Navigating the Faculty Job Search in Higher Education/Student Affairs

By: Kevin R. McClure, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Erin E. Doran, Iowa State University, Matthew R. Johnson, Central Michigan University, & David J. Nguyen, Ohio University 

How this Document Came About 

Twitter can be a beautiful thing, and it was the starting point for this document. Throughout the Fall 2018 semester, and into the Spring, the four authors found ourselves regularly engaging in conversations amongst ourselves and with others in the field about the job market. Our discussions were re-tweeted by others like the AERA Division J Graduate Student Network and the ASHE Grads representatives. As such, Kevin had the idea to crowdsource ideas of frequently asked questions that those on the market have about the academic job market. This document includes our responses to those questions. 

Some brief disclaimers: 

  1. None of us claim to be experts on the job market. We offer our insights, and we all agree that getting insight from many people (mentors, your dissertation committee, etc.) is great. But at the end of the day, you should also do what feels right for you. 
  1. We admit that this document is limited by our own positionalities and how these are received by hiring committees. We are all cis-het individuals, and 3 out of the 4 contributors to this document are male. We are not representative of the spectrum of identities that the people who may read this document may inhabit, and we fully acknowledge this. 

Brief Introductions 

Erin Doran: I earned my Ed.D. from the University of Texas at San Antonio, an R1 aspirant institution. I worked full-time throughout my program in graduate student support, and to be honest, I really didn’t think I would try to go faculty when I started my program. By year 2, I knew it was an option I wanted to have. Working full-time has its advantages (e.g., financial stability, building up your portfolio of work experiences and skill sets) and disadvantages (e.g., other demands of your time and energy, especially when you are trying to keep up with full-time folx who are doing research and teaching). I graduated in May 2015, and I did not really apply for jobs in the 2014-2015 cycle. 

When I started looking for jobs in Fall 2015, I was trying to stay in Texas. However, a now-friend and faculty member who I met at ASHE in Columbus convinced me that there were unique opportunities available throughout the country, especially the Midwest, and his Midwestern institution happened to be hiring. I got a campus interview (my only one that cycle) at this friend’s institution, and when I didn’t get the job, I was absolutely devastated. A lot of advice I got about the market was to always temper your expectations. Try not to get attached to the idea of a certain job or a certain institution–mainly to save your mental and emotional energy. Let me acknowledge this: Not getting a job, especially at a place that you could see yourself doing and feeling well, SUCKS. It is absolutely valid to be hurt, disappointed, and sad.  

In May 2016, I got a call from a close friend who just finished her first year at Iowa State. They had some unexpected retirements and departures from the faculty and needed a Visiting Assistant Professor, and she asked if I was interested (I was). They interviewed me and offered me a 1-year contract with a 3/3 teaching load good for the 2016-2017 year with an option to renew for a second year. This job also came with the expectation that a tenure-track line would be available for me to be considered for. I was advised to do my work as a VAP while also remaining on the job market. I applied for the Iowa State job, and I received an offer to remain there. Since I had a productive year as a VAP, it was recommended that my first year at Iowa State count toward my tenure clock. I am now starting my fourth year here. 

Matt Johnson: I earned my master’s from Miami University and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park. Both were in College Student Personnel. I spent two years working in co-curricular leadership programs, but jumped to a graduate teaching assistant in a joint program between the US Naval Academy and the University of Maryland thereafter. The experience of running a program, teaching, and doing research solidified my decision to pursue a faculty career. I spent a little over a year as a teaching GA and anticipated staying one more year. I took a job, rather unexpectedly, as a visiting professor back at Miami University. After a year there (making $38,500; it’s a wonder I didn’t just launch straight into retirement!), I landed a tenure-track job here at Central Michigan University. Despite two tenure-track jobs open that year at Miami University, I wasn’t considered for them. This was not a great time in my life. I’ve since been at CMU for seven years. When I was applying for jobs, my wife and I had agreed on two criteria: to be within five driving hours of our family’s home in Michigan and to not be at an R1 institution. I was a finalist in a couple of pools and ultimately landed here at CMU. I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I teach a 3/2 because I’m on the research load in our department. Our expectations are six publications before tenure. I went up early for tenure (awarded Fall 2017) and was successful. Now I’m slowly building toward a full professor case, which I expect to make in a few years.  

