Rebecca Schuman

Author, Translator, Independent Scholar at self-employed

Rate My Job Applications

Full front rate my application

Image: iStock

In 2013, when I left academe in a blaze of whatever the opposite of glory is, I processed my feelings by turning the Schaden (adversity) into some Schadenfreude, emphasis on the Freude. Specifically, when the MLA Job Information List came out in my discipline (German studies, in case you couldn’t guess), I decided to do what my colleagues on the faculty market could never dream of doing.

That is: I talked an inordinate amount of smack in public about the listings. In 2013 a feature I decided to call "Rate My JIL" was born — on my personal website, so as to free me from a legitimate publication’s standards about legality and veritable monoliths of profanity. (I had offers, but luckily for everyone involved, I demurred.) For the past four years, Rate My JIL has provided catharsis for job seekers as well as the occasional breakout critique of a questionable listing.

This year brought a new dimension to Rate My JIL, as — surprise — I ended up applying for several of the jobs. And so, since I decided to bring Chronicle readers along on my possibly ignominious quest for a tenure-track teaching job, it is only fair that I take the next logical step and Rate My Job Applications.

Let’s begin with an honest rundown of what I did and why. As much as I’d like to play this hand close — so that you, my best friends, do not know the concrete extent of my job-market failures as they play out — I don’t think this exercise is worthwhile without radical honesty. So here goes.

I applied to a whopping three jobs in German studies: two at small liberal-arts colleges (SLACs), and one at a smallish state university. I elected not to apply anywhere with a graduate program for two reasons. First, I cannot, in good conscience, recant previous proclamations about the inadvisability of graduate study (even more so now with the looming tax issue, yeesh!). And second, I am returning to the faculty job market thanks to the unshakable pull of the undergraduate classroom.

Also, let’s be honest: Big Fancy Public Ivy and Elite Private University aren’t going to look at my profile and sing. So, despite the suggestion of my mentor, Dr. Yes, who exhorted me to apply to "anything with the word ‘German’ in it," I followed my heart, gut, and lack of desire to humiliate myself unnecessarily, and limited my pool to jobs that: (a) I actually want, and (b) think I could actually get.

I also (plot twist!) applied to four jobs in creative nonfiction (I’m an Official Author now, so I qualify for them), and two journalism positions, one of which is non-tenure-track but happens to be located in a place I would like to live.

Despite the fact that I am a clear outsider for these writing and journalism jobs — I have an M.F.A. and a recent book of literary nonfiction with a major press, but I also have a foreign-languages Ph.D., which is viewed derisively by some denizens of English departments — I wish I could have applied for more of them. However, most institutions want secondary specialties in fiction or poetry, and the last poem I wrote was to my high-school boyfriend and I am pretty sure he burned it, so I can’t use it as a sample. (Oh, and, given my previously stated disdain for college-essay assignments, I did not apply for any positions teaching composition and rhetoric. Obviously. Ha ha ha. No.)

Finally, I went the pragmatic route and applied to every relevant adjunct pool in my area.

So there’s the majority of my internal organs on my sleeve for you. Now let’s get into specifics. What did search committees want in an application, and how willing was I to give it to them?

German jobs. The German job that I want the most — at a small, liberal-arts college I’ll call Chill SLAC — required a medium amount of materials. The search committee requested the standard cover letter, CV, and recommendations, as well as teaching and research statements, each of which can be perilous to craft. But all of those documents are part of a standard dossier. So far so good.

The only thing that gave me pause was this: The job posting mentioned holding first-round interviews at the MLA convention in New York in January, but did not list a videoconference option for candidates who could not afford to travel to the second-most-expensive city in the country at their own expense for a 1-in-25 chance at a job. Indeed, one of the most wonderful developments since I last left the faculty market is that mine has not been the only voice criticizing the antiquated, elitist, classist process of convention interviewing. Many humanities departments have listened and started offering videoconference interviews. I’m hoping Chill SLAC does, too, and just forgot to mention it.

Verdict: I’ll give the listing a B+ ( just for the MLA thing). I’ll give my application an A-minus (I am never, ever confident about my teaching statement). How would I rate my chances of landing a preliminary interview? A solid Maybe.

Creative-nonfiction and journalism jobs. Unsurprisingly, all of the openings in writing programs — including my own favorite, Idyllic SLAC — asked for a writing sample up front. That makes sense, because nobody wants to hire a terrible writer to teach writing. The only problem with this excellent system is that all writers secretly (or not so secretly) fear that their own work is garbage, and I am no exception. I mean, I read my one-star Goodreads reviews; who doesn’t? Who’s to say all of those people aren’t on a search committee somewhere? Ah, what was I thinking? I’m an impostor! (Ad infinitum.)

Verdict: Like most of its cohort, Idyllic SLAC’s requirements — letter, CV, recs, sample — were more than humane. However, I give this entire application process a Death-Minus because of the widening insecurity gyre into which I accidentally loosed myself. I’d rate my chance of landing a preliminary interview on par with the sound of Tobias Fünke sobbing in the shower.

The adjunct track. Finally, there are the various pro-tem and adjunct pools I’ve applied for, all of which are local. These are less glamorous positions, to be sure: None of them involves tenure, most are poorly paid, and they come with the usual pariah status.

Yet they are also exciting in their own ways. For example, some of the courses I’ve offered to teach as an adjunct are in communications departments, so the job is not just outside German but also outside the drowning humanities altogether. Plus, in the cheap city where I live — with a gainfully employed spouse and other sources of income — adjuncting isn’t actually that bad a deal. And it certainly comes with the advantage of getting to fly mostly under the departmental radar, which is something I don’t take for granted. I don’t think of myself as "above" adjuncting — I don’t think anyone is. It’s just professorial labor that happens to be woefully underpaid, but otherwise it’s the same work.

Verdict: It’s easy to apply to be an adjunct, and often one gets hired with only a cursory interview. There’s no drawn-out process that gives me ample time to doubt myself. So I’d give these applications the same grade that adjuncts have to give most of their students so they’ll get rehired: an A.

At any rate, the dreaded Academic Jobs Wiki should start picking up in a few weeks, and I shall know my fate. Until such time, I return to my regularly scheduled program of fear and loathing. Good luck to me on the market, and good luck to all of you.

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