Question: Five years ago, I earned my doctorate from one of the top-five programs in my field. I deferred looking for an academic job for a year to consult at a six-figure income. I then accepted a full-time job at a teaching institution where I worked exclusively with M.B.A.'s and executive M.B.A.'s. The institution did not encourage research or support conference attendance. And straying from its conservative policies got you fired. The primary focus was teaching and mentoring, year-round.
In the back of my mind, I knew that course was a career-management mistake, but it was exhilarating. Six-figure income, incredible students, lots of freedom. Unfortunately, the institution did not grant tenure and after three years as an associate professor, the state's economy tanked and enrollment numbers dropped precipitously. The programs were redesigned, and I became a reduction-in-force statistic.
Now I'm unemployed. I have one book and no other publications. I have 100 letters of praise from students and faculty members, but I get puzzled looks when I convey that research was not encouraged by my last employer and that my expected role was to teach full-time. I'm bereft and missing teaching terribly. I want to start writing again as well. However, I do not know how to position myself in the job market.
Answer: It must be frustrating to have been let go despite a stellar performance and collegial relationships with other department members. However, when that happens, the best thing to do is to move forward.
You seem to be doing that, but it sounds like you're looking for positions in departments that are significantly different from the one you left. If that is the case, we would suggest reconnecting with your dissertation adviser and other committee members from your doctoral-granting university. Do those faculty members have any suggestions for jump-starting your research plan? Would they be willing to share data or collaborate on a project that would beef up your research profile?
On the other hand, you never say that you miss research, only that it was something you didn't do. What you miss is teaching. So how about considering institutions or programs that have a focus on teaching similar to your old employer? There is no shortage of M.B.A. programs across the country. You might focus your search there and on other teaching positions, or even on administrative positions with a teaching component. Those might be a better fit for your qualifications.
Question: I recently left my job of two years for personal reasons. I have been applying for every position that I feel qualified for and have sent out hundreds of résumés. I have had several interviews, but I have not heard from anyone.
I know that I tend to speak quietly and perhaps too directly. For example, if I am asked a yes-or-no question, that is how I respond. But in my last interview, I spoke more forcefully and went beyond my normal interview techniques, and I felt it went exceptionally well, and still no response. Would it be proper to actually e-mail the interviewer to find out what I did wrong?
Answer: Your question gives us the chance to make a couple of points about applying for jobs and interviewing.
First, casting a wide net and hoping a job will swim into it is not an effective strategy. You need to focus on specific positions and demonstrate explicitly how your skills and interests are a good match for each job. Then show the college that you know something about it. You need to do that with every application.
Networking and talking to people who work for the kinds of organizations in which you're interested will also help you write a more detailed cover letter and respond to interview questions in a more informed manner.
It will also help you learn whether a particular organization is the right fit for you. Find out if your undergraduate or graduate institution has an alumni network. Get in touch with colleagues from previous positions, and stay in touch. Talk to friends and family about your career aspirations. This is an essential part of your job search -- don't neglect it.
If you feel that you don't interview well because you speak softly or you're shy about talking "too much," get help. If you are still connected with your degree-granting institution, see if it provides interview assistance for alumni. If not, join Toastmasters, which can help you with public speaking. If you can afford it, hire a career coach.
Good verbal skills are essential to so many jobs that if speaking is a weakness, you really need to work on improving it. A job interview is a conversation; the interviewer shouldn't be doing all the talking. While interviewing someone who never shuts up is not fun, at least it's possible to learn a lot about that candidate. You never want potential employers to feel that they have to drag answers out of you.
As for contacting employers after an interview, that is certainly a reasonable thing to do in many instances. If you've received a job offer, for example, and are waiting to hear back from another department, you should absolutely call to ask about the status of the search.
If you're contacting an employer to get feedback on an interview for a job you did not get, don't ask, "What did I do wrong?" Ask, "Do you have any suggestion about how I can improve my interviewing style?" You may hear some constructive advice. Or you may hear, "I'm sorry, but our policy does not permit us to comment." Either way, it won't hurt to ask if you ask in the right way.
Question: I read with interest your advice to candidates who had received job offers and were curious about the etiquette for withdrawing from other searches. My question is slightly different: I interviewed with University A and heard nothing for a month. In the meantime I began receiving offers from other institutions. I sent an e-mail to the head of the search committee at University A mentioning my offers and asking about the status of my candidacy. Still, I heard nothing, so I accepted one of the other jobs.
Then, a month later, I received the most rudely worded rejection letter from University A. Was it incorrect of me to ask for a status update so I could make a choice with all the facts at hand? My request was worded very professionally, and I spoke of the university's many attractive qualities in my e-mail. I wasn't trying to force anyone's hand, but I wanted to ascertain whether I was a viable candidate there before accepting another offer. Do you think it was my request that provoked such a late and unprofessional response?
Answer: It sounds as though your inquiry was appropriate. As we mentioned, it is common practice when you receive a job offer to alert other departments with which you've interviewed. Most search committees would be glad to have that information. They want to be able to make an offer to the best candidate, and the best candidate often has multiple offers.
You stumbled onto a department that seems to have felt differently. It might be that the nasty letter was sent to all of the candidates who did not receive an offer. It might be that it was sent only to you. In either case, be glad that you've accepted a job at a place that treats its candidates (and, perhaps, its faculty members) with a bit more collegiality.
In the future, we might suggest that you telephone a member of the search committee about a competing offer rather than relying on e-mail. That way, you can hear the tone in someone's voice rather than trying to decipher the intention behind an e-mail and second-guessing your own actions.
For more advice on this issue, take a look at our previous column, "Waiting for the Phone to Ring."
Question: I have been told to expect offers from my second- and third-choice institutions. I would like to be able to wait until my first choice decides who it will bring in for on-campus interviews (there will be a three-week interval between receiving the offers from my second and third choices and finding out if I made the cut at my first choice).
How much time can I expect before I have to commit to an offer? How does one delay making that commitment to a potential employer? Exactly what level of detail should any of the institutions receive about the others?
Answer: This dilemma requires a bit of finesse. A search committee will want a response as quickly as possible, whereas most candidates will need some time to think. It is up to you, the candidate, to negotiate for time to decide on the offer.
It is certainly reasonable to ask for two, or even three weeks. Many institutions will balk at giving you much more time than that. There is no other way to delay informing a potential employer of your choice -- avoiding phone calls and ignoring e-mails would be unwise.
The level of detail you provide to the institutions is up to you. Often saying something along the lines of "This is an important decision for me, and I am hoping to hear from a couple of institutions. I'd like to have some extra time to decide so that I can make an informed choice" is sufficient.
Keep in mind that some search-committee chairs will be very curious about the other institutions and might ask. Whether you disclose that information is your choice.
You mention that you're still waiting to hear about an interview at your first choice. If you get that interview, it may be difficult to defer responding to your second- and third-choice institutions much longer. You may have to make a decision without knowing whether you'll get an offer from that first-choice institution. Think carefully about what you will do.
Question: One of the driving forces behind my current job search is the fact that my supervisor and I are a terrible match. How do I tactfully talk about that during an interview, especially when I have a few misgivings about what my current supervisor might say when a potential employer calls?
Answer: Practice. Reflect on why you don't enjoy working with your current supervisor and describe your relationship in as neutral terms as possible. Then talk about it out loud -- have a friend or family member interview you and ask you questions about the situation.
That is especially important if the relationship is emotionally charged and you have trouble talking about it without getting upset or angry.
In most cases, you will be able to list the references of your choice. But if you are required to provide the name of your current supervisor, you should also have other references who can provide a counterpoint to any less-than-enthusiastic report.
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