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Academic Coaching & Writing

X. Applying to Jobs That Fit Your Academic Brand

Sep 17, 2017 by Dr Sally

Psychologists have found that searching for a job is one of the most stressful events that a person can undertake. Being on the job market requires considerable resources in terms of time, energy, and money. We have emphasized in this blog series various ways that a clear academic brand helps your audience understand you and your work better and, thus, be more inclined to move you to the next step in the job application process, be it their requesting more material or inviting you to talk with job committee members via a telephone, online, or in-person interview. Being realistic and strategic about what positions you apply for and how you spend your energy are part of effective planning while on the academic job market.

Developing an authentic academic brand can lower your stress when you use it to guide you to apply to job postings that fit your experiences and needs. This final post discusses one of the ways that your academic brand helps you make decisions, specifically addressing how to filter out and prioritize job applications in your field. If a tenure-track faculty position is your goal, you need to consider what landing an academic position may require and what your own needs are.

Consider the Fit Between Your Interests and the Job Demands

It is common for academic job seekers to be on the job market for several years. While this may sound trite, think of this as a marathon, not a sprint.

Developing an academic brand requires you to first think broadly about your interests and motivations. Likewise, throughout the search process, consider what positions match your current and future goals. Does the job description imply that your research and long-term professional goals will be encouraged or does it appear that your research interests may be considered tangential to other work the position will require? For example, will the proposed teaching and service load negatively affect the time you need to publish papers in your field?

Be Realistic About Your Needs

As you are thinking about applying for a specific job opening, think about how the job will fit your needs. At what type of institution will you want to teach? How many classes will you be comfortable teaching per semester?  What job conditions will you need for success? What will be your salary needs based on the location and how you want to live? Be realistic about your own requirements and needs for work-life balance and if they match the stated requirements of the position. Your success as an academic depends on your staying healthy and happy enough to meet the goals you have outlined for yourself in your branded documents. As you read through each position posted, consider:

Type of institution. Research the size and scope of the institution, the culture, the location, the history, and the mission of the school to determine how well it matches your needs.

Teaching load. Job postings may or may not include the number of courses you will be expected to teach each semester. Keep in mind that how you experience the teaching load will be shaped by the size of your classes, the assignment of teaching or grading assistants, the number of different course preparations, and other factors such as whether you will teach on multiple campuses, teach courses online or partly online in blended courses, and teach in a quarter or semester schedule. When reading job postings and considering the teaching requirements, sketch out what courses you think you would like to teach, what courses fall under your expertise, what courses you could teach if necessary, and what courses you know that you do not want to teach because they are far afield of your training.

Research requirements. “Publish or Perish” does not describe all positions. However, in most, research and publishing requirements do exist. Nail down these expectations as best as you can before you write your cover letter and adapt your research statement for the job application. Look at the department website and scan the faculty CVs and profiles of those who are at the same rank/position as the one you would be applying for. You will be less able to negotiate what will satisfy you if you do not first do the work of identifying what you will need to be happy in a new position.

Service. In small schools, service takes on a more diverse and varied shape than at larger schools because there are fewer faculty to fill the committee and service needs. Likewise, in a small department, you can count on being expected to step into leadership roles such as program director or chair positions because there are fewer people available. Will demands on your time for service activities fit with the time you need in other areas of your professional and personal life?

Location. Many of you may have heard that to be a successful academic, you need to be willing to move anywhere. While this may be an option for some job seekers, family, friends, faith community, and other factors are likely to weigh heavily on what jobs you decide to apply for. Chart out your geographic needs. For example, if you know that you hate spending time in a car, be wary of accepting a job where you cannot walk to work or take public transportation. If you want to apply for jobs overseas, update your passport and research what that would mean for you.

Job conditions. Your research needs, office space, start-up funding for equipment are all important for your professional success. Remember that it is your job to know what you need, not your department chair’s, colleagues’ nor institution’s responsibility, especially if you have needs or requirements that are potentially out of the ordinary. Consider the type of daily schedule you want. Does your ideal daily rhythm include flexible hours, or do you have family commitments and need to be home when your kids get out of school? Does the school or department require that its professors be in their offices every day and be accessible to students on a walk-in basis? You can discover these conditions of the job by carefully reading institutional missions, faculty handbooks, and department policies.

Salary needs. Most job postings will not include information about salary. Unlike many other careers, salary is often not discussed for faculty positions until an offer for the position is on the table. What you need to pay off debts, live safely, and fulfill your needs is important to know. Take into consideration that cost of living varies in different locations. Do your research to find out about other benefits such as retirement, health care packages, and research and travel funds in your department. Perhaps a comprehensive health care package is more important to you than research money for travel to conferences. Will you consider a job that requires you to win grants to cover a percentage of your salary each year?

Other. As a job seeker, the complexity of the different types of positions you may apply for is important to understand. For example, adjunct professor pay, work conditions, and experience vary widely across fields and institutions. More and more, faculty jobs are combined with administration jobs, or a single position is shared between departments. How do you feel about taking a job that includes administration on top of teaching? Do you have experience or skills that would lend themselves to being a program or center director or the coordinator of other staff? Does this kind of responsibility and work fall under your skills sets? If your work falls along interdisciplinary lines, do you understand the pros and cons of splitting a position between two departments? Remember, the way in which you brand yourself as an academic will provide job search committees with an idea of what kind of work you are looking for.

In Conclusion: Play Your Long Game

The intent of this blog series has been to provide you with concrete steps toward developing your own academic brand in preparation for searching for and securing an academic job that complements your interests, draws on your strengths, and fits your basic job requirements.

If a tenure-track position is what you want, you need to plan for the long haul. It usually takes a minimum of five to six years at most institutions to earn tenure. Whether you want to use a new position as a stepping stone or plan to settle in, prepare to stay in the position for two or three years at a minimum. Using your academic brand to plan what future projects are next will help you stay motivated and focused on doing the best work you can do.

ACW offers numerous resources for job seekers to develop their brands and brand plans and provides templates for job application materials. If you are seeking an academic position, ACW job coaches can work one-on-one with you to help you discover your academic brand, craft your application materials—CV, Research Statement, Teaching Statement, Cover Letter, website and online profiles—determine which positions to apply for, hone your interview skills, and help you remain positive during the search process.

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