Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Should you apply for that job?

YES!!! ZOMG! A JOB! GRAB IT! DON'T LET IT GET AWAY!!!

((pause))

Okay, deep breath.

((pause))

Now, really: Should you apply for that job? There are actually two schools of thought, each with its own subsets.

[**Disclaimer: This is a blog, run by one person, with her own experience and opinions. In this and all posts, your mileage may vary.** Okay, let's carry on.]

1. Apply for every job you're remotely qualified for. Be versatile. Be open to a part of the country you hadn't considered. Nothing says you have to take a job you're offered. But you can't be offered any job if you don't apply.

 This is actually not bad advice, though as I'll argue below, it's not for everyone. The more jobs you apply for, the more chances you have that one will turn up for you. People hesitate to apply for jobs for a few reasons:
  • You don't want to live in that part of the country, or in a town that small/that big/that far from a coast or major airport. Okay, fine. We all have preferences. But until you check a place out you won't know. For grad school I shipped off to a college town in a part of the country I'd never before considered living with fear and trepidation. I found that once I settled in and let go of my regional preconceptions  and appreciated the place for what it was rather than what it wasn't, I grew to love it. Don't rule out an entire region or state or city/town size sight unseen. If you're good+lucky enough to get a campus visit, you will want to look very closely at whether faculty there seem happy. Ask the happy ones what they like. Ask yourself if that appeals to you. Could you trade in world-class museums for a nationally famous farmers' market? Stunning views for great schools? You just. never. know.
  • You have family considerations that keep your search geographically restricted. That may not be negotiable. But see if those restrictions can't be made a little broader. If they can't, fine. Not much to do about that.
  • You're holding out for something that looks like your Dream Job: stop waiting. Keep those sights high, but don't hang your happiness on getting a job at your beloved alma mater or its near-twin. That's a recipe for bitterness, possibly unemployment, and eventually an inability to be happy in the job you do finally land. [1]
2: That said, if you think you'd be dreadfully unhappy in that job, don't apply. No need to waste your time and the time of the search committee and your letter-writers. I have a good friend from grad school who would not apply to high-powered research-intensive schools (though she more than has the intellectual chops and the qualifications) because she knew that such a job would not be a good fit for her. Everybody's decision looks a bit different.

2a: Also don't apply if you're not qualified. Seriously: If the job ad at Dream Uni says that they're looking for someone who works on the Early Modern Atlantic and you work on nineteenth-century Latin America or medieval Spain, this job is too much of a stretch. If they say they want a Ph.D. in hand by August and you've only finished one chapter of your dissertation by January, this is probably too much of a stretch. Not that you couldn't do this job. Not that they might not fall in love with you if they got to know you. But there are lots of people who are better qualified, so it's likely that the tangential candidates won't even make the first cut. Spend your time (and your letter writers' time) on places where you have a shot.

In general, I would recommend to err on the side of "apply for everything," but with a caveat: "Apply for everything where you can imagine being reasonably happy." Maybe it's the type of school you wanted, though not in a part of the country you thought you'd ever live. Maybe it's not the school type you were looking for, but it lets you do what you want to do without having to commute to see your spouse. Maybe the position is written in such a way that it would allow you to develop intellectually in a way that a more traditional position wouldn't. Maybe the campus is located near a beautiful beach, forest, mountains, or desert that you could imagine enriching your life.

Know what your real deal-breakers are versus simple preferences, then look at every ad looking for reasons to say yes. Realize that the broader net you cast, the more potential fish you bring in. Then get drafting those applications.

Thoughts?


[1] And anecdotally, I've heard plenty of stories from people interviewed by Dream Schools who have told me that a few of these places are acutely aware of the fact that they're the equivalent of the head cheerleader/football captain and treat their prospective suitors accordingly. Not all, of course, but some. So if one of these dream jobs does call you for a date, congratulate yourself on your noteworthiness... and then go in with your eyes wide open. It could be that the president of the A/V club or the quirky theater major with blue hair is going to be more conducive to your happiness.

8 comments:

Historiann said...

This is great advice, Notorious--thanks for starting the conversation. However, I would say apply for everything for which you're qualified, full stop. Don't make decisions about where you must or can't possibly ever live until you know what your options are.

Also, say yes to every interview request you get, even if some are in places where you don't think you could ever be happy. This is especially important if you have a two-body problem. You can't possibly expect anyone to get invested in your family's happiness or security if you're unwilling even to meet with them. So take the interview & see what you (and they) think.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Also apply in Africa.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Yes. "Everywhere" includes Africa. And everywhere else.

Janice said...

And tell people that you're on the market so if they get wind of a search firing up, even if it's a one-year VAP or what-have-you, you'll be more likely to hear.

While the online listings are more robust these days, some institutions won't shell out for disciplinary advertising, especially on limited term positions. By telling other people you know in your field that you're on the market, you increase the chances you'll hear about these positions as soon as your friends do.

Susan said...

I think it's a matter of what your priorities are. If the most important thing to you is getting an academic job, then apply everywhere -- as as J. Otto reminds us, everywhere is, well, everywhere. If in fact you are geographically limited, then you have to be much more open to the kinds of job you have. You may land on your feet with your dream academic job in the one place you can imagine living, but you may not.

Another way of putting it is that for most of us, we can choose between being flexible on location or being flexible on the type of job. Few will survive being rigid on both.

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

However, I would say apply for everything for which you're qualified, full stop. Don't make decisions about where you must or can't possibly ever live until you know what your options are.

Also, say yes to every interview request you get, even if some are in places where you don't think you could ever be happy.


This is exactly what my post-doc mentor told me to do when I did my entry-level faculty job search, and so I did it. And it's a good fucken thing I did!

thefrogprincess said...

I approached it in a similar way to what Notorious proposes: be open-minded but also don't waste time on places you know you can't live. I think it's more useful to think about types of places rather than specific places. As a black single woman, I can't live in the middle of nowhere if I want an even decent chance of ever having a family life. So those kinds of places were out, but most medium-sized cities were in. I've ended up in a place I never would have imagined, but so far it's exactly the kind of place where a personal life seems possible.

The other reason I would say be somewhat selective early on is so that you don't find yourself wondering whether to say yes to an interview request. It seems to me like saying no could be worse than not applying at all, in that you're now known as a person who said no and who wasted people's time. (Assuming of course that you aren't saying no because you've gotten another position.

tenthmedieval said...

"If the job ad at Dream Uni says that they're looking for someone who works on the Early Modern Atlantic and you work on nineteenth-century Latin America or medieval Spain, this job is too much of a stretch."

Two cases from the last two years in Britain: advertised, vacancy for a specialist in early medieval Europe, hired, someone who works on twelfth-century Afghanistan. Advertised, single vacancy in early medieval Europe, hired, three Anglo-Saxonists from the same shortlist. Many many cases where good publication record was required but the hire had nothing or only one thing out. Apply for anywhere you'd want to work, is my advice. They seem either to play very safe or completely wild and the worst thing to be is neither.