Kevin McClure: I earned my master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). However, I studied international education policy, not higher education/student affairs. I worked professionally at UMD during my studies and ended up writing my dissertation on the political economy of U.S. higher education.  

As I neared the final stages of my dissertation, I started applying for jobs. For almost the entirety of my doctoral program, I did not have a clear career objective. Getting a Ph.D. was just something I wanted to accomplish, and I genuinely loved being a student. I presented at conferences and published 2 or 3 papers, not because I was preparing for a faculty job, but rather because I was intrigued by the challenge and the risk was low. I anticipated staying in higher education administration or finding a job in education policy and figured a Ph.D. would be helpful.  

In my final two years as a graduate student, I worked in the office of the associate provost for faculty affairs. This job opened my eyes to many facets of faculty life and probably planted the seeds of my interest in pursuing a faculty job. Still, out of the 30 or so jobs to which I applied in my final year, only 3 were post-doc or faculty positions. I didn’t consider myself competitive for faculty jobs, so I didn’t put many eggs in that basket. I was also limited geographically, as I was moving with my wife and we wanted to be near family.  

I was shocked to receive the call to interview at UNCW because it seemed like such a long shot. I was so clueless about the faculty search process that I had to desperately meet with KerryAnn O’Meara right before I left. I could immediately meet some teaching needs in what was a relatively new program. When I got the offer, I had no other job prospects on the horizon. I’m now in my fifth year and feel at home with my colleagues and university. We have a 3/3 standard load; I receive a 1-course release for coordinating our doctoral program, but also typically teach a course in the summer, so it still works out to about 6 courses per year. I recently learned I was promoted to associate professor with tenure. 

Dave Nguyen: I earned my doctoral degree from Michigan State University’s Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education program after working as a financial consultant and in a few different roles within student affairs (e.g., career counseling, student activities). As a doctoral student, I had always been interested in the idea of a faculty career, but really did not know what it truly entailed until I was on the other side. As a doctoral student, I actively collaborated with other doctoral students on course papers that could hopefully be turned into manuscripts. This strategy actually worked out as my first publication (with Jay Larson) was from a teaching and learning course and the second publication (my first solo) emerged from a diversity and equity class. I was really fortunate (re: lucky) that some of these manuscripts were interesting to reviewers. At this point, I began thinking that I could be a faculty member.  

After reading a lot of stories in the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Professor Is In, and InsideHigherEd, I just sort of assumed that you had to apply widely for a faculty position and hope that a person would hopefully get “the one” offer. After talking to a few different people at various career stages, they told me that this is not really the best advice. Instead, they encouraged me to apply widely, but also balancing the pieces (e.g., research or teaching) that I was looking for in a position. I ended up applying to about 40 positions.  

Submission Materials 

What should go on a CV and in what order should they appear?  

Matt: If you poke around, you will probably see lots of different formats. If they are faculty CVs, the odds are pretty good that the format (i.e., headings, order) are dictated in large part by the institution. I don’t know that there’s any hard and fast rule, but I would tend to put the “bigger” pieces that would count most for the positions you’re applying for up frontI would collect a few examples and go from there. I am sure any of us would be more than happy to share our CVs with you in Word format so you could adapt how you see fit. CMU doesn’t dictate a specific format, but does offer some general guidance. I know other institutions that dictate a specific format.  

Kevin: I think there is some variation in this by institution type. The general rule of thumb, I think, is that more important pieces of information appear earlier in the document. Putting something first in the order says something about its importance. At my public regional university, it’s not uncommon to see teaching or professional experience appear earlier than research. So, I echo Matt’s advice and would encourage you to look at the CVs of the people in the department to which you are applying. If there appears to be a norm of playing up things other than research, consider borrowing that order in your own CV. 

Are master’s-level graduate assistantship positions from 5-10 years ago outdated at this point or still relevant to include?  

Matt: Depending on what it is, I can see a strong case being made to include themIf your GA was working with non-traditional students let’s say, and you’re now applying for a program that teaches that population primarily, include it.  

