Fall is in the Air: It’s Hiring Season for Academic Positions!

October 10, 2016

Tis the season for the faculty job search. Universities have been announcing openings for faculty positions since mid-summer, but now is the time that the job market really heats up. If you are a member of professional listservs for Division 16, Trainers in School Psychology, or CDSPP, you likely receive multiple position announcements each week. One upside of our field is that there tend to be an abundance of open positions. So what can you do to enhance your competitiveness for your dream job?

1. Reflect carefully on your goals and preferences before applying.

Beginning the academic job search can be an intimidating process. There are numerous opportunities in institutions, units, and programs that vary widely. Few people will move into positions exactly like those of the programs from which they graduate, so it is essential to consider what you want in a position. Future faculty may ask themselves:

  • What do I know about potential academic careers and what additional information do I need? Because of the variety of opportunities available in school psychology, it is important to think carefully about the options available and engage in some fact-finding. Talk to your professors and other researchers. Make use of the networking opportunities provided at local, regional, and national conferences to talk with people in different types of positions, programs, departments/units, and universities. The goal is to ascertain the type of position you think will fit best.
  • What aspects of faculty roles do I enjoy most or do I most want to focus on? What are my long-term goals? Where do I want to be five, ten, or twenty years from now? These goals are important because, ideally, you will pursue positions conducive to meeting goals, particularly as they relate to research and teaching since these are the primary domains of academics’ work. Different types of positions and institutions place varying degrees of emphasis on research, teaching, and service. If the idea of spending the majority of your time designing, conducting, and disseminating research is thrilling, a research position or traditional tenure-track position at a research-intensive university will likely be a good fit. Conversely, if you have little interest in conducting research, a teaching intensive position is probably a better fit. After these big-picture questions have been considered, there a number of more narrow considerations that might be made.
  • What types of positions will I consider? You should consider the variety of dimensions of available positions including: (a) tenure-track assistant professorships versus non-tenure track (instructor, adjunct, researcher positions); (b)  discipline (e.g., school psychology, educational psychology, psychology, special education, interdisciplinary); (c) program type (e.g., master’s, specialist, PhD, PsyD, EdD; APAand/or NASP-accredited); (d) research expectations; (e) teaching load; (f) administrative and service requirements; and (g) institution type (e.g., research intensivity, public v. private, size).
  • What, if any, are my geographic restrictions (e.g., region, state, weather, and urbanicity)? What other personal considerations (e.g., family, partner, lifestyle) will influence my search?

It can also be useful to talk through some of these considerations with advisors, mentors, and peers. The goal is to identify your parameters for the job search. Everyone’s goals, priorities and preferences will be slightly different and will likely fluctuate throughout one’s career. Be prepared to be flexible. The available positions will be different each year and while you may have a handful of preferred universities or programs in mind, it is unlikely that all (or any) of them will be hiring in a given year.

2. Dissect job postings and program websites.

Before applying for a position, it is important to carefully review the job description. Most postings will include information specific to the position, including type (e.g., tenure-track faculty, lecturer, clinical instructor); duration (e.g., tenure- or non-tenure-track, 9-month contract, 12-month contract); start date; teaching load; expectations for research productivity and external funding; advising, administrative, and service expectations; required and desired qualifications; application materials; timelines for review of applications; and contact person for the search committee.

These elements should be reviewed to determine fit with individual preferences and qualifications. The information in the published posting may be sufficient to inform the decision to apply, but it’s always a good idea to learn more about the program and unit where it is housed. If you aren’t sure about your eligibility for a position, contact the search chair. When available, program handbooks and faculty webpages and vitas can provide valuable insight into various facets of a position and in some instances shed light on overarching programmatic goals and philosophical orientations. Job candidates are generally expected to demonstrate basic familiarity with the program and institution when applying and interviewing for positions, so it makes sense to seek additional information before you apply.

3. Prepare a strong application package.

You want to put your best foot forward when you apply for a position. Follow all directions. Make sure your materials are clear and error-free. Failure to follow instructions can undermine an otherwise strong application. Application materials often include a cover letter, curriculum vita, letters of reference or contact information for references, and transcripts. You may also be required to submit representative publications, syllabi of courses taught, course evaluations, or teaching portfolios.

Your cover letter and CV are often the most important elements of your materials. Cover letters should be crafted to match the posting of each individual position to which one applies. The point is not to pander or implore, but to clearly and compellingly articulate your qualifications, fit, and interest. Use headings to clearly indicate where each qualification is discussed. Be explicit about what you can bring to the position while providing a cogent presentation of your scholarly identity. For positions where research is emphasized, clearly describe your research agenda and its potential value to the field. Keep in mind the typical purposes of the statement—whether articulated in a paragraph or a couple pages—is to describe your interests, major accomplishments and contributions, and future work. For early career scholars who have few independent projects beyond their dissertation, this statement can be particularly important to communicating a coherent program of research that can carry you to tenure. This statement can also be helpful to reviewers when your research experience is limited or disjointed because of required projects undertaken through assistantships and other experiences that were directed by others.

