The Academic Job Search
*For information on placement, please contact the department's placement officer Dr. Ian Cornelius.
The information contained here is designed to familiarize you with the job search in English—how it works, when to begin thinking about the job search, and how to design your coursework, exams, conference papers, publications, and dissertation topic with academic placement in mind. If you are visiting for the first time, be sure to start by reading the introduction below. The search itself can seem daunting, and for many years the number of PhDs looking for full-time teaching positions has far exceeded the number of actual advertised positions (follow the link to the MLA Report on Professional Employment for an overview of the situation). The job market is tight, and even the very best students with good publication records may search for two or even three years before finding a position, if they find one at all.
Still, our department has had good success in recent years placing its students (see Recent Placement History), so we must be doing something right!
The Academic Job Search: An Introduction
It is never too early to begin thinking about the job market. Keep in mind that the range of courses you take, including the specialized courses in your fields of concentration, will begin to determine your qualifications for certain positions before you even commence the PhD dissertation process. Prospective employers often review transcripts to determine what courses applicants have had in the field(s) for which they are advertising. The ideal candidate will have a good and clear fit between his or her coursework, fields of specialization (as reflected in the PhD examination fields) and the dissertation topic. A late decision to write a dissertation in an area where you have had little coursework can be a mistake, though sometimes this might be unavoidable.
- Explore and specialize. Try to plan your coursework so that you have demonstrable strength in your area of specialization, but also some breadth (i.e., if your dissertation deals with mid-20th-century American literature, it would help to have as much coursework as possible in 19th- and 20th-century American literatures). Departments will often want you to teach broadly around your chosen period. Be able to demonstrate competence in literary criticism and theory. There should be demonstrable connections between your coursework in this area and the theory and method employed in your dissertation.
- Present at academic conferences. Conference papers can be invaluable in gaining experience, establishing your credentials in a field and connecting with people. However, you should keep in mind that graduate student-only conferences won't count for a lot on your curriculum vitae (CV), though one such conference can be a less threatening way to begin presenting, and papers on topics outside the field(s) of a department's advertised specialization won't get as much attention as those within it. Limit the number of conferences you present at in order to concentrate on writing your dissertation and publishing some of your work. Publication can often be the single most important determining factor in demonstrating your expertise and qualifications. Nowadays, publication is essentially, a requirement; having a couple of good publications going into the job search is a big plus.
- Develop a marketable dissertation topic. Make sure the topic you choose qualifies you for a job. Most positions are still advertised by period and/or national literature (such as 19th-century British poetry or Renaissance drama or American literature to 1865). Ask yourself what relationship your topic bears to these kinds of categories. Of course, this situation is somewhat in flux since many departments are currently looking for Americanists who specialize in non-traditional literatures (African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American), or for students qualified to teach postcolonial or "world" literature, as well as theory.
- Choose a relevant topic. Whatever topic you develop, you should be able to demonstrate its contemporary interest and relevance. It should be clear to a job search committee that you are familiar with critical debates in your field and that your dissertation intervenes in those debates in an original fashion.
- Utilize your TA and instructing positions at LUC. Get the most out of your assignments as a teaching assistant and an instructor-of-record, in both composition and literature courses. As a graduate assistant you will have had training and experience in composition with a writing instructor as your mentor; a chance to work as a teaching assistant in a literature course taught by a graduate faculty member; and, you will, ideally, be assigned two composition and two literature courses during your fellowship period. Be sure to apply for summer teaching to enhance your experience. Note: Make sure your advisor or some member of the faculty visits each of the classes you teach at least once and writes a letter about your teaching for your file.
How the Academic Job Search Works
You should not consider applying for a full-time, tenure-track position unless your dissertation is substantially near completion, you have finished, polished sample chapters to send out as writing samples, and you expect to have the PhD in hand by the end of the academic year. It is also extremely helpful to have one or two publications accepted or published at the time of application. Short of this, you should at least have an essay or two submitted and under consideration at appropriate journals.