Kevin: If the position asks for a certain level of professional experience, then including your graduate assistantships could be critical to showing your experience in the field. This is the especially the case if your professional experience is somewhat limited, which I’ve seen frequently in faculty searches. You may need to include graduate assistantships to meet a minimum number of years of experience. By contrast, if you have significant professional experience, you might not include or downplay your graduate assistantships in order to highlight or make space for something else. 

Dave: I think it depends on the positions for which you are applying. Some position descriptions are very clear on needing a certain amount of or certain types of student affairs/higher education experience so for that reason I would keep it on the CV.  

How about bullet points on the CV? Just listing a (former) professional student affairs position without any description doesn’t seem to paint enough of a picture of what that type of work included.  

Kevin: I tend to see less of this happening on CVs for faculty positions. I think that is more customary on a resume. That being said, my comment about differences by institution type applies here. At my public regional university, providing more detail about professional experience isn’t uncommon. But if the first 5 pages of your CV is detailed information about professional experience and doesn’t speak to your teaching or research abilities, it may raise questions about your preparation for a faculty role.  

What about including manuscripts that are “in preparation?”  

It’s really hard to understand what is overkill and what helps on the application docs.  

Matt: I’d absolutely put “in preparation” pieces on there. For a tenure-track job, a university invests around $1.5 million into you during your time on the tenure track. They want to see promise and a research trajectory. In preparation manuscripts are important insight into those areas. If you can find a way to indicate where they are in the process succinctly, I think you could do that because there is A LOT of variance in what “in preparation” could mean. I would only include pieces on there that have significant work done on them or that you’ve been accepted to write (e.g., book chapter that you’ve been asked to write, a New Directions series you’re co-editing). Some of these scholarly commitments happen several years in advance and are important to indicate.  

Erin: List manuscripts that you are sincerely working on and you could conceivably submit in the next 3-6 months or within the academic year. This might be conference papers you’ve written but haven’t yet gotten out for review or manuscripts that are actually starting to look like manuscripts (more than halfway done). Personally (based on advice I’ve received), I try not to list more than 4-5 in preparation. 

Kevin: Matt and Erin captured my thinking on this well. My caution is to think about the institution type and be reasonable with what you list. I will say that at my institution, we have had a number of candidates present lists of “in process” projects that number in the double-digits. That has been a turn-off for some of our faculty who wonder how committed the candidate will be to teaching or if they have been socialized to over-value research.  

What weight do search committees put on the cover letter?  

Matt: I often wonder how closely people read these. I think they receive a lot more scrutiny when you’re invited to an on-campus interview than the general pool. Once the pool is down to 3-4, people tend to pay more attention. I always really like cover letters, so I read them closely.  

Erin: From being on a search recently, I’ll admit that I looked at applicants’ CVs first to get to know where they’re coming from and what their research is, who they work with, etc. I read the cover letter to fill in the gaps of the CV–especially if the job itself has a need for specific knowledge/skills that aren’t immediately evident from your CV (e.g., titles of presentations, manuscripts). It’s highly unlikely that you’ll know everyone on the committee, so the cover letter is your chance to make that first impression. 

Dave: After being involved in some recent searches, I actually always read the cover letter first, especially since these searches tended to be looking for people to teach/research in certain areas. I expected in the cover letter to see the teaching and research topics listed there. I also do this because sometimes people’s research agenda is just getting underway or people haven’t been able to teach a specific class so I’m looking to see how the applicant describes their experiences and where they position themselves as a scholar-practitioner. 

The Job Market 

On the job search itself–how do you know if you are competitive enough to even enter the market? We’re told to figure out the type of institution we are looking for, but because the jobs are limited, everything seems like a long shot, and the few people I know who are gunning towards faculty roles seem to apply for all of them. 

Matt: You just never know. If you’ve got some teaching experience, some research published or in the works, and some interesting experience on which to draw, I say apply. Rarely will you meet all of the qualifications for any job. You might also share your CV with a trusted colleague or two who are faculty members and ask if you might be competitive if they had an opening. Again, I’m sure any of us would be willing to do that for anyone reading this. You will always find people more competitive than you or who have longer and more extensive CVs. Don’t let that bother you. If the most amount of publications and most extensive teaching experience was all that mattered, there wouldn’t be a need for committees and interviews. We could just outsource all this work to a software program!  

