I was on the job market for three years, starting in the fall of 2008. This is how things went.
In 2008, I was ABD with one book in print (Zizek and Theology) and no solo teaching experience. I applied for 21 tenure-track jobs, about half of which had their search cancelled due to the Global Financial Crisis. I was interviewed for a very good position that year, which was among the casualties. I also applied to 5 postdoctoral fellowships; one told me in the rejection letter that I had fallen just short of the interview phase. Result: By random luck and personal connections, I was offered a one-year visiting position at Kalamazoo College to fill the gap between a retirement and a new tenure-track hire.
In 2009, I had my degree in hand, would have a year of teaching experience at a selective liberal arts school by the time I started any new position, and had an additional book under contract (Awkwardness) and one soon to be under contract (Politics of Redemption). I applied for 15 tenure-track jobs, and I did not advance to the interview stage with any. One of them was the position at Kalamazoo, which they really wanted to fill with a biblical scholar; they told me in person that I would not be interviewed, solely due to the field mismatch. I also applied to 7 postdocs, none of which gave any indication I had made it past the initial filtering. In addition, I applied to one term position in a very undesirable location; they called to set up an interview after I had already accepted a position. Result: The tenure-track hire at Kalamazoo needed a delayed start, so they offered me a partial-year contract to continue as VAP. In other words, I got worse results in a year in which I was objectively much better qualified.
In 2010, I had a full year of teaching experience under my belt, I would have nearly another year by the time I started any position, and I also had an enthusiastic letter of recommendation from my department chair in which she summarized my course evaluations; in addition, all three of my books were in print and my Agamben translation would soon be as well. I applied for 21 tenure-track positions through the AAR job listings, two of which offered me a first-stage interview; I advanced with neither. I applied for 12 postdoctoral fellowships, one of which informed me that I was among ten finalists for five positions; I ultimately did not receive the fellowship. I also applied for three term positions, one of which claimed I was on a shortlist but ultimately decided to remove me from said shortlist for reasons I don’t understand (i.e., they jerked me around). Result: I applied to Shimer College due to a random e-mail from an AUFS lurker, ultimately getting the position.
Overall, I applied for 59 tenure-track jobs, 24 postdoctoral fellowships, and 4 term positions (possibly more term positions — I may not have listed all of them on my spreadsheet). I received some kind of response from four out of the 59 tenure-track positions, for a 6.7% success rate in getting past the initial filter. Among postdocs, I got past the initial filter one time, for a 4.2% success rate. In terms of actually getting job offers, I got one offer out of the 87 total that I applied for, a 1.1% success rate. (I’m not counting the Kalamazoo offers in this figure, as I did not formally “apply” for the position or its extension.)
For the first two years, my “successes” were due to dumb luck completely unconnected to the formal job search process, and in the third, the position I got was not listed at the AAR and I would never have known about it if not for an e-mail from a lurker (i.e., a “social connection” I wasn’t even aware I had). In short, I could have completely skipped the AAR-mediated job search process, which resulted in nothing but wasted time, useless speculation and uncertainty, and profound disappointment at times verging on despair.
The only possible benefits of the process were thinking through my goals for teaching and research, but none of what I wrote in any cover letter or research proposal matches up at all with what I will actually be teaching or closely resembles what I now take to be my research agenda. So in the end, the job application process was, for me, almost pure waste — and I’m one of the lucky ones!
18 thoughts on “My job search record”
It is strange how academia does that to us–narrows down our life and ambition into that one glorious quest for a job, any job.
Then it does it with tenure.
In the future, there will be 36 tenure-track positions randomly scattered around the nation (in all fields) in order to ensure that thousands upon thousands will continue to pursue a PhD.
Luck? Luck’s just getting started.
Thanks for this summary… it’s quite helpful for just laying out the situation, apart from the depressive point that it makes.
I gather the broader humanities focus of the Shimer position wasn’t your main focus in applications, nor the biblical studies track of the TT position at Kalamazoo. Would you mind giving a general idea of the fields of the positions to which you were applying? Were these all for theology, or were you also pursuing philosophy, religious studies, etc.?
I applied mainly in theology or something like “Christian studies.” I didn’t apply to many philosophy jobs unless they were in religion (or religion and philosopy) departments, as I had pretty reliable information indicating that philosophy departments almost always require you to have a proper philosophy PhD. There were a few reaches here and there, naturally, but by and large I went for places that seemed like a nice direct fit. (Apparently I was wrong about that in 98.9% of cases, however.)
