Professor Anne Donadey
- Use The MLA Guide to the Job Search by English Showalter et. al., MLA publication, 1997 and any book on the topic such as The Academic Job Search Handbook by Mary M. Heiberger and Julia M. Vick (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992), or The Academic's Handbook edited by A. Leigh Deneef, Craufurd D. Goodwin, and Ellen Stern McCrate (Duke UP, 1988). See also the essay by Trudelle Thomas, "Demystifying the Job Search: A Guide for Candidates" in CCC 40 (1989): 312-27. Many of the following tips have been culled from the first two sources mentioned.
- If you are a member of a minority group and/or a woman, you may want to register your name with the National Registry of Diverse & Strategic Faculty at: http://www.theregistry.ttu.edu/program.aspx
- Become a member of the MLA at least one year before you intend to go on the job market.
- Some information from the MLA Job Information List: the academic job market fluctuates according to the economy. The worst decade for academic jobs was the 1990s. The job market has been very bad again since 2008, with the worst year ever being 2009-10. In the foreign languages, typically about half of the jobs listed are for definite, tenure-track assistant professor positions. Go to http://www.mla.org/jil for more details.
- Think about what kind of position you want (would you prefer to teach at a large research institution, a small liberal arts college, a public university?). Identify your priorities for yourself: is a supportive, collegial environment more important for you than being at one of the top schools in the country? Would you prefer to teach undergraduates only, or do you absolutely want to be a member of the graduate faculty? How important is it for your sanity to live in a progressive area? Are there strong minority/feminist communities in the area? In the department/school? How important is the financial aspect for you? Do you have to live in a city, or is a rural area OK? Do you have to be in a particular geographic area? (remember that mobility is one of the most crucial factors in obtaining a good job).
- The most marketable candidates are the ones who can wear more than one hat: ideally, you should have one main area of specialization, one sub-specialization, and thorough knowledge of one theoretical field (ex: Francophone literature; eighteenth-century literature; feminist theory).
- Be over prepared.
- DON'T WORRY IF YOU HAVEN'T HEARD FROM ANY SCHOOL by early December. You can get calls until the very last minute. Practically, this means that you'll have to book your plane ticket to the MLA before you know whether you will have any interviews. The year you are on the market, you may want to send abstracts to several MLA sessions so as to be sure you'll at least be going there for something. Abstracts are usually due in March of the previous year, so plan early.
- Do your research about each department/university that asks to interview you. Look up the school/department’s on the web and ask professors & friends what they know about the school/program & the faculty. Find out departmental information (names & specialization of faculty, degree requirements, courses taught). Before the MLA interview, ask for the names of the people who will be doing the interviewing so you can find out about their work in advance.
- Keep your professors (dissertation committee, people who wrote letters of recommendation for you) regularly updated on the status of your search. Let them know where you applied, which schools expressed interest in your application, where you are being interviewed, etc. Very often professors know each other and will call a colleague at the other school to put in a good word for you, or a professor at that school may call one of your professors to ask about your qualifications.
- MAKE SURE YOU GET A MOCK INTERVIEW (arrange it with members of your dissertation committee). It will give you a chance to mess up on difficult or unexpected questions, and time to think about how to better answer the questions during the real thing. If you are supposed to give a presentation on your research during your campus visit, SCHEDULE THE JOB TALK AND GIVE IT IN YOUR DEPARTMENT FIRST. If they will want you to teach a class, discuss it with your teaching coordinator and/or a faculty member you respect as a teacher.
- If at all possible, try to avoid telephone interviews (unless all candidates are being interviewed in this way). Many universities prefer to do their first round of interviews through Skype now to save money.
- Ideally, you should schedule MLA interviews no closer than 2 hours apart, so you have plenty of time to go from one to the next and regain your composure. Take time to eat, rest, and drink lots of water. If given a choice, try to schedule interviews earlier in the day (by late afternoon, everyone is tired & interviews don't usually go as well). Also try to avoid the last day of the Convention for the same reasons.
- Take each interview seriously, psych yourself for each one, even if you are less than attracted by the position or the school. Your preconceived ideas may be wrong, and more importantly, this may be the only offer you get. Give each school a fair chance.
