Transition


At one point in early August, I’d had two finalist interviews, one phone interview, and surgery to remove a lump from my breast, and I was just waiting to hear. On everything.

Luckily, that only lasted two days. Labwork came back totally benign, and just last week I accepted a position as a full-time academic advisor at a bigger, richer university, in a bigger (more expensive, but new salary totally workable) city.

It’s pretty much a dream job and a perfect fit—luckily, since I had turned down an offer that would have been a fun job in a very small town with a big pay cut, in order to hope for this one (and the third job hired someone else. I sent out six applications total. So I was optimistic enough to roll the dice. I actually had one more year with my current school, but it’s past time to be moving on, although I would have used it if I had to).

They need me asap, so I’m moving real fast. Scrambled ! find an apartment, cleaned out my office (see recent twitter feed) and now a week to pack my house.

New job, new town, new life!

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So, as you probably know if you are actually still reading this very intermittent blog, I resigned my tenure-track job in history and am looking for jobs in university administration (discussed under the transition category), and while I meant to blog the job search process more than I have, I have lately been thinking about writing job letters, as this summer has really been my first intensive attempt to find another job.

I tweeted that tailoring for non-academic job applications takes more time than tailoring academic cover letters, and Jo Van Every (academic career coach) responded that maybe the academic ones should have taken more time to tailor. But here’s how I see it.

A history professor is a pretty defined job. They want research, teaching, and service. Cover letters follow a standard formula:

  • introduce self
  • dissertation paragraph
  • teaching paragraph
  • what I could do for your school paragraph

That’s the standard format. It may not be the best, but it is what committees expect. My first year on the market I applied to 15 schools (6 conference interviews, if I remember correctly, although that seems very high, maybe I actually sent out more than 15 applications; 1 campus visit), my second year 46 schools (7 conference interviews; 3 campus visits).

I was applying in three fields, so I described my dissertation slightly differently for each one. My teaching paragraph didn’t particularly change, because I only had a certain amount of teaching experience, and all schools pretend to be student-centered even if they really don’t care. I had about 8 different hypothetical courses that I could teach, each described in a different sentence. But once I had established those base elements, it took me about an hour to study the job description (usually about a half-page, pretty entirely focused on specific research/teaching fields), research the website of the history department and make sure I wasn’t offering things they already had, determine which standard pieces needed to be included, copy and paste, and print out the cover letter.

By contrast, tailoring for academic administration jobs requires a lot more tweaking and even writing from scratch. I’ve only sent about six or seven applications, but even jobs that all fall into the same broad category—say, advising—don’t really allow me to re-use base elements.

Academic administration job descriptions are about one and a half pages. They are not interested in three items—teaching, research, service—but in thirteen (or more. I just picked thirteen for the alliteration with three). It’s rarely the same thirteen—some advising jobs also want me to update the website, some want me to supervise other advisors, some even want me to have research experience. Descriptions are often oblique about how they prioritize those thirteen. And researching the positions is trickier—websites often don’t include staff profiles that would give me a sense of the existing personnel.

My skills-based resume lists six areas of expertise:

  • Advising
  • Undergraduate Research
  • Diversity
  • Admissions
  • International Focus
  • Interdisciplinary Focus

and six skill sets:

  • Project Management
  • Instruction & Public Speaking
  • Grant Writing & Evaluation
  • Research & Data Analysis
  • Publicity & Events
  • Current Technologies

It took me a while to get those twelve categories and the supporting bullet points right, but I think they are pretty solid now. But even so, for every application, I reorder my resume to put the things they’ve mentioned toward the top.

For every letter, I reconsider how I’m going to tell the story of the things I’ve done that correlate to what they want. Here’s an example. I worked on my department’s web redesign. Sometimes I discuss that as a story about team leadership and project management, sometimes it’s about ability to communicate with the public, sometimes it’s about being tech-savvy. And I might need to do equivalent transformations for any of those twelve categories above.

