by Bertin M. Louis Jr., Ph.D.
What does it take to find a tenure-track position? In this essay and my next one, I’ll share advice that may improve your chances.
When I was completing my dissertation, I started my search for a tenure-track job. Back then, I only searched for jobs on two or three websites that were related to my disciplinary background of anthropology. This included referring to the American Anthropological Association’s Career Center website regularly. But as the rejections and silence from academic programs that I applied to piled up during those early years, I tweaked and expanded my job search strategies in the hopes of landing the coveted tenure-track position.
An important adjustment I made in my strategy was casting a wide net. This included reviewing numerous websites regularly for job opportunities and applying for various positions which matched my teaching and research interests in race and racism, the Caribbean, religious studies, the African diaspora, anthropology, and Africana studies. This strategy paid off as I interviewed for positions at a couple of institutions while working as a full-time lecturer in the Africana Studies program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville from 2008 to 2010.
Another strategy you can employ that will help you cast a wide net is by using a job alert. The job alert is an extremely effective tool for finding academic positions because it does the work of searching for jobs for you. When you use one, be sure to create multiple job alerts for several types of positions that match your research and teaching interests. For example, I have job agents through HigherEdJobs that regularly send me anthropology positions, Black Studies-related positions, and administrative positions, many of which I share with my colleagues who are looking for jobs. It is to your advantage to create multiple job alerts with multiple academic job sites because not every college and university posts their jobs to the same sites. I realized this fact when I served as chair of a search committee during the 2019-2020 academic year. When it came to advertising the positions for this particular search, the College of Arts and Sciences had a limited budget. There were some job websites which the institution had existing relationships with, so the position was published on those sites. The additional sites where the position was posted cost money and thus was advertised in a much more limited fashion. So, in this sense, it is important to cast a wide net in the search for academic jobs because you never know where the job that might be right for you is being advertised.
I have two stories that illustrate how casting a wide net and using tools like HigherEdJobs’ job alerts can help people find and secure positions.
I have a colleague who was working in a contingent academic position (full-time teaching position) at a small, liberal arts college in the Midwest. This colleague was an international student who recently completed his PhD in anthropology. The chances of continuing this contingent position were slim as many scholars in contingent academic positions find. If my colleague was unable to find another job, he, along with his family living with him in the United States, was faced with a return to his home country.
Aware of his situation, I paid close attention to job opportunities provided by job alerts. One website in particular sent me a position that looked promising for him. I sent him the job ad which he was unaware of because it was not posted on the two or three academic job websites he normally looked at. Not only did I share the position with him, but I also offered to look at his cover letter, which he sent to me not long after I sent him the position as well as coach him at various stages of the process (assembling the required documents for application, preparing for a virtual job interview, preparing for a virtual campus interview, and negotiating starting salary, for instance). Long story short, he was offered the job, which is not in his area of expertise of anthropology. None of this would have happened if I had not sent him that job, which all started when the opportunity was sent to my inbox from a job alert, and he was willing to cast a wider net.
Another example of using multiple job sites and casting a wide net comes from a scholar for whom I served on the dissertation committee. In her search for an academic position, she contacted me about looking at her cover letter. Our conversation about her cover letter grew into a larger discussion about academic job search strategies. In particular, this former student was only searching for positions on a couple of job sites. When I advised her to 1) cast a wider net related to the sites she was searching on and 2) to look outside of her discipline to find positions that resonated with her research and teaching interests, the number of jobs she could apply to increased. Specifically, she studies issues of justice in Asia, and anthropology jobs in that area were very rare. But when she began to expand her job search to justice-related positions, more opportunities became available to her, especially in the field of criminology. Today, she directs a justice-related program at a liberal arts college in the Northeast.
In my next essay, I’ll discuss additional tips which will hopefully improve your chances of finding an academic position.
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