- If you speak to an administrative coordinator or secretary on the phone, put him/her on your side.
- ask for his/her name and use it
- give your name
- be respectful
- if they leave a message on your machine, call them back rather than making them call you.
- if you get a campus visit, make sure you introduce yourself to the secretaries if this isn't done by one of the faculty members.
- Things to bring with you for all interviews:
- extra copies of your vita, writing sample(s), syllabi (of courses taught or courses you'd like to teach, including an upper-division course for majors), student evaluations. You will not necessarily distribute all of these, but you will be prepared to offer them and come off as organized if the interviewing committee expresses special interest in one of these areas (or if they have misplaced your materials). Make sure you have spell checked all of your material. If you have material in a language that is not your native language, have a native speaker check it.
- umbrella, accessories or repair materials (buttons & thread, extra pair of contact lenses) to avoid little disasters.
- don't check anything important through the airplane. Pack light and if possible, keep everything with you as carry-on. I suggest bringing a briefcase with all your paperwork and interview materials in it, and a small garment bag with toiletries & clothes. Mix and match. You can wear the same suit (jacket & skirt + nice pair of slacks) and shoes (comfortable ones a must) during all interview days, and wear a different top every day. Have everything color-coordinated, with several scarves/ties & accessories so you can travel light & still look different every day. Wear something comfortable but not too casual on the plane.
- something to help you relax the night before
- During the interviews:
- bring with you a written list of questions to ask interviewers (see below for examples). You may take some notes to make sure you will remember the important information.
- don't say anything negative about any school (especially your own) or about anyone.
- always sound enthusiastic, but don't appear cocky, too eager, or desperate. You want to come off as a potential colleague, not as some graduate student.
- don't talk too much, let them talk too. Be direct and concise, and don't give extra information unless you know it will help you. You can answer their question, & then ask a question of your own so the process will feel more like a dialogue than an interrogation for all concerned. Make sure you have questions to ask about the school, otherwise you'll appear uninterested. When you sense the interview is winding down, don't chit chat, don't give them the impression you're making them waste their time.
- match your strengths to the job description and to the needs of the department. Insist on specific strengths. Make them talk about the position so you can say more specifically how well you would fit in.
- make eye contact with everyone, talk to all of the people present. Keep a sense of humor, don't show you're annoyed or thrown off if an interviewer looks bored or tired. If you tend to end statements with an interrogative tone or use too many filler words such as “kinda,” “sorta,” “you know,” or “like,” practice weaning yourself of that. It is terribly distracting for both interviewers and students, and it may contribute to costing you the job offer (true story).
- Questions about your personal life are illegal. If questions are asked about your marital status, whether your spouse can move to a different area, if you have or plan on having children, or any other illegal questions, deflect them by answering the real question behind them: they want to know if you are serious about the position, about moving to their part of the country, about putting in the work to get tenure, etc.
- Be personable and keep a professional persona at all times. Don't relax too much during the informal parts of the campus interview. Consider that meals and socials are also part of the interview. Know yourself, for example don't drink until you've eaten if you're not used to alcohol.
- Send a thank you note to each interviewing committee chair after each round of interviews. After you have accepted a job, take time to thank everyone who has been helpful in the process. Let the other schools that gave you a campus visit know you have accepted a job. Keep in contact with people at your new institution, give them your summer address.
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Types of Questions to Expect
- Can you talk about your dissertation? How did you get interested in this topic?
Prepare your summary ahead of time & practice it. Have a 2-minute and a 5-minute version (in case they want more detail). Don't assume they've all read your writing sample. Display enthusiasm & confidence about your dissertation. Remember that you know more than anyone else in the room about the topic. Focus on the significance & originality of your dissertation and the broader issues it addresses, free of jargon. Be ready to repeat this speech many times during the campus visit. For research institutions, mention you plan to revise it for publication in book form ASAP. Be ready to talk about how your dissertation relates to the work of famous people in the field, to your future work, and to the wider academic world in general. In the immortal words of Gerald Graff, be ready to answer the questions “so what?” and “who cares?”
- What are your plans for future research?
Even if you can't see further in the future than surviving until tomorrow at this point, spend some time thinking about what your next project might be. You won't be held to it later, you just want to show you're thinking ahead. It should be different enough from the dissertation, but still related in some way (don't be all over the place with possible ideas or they won't take you seriously).