Erin: I’d flip this question around and challenge you to ask yourself, “How intentional have I been about preparing to be a faculty member?” Getting an academic job doesn’t happen by accident—this is what people set a foundation for. What is your foundation? What experiences have made you prepared to be a faculty member? How have you set the foundation for a productive research agenda? And how are you articulating that in your job materials? To the second part of the question about institutional type: This is one area where you’ll always get contradictory advice—should you apply for every job or just the ones that seem like they “fit” better for you or in places where you want to live? The truth is, you need to make that decision for yourself and consider what you need to help you thrive. I don’t think blanket statements like “I only want to work at a public institution” or “I only want to stay in [one region]” are useful unless you have some specific justifications related to your safety, happiness, and/or health (e.g., physical, mental, emotional, or otherwise). 

Kevin: What I’ll say about this is that research universities still dominate common understandings of faculty careers. This means that many people view faculty at research universities as the norm and the competition around faculty jobs at research universities as the standard. I think there are many faculty opportunities outside those universities that people don’t seriously consider enough. Competition for those jobs is different (though still intense), and non-research institutions often look for things that aren’t valued as much at research universities, especially love for and demonstrated skill at teaching. So, while it’s true people are likely applying to all sorts of institutions, the applicants you might think are the “best” aren’t going to be successful at all institutions. You probably have more to offer than you think, and it’s easy to talk yourself out of pursuing a faculty role out of fear around competition. As my story above indicates, I had pretty much written off faculty jobs because I didn’t feel competitive. But I was the right person for a new program looking for certain characteristics that might not have meant much if I sought faculty jobs at research universities.  

Dave: I found that you have to know what you want to teach. If you apply for a job in an area, such as policy, you really should know how you are going to teach it and what the course might look like, if you have not taught the course previously. Search committees can typically see through when people say they are a policy scholar, but all of their research is on student development. The incongruence makes it difficult to reconcile.  

To what extent are graduating students competing with postgrads and others with faculty-esque experience already?  

Erin: There’s a high likelihood that job pools including people who already have a tenure-track job or those with faculty-esque jobs (e.g., Visiting or Clinical Professors, post-doctoral fellows, etc.). That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are any less qualified for a job than you are as a recent graduate, but like Kevin states, the number of applicants in these roles seems to be increasing and they may have some experiences that a graduate student doesn’t. We aren’t saying this to be fatalistic and say that graduate students won’t get jobs, but it is something to be aware of. 

Kevin: This is an important question, as it seems like the number of post-doctoral, visiting, and clinical positions is increasing. In our recent searches, our phone interview candidates and finalists have always included people who are finishing their doctoral programs, as well as people who are in post-doctoral or visiting roles. I think part of the reason why people in post-doctoral or visiting roles have done well in our searches is because they often have teaching experience with graduate students that people still in their doctoral program don’t. That teaching experience and the ability to articulate a clear teaching philosophy is important in our program.  

The field of education has several specialties within it (e.g., higher education, education policy, leadership). Should you focus on one specialty or be more open-minded with respect to openings? 

Erin: Read the job postings carefully—they often will state what the institution is looking for or focusing on. If they don’t, do research on the department and their curriculum to see what their focus areas within higher education, leadership, etc., are. Also be aware that job calls might also specify particular methodologies (especially if they are looking for a quantitative scholar) that they are interested in. Some jobs are intentionally broad because the committee may have multiple competing needs, and they want to have a broad pool of applicants to choose from. Kevin’s last line about distance from the job ad is, in my opinion, spot-on. I think it’s worth saying that there are also ebbs and flows to the demands of particular areas of expertise and/or methodologies that can feel detrimental to you if you check those boxes. The year I was hired, it felt like a lot of places only wanted applications from quantitative scholars in policy, finance, or law. If it’s someplace you’d want to be considered for, I’d apply anyway and see what happens. 

Kevin: I think some people are going to be better able to move across specialities than others. For example, people who do policy and finance work, especially with advanced quantitative skills, can have better luck selling their expertise in different specialties. By contrast, someone who, for example, focuses on college student development or something specific to student affairs probably won’t have as much luck moving across specialties. Something to keep in mind is that many institutions are hiring someone in order to address specific teaching and advising needs. If they ask for someone who can teach certain courses or with certain methodological expertise, that isn’t necessarily a wish list, but rather a concrete reflection of a gap or need in their program. So, your chances are much better if your background clearly connects to what they seek. The more distant you are from what is articulated in the job ad, the harder your path to an interview. 

