Today, the Modern Language Association has posted its job listings. As with every year, the job market is competitive and challenging, professionally and personally. Self-care is vital because you likely will be stressed: there are always fewer jobs than you hope there would be in your field, and the range of advice you’ll receive from colleagues and mentors will seem to contradict itself.
So here is some general advice that will probably contradict something you already heard!
Do you have additional advice to share for the job market? (I could certainly use some.) Message me here or on Twitter @dereksmcgrath.
Ask for recommendation letters before September. By this point, prospective applicants in academia likely have already asked for recommendation letters from their dissertation committee, professors who have observed their teaching, and previous employers in fields related to the available job. (I’ve written advice before on requesting recommendation letters, although that advice was directed to high school and undergraduate students applying for financial aid and advanced degree programs.)
Many departments and universities host job talks as early as the beginning of the summer before the job listings are posted. Talk with your professors to ask when those events take place. Join local listservs–at your college, at neighboring schools, or in local academic communities–to see whether job talks are available nearby. Academic organizations such as the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) host “CV Clinics,” where educators from various ranges of experience review job documents with you in person at the yearly spring convention.
Because these job talks are scheduled as early as the beginning of summer, by September, you should have polished drafts of your job documents ready to submit. (Of course, you’ll keep editing these documents as you encounter new job postings, so these documents will always be works in progress. And keep updating your application as you complete new writing, conferences, and certifications.)
Every open position demands different materials: some ask for copies of college transcripts and writing samples up to 30 pages. (For writing samples, consider adding the copyright information or Creative Commons disclaimer as a footnote, and in the header, write “NOT FOR RE-DISTRIBUTION” if you do not want your writing shared without permission.)
The items that every job application will expect are the letter of application, the curriculum vitae (CV), and at least three letters of recommendation. Write the letter of application and CV as general copies that you could use for any job–and, before submitting your application, thoroughly revise those two documents to tailor them to the job. This work at tailoring is time-consuming, so be practical: sometimes the revisions need take only five minutes because you are such a strong fit for this job, and other times revisions may take an entire day to address particular requirements in the job posting or because it is a position slightly outside of your field of expertise.
Many positions will request teaching portfolios, which include a statement of your teaching philosophy, a statement about diversity in education, students’ evaluations, sample syllabi, and sample lessons. (If you have video of successful conference talks and classroom lessons, including from any online courses you have taught, upload those to YouTube and link them in your teaching portfolio and CV.)
Upload all of your job documents to Interfolio. MLA and other organization often provide free membership to the service; if you do not have a free membership, enroll for at least one year to keep your documents archived while you continue to apply for new positions.
Create copies of your job documents to upload to your own personal web site (a WordPress or Blogger account may be sufficient), removing any information that is not relevant. For example, you do not want your personal information (address, phone number, transcripts) included on your web site, you don’t need to upload your cover letter (although you may end up editing it to post to your web site’s bio page), and there are some documents you cannot upload (some writing samples may not yet have been published, or they have a copyright that prevents online distribution). These documents demonstrate that your record is public and may lead to future professional opportunities.
Advice from people at your college–friends, colleagues, professors–will help, as they are familiar with your writing style, research interests, and strengths as an employee, and they likely will be able to guide you in revising your application to best appeal to potential employers. Your college likely has a career center; although that advice tends to be tailored to undergraduates completing their degrees and not for the tenure-track job market, the center may be helpful for seeking work outside of academia.
But also seek advice from outside sources, including mentorship with faculty outside of your university. NeMLA’s Women’s and Gender Studies Caucus has a Shakespeare’s Sister Mentor Program, which provides advice about the job market and a range of other topics. While I cannot speak to the paid services provided, The Professor Is In provides frequent columns featuring stark advice that can demonstrate how difficult the job market can be and how meticulously edited your documents must be.
To wrap up this advice, also be aware of key phrases in your cover letter. This letter of application usually follows a strict outline (as covered here and elsewhere). On the one hand, you are writing this letter to colleagues who are experts at language and can spot cliches and want to see evidence to back up the claims you make about how good a fit you will be in their department. On the other hand, many cover letters have to get through human resources first, so they may want to hear those terms found in many business letters, about leadership, self-motivation, and collaboration.
It is a challenge to give a college everything that they specify in their job posting, which is why they seek someone who is the best fit at that time: you are not going to be the perfect candidate, but you do have contributions that will be valuable to some organization. Be flexible in your job search by looking at postings that do not seem initially suited to your research interests and skills but, depending on how you describe yourself in that cover letter, can present you as a worthwhile candidate and may lead you to a satisfying career.