- How would you teach XYZ (intro to lit class, language class, survey course)? A related question is: if you could teach your dream course, what would it be? (this is a "trick" question: make sure your answer fits the needs of the school interviewing you).
Describe what your approach would be first: conceptualize the intellectual content around a theme/topic/angle of approach, goals of class, method of teaching, and only then give a list of books you would use. It's useful to have copies of possible syllabi. Prepare some course descriptions for general, typical courses you may be asked to teach as well as a few original, exciting courses & seminars. Prepare some course syllabi at undergrad and some at grad levels if applicable.
- If you do research and teach material dealing with minority groups/women/other countries and you're not a member of the group/country, be ready to answer questions about how qualified you are to teach this material.
- What attracts you to our institution? What assets will you bring to our program? What are your major accomplishments? Where do you see yourself in five years?
- In what ways do your teaching, mentoring, and/or research effectively address the needs of individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds?
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Questions to Ask During the MLA Interview
- If the position was "pending budgetary approval" or "possible opening," make sure you ask if the funding has been allocated for the position. If not explicitly specified in the job ad, find out if this is a tenure-track position.
- What is the course load? (Most places will be 5 or 6 courses a year, sometimes 4 in research institutions, up to 7 or 9 in smaller schools).
- What kinds of courses do they expect you to teach? Will you have the opportunity to teach courses in your specialization, & to teach at the graduate level?
- For universities & colleges that value research, ask about institutional support for scholarly work (i.e., policy on leave of absence if you get an outside grant; also, do they match the difference in salary if you get an outside grant? How often are faculty eligible for sabbaticals? Does this apply to junior faculty? How much travel money do faculty get for conference travel?)
- For language departments: what are the language requirements for students at this university? Does the department have a study abroad program? Will you be expected to be involved in it?
- How many majors/minors/graduate students do they have?
- If they have a small library, can faculty have easy access to library resources at neighboring institutions?
- If you're interested, ask what are the possibilities of participating in interdisciplinary programs (Women's/African American/American Indian/Chicano/African Studies Programs)? Could your courses be possibly cross-listed?
- At the end, make sure you ask what they expect their schedule to be regarding campus visits (when will you hear from them if you're still under consideration for the position?)
(The MLA interview is not the place to ask about salary range).
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Questions to Ask on the Phone When
They Invite You for a Campus Visit
- Don't expect any call backs before mid-January.
- Accept all campus visits unless you hated the people at the MLA, you make professional contacts that way.
- Dates of campus interview and duration (they may ask you to stay over Saturday night for a cheaper fare, which is OK--most places will make sure someone, often students, will have some activity for you to do like visiting the town or the area). Bring something to do (work, book) in case they don't have anything planned.
--detailed schedule with the names of people who will meet with you (typically, the chair & faculty of the department, the search committee, the dean, members of other departments).
--transportation to campus from airport and back. Who will come and pick you up? Who should you call in case there is a travel-related problem?
--ask if certain things can be included in the program (visit to Women's Studies/Ethnic Studies, Women's Center, language lab, or any department/resources related to your own interests, visit to the library). Opportunity to meet with students? Visit the city?
--what exactly will the department pay for?
--will they make arrangements and send you the plane ticket or do you have to get the ticket yourself & have them reimburse you afterwards? Be optimistic, enroll in a frequent flyer mile program. (If the department is the one making the arrangements, you can suggest your airline of choice if prices are the same & if plane schedules are convenient.) MAKE SURE YOU KEEP ALL RECEIPTS AND GIVE THEM TO THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR REIMBURSING YOU.
- If you will be giving a lecture/presentation
--approximate length expected
--formal or informal?
--what type of audience will attend?
--suggest a suitable topic and title. Of course, if you have already sent them a writing sample, your presentation should be different (typically, from a different chapter of your dissertation).
- If you will be teaching a class
-what is the level of the class and number of students?
-content of class
-text used (which lesson will you be expected to cover, or will you be expected to teach something else altogether?)
- Ask if they can send you any other info you may need
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Questions to Ask During the Campus
- Try to find out what the school's pride is before you go.