Depends on what the job description says. And it’s really different every time.

Per usual, I have a multitude of drafts brewing in my mind, and have not intended to abandon this blog. But for those of you not on twitter, a quick update—-

This week offers me two extended final-round interviews for jobs (one of 4 candidates, and one of 2 or 3 candidates after passing phone interviews of 6 candidates, so that feels good even if I don’t get anything, and I’ve got to prepare some presentations that will be a whole new world), and a consultation with a surgeon to probably remove a lump in my breast that has substantially changed from last year (yeah, that doesn’t feel so good, but the internets say it’s a very high probability of being benign). Busy week!

Looking forward to Saturday.

I should have written and posted this yesterday, in the glow, but since I am currently frantically preparing for class, perhaps I can recapture it….(and indeed, I originally forgot the last couple of items)

  • a good conference, yay!
  • there was sunshine, yay!
  • saw good conference friends, yay!
  • caught up with grad school and high school friend, yay!
  • brunch, outside, with mimosas and laughter, yay!
  • home again, yay!
  • things are blooming, yay!
  • overhauling my life, yay! (high school friend said, “I didn’t want to ask how it was going, in case it stressed you out…” “ha! I am so not stressed!” yay!)
  • ordered new funky glasses, yay!
  • glasses only cost $200 instead of the $600 I’d budgeted for progressives, yay!

Possibly more exciting—I have two one-year contracts that guarantee I will not be homeless or unemployed anytime soon. I have no intention of using that second year, but it feels nice to have. That was the verbal deal, but it’s nice to see the signed pieces of paper, as both my chair and I were just assuming that I would not be busted down to adjunct with a big pay cut. And indeed, same rank and salary.

“Fit” is not a new idea, but I rather like this new-to-me analogy for it:

In a fancy restaurant, the difference between any old waitress and the best may be worth a thousand dollars a night in happy customers who’ll not only tip well, but recommend the place, and return often.

On the other hand, the kind of perceptive human who can do all those things consistently, who happens to work at a 7-11 — well, there’s a limit to how much value such a food server can add there. If you’re very attentive and customer-service oriented in that setting, how many extra slurpees can you really sell? I’m thinking it would be tough to realize the same kind of value, owing to the setting.

I’ve turned in my letter of resignation. Funny, it doesn’t really feel any different.

I have had a series of interviews individually with each member of my department, as well as with other people around campus who I felt had an interest in my development as a member of the university community. That was a wee bit tiring.

I am letting the news hit the grapevine—whenever someone asks about my book, or when I come up for tenure, or anything like that, I tell the truth, happily and with a smile on my face, no matter how well I know them or don’t. My book is going great—I’m cannibalizing my favorite parts for articles, stepping off the tenure track, and switching to university administration. I am openly chatting about who they might hire to replace me—the spousal candidate? explore a new and exciting field?

I am now a non-voting but talking member of the tenure-related faculty in my department (I kinda suspect this is technically illegal and unenforceable, but I really don’t care—I’m happy to voluntarily abstain. We don’t actually vote very often anyhow, just talk). I am not planning on talking any less (and I talk a lot in faculty meetings), but I am trying to switch my tone from making strong statements to asking questions and highlighting things that need to be considered. I am a bit confused about when I should be saying “we” and when “you”, but I think I’m handling it okay.

I am still going to meetings because I am using, with the support of my chair and assistant chair, my position as a faculty member without a big research expectation to assist the department in getting a lot of things done: working on the desperately needed website redesign; working on a student advising handbook; working with our diversity efforts; etc. I have the time to do this work at the necessary level of detail, and the knowledge to represent the faculty perspective and see how these individual projects fit into the overall structure of the department. After this year, I will be on a terminal contract, but will continue to do this sort of service, which will also give me some necessary experience to be applying for university administration jobs.

Also, I care about the department, and I want to see these things done right, dammit. I want to leave the department with something to show for my time here, even if it wasn’t the product I anticipated when I arrived in 2004.

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