Post Academic

Decluttering the job application process: The spreadsheet

Posted in First Person,Process Stories by Arnold Pan on August 24, 2010
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So it might seem bass-ackwards to start talking about the academic job application process by beginning with letters of rec, before you even know what positions you’re applying to.  Really, it isn’t, though, because that’s the only step that depends on other people–well, unless you count the schools you applied to.  But the “next” step should really be the first one–finding job openings and making a spreadsheet listing them in a way that’s easy to access and sort.  If only schools would cooperate and, you know, start posting positions now!

"ExCel Exhibition Centre" by jasoncart (Public Domain)

(A quick aside before we get going: you might ask yourself why you would listen to the unsolicited advice of a post-academic who hasn’t gotten on the tenure-track, which is a good rejoinder on your part.  Well, I’ll say that I did have good success getting convention interviews, though it was definitely a case of “quality”–however you define that–over quantity, since I never got double-digit invites at any MLA nor applied to that many jobs in a given year anyway.  As for the next step hopefully coming at the beginning of 2011, you’re on your own–or we’ll try and find a sherpa who knows what s/he’s talking about when it comes to campus visits.  Till then, you’re stuck with me.)

So back to the process: The first thing you need to do, obviously, is find where the jobs are, which has been easier said than done the past few years.  In English, we’re still about three weeks away from the big unveiling of the MLA Job Information List–henceforth known as JIL–on September 16, a day we’ll commemorate for sure.  But, for the time being, you can check the Academic Job Wiki for whatever has been posted–you might as well bookmark the wiki and get used to checking it, because it’s gonna be the equivalent of your browser homepage soon enough.  The Chronicle online want’s job site, and university HR sites (if you know what you’re looking for) have some early job postings in a variety of fields.

More about getting started with the process below the fold…

Once the results start trickling in, it’s not a bad idea to make an Excel spreadsheet to help you organize and sort through your job possibilities, which I alluded to yesterday.  I use it as a master list to compare against the print-out of job descriptions I make from all the postings I can save using my MLA JIL account.   I tend to break things up by specialty first; in my case, I make separate headings for 20th c. U.S. lit, Asian Am, ethnic lit, and theory jobs.  I list the schools, as well as if there is a sub-speciality.  Of course, the logistical info is important, which should include the following: Due Date, Materials Required (noting recs and writing samples), Date Sent, Date of Receipt (when, you know, the schools actually acknowledge your existence), Correspondence.  These days, it’s also not a bad idea to indicate whether the application was delivered via email or snail mail.  The spreadsheet will help you get your act together and give you a sense of how many/how few prospects you have.  In some ways, it’ll help you declutter before the inevitable hoarding that’ll happen once the process picks up steam.

Having the spreadsheet can be useful for your faculty letter writers too.  It’ll convey to them a sense of the scope of your job search and help them get an idea of the kinds of jobs you are applying for, in addition to giving them a head’s up about which particular institutions need which materials from them.  The spreadsheet might be a pain to set up, but it will come in handy when you have to explain to a mentor that State U needs a rec from him at a specific date–provided said recommender doesn’t lose the document!

Also, it’s an opportunity to subliminally encourage your faculty people to network on your behalf.  Pretty much every time I’ve gone through my list with my recommenders, they volunteer, unprompted, which schools they have friends and colleagues to whom they can put in a good (informal) word for you.  Whether they ultimately do and how much doing so actually helps, I’m not sure, but who knows which little unsolicited email might yield you an opportunity that might lead to something.

One Response to 'Decluttering the job application process: The spreadsheet'

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  1. Michael said,

    Excellent advice. I am using a spreadsheet for my post-academic job hunt. It really simplifies the process and keeps me from forgetting things or getting confused. Another good section to have is to keep a list of what you spent on each application. If you have the receipts, you can write them off as tax deductions.

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