- Try to get a sense for how they treat their untenured faculty: what kind of support do they provide for junior faculty (special summer fellowships, leave of absence before tenure review, course release in first year(s), research assistant). What percentage of tenure-track faculty get tenure? What kinds of administrative responsibilities will they expect from you (student advising, student activities, committee work)? Will they protect you from too much service work or overburden you with it?
- Do all faculty have the same teaching load?
- What kind of contract will you get until tenure? (Usually, 3-year renewable; but can also be 2- or 1-year renewable).
- Ask about the salary range (ask the dean and the department chair). Remember you can always try to negotiate for more after they offer you the job. Look at cost-of-living calculators on the Web to make regional salary comparisons. The MLA has a statement on salary recommendations that is updated annually at: http://www.mla.org/resources/documents/rep_policy/mla_recommendation_o
- Ask the dean for a brochure outlining the university’s benefits package. Do you qualify from the date your contract begins? Do the benefits include dental/vision/domestic partner? Is there tuition waver for dependents? What about a retirement plan (do they participate in TIAA-CREF)?
- Ask the dean and the chair of the department to give you some details about what the tenure criteria are (for research/teaching/service). Does the tenure decision usually come in the fifth or sixth year? How will your work be evaluated? If you already have full-time teaching experience after the PhD, will it count toward tenure? Does each probationary faculty have his/her own tenure line, or will you have to compete against others for one tenure line?
- Ask if you can get: a moving allowance, computer equipment, a research assistant, a library carrel...
- Find out about office space situation. Will you have your own office?
- Ask what the average number of students is per class. What is the make-up of the student body and of the faculty at the university?
- Find out from faculty & from the students you will meet what the housing costs are. Try to get a sense for how high the cost of living is in the area. Ask about cultural life, community (and quality of schools if you have children).
- Cover any questions not answered during the MLA interview. Repeat important questions to chair, other members of department, dean, & other faculty members with whom you have the opportunity to talk.
- Finally, make sure you ask when a decision will be made.
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- When they offer you the job, show enthusiasm (but not too much, don’t appear desperate). Ask them when they want an answer. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE SHOULD THEY PRESSURE YOU INTO GIVING THEM AN ANSWER ON THE SPOT. DON’T SAY YES RIGHT AWAY, take time to negotiate. They’ll usually give you one to two weeks. If you need more time, for example, if you’re waiting for a better prospect to materialize, you can ask for a little more time. It’s also OK to call the school you’re waiting on to let them know you have a good offer but that you’d like to find out if they’re still interested before making commitments. You can tell them what your deadline is with the first school).
- Many schools will expect you to negotiate for more money. You can ask them if there is some flexibility in the salary. I’ve been told that women tend to take the salary they are being offered, while men tend to ask for more money. This may be one of the reasons why men tend to be better paid than women. I’ve been told you may want to ask for twice your desired increase over the base amount offered (e.g., ask for an additional $8,000 if you want $4,000). Since your future salary increases will be percentages calculated off of your base salary, you want your starting salary to be as high as possible. Negotiations are usually done with a dean or other administrator rather than with the department chair. Administrators are convinced by data (they need to know in quantifiable terms why you should get more money--e.g., you already have a year's teaching experience beyond the PhD, you have publications, you have teaching experience in XYZ, etc.). Information from cost of living calculators is particularly useful if you're moving to a high cost of living area. Look at real estate sites to see how much houses cost in the area, as it will give you a sense of the cost of living there. Salaries of public employees are also public information, and the local newspaper will often publish a list of who makes how much once a year (you'd have to dig around on their website). That only goes for public universities, of course.
- You can also negotiate for moving expenses, computer equipment (most schools will include that anyway), a course teaching release for the first year or first couple of years, etc. If you get two good offers, you can play one up against the other to see if they’ll make you a better offer, but don’t play this game too much!
- Bring on the table all the items you want to negotiate for, in decreasing order of importance, but treat them separately.
- MAKE SURE YOU GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING, especially the final salary offer. In your acceptance letter, restate all the things that may have changed from the original offer letter, and keep a copy with the offer letter for your records.
- Ask for a copy of the benefits package and tenure guidelines.
- Find out when the Fall term begins, & when you will need to be available.
Best of luck to you!
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