Should I consider Visiting Assistant Professor positions or Clinical faculty positions? 

Matt: I was a visiting professor and was told that it was the piece that helped separate my materials from others by people on two different hiring committees. Not only was the experience useful, but I was also able to establish my research agenda more. A year or two of additional experience can help strengthen your CV tremendously. You might also find that you like the clinical faculty role more so than a tenure-track position, too.  

Erin: I was a Visiting Assistant Professor too, and my experience echoes Matt. For me, the year as a VAP helped move me closer toward the tenure-track, especially since I was previously working in a full-time staff position. Something that I strongly recommend that you look into when considering a VAP offer are: if your offer includes moving expenses (in addition to normal salary and benefits) as well as research and travel funds for conferences; what the expectations are for teaching, research, and service (expect a higher teaching load); what technology and facilities will be provided (e.g., laptop, your own office space, printing, etc.). I’d have a candid conversation about the viability of a tenure-track position (especially if this is a place you’d like to work at more long-term) and if you’d be eligible for consideration if one becomes available. I also recommend that you talk with them about what mentoring and resources might be available to you to help you with the tenure-track job market. Secondly, I’d also have a candid conversation about the length of the VAP appointment, especially if this position would require you to move across the country.  

What Makes a Competitive Candidate 

How important is attending conferences, given how expensive they can be? 

Dave: I say this as a student and as a former faculty search chair, I think you have to make decisions within your socioeconomic positioning. Is it essential to go to a conference? I don’t think it will make a significant difference. People can go to conferences to present their work and those can be market signals of scholarly potential, but I would much rather see a potential colleague have a paper under review than a laundry list of presentations and no papers under review.  

When I recently chaired a faculty search, I met with a number of interested people at a conference, but I also talked to a few people via phone that couldn’t connect with me at the conference. I think you might be able to get a better feel for a potential colleague by talking to the search chair, but I don’t think it makes or breaks your candidacy for the position.   

Matt: It’s hard to escape the networking and scholarly opportunities that a conference can provide. But I think there’s a growing awareness that conferences exclude a lot of people for a variety of reasons (e.g., price, family obligations). I sense the tide is changing on the importance of conferences. Many of us have spent $1,500+ to travel across the country to present our work to less than a dozen people and questioned the utility of it all. Like Dave said, I think most people are more than willing to connect virtually with folks who can’t attend a conference. You can also work with other scholars on paper presentations, get the same credit, but just not physically attend the conference. Those presentations count the same on your CV whether or not you were actually present (provided someone else presented on your behalf).  

Erin: I see or hear from graduate students who feel under a lot of pressure to go to a lot of conferences–ASHE, ACPA, NASPA, AERA, and others. Unless you have significant institutional (or personal, but really, institutional) resources, this is too much. If you really want to pursue a faculty position, I do suggest that you try to attend and present at least one national conference of your choice. If it’s easier, you can also check out regional conferences and state convenings to get your name out there and to get presentation practice that are typically cheaper and might require less travel for you. 

In 2018, Iowa State announced a faculty search about 2 days before ASHE started. I had a lot of people reach out to me to connect at ASHE, even though I wasn’t on the search committee. The interaction with folx was great, but I don’t know that anyone got an advantage in the search because they were physically present at ASHE. 

Do I need to have a personal website? 

Dave: I don’t have a personal website. I toy around with the idea from time-to-time, but I do keep an account. I actually found it helpful and nerveracking when I was on the job market because I would get notifications when someone google searched me in academia and I could see the location. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s really important.  

Erin: I don’t have a personal website either. I actually started one, but I haven’t found the time to dedicate to design and updating it. My institution asks us to keep our faculty profiles up to date, and so that’s where I’ve dedicated my time and efforts to ensuring my CV is up to date and that I have current information available. I have a Google Scholar account and will occasionally peek at the citation metrics to see which of my articles are getting out there and cited (and by whom). I deleted my Academia profile recently and am relieved not to get their incessant emails. 

Kevin: I have a personal website, and I sometimes get contacted by journalists through that versus my institutional website. Having said that, I don’t believe any interviewing or hiring decision we’ve made recently has been influenced by a person’s website.  