Your CV will be scrutinized by the search committee and will likely be circulated throughout the unit if you are a finalist for a position. It is important to be comprehensive without padding. To that end, think carefully as to whether you will include “in-progress” papers on your CV. It may come off as padding, so consider instead discussing work in progress in your cover letter or research statement and limit manuscripts listed in the CV to those published, in press, and possibly under review (without journal names given since they may not be accepted). A CV typically includes several main elements:

  • Contact information: full name with credentials, mailing address, email, phone number, fax number
  • Educational background: degrees received with institutions, major, location, and year awarded; thesis and/ or dissertation title, advisor names, program accreditations
  • Professional experiences/positions: titles, institutions/organizations, dates, locations, duties
  • Honors and awards
  • Sponsored Projects (including grants, fellowships, or contracts)
  • Publications: peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, technical reports, other publications
  • Teaching: courses taught, identifying roles (e.g., instructor, lecturer, teaching assistant), titles, dates, and evaluation summaries; research advising
  • Service: editorial work, professional memberships, leadership positions
  • Fieldwork/practical experiences: predoctoral practica and internship with site names, locations, dates, duties, supervisor name

Although contact information, educational background, and professional experience should almost certainly appear at the beginning of any CV, the remaining sections may be best ordered according to the priorities of the position to which you are applying.

A teaching statement can be quite challenging to prepare because few of us have formal training in pedagogy and mentoring. Length may vary depending on whether you address both classroom instruction and graduate research advising, but the purpose of this statement is to describe the basic principles guiding your teaching and how they are reflected in your course planning, instructional practices, and learning activities, as well as your efforts to improve your teaching and mentoring. One way to structure this statement is to describe what you consider effective teaching, the corresponding practices in which you engage; provide examples from specific courses you have taught (or, if you haven’t taught yet, specific examples of what you would do), and evidence of effectiveness (e.g., summary data from course evaluations, students’ qualitative feedback). Where appropriate, link your teaching and research (e.g., how similar goals or principles underpin both domains of work), and strive to be factual rather than sentimental. Postings may only provide a vague request for “evidence of teaching effectiveness,” in which case you have to decide what information and documentation to provide. In these cases, you may submit a list of courses taught, a summary of student evaluations or unsolicited student feedback, a sample syllabus, and a brief teaching statement which may be a separate document or a paragraph incorporated in your cover letter.

Reference letters should be sought only from individuals who are willing and able to provide strong, positive recommendations—if you aren’t sure, ask them. Lukewarm letters of recommendation can be just as damaging as blatantly negative letters. Because search committees are invested in identifying individuals who may become long-term colleagues, positive recommendations are highly valued. Applicants should be careful to provide their reference providers as early notice as possible and should provide the job posting, CV, and cover letter so that they can also provide a letter that speaks to the specific requirements of each position. As with cover letters, reference letters tailored to a position are more compelling than general ones.

Proof-read all of your materials multiple times and get others (e.g., peers, your advisor, a friend willing to provide constructive criticism) to provide feedback to ensure your materials are error-free, coherent, and compelling.

What happens after your submit your application materials?
You wait. Hiring for tenure-track positions follows a fairly predictable sequence (this may not apply for non-tenure track positons). Once the application materials have been received, the search committee will review application materials to identify the top candidates for further consideration. If you submit your materials through a university portal, check for a confirmation email. If submitting your materials to an individual, a polite request that the individual confirm that they have received your materials is acceptable. In some cases, phone or virtual interviews will be conducted with several individuals before final candidates are selected for campus visits. In other instances, the committee will select immediately the most promising individuals, usually three to five people, to invite to campus. These visits often take place in early to mid-spring. After all candidate visits are complete, the committee generally will review the feedback from faculty, staff and students who interacted with the candidates and make recommendations to the administration about hiring, often in the form of a rank ordered list or description of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses relative to the requirements of the positon. The administration will make a decision regarding who, if anyone, from the pool to offer a contract. At that point, the candidate can accept or decline the position, or enter into further negotiations regarding the details of the contract. If the candidate declines the position, the administration can choose to offer the position to one of the other candidates, request that new candidates be considered, close the search without a hire, or continue the search.

This post is a short form of: Sullivan, A. L., & Harris, B. (2012). So you want to be a professor? Perspectives on the academic job search process – Part I – Planning your search. The School Psychologist, 66(3), 23-28.

Next month, we’ll address what to expect in campus visits. Feel free to share your experiences on the job market or recommendations for prospective faculty on the market now. Post your questions to the comment section below for more information.

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