1. Find Relevant Positions. You should have more than one area of specialization in mind. Go to the "Additional Resources" section below for other websites that advertise job announcements; you should check all of these resources on a regular basis. Discuss positions that look right for you with your advisor(s) and the placement officer, and begin sending out letters of application. If you are looking for work in the Greater Chicago area you can write letters of inquiry directly to local institutions. The vast majority of teaching positions in English are advertised in the MLA Job Information List (JIL), which comes out online around September and is updated weekly on the MLA website. You will need the department's user name and password to access the list. Check with the Graduate Programs Director for this information. Complete the next steps by the time the first edition of the MLA Job Information List appears in mid-September.
2. Set up an Interfolio account. Application letters are handled by an online outfit through MLA called Interfolio, which enables you to upload your application portfolio and your recommenders to upload their letters for positions advertised on the JIL. You can set up an online account by going to the MLA website and following the prompts.
Note: for MLA members there is no charge for setting up the account, but there is a charge for subsequent use. Your recommenders must upload their letters to Interfolio shortly after you have sent out your applications.
3. Draft letters of application for these positions. Have them reviewed by your committee and the placement officer. Your letters should be distinctive, tailored to the specific kind of position for which you will be applying. You may use department letterhead for these letters. Most job applicants will have at least three (3) letters of recommendation. Normally, these are written by the candidate's dissertation committee members, although you may want to include other letters from faculty who have reviewed your teaching or worked with you in some other special capacity (Writing Center, research, textual studies or digital humanities projects, etc.). Make sure that your letters cover your teaching abilities as well as your coursework and dissertation. Faculty members at Loyola are experienced at writing job letters, but you should meet with each of your recommenders to discuss the positions for which you are applying, to let them know who else will be writing letters for you, and to suggest the kinds of things you would like them to cover in their letters.
Note: You should arrange to have these letters written no later than early September. Sample letters of application are on file with the placement officer and are available for you to review.
- LUC Stationary: Be sure to write your letter on English department stationary (unless you have a teaching position at another institution). Your letter should begin by stating that you are writing to apply for the position the department advertised in the Job Information List (or wherever you saw it advertised). Be sure to make it clear exactly which job you are applying for, since some departments advertise for multiple positions in a single ad.
- Qualifications: Your letter should state your qualifications for the position you are applying for as specifically as possible (in terms of your coursework, examination fields, publications, teaching experience and dissertation topic). Your letter should include a one paragraph description of your dissertation and a second paragraph describing your teaching experiences and interests, discussing courses you would like to teach in the future. If you have been a graduate assistant you should describe the teaching preparation it afforded you. Be sure to mention any awards you have received at Loyola (Clayes Award, Teaching Fellowship, Dissertation Fellowship, etc.) or elsewhere. If you have publications, mention them.
- Order of Presentation: Throughout, the letter should be tailored as specifically as possible to the position for which you are applying. Be sure, however, to stress your experience teaching writing and your interest in continuing to do so, since most positions will involve some composition teaching. If the job ad to which you are applying mentions desired secondary fields of specialization try to stress your qualifications in these areas as well. If the position is with a department primarily dedicated to teaching, put your teaching experience first in the letter. If it is a research institution that will expect publication, feature your dissertation description and publications/submissions first, then discuss your teaching experience.
- Do Research: It is always a good idea to look at the websites of the departments you are applying to so that you can get a feel for the institution, the makeup and character of the department, its faculty and the courses it offers. You should be able to tell from the Website what courses you would teach in your field.
4. Prepare writing samples (ideally about 20 pages long), either chapters from your dissertation or a previously published essay. Some departments may ask you to send a placement file and/or a writing sample with the application letter and CV. Note: Many departments hold off making these requests until they have reviewed your letter and curriculum vitae (CV).
5. Revise your CV. Departments request that you send a copy of your CV along with your letter of application, and it is usually given very careful attention. Some job search committee members may go directly to your CV before they even read your letter of application to make sure your qualifications fit their advertised needs. It is important, therefore, that you take great care in putting your CV together and that it clearly conveys your expertise and accomplishments. Sample CVs, application letters, teaching philosophies and writing samples are available here. A CV usually contains the following entries (sample CVs are available from the placement officer):
- Personal Information: Put your name, centered, at the top of the CV, underlined or bolded, in a font larger than your text, followed by both your home address and your department address, including phone numbers and your e-mail address.