There is a differential over the years — the first year I was a bit more haphazard and willing to “reach,” and in the second year I applied to anything that seemed even remotely plausible, as there were radically fewer listings that time (the first post-Lehman year). This year I was much more selective, and in particular I didn’t bother to apply to many Catholic places as it seems they want real Catholics only.
Another note: I’ve been really, really screwed by the fact that virtually no mainline seminaries or div schools have been hiring since the crisis, because that’s the most obvious fit for me given my education. (For instance, the job that was cancelled in 2008 never came back — though they’re now saying it will be posted again this fall.)
So what you are sayng is its a damn good thing I left academia to take up a 9-5 which pays me damn near 6 figures with absolutely zero marking? Consider my entire life so far now vindicated. Now where’s that beer…
This is horrible Adam. You’re way ahead of where I was in terms of publications after getting my degree. This whole process is absolutely depressing and demoralizing. Whenever I do land an interview, the waiting process that follows is excruciating. The emotional despair I feel during those periods is on par with what I feel in a bad romantic breakup. I always wonder what the deal is with these interviews. I don’t feel as if I am a bad or unfriendly person in face to face encounters and feel as if I’ve done a lot of good work. I’m sure the case is the same for you. So how is it possible to put out so many applications and land interviews and have nothing come of it? Are there really that many people out there that have done as much as you and who have the background you have justifying these decisions?
Well, I did wind up getting a tenure-track position at a school I’m excited to teach at, so that’s one consolation. I feel like in any longer-format interview I do pretty well (that interview in year one was longer and I felt great about it, plus I apparently was successful at my campus visit), but the 20-minute format is just brutal, particularly on Skype.
That is depressing. I only have the one book contract and I’ve only got 3 interviews in 3 years.
How many journal articles have you had published, btw?
No one mentions the pedigree – I know several people who got jobs without publications and much teaching simply because they went to Ivy League schools. According to Leiter’s “who got jobs” post every year, it’s still very much the case that top universities are hiring graduates from top universities. I’m not sure what to think of this, but there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that pedigree matters more than teaching experience and publications, no? With the job market being the way it is, it appears that even community colleges have their chance to pick instructors from top-ranked schools thus raising their own educational value (“we have teachers from Harvard” etc etc).
One other factor I’ve noticed in a variety of job spheres (church work, university work, school work) is the reward of ambition: I’ve seen people getting jobs they are totally unqualified for, apparently because there are no better applicants or because someone’s naive or something.
On the other hand, I consistently get further in jobs that are more ambitious – permanent lecturer positions, post docs, etc. But I have been called in to interview twice in the past two years for teaching jobs in school, to the bewilderment of my colleagues, and my number of applications there parallels Adam’s.
The reality of over-qualification as a reason not to hire is striking in Norwegian schools. When you put it next to the ambition factor, you get a perverse system of ideas.
But I’m a member of my union, and so if I thought they had any illegal reasons to not hire, I’d complain. There are a lot of possible explanations less dependent upon my chagrin…
Yes, pedigree may also be a factor here. I also wonder, more generally, if committees are looking for “potential” and I have too much “actuality.”
Emily, Looks like I’ve published nine articles, plus a book chapter. I’d say I started in year one with eight either published or forthcoming, then added one each year.
Another thought on the pedigree thing: that was what was most heartbreaking about barely missing out on that postdoc, which was at an Ivy League school — it would’ve taken care of the pedigree issue. They told me I was their top candidate in religion (it was one of those omni-disciplinary things), so it seems unlikely that my pedigree actually held me back; instead, it was probably the relative lack of clout of the school’s small religion department. (Even if my pedigree held me back in the very last round, it seems all but certain that I beat out plenty of Ivy League types.)
I am going to be so screwed.
Something I found out too late is that in philosophy, the Catholic schools definitely give preference to those who got their degrees from other Catholic schools, even when it shouldn’t matter (like for Continental philosophy).
Eventually I burned my comparable number of rejection letters. I nearly committed suicide when Yale told me I was “overqualified.” Sorry about it Adam.
Well, I wound up with a job in the end.
I agree on the pedigree issue and on the “potential” issue. Showing up in the US from Oxford but with no advisors here managing me–some of those guys are very pushy. And the book seemed to hurt more than help, which was gutting.
Rest assured though that Ivies are full of second rate people who think they’re first rate. That’s part of the problem–they know they have less than they think.
Adam you are right–a job is a job no doubt.
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