Friday, October 17, 2008

I don't know if she's worth 900 kr

It's probably a little late in the game for a discussion of selective job searches to be helpful to those who are standing at the edge of the deep (or, in this case, the shallow) end of the pool trying to figure out if they should jump in and splash around. Nonetheless, there's inklings of this discussion in the comment thread over yonder, and I thought it merits it's own post.

What I've been told from numerous people-in-the-know is that going on the job market selectively makes no sense; if you're ready to apply to some jobs, then you should be ready to put your shoulder to the wheel and go forward full-bore with the applications. I pushed back on this sentiment at first. I wanted to leave open the possibility of applying selectively (just in case the perfect job satisfying all my academic and geographic desires came about), but I've come around to share it for the following (non-exhaustive) reasons:
1) Being ready for the market is all-or-nothing: you either have your dissertation done (or close to done) so your letter-writers can say that you'll have your Ph.D by the time of appointment, you either have publications or don't, you either have a job market portfolio prepared or not, et cetera, et cetera.
2) A selective job search, if conducted because you're not completely ready to apply to all kindsa jobs for the above reasons, more than likely won't be successful. That time you will have spent applying to jobs will be wasted. It's oh-so-precious time you could have spent finishing the dissertation, getting published, or getting a jump on the job market portfolio.
3) There's an off-chance that a job search, if conducted before your eggs have hatched, may hurt any future chance you have at getting that job. If that job is so dreamy as to draw your application and it isn't up-to-snuff, then if it isn't filled, there's no reason for them to take your application seriously the next year. First impressions matter (and perhaps there's a chance of those first impressions hurting your philosophical reputation elsewhere?).
I'm not entirely sold on whether or not these reasons compellingly speak against a selective job search (or make sense, especially the third reason). But, if these don't do it for you, I'm sure people can build upon them (and attack them accordingly) as they see fit in the comments. So, have at it!



Anonymous said...

There is, of course, only one acceptable strategy for the job search: throw as much shit as possible against the wall and hope that some of it sticks. Is there really any need for a discussion of this question?

Anonymous said...

The following scenario looks like the only one warranting a selective job search (and selective means only a few dozen jobs tops).

1. You are at a top 10 PGR Uni (top 5 really).
2. You just started your 5th year.
3. You have a fully funded 6th year waiting.
4. You already have a pub out at a top journal.
5. Your dissertation could be finished easily by May (perhaps it could be a collection of loosely tied together papers).
6. You have killer recs from killer peeps.

Someone meeting the above might simply say, what the hell, and only apply to jobs in top 25 depts.

So for the half dozen or so dudes and dudettes meeting the above, I say rock on, my babys. For the rest of you rabble, move along, move along.

Anonymous said...

Who said a selective job search should focus just on the dreamy jobs? How about a cross-section, or the jobs you're likely to get. I think my original post was pretty clear, and if you don't buy it, good. Live on your TA stipend for another year, then I'll have less competition this year when I'm on the market. No one's forcing you to apply for jobs.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

There are a varity of good reasons to do a limited search --- most of them personal in nature. For example, this year there is a job that would have been absolutely perfect for me... (I'm not applyiing because a serious illness precluded focuing on my dissertationthis summer -- grr). If this weren't the perfect job for me -- and if I weren't the perfect fit for that job -- I wouldn't have considered applying at all. i have tenure at my Philosophy Factory, I generally like it here etc... So an all-out search doesn't make sense to me.

Also, for a limited search, you could decide to hurry to defend this year for the right job, or postpone defense until next year so as to have two rounds of "all out" searches in which your PhD is nice and new.

As for the reasons, #3 seems to be the weakest. With a large pool of applicants,it is unlikely that a committee will really remember your un-suitable application -- on the off chance that they have an opening in the next year as well. Having been on a couple of search committees, I can honestly say that I don't remember all the people we INTERVIEWED, say noting of the CVs I read and put in the "thank for applying, but you won't work" category.

Anonymous said...

Another scenario that demands a selective job search:

1. You are overwhelmed with grading from your current VAP position.

2. You are an interdisciplinary scholar and could apply for up to 200 positions.

3. You realize that in a tight job market most jobs are wired.

4. Your cousin Vinny knows the chair of the HisCon program at Boondock State College.

Therefore, apply to Boondock State with Vinny's recommendation and save yourself a lot of wasted time and energy.

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

Anon. 8:34,

No need to get snippy or start concern trolling, I didn't have in mind anyone's post/advice in particular when I wrote my post.

Besides, I think the main thrust of the post holds even for a cross-section of jobs: if you only attempt a selective job search because you aren't all the way ready, which seems to be the only reason to do a selective search, then you're chances of getting any job, whether dreamy or otherwise, are pretty damn slim. So, why even bother (especially if you have some easy source of funding to live off of)?

If you're ready for a cross-section, you're ready for them all.

jp said...

if you only attempt a selective job search because you aren't all the way ready, which seems to be the only reason to do a selective search...

