Monday, June 10, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Job Market

I have been pretty silent for the past six months. This is mostly because I've been busy, finishing my book while traveling the world to attend 12 different conferences in about 6 months. My f2f adjunct position fell through for the spring term, so I took advantage of that free time to attend as many conferences as possible.

The efforts paid off. I was able to pay my bills through my various online commitments. The freedom allowed me to attend conferences I never would have otherwise. I went to Australasia, to Europe, to the Middle East. I began a podcast. I spent a lot of money. I made a lot of friends. And I went on the job market.

It is a peculiar thing that we spend about 4 months applying, waiting, interviewing, prepping, and delivering job talks before discovering whether or not we are hired. I began drinking a lot more. I struggled to sleep while nervous and anxiety-ridden. The whole thing really is a lottery system. I had 10 phone interviews, no national conference interviews, and four campus visits. All four visits became a "no." One person told my advisor that they were going to offer me the job, and then offered it to someone else. Then an administrator called me out of the blue about a week after I had been passed over. He had been tapped to begin a new research center at an ivy. He wanted me to head up the research center. We have a huge endowment. We have resources and consulting academics. We have our own building on campus.

The whole thing is so bizarre. Everything that I did right led to a wall. Everything I did wrong -- the haphazard globe-trotting, the backdoor interviews -- led me to my dream job. Research, teaching, autonomy, hiring power. The process gave me a book contract and a well-paying position.

My friends and family tell me how much I deserve it. Surely, I will absolutely work hard and my enthusiasm and connections will benefit this new endeavor. They will not regret hiring me. But do I really deserve it more than most? Of course not. There are so many qualified people around. I was a perfect fit for this position -- my early education began at a similar institution and my recent successes at international conferences led to my election on an editorial board and this book contract -- but I can count about 6 friends who would be equally qualified. And countless strangers.

It bothers me that I applied to 33 jobs this year and that only one of those jobs ever sent me a formal "this position has been filled" letter. That one letter referenced my research by name and told me not to give up -- even suggested a journal that might publish one of my chapters. It was a generous moment amidst a sea of silence.

It's rather annoying that I spent so much time on each application only to get such incompetent organization. One application process said that references would only be required for the short list of telephone interviewees. Then on the deadline, all 300 applicants received an email requesting references by midnight -- with each of the 300 or so names CC'd rather than BCC'd. And the email itself had no salutation, no punctuation, and no sign-off. We instantly knew everyone who had applied, and all of those people had to obtain emergency references from their overworked advisers.

We talk about the misery on this blog. The inability for faculty to act as administrators is surely a miserable thing. Our disorganization, the rule by committee, the cautious wandering of our administration is all miserable. The lack of professionalism, the ridiculous amount of red tape, the waiting and waiting. Is there anything good about the process we use for hiring people? If there is, I don't see it. I followed the rules and got burned. I bucked the rules, and somehow this led to a job.

My only conclusion is that our profession suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. What else could it be? Too many voices wishing for too many things, with anxious and enthusiastic candidates waiting for the voices to calm and express a single wish: the candidate who will become the faculty member.

29 comments:

  1. 'It bothers me that I applied to 33 jobs this year and that only one of those jobs ever sent me a formal "this position has been filled" letter.'

    I've been getting those---as brief emails, never on paper---from roughly half the positions I applied for. Nothing at all from the others.

    And the job I did get was one of those. Yes, I got the "skinny" email, and then two weeks later they called and asked if I wanted to come out for a interview.

    OK, so presumably I was their second choice, but at least I landed the job.

    I have found the whole process of applying for jobs to be shot through with unprofessional behavior on the part of the employers. It is also shot through with appalling inconvenience mostly from the on-line application process, but I understand that this is not personal. The lack of a single followup communication when they already have my email address linked to the job ID I wanted is simply rude.

    I just want to say to many institutions "What the hell, people? If this is a preview of the treatment I could expect in your employ maybe I am relieved I didn't get a job with you."

