Wednesday, December 8, 2010

James From Jacksonville Wants a Random Misery Avalanche Opened For Job Searchers.

I'm not a superstar, but do have one job in my past at a top rated liberal arts college. It was a bit of a fluke. Mostly I've dabbled in pleasant and average state unis.

But this year in the job market I experienced an odd phenomenon that I wondered about. I applied to 29 positions in a very big Humanities field. And I'm not snobby. I applied to great schools, average schools, and even some not-so-well-known schools that happen to be in interesting parts of the world where I'd like to live.

The job market in my field is busy right now as we gear up for an end of the year convention / job fair / clusterfuck. And the results are these.

  • Top 2 schools I applied to: phone interviews and convention invites for interviews.
  • 5 other top rated schools: second round, writing samples, phone interviews, etc. (But no word yet on next steps.)
  • 17 sort of middle of the road state unis, like where I am now: writing samples, some rec letters, one phone interview where the speakerphone cut me off about 10 times over 45 minutes.
  • 5 schools where, truly, I'd only go because they're near the beach: Zip. Crickets. Silence. 4 with not even an acknowledgment that I applied.
It got me wondering about the places we apply, places above our station, right in the heart of where we're comfortable, and places we (I'm sorry) look down on.

For the other job searchers out there? What's going on with your search? What are you discovering about the market this year?


  1. I had my best job market experience, in terms of the most jobs I could apply for (45) and the most 'collection of additional materials, in 2008 when I was applying for the 2009-2010 school year. The next application year found me applying for only 5 jobs because, literally, 2009 ate my discipline alive. This year, things are better but not great. I applied for fifteen jobs. The odds are good that I will get a couple of part-time jobs based on a combination of past performance and departmental nepotism.

    I cannot summon the level of panic that my peers have. That drop from 45 to 5, together with my experience applying for 45 jobs and a brief return to the food service industry, convinced me that I can weather the worst if I have to.

  2. While working on job search committees the past two years, I've seen my colleagues push forward in the search candidates we understand, people who have gone to schools like ours, and who have taught at school like ours. We don't understand people at better or worse schools.

    That sounds simplistic, perhaps.

  3. We always seem to hire "up," i.e., people from schools a tier above ours. But I suspect that schools a tier or two "down" wouldn't hire too far up, as who wants to hire someone who will be on the market the minute they get there?

  4. I think there's a lack of good faith in hiring as it relates to this question. It seems as if Jacksonville James applied to lousy schools (this is all relative of course) because they provided other things he wanted - like a beach location.

    I hope he put that in his letter, because the committee might have thought...this boy's slumming!

  5. At community colleges, we don't look for people who are "up" or "down" (because honestly, in the eyes of many in the academy, who's "down" from us: for-profits, maybe?) as much as people who demonstrate qualities relevant to what we do. We've talked about this some in another post. My college has PhDs from Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, and Chicago teaching right alongside MA/MS folks from State U across town or up the road, as well as everything in between. We want people who really like students (at least sometimes), want to teach, and are committed to college service. If you have time to pursue your research interests, that's great and we encourage it, but it's not part of why we hire.

    As to application responses, I think that depends on the person in the department or HR more than it does the type of school. When I was on the market ages ago, I got a wide variety of responses that didn't seem related at all to the colleges' categories. My own chair is known for writing the rudest rejection letters most applicants ever receive. I haven't seen one, but prospective colleagues who eventually went to work at other colleges in the city later have told me they are legendary.

  6. I think this has more to do with the faculty of an individual hiring committee than it does with the rank of the school, but it is well known that alphas hire alphas; betas hire gammas. That is, insecurity about your own abilities will tempt you to hire people who will not (you feel) show you up.

    I remember this whenever we're hiring and I am tempted to go with the candidate that seems like the "safe" choice, and ask myself, do I think this candidate is "safe" because they're, well, not as good as this other candidate who is so brilliant he/she scares me? We have always managed, so far, to hire the best candidate we can bring in, and simply accept that maybe they won't be happy here and will be gone in a few years; because we'll at least have had them for those few years. And then we'll do the same again.

    Because, after all, your "beta" or "gamma" candidates may decide they're miserable and leave too. Or, worse, they may decide to stay.

    By "beta" or "gamma" I mean of course "candidates that I don't think are as good". They might be better, for another institution.


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