I disagree. 'Ready' is not an all-or-nothing state. Darla has a good relationship with her committee and some solid work, and a strong foundation of a dissertation; going out now wouldn't be an absurd idea, but spending another year polishing a writing sample would render her even more prepared. If she also considers herself willing to leave grad school this year, but doesn't at all hate the idea of spending another year as a student, a limited job search might well make sense for her.

If she thinks that she's much more likely to get a better job if she waits, then she might apply only to a limited number of attractive but not unreasonable places this year, and see what happens. Maybe she'll literally apply only to one or two positions that look like ideal matches for her. Maybe she'd even decided not to go out at all this year until she read about a particular post that struck her as an ideal match.

Obviously, Darla's situation is idiosyncratic, but it's not at all unheard-of. I know at least a few people who have been in that position, including at least a couple who got the job during the limited search.

John Turri said...


"going on the job market selectively makes no sense"

Selectivity is a matter of degree. If you fail to apply to one job, then to some extent you're being selective. So I'd like to hear more about what you mean by "selectively."

Also, I'd definitely disagree that being ready for the market is all-or-nothing. You yourself listed several dimensions of readiness, and you might score excellently on some, but only very well on others. So clearly you could be more or less ready (as opposed to just being ready on the one hand, or not ready on the other).

Anonymous said...

inside the philosophy factory is right, reason 3 is the weakest. In fact, I'd argue that it shouldn't come into consideration at all, not even a little bit. I suspect you'd be more likely to die by green mamba than have an opportunity to apply for the same job again. (Okay, maybe not, but you get the point: it doesn't seem like a contingency worth considering.)

m.a. program faculty member said...

Another reason not to apply selectively, if you're not totally ready:

You apply out selectively, you spend a lot of time getting your dossier together, and--lo and behold!--you do get a job. But you also misestimated how easy it would to finish your diss. So you go to your new job still ABD. Your colleagues are hacked off at you, because you made them look bad to the Dean and you misled them about how far along you were (maybe innocently). You're in a new place, trying to get a bunch of new class preps done, and at the same time you're under enormous pressure to complete the dissertation ASAP remotely. And you're already starting off behind as far as getting things published so that you can get tenure...

I've known people in this sort of situation, and even having a TT job, it's not too enviable.

Anonymous said...

Another reason for a selective job search - you have a couple years on a post-doc.
This is based on a case of a former Prof. of mine:

The first year on the market, he applied to 70 places, got no TT offers, but one good 2 year post doc. The next year (in the 1st year of his post-doc), he only applied to three places - three jobs he really wanted. This time he had a couple of major pubs, and got offers from all three. Thus ended his job searching.

The reason he applied selectively is that he had another year of a good post-doc that was giving him time for research - it didn't make sense to take just any TT job - the way it would have the following year if he hadn't found a TT job among the three places he selectively applied.

Anonymous said...

...I thought it merits it's own post.

Seriously, STBJD, your typos are embarrassing. In general, they reveal laziness in character, a lack of education, and/or a lack of attention to detail in thinking. None is good for a philosopher, especially the last.

Let's be honest: How successful do you think you'll be as a professional philosopher? Are you in a top-ranked program? Or are you like most grad students who only think they're hot shit but are ultimately hacks?

Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

I think there are a number of situations where it makes sense to do a selective search.

In fact, I know at least two people who landed jobs on a selective job search. One had an inside contact who thought highly of her work. The other was an excellent student with publications and strong recs, but wasn't on track to finish his dissertation on time. He applied to 12-18 select schools and landed a 3/3 tenure track job.

I also applied to one job 'selectively' the year before I entered the market because it was a job 'in town' and they announced it late enough that I thought they were unlikely to get many apps. I still didn't get the job, but it made perfect sense to apply.

Ben said...

"If you're ready for a cross-section, you're ready for them all."

Surely this isn't true? Suppose there's a SLAC advertising for your AOS - which may be a relatively niche area - then surely you could stand a chance with your application, even though you know there's no point applying to Leiterrific universities or in Open competitions.

Anonymous said...

What about the situation where you have a spouse/partner who (a) isn't very portable and (b) refuses to do the long distance thing? It seems like a selective search is the only viable option. Anyone else in this situation? How are you handling it?

And yeah, I know I'm a dumbass for choosing a partner who's not ready to drop everything and follow me, given that I want a job in philosophy.

mr zero said...

Let's be honest: How successful do you think you'll be as a professional philosopher?

This is stipud. Blog writing is informal--their's no reason for it not to be. Typos find there way in. I find, for exmaple, that I write comments quickly so I can spend more time on my actual work, which matters weather its pollished. I dont think this makse me a bad philosopher. On the contrary.

I guess what I'm saying is, you're an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Way too simplistic, STBJD, as others have pointed out. Take positions where some particular interdisciplinary flavor is desired. If there's a good handful of jobs out there this year that want somebody attuned to a very particular kind of institution or program, why should someone who is otherwise on the fence not apply for those if they're right in her wheelhouse? As others have noted, it's just not true that being ready for the market is all or nothing. So it depends on the situation.
The point about maybe getting a job and having to finish your diss while starting out on the TT is a serious one, however. That does not rock. All the same, I've heard from some that it helped them finish the diss. to have the job lined up. I guess that would depend on how much you have yet to write, and how much your new institution would hate you if you didn't finish by appointment.