- Education: List your degrees in descending order from PhD to BA, including dates of completion. If you haven't yet received the PhD, put the month and year you expect to receive it, followed by the word "expected" in parenthesis, i.e. "May 2007 (expected)." You might also include under this heading the three fields in which you were examined for the PhD, since this can help underscore the range of your preparation and specializations. You can also list your competencies in foreign languages here.
- Dissertation: The title and a brief (6–8 line) description of your dissertation should follow. This can come under the "Education" heading or in a separate entry. List your committee either after the title or underneath the description.
- Teaching: List your teaching experience, beginning with your most recent assignments. Include the institution, course title and semester taught. Be specific but don't let this entry get too long.
- Publications: If you have relevant publications, list them according to MLA Works Cited format, beginning with the most recent. Include forthcoming essays if they have already been accepted, and submitted articles if they are out to a journal.
- Conference Papers: List these beginning with most recent. Cite the paper title, then the conference title, location and date. Formatting note: For institutions with a strong commitment to research and publication, you may want to list your publications and papers before your teaching experience.
- Service: List department committees and university committees you have served on, GSAC or EGSA positions, and any other relevant service, such as EGSA President, Writing Center Assistant or Associate Director, etc. Also list any outside service or positions you have acquired in academic organizations, such as conference organizer, secretary of a conference or literary society, etc.
- Academic Honors: List university honors conferred, including distinctions on exams, the Clayes Award, Graduate Assistantships, Teaching Fellowships, Schmitt and Dissertation Fellowships, Graduate School travel awards, research awards, etc. Also list outside awards, such as conference travel awards, bursaries, and conference awards for best graduate paper.
- References: List those people who have written letters for your placement file and/or can be contacted to inquire about your qualifications. List them by name, rank and affiliation.
6. Next Steps and Interview Process: After your letters go out you will wait to be contacted by departments interested in pursuing your application further. Screening of these materials runs through mid-December. In the meantime, keep screening the job list, since new positions may appear that fit your search criteria. When departments have completed screening applications they usually phone those applicants they wish to interview. These phone calls can come as early as the first week of December and as late as a few days before the Convention. Interviews take place at the MLA convention, which is scheduled to run in the first week of January (this year it’s 3–6 January 2019, in Chicago). You should plan on attending in order to be available for interviews. The placement officer will schedule a mock interview for you before the conference if you wish.
After MLA interviews, search committees return home and reconvene in early to mid-January. They usually decide on a short list of about three candidates to invite for a campus visit. Phone calls inviting you for such a visit may come anytime between early January and late February, depending upon the length of each department's winter break and how many candidates they want to bring to campus. During this period you should continue to consult new editions of the job list, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and any job announcements that may appear in the department's work room.
Note: While some positions are filled in January and early February, many offers are not made until March or even late April.
Higher Ed Jobs: This website allows you to search for a higher education job by type, location, subject, university, and specialty.
Interfolio: Application letters are handled by this online outfit through MLA, which enables you to upload your application portfolio and your recommenders to upload their letters for positions advertised on the JIL. You can set up an online account by going to the MLA website and following the prompts (note that, for MLA members there is no charge for setting up the account; there is a charge for subsequent use). You should have your recommenders upload their letters to Interfolio shortly after you have sent out your applications (no later than that).
Placement Information: A very comprehensive site produced by the Graduate English Program at Texas A&M University. This site is full of useful, practical information on preparing letters, the CV, finding openings, applying for positions and preparing for interviews at MLA. It also contains links to a variety of other sites.
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Besides providing information and articles for discussion on issues relating to academia, this website contains a jobs section that can be searched by keyword, position type, location, and date posted.
The PhD Project: The job board of this website contains links to multiple job sites pages, providing support for finding minority and diversity positions.
[Last updated September 2018.]