How big of a role does social media presence play in the hiring process? 

Erin: A lack of a social media presence is likely to never be a negative. I also don’t think that hiring committees with 100+ applicants are checking the social media presence of every applicant. However, know that some committee members might already know you through social media and that connection could already form their opinion of you—positive or negative. For better or worse, universities are hyper-aware of the liability of social media situations that get away from the original intention, and those statements that say “Tweets are my own” don’t always separate the poster from their institution. Be smart and strategic with your social media presence, especially if you want it to be an extension of your professional life. 

Kevin: In our recent searches, social media presence really did not factor at all into the process, as many of our finalists did not have a heavy presence and our faculty often don’t either. But I do think it’s possible that social media raises awareness of your work in ways that could potentially be beneficial. I’ve had many opportunities arise through Twitter friendships. 

Matt: I don’t have a personal website and I really don’t care either way if applicants do. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t visit said website unless I was on the fence of their candidacy after the on-campus. What are you going to put on your website that I couldn’t get from your CV? I asked a few of my colleagues about this and they indicated they didn’t care either. If creating a website or having a presence on social media is something you enjoy, by all means do it. But I hate to see these kinds of increasing and unnecessary pressures put on faculty candidates when I don’t think there’s enough need or payoff there. Social media, on the other hand, doesn’t cost any money and can be a rich way to engage with others. (The four of us actually chat on Twitter quite regularly!)  

Is it appropriate/recommended to reach out (cold) to a program or faculty if you’re interested in their posting if you don’t have existing connections there? 

Matt: Most definitely. I would first exhaust your networks to see if you have *any* connections at that program (e.g., does your advisor know anyone there? Do any of your friends have a connection there? Any Twitter friends there?). If not, a cold reachout is totally fine in my opinion. And if it’s not acceptable to reach out to those faculty cold, do you really want to become their colleague? Would they also not respond to students’ cold inquiries?  

Erin: Absolutely, but be smart about this. If you don’t know anyone (students or faculty), find out if any of your advisors or mentors do. If you still don’t have a common connection, find out who the chair of the search committee is—they should really be the first contact you have. If the search happens to coincide with a conference like ASHE, reach out to folx and see if they have a short amount of time to connect. Have questions in mind, and be respectful of the other person’s time. If you’re a Scholar of Color, I also highly recommend talking to another SoC from that institution (even if they’re not on that committee) to find out more about their experience, especially if the institution is a PWI or it’s in a racially and ethnically homogenous area of the country where you might be isolated. 

Kevin: I have a slightly different take on this. I don’t think it likely hurts much, though I have known search chairs who grow a little tired of emails and calls. So, don’t go crazy trying to connect and get information. In the end, I don’t know that it makes a huge difference. 

Should you create a “brand” for yourself on the market (e.g., particular research agendas, methodological or theoretical frameworks, etc.)? 

Erin: I don’t know that a “brand” is important so much as being able to articulate clearly and concisely what scholarly conversation(s) you are in and what/how you contribute. Don’t talk a big game if you can’t back it up–in my experience, search committees and the people you meet on a campus visit (especially students!) can figure out people’s BS fairly quickly. 

Kevin: I agree with Erin. The materials you submit should convey certain areas about which you have expertise and passion. Your success in the review process will likely relate strongly to how closely those areas hew to what the program seeks. You might think some in terms of keywords. The job ad might specify keywords that are important to the position and department. To what extent do your materials reflect those keywords or show a consistency in your potential contributions? However, I would be genuine about it. You can go overboard with placing yourself in certain boxes, which could send the message you are limited or wouldn’t be open to new challenges. 

How do newly minted PhDs compete in the job market? Especially if they only have a handful of publications? 

Matt: They absolutely compete. And they often land jobs over more experienced faculty. Most committees are able to evaluate candidates fairly based on where they are in their careers.  

Erin: For most Assistant Professor positions (excluding those that specify that they want an “Advanced Assistant Professor”), most applicants are considered more or less equally qualified (i.e., the applicants all have a terminal degree, they have relevant professional/research experiences and training). With that, committees are looking for someone who will be a good fit (for the institution, for their departmental needs, someone who will be a good colleague) and who has the potential to be productive.  

