We get a lot of mail from people who agree with us, disagree with us, share further information, and ask questions. We can't always answer questions individually, but we enjoy this ongoing dialogue. Periodically, as we do this month, we use this space to share some of our responses.
Unfortunately, time constraints never allow us to provide critiques of C.V.'s, Web sites, and other job-hunting materials. For such feedback, call on the resources of your doctoral institutions. Try your department, your campus career center, career centers at institutions where you have received other degrees, and services offered by your professional or scholarly association. Also seek the advice of colleagues whose opinions you respect.
One of the most difficult decisions for a person to make is when to change career direction. In all fields, one reaches a point of diminishing likelihood of moving from part-time or temporary appointments to a tenure-track, or otherwise "permanent," position. How many years it usually takes to reach that point depends on one's field. As you try to decide, take into account the current norms in your own field.Question:
I've been looking for a full-time teaching position since completing my degree almost 10 years ago -- I've received a total of three interviews in that time and have been teaching part time at several schools all at once! What am I not doing right?
Answer: We're sorry you've had such a frustrating experience. One of the worst features of combining part-time jobs is that the workload is so demanding it often leaves little time for the publishing, research, and grant writing that are helpful in being considered for full-time positions.
The more years that have passed since earning a degree, the more of those things one is expected to have done. Discuss the situation with faculty members at the school where you earned your Ph.D., and get their frank input about how your applications are being received and what you might do to make them more competitive.
Many Ph.D.'s have found rewarding careers outside of academia, and for those who choose this route, continuing to teach an evening course, for fun rather than income, remains an option, as do scholarly publishing and continuing participation in the activities of scholarly associations. Whether this is a good move is a judgment call.
However, the current strong economy certainly provides a favorable climate for anyone wanting to explore a new career direction, and changing fields will be easier now than it will be if the economy goes into a tailspin. Margaret Newhouse's columns on this site make good suggestions along those lines.
Some people have asked if it's worthwhile to interview for a job they're not sure they want or will be offered. We tend to think it is, if the employer will pay transportation costs, because we've known candidates to be pleasantly surprised at an interview for what they thought would be a marginal job. The question is harder to answer when the candidate will have to pay the transportation costs.Question:
I would like to know your opinion on the appropriateness of making the following inquiries prior to accepting an interview for which I must pay my own travel expenses. (1) Is a minority candidate being actively sought for this instruction position? (2) If yes, how many minority candidates will be interviewed? (3) How many internal candidates will be interviewed? I am not sure if this might be interpreted as being insensitive towards minority issues. I am not, but from a financial standpoint, I believe that this information is important in making the decision to spend hundreds of dollars to attend an interview.
Answer: It's certainly appropriate to ask how many candidates are being interviewed for a position before deciding to incur travel expenses. However, asking about the number of minority candidates or the presence of inside candidates could imply you don't expect the search to be fairly conducted. Even if there were a way to ask these questions, the answer would be useless.
In many cases, the decks are still stacked against the minority candidates, however many may be brought in to show that the institution "really tried." Inside candidates often must be interviewed, for courtesy, but, for all you know, a given candidate could have zero chance of getting the job, so thoroughly had he managed to get his colleagues to dislike him!
A more productive approach is to indicate that the travel expense is a major consideration and to suggest a preliminary telephone interview. You might say that if, after that interview, you appear be a strong candidate, you're happy to pay to make the trip. That way, if, for whatever reason, you're unlikely to get the job, the committee has a tactful way to spare you the expense. If you do decide to pay to travel to an interview, try to get as much benefit as you can from the expenditure. If you're interested in a nearby institution, see whether you can arrange an interview there, even if there's no immediate opening, so that, if a position does open up, people will already know you.
Another kind of feedback candidates may want from hiring departments is an explanation of why they didn't get an offer. We suggest that you never ask this question directly. However, if you have an interview and have established a good rapport with someone at the hiring institution, a phone call asking for constructive suggestions may yield some.
Question: In the last two years of job searching, I have made numerous short lists that have included an initial screening call, followed by a conference call, then on to references, but failed to get the on-site interview -- in all cases!! What's going on? Should I suspect a bad referee, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the committee chair?
Answer: It's extremely difficult to know what's really happening. It's possible a referee is saying something to give a hiring committee pause. On the other hand, it's possible that you are somehow giving the committee pause. And on the third hand, it's possible that you're presenting yourself extremely well and your professors are giving rave reviews, and you're simply up against some very stiff competition.
We suggest you find someone who can sit down and review the whole application process with you. That might be someone at a career center where you earned your graduate or undergraduate degrees, a savvy former faculty adviser, a friend who's a successful academic, or any other person with a large bank of firsthand experience who can discuss the situation in detail.
You might also experiment with the effects of using different combinations of references. If you do better with applications for which you don't provide a particular individual as a reference, you've answered your question. Also consider whether there may be someone whose name you don't provide who may be asked about you, anyway, because of your obvious association with that person. If there is someone like this giving you a negative review, this can be a difficult situation, but do what fence-mending you can.
The question below involves another version of wondering -- not what people are saying about you, but what they might think of you if you asked their advice.
Question: I will be on the job market next year, and I have a question. I plan to apply for a job at an institution where a former grad-school colleague of mine teaches.
Best-case scenario: I am offered the job. Would it be wise to ask for advice from my friend as to how far the university might be willing to go in the negotiation process? I understand that s/he could use it against me, or to gain "friends" within the department for his/her knowledge. What would you suggest?
Answer: This is a good question. It might be very helpful to ask your friend for information about the department as you prepare for an interview. If the friend mentions to others that you've asked, no harm is done, because your question shows that you are trying to prepare thoroughly.
Once the offer is made, however, think very hard before involving a potential colleague in a salary negotiation. If it's a very good friend in the same department, you might ask how flexible the department tends to be in negotiating offers, but leave it at that. For example, the friend may have done a poor job of negotiating, realizes it, and now finds him or herself in the awkward position of advising a new colleague about how to get paid a higher salary! If the friend is in a different department, the situation is less awkward, but if you went to grad school with the person, we're assuming he or she is in the department you would join.
As a rule of thumb, if you have to ask whether you could trust someone, you probably don't know the person well enough to assume their loyalty would be to you, rather than to their employer.