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    1. It wasn't much different when I was looking for my first job over 35 years ago. Back then, I got a lot of "we'll get back to you" and I, dumb kid I was in those days, actually believed them.

      The greatest insult I received back then was when I called the personnel manager of one company I applied to after I'd had an interview with them. She told me the letters were being sent out, but she didn't know what was in them. Guess whose signature was on the one I received in which I was told to get lost?

      I was looking for work during much of the 1980s and I was lucky if I got a 20% response rate to my applications and letters of inquiry. Most of those contained a similar "drop dead" message.

      Nowadays, a response of any kind is a rarity and, if one does get one, it is often by e-mail, making the process even less personal.

      One company I approached was particularly bad at that. I had a meeting with someone on a Friday and, the following Monday, I was told that the "focus of the job" had changed, presumably within the roughly 72 hours after I was there. All of the arrangements were made by e-mail, making me wonder just how that place treated anyone who actually got hired.

      One junior college I had an interview with didn't even bother telling me that someone else got the job. At another, I knew the person who would be my boss. She contacted me by telephone and I had a meeting with her, but she didn't bother calling me to say that I was turned down. E-mail was her method.

      It's bad enough being out of work and it's no great honour to be turned down. Why add insult to injury?

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  2. Congrats on the new sweet gig, and thanks for your insight and humility about the process.

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  3. Oh AM, I am soooooo happy for you! I hope we read about this kind of thing more here!

    :)!!!!!

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  4. First, Congratulations! You may not 'deserve' it more than others (hence the lucky aspect you mention), but it sounds like you do most definitely deserve it, and will do a great job in the new gig.

    Second, what is this "I was able to pay my bills through my various online commitments" of which you speak? Do you just mean teaching classes online, or are you some sort of day-trading savant, or is there some other, secret online money-producing mechanism of which you can make the rest of us poors aware?

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  5. Oh, and since you seem to be such a virtuoso networker, any tips for those of us for whom this comes somewhat less naturally? I tend to wax and wane in that area, never able to really maintain even contacts I hit it off with initially and know will serve me well in the future?

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  6. Ah yes! I have found online teaching and tutoring to be a great boom. You sort of have to force it though. I view it as "diversifying my income stream" -- no joke -- because I have 6 jobs right now. I work for 3 online universities, each of which pay me between $8,000 and $15,000 per year for my services. I also do tutoring for an hourly wage of $20 (I usually do this a little here and there). I serve as an AP grader for a marathon week each May for a rather large single paycheck. I usually teach summer school at a local high school for 5 intensive weeks that yield about $5000. And I design courses, study websites, and online textbooks for royalties. Collectively, I make a pretty good salary with enough down time to keep up my research/writing. But for every online gig I got, I probably apply and never hear back from about 10. So just start googling those online opportunities and see what lands. The best thing to do in this market is to have a minimum of 3 parttime jobs at all times, so if one fails you, you have the others to fall back on.

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    1. I've been on this same treadmill the past year. I've found it to be exhausting, especially for the amount of work it has required (and I've only been working for one online university). How did you ever manage?!

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    2. I believe it depends on the institution. My online gigs require only about 8-10 hours per week: half an hour per day to comment on a few forums and answer email, plus a few 2 hour blocks to grade forums/assessments. Multiple that by three and you have about 30 hours; add a few more hourly gigs, some ongoing special days, and you get a nice 45 hour week.

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    3. I suspect it also depends on the field. I'm guessing, for instance, that Monkey has not been teaching composition, or another equally writing-intensive field; the work load for those tends to be backbreaking, online or off. A set of papers (or even 1/2 or 1/3 of a set of papers) does not take 2 hours to grade.

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    4. Definitely not composition! I tried an online gig to supplement my summer travel this quarter and have spent more time on the online gig than the f2f classes. One of my colleagues does an online comp gig where TAs grade the essays. She simply facilitates. I want THAT online gig.

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    5. Yes, my online courses are more content-driven, so discussions are easy to maintain and the two-page essays take about 4 minutes to skim and write a paragraph of feedback. But I've also been doing it for 4 years, so what took me 12 minutes at the start can take me only 3 minutes when I'm in the zone.

