My name is Tara Fickle, and I’m an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Oregon; I recently completed my Ph.D. at UCLA, and entered the job market for the first (and hopefully last) time in Fall 2013. I work on Asian American literature, postwar American fiction, children’s literature, graphic fiction, and the digital humanities; you can learn more about my research and teaching interests at my academic website: http://www.ficklet.wordpress.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
- So what makes you qualified to dispense all this advice?
I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t procure a nice shiny diploma and job contract as proof of the efficacy of the guides I’ve written. Update: Yes I can! That said, I’ve been relatively successful so far as a first-year marketeer in a pretty crappy market; I got a total of 11 interviews and 8 invitations for flybacks at a mix of large research and smaller liberal arts schools, and ended up with 2 tenure-track job offers and one for a Mellon postdoc. I’ve also published four articles in well-known peer-reviewed journals and anthologies, and have received a couple of pretty prestigious graduate fellowships. So while I’m still very much learning the ins and outs of this process, I think that’s actually part of what makes me a reputable source: first-hand, up-to-date experience, and a keen awareness of all the things I wish I had known when I first entered the market last year!
- I’m a Computer Science/Psychology/non-humanities student. Are these guides still useful for me?
These guides were all written from my perspective as an English Ph.D., and I’m well aware that there are certain significant differences in the job search process of other fields; namely, the location and timeline of job advertisements, and the expectations for job talks. However, most of these guides are general enough to apply to all job marketeers; and if you would be interested in writing one from your unique perspective, I would be more than happy to include it with a citation: just contact me.
- I already have an awesome project, amazing rec letters, teaching experience up the wazoo, etc. Why should I bother reading through all your guides?
Well, there are three major advantages that I can think of:
- Knowledge: Having a comprehensive understanding of the exact timeline and expectations you’re working with means that you (and your advisor) won’t be blindsided with eleventh-hour requests for “Progress to degree” letters; it means being able to plan your next several months effectively to balance the job search with your other commitments; and it means not worrying, ever, about whether you’ve forgotten some crucial item that you should have included in your application.
- Time-saving: Organization is everything. Sure, you may have a stellar package, but if you forget to keep track of something tiny — like having the cell phone # of your interviewer in an easy-to-access place — all your qualifications will be for naught when you can’t locate one other and 10 minutes of a 30 minutes interview are wasted while the interviewer frantically tries to find you in the hotel lobby amidst a sea of other candidates (I watched this happen at the MLA convention this year…it was sad). The organizational system I outline may take a bit of extra time and effort to set up and maintain, but it’s well worth your time to keep precise and exhaustive records if (when) contingencies arise.
- Control: I’m not saying that if you don’t bring everything on my packing list, or you angle your computer screen way too low during a Skype interview, that you won’t get a job. But it all adds up: forgetting to bring Tums and going to an interview with a queasy stomach, or having to run out and find a drugstore in the freezing cold in an unfamiliar city, adds unnecessary stress. Having the search committee think you’re looking down during the whole Skype interview will leave them with a subtle but lasting impression that you were uninterested, or insecure, or afraid. It doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to read most of these guides: consider that time an investment that will help you be as close to your best as possible when it really matters.
I would love my site to be a resource for a larger audience, and to alleviate some of the drudgework that job placement coordinators have thrust on them. You are warmly invited to share any and all of the content of this site with your students and colleagues; however, I’m afraid I do not have one comprehensive document available, in part because I think the website format is easier to navigate, and also because I may produce a professional e/kindle book version of this site if there is sufficient interest. But please do contact me if there is anything that I can do to improve your students’ access and experience.
- What font and spacing to use in your CV…how to choose a URL for your academic website…isn’t this all a little OCD?
Many of the suggestions you’ll find in these guides may strike you as minor, even negligible: But that’s precisely the point: in an extremely competitive market, it is the little things that count. When you’re competing against 50-100 equally qualified, equally intelligent, equally promising candidates, each tiny advantage that you create — a more aesthetically pleasing CV, an easy-to-remember website address, a beautiful, tech-savvy slideshow — gets you closer to distinguishing yourself from the pack. And that’s what this process is really about, at heart: crafting a memorable, unique persona which the search committee wants to get to know further.
- So I follow your guides and then I get a job…that’s pretty much how this works, right?
Alas, if only it were that easy. In this market, even the most brilliant candidates don’t get interviews, or even requests for more materials. And while I hope that these guides can help give you that little competitive edge, let’s be honest: a mediocre project, half-baked recommendation letters, or a lack of publications are serious hurdles to overcome, hurdles which no academic website or well-formatted CV is going to get you past. Some of the best advice I can give you is this: if you or your advisors don’t think that you’re ready to go on the market, or you have no publications and your dissertation is less than half done, it’s well worth taking the extra year to make yourself more competitive. Being on the market is extremely time-consuming: don’t think that you’ll be able to find the time to write another dissertation chapter while you’re applying to jobs. In the long run, one more year isn’t going to make that big of a difference, so don’t beat yourself up if you need to take that time.
- I don’t agree with the advice you offer in guide AA or BB. Or, I liked guide CC but I think you should also consider such-and-such. Or, I wish you had a guide on DD!
Great! I’m always looking for feedback, and constantly updating these guides to make them as useful as possible. Please do contact me with any comments, questions, or (constructive) criticisms you have.