William Holbrook Beard, "The Lost Balloon"

I’m on the job market. As someone with an immensely useful advanced degree in theology, the job market is as optimistic as ever. If by “optimistic” you mean “terrifying wormhole into another dimension.” Every day is a new day of learning things I wish I understood ahead of time. Here is some stuff I have learned so far.

  1. Look every day, and respond quickly. There are a couple of jobs I saw that were later pulled from the Internets before I could apply. Now I’m in the habit of responding within the week I see a job pop up.
  2. There is no pride. I don’t care if the job is a stretch: I apply if I think I’ve got any chance to get it. Rarely do I see keywords that fit me perfectly, and I doubt that’s how it works. I’ve applied to obscure colleges I’ve never heard of, and I’ve applied to Yale. I figure somebody will take me if I’m annoying enough about it.
  3. Things that keep me from applying include descriptions like “advanced” (which means they want someone who is already teaching and publishing somewhere – although I’ve ignored that for positions that I fit really well), “must know Hebrew,” “must be able to teach in gender studies,” “comparative religions,” and “expertise in Asian religions.” Basically, these (and others) are areas I know very little to nothing about, and could not hope to learn in time for the job. A doctorate makes you something of an expert, but it doesn’t make you an expert on the whole universe. Some descriptions for preferred candidate qualities are immensely depressing, because they eliminate a lot of people all at once. They are meant to do so, but sometimes that’s just not soothing. But hey! Sometimes they say, “must be able to teach interdisciplinary classes,” or “must be knowledgeable in Catholic theology and philosophy,” and then I run in with my CV and its weird-as-hell blend of dogmatics, metaphysics, and poetry. Interdisciplinary philosophy-literary theology comparative dogmatics that!
  4. Major job sites (theology): The Chronicle of Higher Education, AAR, SBL. The Chronicle works across disciplines, while the others don’t as much. There is also Higher Ed Jobs, although this has been only minimally helpful for someone with my background. I’ve got a “bot” at Higher Ed Jobs who emails me notifications for jobs in areas I’ve specified. He almost never sends me anything, and I’ve named him Tron.
  5. Keep track of schools you are especially interested in. Not all job postings make it onto the major websites. So, look on your own sometimes for schools that you think you’d fit.
  6. Page numbers are your friends, as is a header with (at least) your last name in it. Never underestimate how often you will forget this lesson. All of my various documents have page numbers and my name somewhere on each page. That way, committees can throw all the sheets down the stairs in a fit of insanity and still put it back together and consider me as a candidate.
  7. Credential files. Get some. Many universities have this system, and Marquette is no different. Our department secretary can help you put together what is called a “credential file.” This has got your letters of recommendation and transcripts in it, and perhaps a couple of other things (like teaching evaluations, if you’ve taught). When you apply somewhere, you just email the secretary and ask her to send along your credential file. This makes it easier on your recommenders, who don’t have to worry about it, and easier on you. It costs a bit of money each time, but it’s well worth it.
  8. Don’t look at your credential file, or ask to look at it. It never occurred to me to do this, but I was once told that looking at your letters of recommendation is considered very bad form. So, keep your credential file “closed” (which means you check a box that says you can never see it).
  9. Always have your CV handy, and always keep it updated. I obsess over my CV, and fiddle with it every time I get a new little notch to put in it. This makes life much easier when a job comes up.
  10. Work on improving your CV even when you feel crushing despair over the job market. There’s always something to do: submit abstracts to give papers, work on research for an article, spruce up something for an article, write a book review. For those of us dissertating, the dissertation takes precedence over these other things. Having a completed dissertation is a major advantage on the job market.
  11. I do think presenting while dissertating is important, even though it’s a lot of work. You can get your name out there a little, and talk about what you do. People take note. You definitely want to be attending the major one or two conferences of your speciality regardless of whether you present.
  12. Always have a cover letter handy. I’ve got a cover letter template that I change around for every new job. A lot of the basics remain the same, but I try to adjust it to fit the job. My suspicion is that I’m terrible at updating the stupid thing, but I’m learning as I go.
  13. Don’t be afraid to be annoying. I always try not to be a bother to my directors, but sometimes I’ve just got to irritate them with stupid questions. I remember a series of emails a month ago: “what is a research statement?”, “how do I write one?”, “can you look at this?”, “is this better?”. When you don’t have a clue, you’ve just got to ask. This is your future, after all. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
  14. Which reminds me: here are the basic documents I always have on hand – CV, cover letter template, research statement, teaching statement, writing sample. For the most part, several or all of these are involved in the application process at most schools.
  15. Don’t be selfish. If you have a friend you know would also like a job you’re looking at, go ahead and share. Remember, God is never outdone in generosity.
  16. Finally: if you mess up, just let it go. Fix what you can, do what you can, and then let it go. It’s a long and grueling process with lots of details. You can’t be perfect. Try your best.
That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure I’ll write again as I start to hear back from the schools I’ve applied to. I’m expecting an avalanche of rejections, but hoping for one or two positive responses.