[AACK! Real edit! Ellen just mentioned Interfolio, which I had totally forgotten about, since it didn't even exist when I was applying. If anyone wants to chat about that in the comments, I'll just sit back and listen.]
Back when Mama Notorious was on the job market… Well, actually, it wasn’t all that long ago. Maybe a decade or so ago. And yet look at the difference a decade can make.
As I was saying: Back just past the turn of the millennium, the role of technology in the job search was generally limited to finding the job ads: disciplinary website (AHA, MLA, etc.), H-Net, and the Chronicle. But other than that, the search was almost entirely analog. I can recall having my home table covered with stacks of application packets: Cover letters and CVs went to everyone; in some cases the little stack would have a writing sample, a teaching portfolio, or some other supplementary material. And there was the stack of FedEx envelopes. A wing and a prayer: most schools did not acknowledge receipt of your application packet (though one or two did say you could enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope, and they'd mail you your acknowledgement). After that, it was on to the AHA, then waiting at home for the phone to ring or the e-mail to chime for that elusive campus visit, then more waiting.
That, in short, is the job search that I know.
Now, let us count the changes, from start to finish:
- Job ads: Still online. No real change there. In fact, most of the job sites look exactly like they did back in my day -- which, when you think of it, is kind of weird.
- Submitting the application: A pretty substantial set of changes here. I’m not sure if anybody asks for paper applications anymore. PDF/e-mail submissions are the most common, followed by schools where you upload to an HR website. Sadly, none of these systems can prevent you from sending the wrong letter to the wrong school. In my book, this is a huge improvement. Graduate students are an impoverished lot, generally speaking, and they don’t make enough to make itemizing those shipping fees make any financial sense, so the grad student in question is just plain stuck with the cost. It also eliminates the “Did it arrive in time?” anxiety, and no more messing about with “receipt date” versus “postmark date”. Same goes for faculty letters: they just type ‘em up and send ‘em in. Unless, of course, there’s one of those odious forms to fill out that goes with them. Can we please stop having those? In any case, about the only thing that I’d miss is the satisfaction of taking yet another giant physical stack of fat application envelopes and waving bye-bye to them at the post office. But I think the benefits outweigh the losses.
- Preliminary interviews: This was by far the biggest complaint among grad students back in my day, and I think it remains so. There is no good way to do a preliminary interview; it’s a matter of finding the best of bad choices. The conference interview — running around, finding your location, practicing your 90-second pitch in a corner behind a potted plant, trying not to throw up — is a rite of passage, but one that can leave the person in question bloody and broken. If you want a shot at a conference interview, you need to book well in advance of knowing whether you have any interested parties. So that’s $1000 expense right there, if you’re lucky, and no one is reimbursing you for that. Couple that with the weirdness of a suite interview, or the awkwardness of the “pit” interviews, and it’s just a nasty experience. And I’ve even heard of some cash-strapped schools insisting on the conference interview, but conducting them in the hotel’s public spaces. But back in my day, the alternative was the phone interview, which everyone agreed was much, much worse. Skype is beginning to emerge as a truly viable alternative. Of course, it disadvantages the technologically clumsy, and I’m giggling trying to imagine implementing something similar in the days of dial-up (again: a decade makes a difference!) but younger grad students may actually be more comfortable operating this way in some cases. Of course, many interviews are still at the big conferences. But as budgets shrink, I think that the Skype interview is going to become more important. And honestly, if someone gave me the choice, as a job-seeker, between having my preliminary interview in a suite, the pit, by phone, or over Skype, factoring in both awkwardness and expense, I’d choose Skype in a heartbeat.
- Waiting for the call: I think this one’s more or less a wash: waiting for a phone call vs. waiting for an e-mail (and most of this was done by e-mail in my day as well) is pretty much the same thing. The only real difference here is…
- The Wiki. Yes, I think that it deserves to be capitalized. Way back in… what was it? 2005? Something like that. Anyway, someone noticed that there were a ton of threads in a section of the Chronicle forums called “Have you heard?” Basically, anxious job-seekers wanted to know whether other people had heard anything at stage X from school Z, so they could know whether a particular search was moving on without them, or whether there was still hope that that call would come. So someone built a wiki, and it’s been running ever since. Of course, this wiki is like all others in that its content is user-generated, with all the problems that implies. It’s a largely self-regulating community, but the occasional troll does sneak in: “They made me a job offer!” when no such thing ever happened. Still, some info is better than none… or is it? The wiki can tell you when to stop hoping, but is that a good thing?
- The presentation: Back in my ABD and job-seeking days, few people in my field (medieval) had Powerpoints to go with their presentations. I, personally, came armed with handouts with a brief outline, some key texts, and a map. And I was in the majority, by far. Now, I can’t recall the last time that I saw a job talk without a visual presentation. But not all Powerpoints are created equal, so this is yet another skill that you need to make sure you’ve got down cold before the campus visit… as well as knowing what to do if the tech goes belly-up.
On the whole, I think that the way that technology has been integrated into the job search has been a very good thing, and most of it has the potential to make things much easier on the grad student pocketbook. But new technologies have also added a new worry that we didn't have back in the day, one that could be the subject of a whole 'nother post (though it won't, at least not by me) called "It's 10 p.m. -- Do you know what your online persona is doing?" Seriously: google yourself. In fact, Have a friendly faculty member at your institution google you so you aren't deceived by the you-specific results that the algorithm will give you in particular; you want an outsider's search results. You should start monitoring and controlling your online presence to whatever degree possible as far in advance as possible. Delete embarrassing pictures -- better yet, don't allow embarrassing pictures to be taken of you. You might also consider actively augmenting the professional you that appears online by building and maintaining a profile at a site like Academia.edu. Get it up there several months in advance and it will be one of the first hits when someone googles your name and the school, and you get to control that presentation.
So that is my longish chunk of unsolicited and semi-informed advice. But I’ve really only experienced most of this at one remove. Thoughts from job seekers who have experienced this? What about hiring committees? Any issues with reluctant adopters among the faculty? And for those of you in grad programs that mentor you through the process (for example, with interviewing workshops), are you getting mentoring/advice that incorporates these methods? Anything else that I'm missing here?