An Open Letter to ABD Job Seekers

Dear ABD Job Seekers,

Since I'm on the sidelines this year as far as the job market is concerned, I feel comfortable dispensing some advice based on my experience in the job search and that of my friends.

First, here's one thing you have to do for your sanity. You must keep your two goals -- finishing the dissertation and getting a job -- completely separate in your mind. The "I have to do well in the job search so that I'll be motivated to finish my dissertation" line of thinking is a pure, poisonous recipe for anxiety and depression. In the fall 2005-spring 2006 job search season, things didn't go the way I'd hoped, and I figured I wouldn't be starting a tenure-track job the following year. I then focused my efforts completely on finishing my dissertation and made peace with the fact that the job search hadn't gone my way, and that made the writing go a lot better. Well, part of it too was that I wanted to stick it to anyone on any search committees who interviewed me and thought, "she won't be finished in time." Then I got a great job offer in June. It's probably good to think of your ABD turn on the job market as a practice run, even in rhetoric and composition or technical communication -- it's not that easy to get a job.

Next, background matters. This piece of advice may be hard to take, but I believe it's true. In my experience and that of most of my friends, search committees tend to glean as much as they can about your background and make decisions based on that. The most revealing bit of information about your background is probably where you got your undergraduate degree -- there's that old "most students go to college within 100 miles of home" statistic, which I don't know the origin of but which is cited here and here, and other Google-able places.

I went to the University of North Alabama for my B.A. It's a regional comprehensive, four-year university with a teaching mission and about 6000 students. It has a ten-year-old master's program. All faculty there teach composition and literature courses, and I have to say that it was great taking every single course with a very experienced tenure-track or tenured faculty member. Anyway, the places that showed the most interest in me were similar to UNA. They assumed, rightly, that I would have special knowledge of their typical student profile: underprepared, first-generation college, from rural areas, deeply religious, politically conservative.

So, for example, if you went to a small liberal arts college, religious college, military college, or what have you, you'll probably get a lot of interest from those kinds of places. Regional background matters a lot too. I don't mind revealing that I've never been a finalist for a job anywhere outside the South.

Okay. And if you have a train-wreck phone or MLA interview, an interview like a snake pit, you must know that they're likely treating all the interviewees that way, and it's no big deal. Believe me, those interviews don't end up being nearly as painful as the ones that go wonderfully, and the people were so nice, just perfect, but you wait and wait by the phone, and they never call to invite you to campus.

This last bit should be comforting. You may not have been told this before, but big-name senior scholars -- not even "advanced assistants", but associate and full professors -- apply for entry-level jobs. Admittedly, I'm guessing this mostly happens when research universities do searches. But it's definitely true; I could name specific instances. No ABD anywhere can possibly compete with these people. These are heavy hitters with award-winning books, editor positions at journals (journals they are bringing with them to the new department), big grant-funded projects, and other academic and fund-generating delicacies.

On a related note, when the ad says "Assistant or Associate Professor," they probably want the latter. Same with "open rank." Don't get too disappointed if you don't hear from those places.

Also, for those jobs you really wanted and never heard anything about, look at those departments' web sites come fall (you'll do that anyway). It'll give you some closure. You may find that they ended up hiring someone completely different from you in terms of research interest, or that they negotiated with one of those big name applicants and converted the position into a full professorship. Or you may find that they had a failed search, so you can apply next year.

Finally, sheesh! Update that wiki! Your colleagues will appreciate it.

Best of luck,



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


Good advice... definitely a lot to keep in mind.

Job Searches

2 Board Alley

Clancy, this is a terrific piece of advice for job-seekers. Have you sat on any hiring committees yet?

As someone who has been on a hiring committee for two years at a community college, can I add a few more points to your advice?

1. Don't apply to a community college as a fall-back strategy. If your goal is to work at a four-year or university, your cv is going to reflect that, and we won't be inclined to call you. We need instructors who are cognizant of and enthusiastic about community colleges.

2. Regardless of where you apply, go to that college's website and read it. Be able to discuss how you would specifically fit in to that school's mission. Believe me, that impresses a search committee quite a bit.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.