Reason #3, however, is a crock. Even supposing you applied for the same place two years in a row, the differences between your early app and the second one are presumably located right in the areas where you showed up as weak the first time, right? First impressions are important, but I have a little more faith in rationality than to think a reaction of "not ready" is going to be seriously entertained when the dissertation is all squared away, stuff is published, etc. Also, any place that has enough resources to be hiring year after year probably had so many applications that your first one scarcely registered at all.

Anonymous said...

I suspect people are underestimating the force of reason 3. If you make it to the very short list at some places, but don't actually get selected anywhere, then those people will remember your application next year. Perhaps more relevantly, people at other schools who were gossiping with people at the school you almost got an offer from may well remember your name as well. (And there's lots of gossip, especially between schools that are competing for the same first-choice candidate, or searching in the same area, or whatever.) I would suspect that in applying to any of these schools in the following year, one would face at least the same added burden that someone whose PhD is a year out of date would be facing, which is the stigma of people knowing that you've already been turned down once for these sorts of jobs.

As for whether this situation is a common one - well, there's lots and lots of gossip at the top ranked places, though I don't know how much there is at others. And if you don't think you're likely to end up on the short short list at some places, then why are you even applying in the first place?

Anonymous said...

The post strikes me as reasonable, especially points one and two. The work involved in getting a writing sample up to snuff, arranging letters, etc., means the the difference between going out full-on and going out half-way is what, photocopies and some postage?

That said, there are some reasons it might make sense to do a limited (and here I'm taking limited not as 'I didn't apply for every job' but 'I wouldn't be out at all this year except for the chance for this small set of jobs') search: an inside contact, a search that looks to be tailored to your specialties.

Anonymous said...

One main reason against going out selectively (and presumably a little on the early side): your letters won't be as strong. A huge part of getting a job are the particular superlatives that your letter writers can use to describe you and your work. You don't want to ask for letters until your work is really close to as good as it can be, since it is unlikely that your letter writers are going to substantially revise their initial letter for you. In addition to laziness concerns, there are also anchoring dynamics at work--you don't want the first time that your recommenders step back to evaluate your work to be prior to your work being very, very polished. That is why at top places they require you to be basically done with your dossier in early August (in the year that you want to go on the market): so that your letter writers have an opportunity to say the strongest possible true things about you, and to do so with confidence. Going out selectively a year before everything is just perfect just invites weaker letters, and letters that may never become as strong as they would have been if you didn't make them write them early.

Prof. J. said...

I agree with 3:04 am: reason 3 is significant and a lot of commenters are incorrectly discounting it. And I'd add that even if you don't make it to the final round, it's very likely that your name will "ring a bell". That's not the kiss of death, but it's liable to be a real disadvantage.

Anonymous said...

I did a selective search when I went out a few years ago. I have geographical constraints because of a spouse that doesn't transport easily and I decided that there were just certain types of institutions I would be wasting my time with if I applied. I mean by this institutions that were located in some quite isolated part of the country and not near any major cities. These included programs in my AOS that were not exceptional departments. Instead, I did a limited search that included some decent SLACS that were better situated geographically as backups. As it happened, I applied to like 37 schools and had very few interviews. I managed to get a decent 3/2 tenure track job at a SLAC out of this situation, but I think I was cutting it a bit close. If I was to go on the market again I would definitely apply to more jobs to be safer. One doesn't want to be in the situation of not landing any jobs and having to report back to one's advisor (uh hem) that nobody thought you were interesting.

Anonymous said...

hey mister zero: no need to kiss ass on the typo thing. everyone knows that happens. you have to give props to the host bloggers for even posting the inane comment in question...

mr. zero said...

Two things:

1. anon5:57, this is one thing I cannot stand. you have a typo in your blog post/comment, therefore you will never be qualified to be a professional philosopher. It's right up there with You are dissatisfied with some of the capricious/arbitrary/time consuming/unbelievably stressful/expensive/etc. aspects of the philosophy job market. Therefore you have a bad attitude, and that's why you'll never get a job. Fuck that.

2. I think the best way to tell whether you're ready to go on the market is to compare yourself to other products of your department. If you're half done with your dissertation, and your department has a track record of placing people like you in TT jobs, then you've got a good chance. If people from your department normally have to have a defense date before they find a TT job, then that will probably happen to you, too.

3. Even if Reason #3 will hurt you very badly with respect to the departments you end up applying to twice, it probably won't hurt you very badly overall in the long run. I applied selectively last year, and I am sending a dossier to maybe 2 departments that have already seen something from me. Given the sheer numbers involved--how many applications I'm sending out and how many they're receiving--the odds that Reason #3 will end up really causing me harm are low, even if there really is an effect.

Also, I wonder if improvements to your dossier might mitigate the negative effect (if there is one). Suppose your name rings a bell, but now the reason they didn't hire you before has been purged. Couldn't the name recognition do you some good?