Question: I've written my vita and drafts of cover letters, lined up good (I hope) letters of recommendation, subscribed to my professional association's job Web site, and bought a new interview suit. What have I forgotten?
Julie: It sounds as if you are on top of your job search. However, there are still a few more things to do. Have you drafted a statement of research interest and a statement of teaching philosophy? If you are close to completing your dissertation you should probably write a one- to two-page abstract. If you have a Web site, you should make sure it's up to date.
Mary: As you prepare the way you will intentionally present yourself to employers during your job search, also think about the other ways they may learn about you. We'll start with the simplest. What phone numbers do you have on your vita? Who will answer the phone? Will that person make a good impression and remember to give you messages? If the phone will be answered by voice mail, have you made your own tape, and does it give the impression you want it to?
Julie: Do you regularly check the mail at the e-mail address that is on your vita? If you are away from e-mail for more than a day or two, do you have an automatic reply message that states when you will be checking e-mail again or another way of contacting you? Is your account set up so that you can read attachments that might be sent to you? Have you set up a system for keeping track of all your job-search notes, documents, and deadlines? You'll have enough to do without having to worry about "Now where did I write down that person's address?" or "How long ago did I send off that application?"
Mary: Now that we've mentioned a few things that are under your control, we'll move on to one that is somewhat less so: What someone might learn about you by surfing the Web or by "asking around"? It's a very interesting exercise to do a search on your own name with one of the powerful search engines. Northernlight.com is one we like and use a lot because of its thorough coverage. It, like many others, may pick up your name from a publication or presentation, a citation of a publication, your own Web site, your name on a site you set up for a class, or a listserv to which you posted.
An unfortunate feature of these searches is that often people with the same name are not distinguished from each other. It's interesting to see whether there is someone out there with whom you might be confused. If there is, you can't do much about it, except to be able to say some version of, "Oh, yes, that's the other chemist named John Doe."
Julie: Another unfortunate feature of these searches is that they are not comprehensive. Such a search probably will not pick up all of your conference presentations, publications, and memberships. On the other hand, they may pick up your position as refreshments coordinator for your child's school if the school has a Web site. Rather than worry about what random hits a search on your name may yield, I think it's better to be proactive and have a Web site of your own that is current and complete and is linked to interesting and appropriate sites.
Another thing that you can proactively do, which we have mentioned in this column before, is talk to the people who will write recommendations for you and make sure they are ready to take phone calls or e-mail messages about your candidacy.
Mary: That's a really good idea. As recommendations can potentially be a subject for lawsuits, authors have become more careful, and letters are nearly always entirely positive. Someone seeking a frank assessment of you might choose to speak directly with one of your references, or even merely ask someone else who knows you what you are like, although you have not mentioned that person in your list of references.
Julie: Therefore, it's wise to touch base with as many people in the department as you can to let them know you are on the market, remind them what your research interests are, and refamiliarize them with your work. It's appropriate to ask faculty members in your department for information that may help you in your search, whether or not you've worked closely with them.
For example, if you know that someone got a Ph.D. from an institution to which you're applying, ask what the department is like before you write your cover letter. If the hiring department wants to know what you're really like, an alumnus on your faculty who is not one of your references is exactly the kind of person who may get a quick phone call about you as the committee weighs interviewing you or someone else. It won't hurt you to have recently spoken with that person.
Mary: At least it won't hurt if you've conducted yourself well. If you've studiously ignored a faculty member throughout your studies only to develop a pressing interest in her work and insight as you come to apply to her degree-granting institution, you may be seen as insincere or manipulative. If, throughout your graduate-student career, you've paid attention to the people in your environment, engaged with them, and dealt with them straightforwardly, unsolicited inquiries made about you are likely to strengthen your candidacy.
Julie: One other thing you might want to make time for: If there is an opening in your department, sit in on job talks given by candidates. See what works and what doesn't. What grabs people's interest and what puts them to sleep? Additionally, if there are social events, such as receptions, connected with a candidate's visit, participate in them. Such participation will directly familiarize you with the process and should heighten your comfort level.
Mary: And finally, continue to think and talk about your research and your goals. One of our faculty members here advises students to use their job searches as a way to inform their thinking about their work, both teaching and research. Being forced to articulate your thoughts about work succinctly -- whether in letters, presentations, or interviews -- ultimately helps you to refine it.
To the extent that you can develop a synergy between your work and your search, the time demands of job hunting may seem less overwhelming. It will be a busy year, so our final suggestion is to take a look at your schedule and make sure it includes some time for exercise, for rest, for fun, and for whatever else is important in your life. That kind of balance will help you weather the inevitable ups and downs that are part of even the most-successful job search.