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  7. Congratulations, Monkey! For all that there are undoubtedly equally qualified people out there who didn't get the/a job, it's clear that you worked very, very hard to be sure you were among those with strong qualifications. It also sounds like you were willing to think somewhat outside the TT box (am I correct in gathering that this is a non-TT, semi-administrative job?). For all that I mourn what appears to me to be the impending death of tenure (or maybe, more accurately, the obvious wasting-away, with death likely to occur within 50 years or so), I suspect that that's where the opportunities are (and that your networking skills will continue to serve you well in this brave new world). I must admit that, at this point, I'm very much torn between arguing that teachers (including me) deserve more respect (preferably expressed in material form -- better pay, lower workloads, etc.) and trying to figure out how to transition into some form of administration (or perhaps consulting -- I'm not sure I'm cut out for working within a large bureaucracy) myself.

    But/and again, congratulations! It sounds like you both did everything the standard advice would tell you to, and went more than a bit above and beyond, and that led to a job that is right for you. Happy endings (even to a chapter) are cause for celebration, no matter how bleak the larger picture remains.

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  8. What great news, Monkey! And on a Monday! Thank you for sharing it.

    As for whether or not you "deserve it," you do. You worked hard. You got it. Maybe in a roundabout way, but you got it. Don't let survivor's guilt trip you up, or make this any less than the fantastic news it is.

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  9. Yay Monkey! The fact that you "won" doesn't mean the system works, but it does mean you are deservedly under a lot less stress.

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  10. Academic Monkey, Your words are almost a complete echo of my own past year (even my recent CM silence).

    But regardless of how, you gained employment. While it's easy to feel guilt because of the enormous amount of luck involved, hard work also played an important role. You showed up and did the things that helped make you an interesting candidate. To that I say, huzzah!

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  11. What you've described here could apply to the non-academic job market as well. As academics, I think we often forget that for any advertised job anywhere, there are far too many applicants, and the non-academic world is just as careless, disorganized, and cold when it comes to its applicants. When I was looking for my first job, I sent out 50-75 applications and received only one official rejection letter. I got my first good job by getting very lucky--but I got "lucky" by volunteering a lot and happening across the right people. I didn't deserve it anymore than other people, but I'd also been turned down by scores of jobs for which I would have been a great fit, so it evens itself out.

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  12. Congrats, Monkey! Oh, and HIRE ME, DAMMIT. When, you know, you have an opening (frankly, I don't care WHAT you're researching - I'll figure it out).

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  13. Adding my congrats to this news of total awesomeness!

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  14. Congratulations! As one of the speakers on a panel at the conference we both attended pointed out, a LOT of this process is luck, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people. I'm glad those things clicked for you!

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  15. Still Slouching has it right. It sounds like you deserve it so don't dwell on it. There is no perfectly fair way to dole out one job for every 10 well-qualified applicants. Be happy that you got it. If you want to reflect on it, do so in a way that influences your actions, such as when you hire people. Then, something good will come out of it, beyond your own benefit.

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    1. I like this thought -- pay it forward, even if it's just in the way you treat job candidates (if no one else is willing, you be the one who spends whatever time it takes to write and send a kindly-worded mass rejection -- via bcc of course -- the candidates you didn't hire, with perhaps a more personalized one for the on-campus invitees).

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    2. I have learned the hard lesson that it is not always possible to pay it forward. I vowed to be a search committee chair that did things differently. That rejected candidates as soon as I could. That communicated. I wrote three different rejection letters for candidates at each stage of our search. HR and the "system" messed up all of my plans and we turned into one of those horrible places that just never responds. I'm sorry about it, I really am.

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  16. Monkey, living the dream! Sometimes even the deepest misery brings the best kind of news. Congratulations and enjoy the new post!

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  17. Congratulations! You worked hard for it so enjoy!

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  18. WooHOO! One of our own wins! Finally!!!

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