don't think you have to say everything. You want a conversation, not a monologue.

Remember, they're interviewing you, but you're also interviewing them. Have some questions to ask, preferably ones which are suggested but not answered by your research on the department and school.

Handling rejection

  • Remember, you are not alone.

Annotated bibliography

[General Resources] [Some Statistics] [Teaching Issues] [Online Resources] [Job Listings]

General resources

  • Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick. The Academic Job Search Handbook. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
    The best overall guide to the academic job search. Covers everything from preparation for the market to negotiating your contract. Many sample CV's and cover letters. Highly recommended: buy it, if nothing else.

  • Melanie Gustafson. Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual for Women and Men. 1991 edition. Washington, D.C.: The Committee on Women Historians and the American Historical Association, 1991.
    This short book covers historians' careers from starting grad school to getting tenure. Chapters 6-8 cover the job search, interviewing, and considering offers. It also contains a brief chapter on "The Professional Couple" (not very encouraging) and a list of questions to ask during on-campus interviews.

  • Christina Boufis and Victoria C. Olson, eds. On the Market: Surviving the Academic Job Search. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.
    An honest (and therefore rather depressing) look at candidates' experiences in the current job market, tips for the job search, advice on alternate careers, and reflections on identity politics and the state of the academy.

  • English Showalter, Howard Figler, Lori G. Kletzer, Jack H. Schuster, and Seth R. Katz. The MLA Guide to the Job Search: A Handbook for Departments and for Ph.D.s and Ph.D. Candidates in English and Foreign Languages. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1996.
    Though not written for historians, this is a useful book. It is not as "hands-on" as Heiberger and Vick, but chapter 2 contains a number of useful tips for the job hunter, and chapter 3 gives a good overview of how the hiring department should treat the search. The last chapter, by Seth R. Katz, is an interesting overview of what Katz, who at the writing was in his third year as an assistant professor, wished he had known when he was a graduate student and job candidate.

  • A. Leigh DeNeef and Craufurd D. Goodwin, eds. The Academic's Handbook. 2nd ed. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1995.
    This compilation includes sections on the state of academe today, teaching and advising, and research and publication, in addition to academic employment. The chapters "On Getting a Job" and "The Job Market: An Overview" are probably worth reading, although they are not quite in tune with the current pessimistic state of the market (the latter chapter is written by an economist).

  • Paula J. Caplan. Lifting a Ton of Feathers: A Woman's Guide for Surviving in the Academic World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.
    Aimed at advanced graduate students and beginning professors, this book addresses gender bias in the academy and provides specific advice for dealing with it. Many of Caplan's specific suggestions on how to succeed in academia are useful for men as well as women.

Some Statistics

  • Robert B. Townsend. "Studies Report Mixed News for History Job Seekers." Perspectives (American Historical Association), 35 (no. 3, March 1997): 7-10.
    An overview of recent studies on the job markets in history and other humanities fields. Though history is the only one of six fields surveyed to have consistent growth in the number of advertised tenure-track positions for the past three years, the number of new Ph.D.'s in the discipline is increasing faster than the number of advertised jobs.

  • Robert B. Townsend. "AHA Surveys Indicate Bleak Outlook in History Job Market." Perspectives (American Historical Association), 35 (no. 4, April 1997): 7-13.
    Summary of results of an AHA survey of history department chairs last fall. While department chairs are pessimistic about growth in their departments, the current overproduction of Ph.D.'s is likely to continue for another five to seven years.

  • Robert B. Townsend. "The Job Crisis of the 1970s." Perspectives (American Historical Association), 35 (no. 4, April 1997): 9-10.
    A sidebar to the preceding article. And you think we have it bad....

Teaching issues

  • The History Teacher. Published quarterly by the Society for History Education.
    Articles and reviews for secondary and post-secondary history teachers. Divided into rubrics: General, The Craft of Teaching, The State of the Profession; Notes & Comments; reviews cover media, textbooks and readers, and books. Unbound issues are in the Regenstein 4th floor reading room.

  • History Syllabi Series. New York: Markus Wiener Publishing.
    There are at least twenty volumes in this series, which as the name implies consists of collections of syllabi for undergraduate and graduate courses. In addition to chronological and geographical divisions, e.g. ancient, modern European, and American history, there are thematic volumes on subjects such as women's history and film history. A great way to get an idea of how to structure courses and find out what goes into "bread and butter" courses.

Online Resources

  • H-Grad Links Page
    This World Wide Web page contains many links of interest to history grad students, including a section on employment. The H-Grad home page is also a helpful resource.

  • University and College World Wide Web Pages, via Yahoo!
    Most four-year colleges and universities now have World Wide Web pages with information about schools, departments, and programs, along with course catalogues and lists of faculty. Some have only minimal information, while others are quite comprehensive. Most are indexed by Yahoo! and can be retrieved with an easy search.

  • Alex Soojung-Kim Pang on careers outside academe
    An engaging essay by someone who got a Ph.D., struggled to find a permanent academic job, and then found personal and intellectual satisfaction working outside academe.

Job listings

  • American Historical Association Perspectives.
    The AHA's newsletter (monthly during the academic year) is a prime source for job listings in the field. Advertisements are categorized by region.

  • H-Net Job Guide
    The most comprehensive set of job listings available online. Organized by category; includes fellowships and grants.

  • Chronicle of Higher Education History job listings
    Another important source of job advertisements. The online listings are easier to use than the print edition.

  • History of Science Society employment listings
    Includes job and fellowship listings in history of science, environmental history, history of technology, and related fields.