How is the research capacity of the candidate typically evaluated?  

Erin: From the outset (and I resent myself for saying it), I’ll admit that it’s going to be hard to compete in a stack of applications if you don’t have at least one manuscript out for publication (if not already published). Some job applications require a writing sample (sometimes even more than one). If you don’t have a publication, you can submit an excerpt from your dissertation or a manuscript in preparation/conference paper. Just be clear about what you submitted. Regarding a writing sample that has multiple authors: I wouldn’t submit a paper that you’re not first author on for a job application. If that is all you have, be sure you can articulate exactly what your contributions to the paper were (e.g., you wrote the literature review, etc.). Last thing I’ll add: if you really want to be in a place that is practitioner-focused, consider publications like research briefs in journals that are still peer-reviewed, shorter pieces and demonstrate how you also want to connect with/to practitioners. 

Dave: I like to think of the job market paper as the paragraph in your cover letter where you are describing a recent project (likely your dissertation). How do you position your work? How do you describe it to audiences that may not really understand the nuance of your work. This should not read like a paper abstract. What makes your work new, interesting, and unique. 


What can derail an on-campus interview? Alternatively, what general advice would you offer for a successful on-campus interview? 

Matt: I’ll talk about on-campus interviews I’ve seen go off the rails. Lack of familiarity with departments, programs, class delivery methods (e.g., online, hybrid, in-person)… those can all sink a candidate quickly. Know what kind of program(s) the institution has and how they are delivered. Similarly, inability to answer questions concisely (or even at all!) is something else I’ve seen. If you don’t have much practice articulating your research agenda, teaching philosophy, advising style, etc., concisely, the interview isn’t going to go well for you most likely. Practice with your peers. Practice in front of your program faculty. Practice in front of your cohort.  

Erin: General advice: Understand that everyone and everything from the time you step off the plane or out of the car is part of the interview. This includes students, office staff, faculty, and administrators. What can derail: Being rude to anyone; not being flexible or proactive when things go wrong (like technology); showing a lack of understanding of what the department/program is about or how you might contribute as a colleague, advisor, teacher, collaborator, etc. 

Kevin: I can’t overstate this–do some research on the institution and department. Show genuine interest in the position, department, and the institution by asking good questions. Our top candidates have always seemed deeply interested in how we do things and then articulated how they could contribute. If you’re coming to a teaching-oriented institution but talk purely about research, there will likely be a disconnect. At our institution, we love it when candidates specify courses in our curriculum they are comfortable teaching. Ask about your potential colleagues’ teaching and research. The presentation is an area where I have seen candidates falter. This is sometimes because the presentation didn’t address the prompt or didn’t convey to stakeholders how the candidate would fit in the department. On more than one occasion, a candidate’s presentation went overboard talking about research in ways that suggested to us they were more interested in a research-intensive institution. 

Do institutions help spouses or partners find employment? 

Matt: Mine did! 2012 was the first year CMU ever had a policy of partner hires. It was serendipitous timing to say the least. What CMU’s policy basically consists of is the Dean of the college working diligently and in good faith to find partners a job. The Dean also has some discretionary money attached to it, which I believe comes from some other pot of money at the larger university. In my case, the Dean offered to pay *half* of my partner’s position for two years wherever she was hired in the university. This was a great incentive for our student affairs division to create a new position for her because they received a 50% discount in the creation cost. I will say that I had to accept my position before my partner had a job; we had to trust in the good faith of this process.  

Erin: This is really going to depend on the institution and the particularities of your spouse/partner. The regional comprehensive institution I graduated from had no formal structures to help partners find jobs (other than tapping into personal/professional networks). When I came to my R1 institution, I found out that the Provost’s Office had a formal program will helping partners locate jobs ( The cool thing about being in education is that our administrators (especially Deans and other college-level leaders) typically have good connections to the community and might be able to put out feelers for you. My Director reached out to the Chair of the History Department at ISU to see if they had any room for my partner (they didn’t, but I appreciated the ask). 

Kevin: My public regional university doesn’t have anything formal in place to help with this. It would be outside the norm and likely beyond our resources, unless there was a miraculous alignment–like your partner or spouse works in an area where there happens to be a vacancy.  

%d bloggers like this: