In the real world, when one wants a job, they scour the want-ads, use head-hunters and job search engines like careerbuilders.com, and use their connectiosn and the conventions of their field. When there are jobs that look appealing, they polish their resume, write a cover letter, and wait, anxiously, to hear back from the place they've applied to.
With academia, it's a little different, although the anxiety remains the same. I can't talk about all fields, but I know English quite well. Here is how it works in English: On September 15th, or some other day in mid-September, the professional organization for all English academics prints all job adds for the coming year. This "Job Information List" is the clearing house, so to speak, for all of the jobs in the field. The annual event is simultaneoulsy dreaded and anticipated by graduate students such as myself. "What if there are no jobs?" "What if all of the jobs are in, say, Alaska?" are frequent questions we ask ourselves.
Today was the day that the list was posted. And I am pleased to say that there are 41 jobs available, a number that should increase as other schools get funding for new hires. If only the anxiety ended here. Now, with 41 -- or 4 -- or 400 -- whatever the English subfield, my cohorts and I must churn out our job documents and be organized enough to have them mailed before the "must be posted before..." dates of each job. Back to the resumes and cover letters now. While people who must write resumes are tortured by having to keep the to one page, (would be) academics write Curriculum Vitae that show us off as much as we want -- everything we've taught, published, presented, thought, smoked (er, no) appears on this document because it is the history our academic life. This is kind of a fun document to write. Now, the letter is the pain in the tush, because we have to write about our research so that readers unfamiliar with what we do (say, the Shakespeare scholar who has never heard of Walt Whitman) can understand what we're talking about. And then, talk about our teaching and academic service. This is painful writing; it's all about self-presentation and not annoying our unknown audience. Anything -- a typo, an apparent aversion to lecturing -- anything might be the "nope, we don't want this person" factor. Further, we're supposed to taylor (tailor? I never know) each job letter to fit the job, to let each school know that we've read their add and that we can meet their requirements. So each letter requires finetuing, and each letter requires revision...and...I've revised one letter 12 times.
And there there is the...writing sample. 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30 pages of writing, depending on the school. The writing sample is usually a dissertation chapter or part of a dissertation chapter. The chapter I am using is 50 pages, which means cutting 30...or 25...or 20 pages and making what remains a coherent whole. (This is harder than it seems. Having done this all week, I know. And I am only referring to one writing sample -- the 20 page one).
There is the...teaching philosophy. How I teach. Why I teach that way. What I teach. What I want my students to gain. How I encourage them to make those steps. I like this. This is fun. I can do this.
And this is just round one of the job game. If -- if -- a school likes me (please note that I've shifted from third person to second person first person -- so much for giving an objective overview) they will call me for an interview. And from December 27-30 I will be at the English folk's annual convention, wearing my stiff, black, Ann Taylor suit, interviewing. I will be asked about my research, my teaching, my opinion about the transatlantic trend in early American literature. I will be asked to talk coherently about my research and where it's going. I will be praying for miraculous speaking abilities.
And if -- if -- I manage not to spill my water, trip on the committee chair, have a low blood sugar that causes me to scramble my words -- and if they like my research and my suit, they might just call me for a second interview.
At which point I will prepare a job talk ("this is what I do and why it's important") that's dynamic, scholarly, and relevant and a teaching presentation (in which I will "perform" my teaching for students and faculty alike). The job talk might just remain the same, but the teaching presentation will depend on the school and their needs. "We have a need for a teacher in...Dan Brown and Medievalism, Nic. We'd like you teach that for your presentation." Right. (Note: I don't think it works this way, but I know I could be asked to teach something I really unfamiliar with). Which means a heck of a lot of prep. For each school.
So, on this Friday the 15th, I look forward to adding another full-time job to my list. I don't know how parents do it -- I'm tired enough already. I am excited, though, to be at the point where I can be on the job market and feel fairly (by no means completely) ready. And I've posted this very long, very...well, English-y post to help you all (my 4 readers) understand what I'm referring to when I say "revised my writing sample for the 80th time today..."