If you piled it all up, there are many mountains of information, advice, etc. on the academic job search process. It is different for not only fields of study, but also personal and financial situations. There are, in other words, many things that make your particular job search idiosyncratic.
But there are two things that bind us all: the job process is defined by certain stages and the will of God. Negating the easy “whatever job I am offered is the will of God” for a moment, I want to think through some stuff many usually ignore–some attached to the “will of God”–in the job search process. And of course they ignore such stuff because these “some” define the “will” as any job that comes.
My defining thesis for these posts: we need to make the job process into the “will of God.’ Or in other words, we need to discover how God can work in us and among us at that job during the search process. There isn’t going to be a phone call from heaven telling you where to apply, nor a provable ‘gut feeling’ on which place to go toward. Your judgment has been trained by years of graduate school and I hope also years of making good decisions about life. But it’s myopic right now. Trust me. I have a job. I “won the lottery.”
Since September and October in many ways start the job year (with the first MLA list for humanities people and the posts on different job wikis), if you’re you’re on the market and are not already applying, you will soon. Here are some thoughts about “the will of God” and that stage.
First, one should start with a national search. The more openings, the better. I applied to 300+ jobs at all levels of employment and all kinds of schools. Higher education is shrinking, even for fields with a great number of openings. Narrowing to a particular region or type of school (R1 v. small liberal arts) negates possible offers.
Yeah but…. 1) my spouse wants to stay near family 2) we like to live in a particular climate or 3) we’ve never lived anywhere else; we feel comfortable in places like _____. My reply: The “will of God” is often bigger than our first impression. Don’t narrow too quickly.
Second, remember a good cover letter frames you for potential employers—how your research or teaching fits their research or teaching—i.e. what students need to be taught and what your prospective employers see as the future of their department. There is no “yeah, but” here. You in some manner become the “maker” of a future for them. If committee members like the future you are framing in your application materials, you get pushed to the top of the pile. And the top “future makers” get interviews.
But this letter also shows them you want to be there. If you can’t see yourself in a particular school, maybe you ought not apply there. However you copy and paste letters, that attitude will be noted by someone who scans your letter. Or that attitude could be blocking God from putting you there. You have to prioritize certain places over others, but don’t discount the ones you think are lesser merely because you think they are lesser.
Third, you should think strongly about how God’s will can be lived out in the conditions of that school—its student population, its town, its region. By now you have discovered some manner of having a life outside graduate school, and the pressures will become if not ‘real,’ realer when you get employed. But moving to a new place that is quite different in size or location than where you are requires real faith that God can have you there. The will of God often asks us to supply that faith: Abraham, sacrifice your son. It may take a leap of faith—an application to Nowhere U—to start you on that process of seeing yourself there. If and when you get an interview, then comes the more difficult part. The conditions of the school include the course load, the number of students per class, the number of people in your area already on faculty (i.e. are you the only ____?). [By the way mentioning the types of students a school has in a cover letter—and that you want to or have taught them—is a winning strategy.] The conditions of being at that school also include the kind of Christians you like to surround yourself with. Being at Nowhere U may limit your ‘scholarly’ Christianity from flowering, but it also might make you a better Christian, as you learn from believers who are different from you.
Lastly, during the application process, one should ‘send and delete.’ Once you send out an application, don’t re-analyze it, don’t read over it, don’t critique it. It’s done—they will like you or they won’t. God still loves you when you mistakenly copy and paste the wrong search committee chairman to another school’s letter. God still loves you when you notice you misspelled the university’s name. Send it and delete it from your mind. (Don’t actually delete the letter itself from your computer. You will need to refer to it when they contact you for that interview. More on that next.)
Part of Matthew Boedy’s The Job Search Series in ESN’s Navigating Career Stages collection. Post 1. Join us next Thursday for a post on The Interview Process.
Matthew Boedy is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of North Georgia. He has degrees from the University of Florida (BS) and the University of South Carolina (MFA and PhD). He enjoys books by Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Frederick Buechner. His research interests include the rhetoric of evil, ethics, and professional writing.