Back to school is almost back. Soon, it’ll be time to put away the sunscreen and dust off your research. Time to fold up that beach umbrella and pull out those freshly sharpened pencils. With the start of a new semester, you may find yourself busy to bursting with things to do — new classes to prep and new deadlines to meet — but now is also a great time to get ready for the academic job market.
I know. It’s tempting to put it off just a little longer. Preparing application materials and getting organized takes time and effort that, you think, might be better spent writing lesson plans or polishing Chapter Four.
But it’s precisely because getting ready for the job search can be tough that it pays to get started as soon as possible. In most fields, the academic job cycle begins in early fall and can run well into the spring. And once it really gets going—amidst the inevitable stress of the school year—you really don’t want to be starting from scratch or juggling drafts.
So sure, summer’s coming to an end and the semester is almost upon us. But you can still get a lot done in the next few weeks. Here are four places to start:
Start drafting: I’m serious. Start right now. The best way to move forward is to get words on the page, and there are lots of ways to begin: update your CV, outline your cover letter, brainstorm teaching stories to enrich your materials. However you decide to start, we’ve gathered some basic information and resources that can help.
Get feedback: You wouldn’t expect the first draft of your dissertation to be perfect (if only), and you wouldn’t expect to improve it without help. The same is true of your application documents. Preparing application documents shouldn’t be a solitary exercise. Grad College Career Development staff members like me are available all year round for one-on-one consultations. Sign up for an appointment.
Take your pick: Typically, you’ll need 3-5 faculty members to serve as references for you. You’re balancing a lot of considerations here—Who can speak most thoroughly to your qualifications in research and teaching? Who will have the most authority with search committees reading these letters? Should you use different letter writers for different kinds of jobs?—so sit down with your advisor or a mentor and talk through your options.
Make contact: The sooner you ask faculty if they can write a positive letter on your behalf, the sooner they can start writing. Ask in person if at all possible, and make sure you talk with your references about their expectations for the process. How do they want to be informed about which jobs you are applying for? Do they want to see versions of your application documents?
Set up a system: However you plan to keep track of positions, deadlines, and materials—I recommend a spreadsheet and a rigorous electronic folder system—set it up now, not when you’re managing multiple applications at the same time.
Learn more: I’m running a workshop on July 30 at noon in Lincoln Hall 1002 that’s all about staying organized on the job market. If you want to hear more about strategies and systems for avoiding (or at least managing) job-search chaos, plan to attend. Learn more about our workshops.
Make time for the job search: Schedule blocks of time every week to work on the job search and keep that schedule consistent. Right now, you can use that time to draft materials and meet with me or one of my colleagues to talk about them. Once the job cycle really gets going, you can use it to do things like tailor documents and submit applications.
Make time for yourself: Starting to work on your application materials and other aspects of the job search definitely doesn’t mean the end of research time. And it also shouldn’t mean the end of you time. The job search is hectic, stressful, and a whole lot of work. Make sure you find time to relax and recharge.
Image courtesty of "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham. www.phdcomics.com
Derek Attig is Assistant Director for Student Outreach at the Graduate College Career Development Office. After earning a PhD in History here at Illinois, Derek worked in nonprofit communications and instructional development before joining the Career Development team.