Placement Basics

Long Term Planning

By the time you begin your job search, we suggest having the following as a minimum:

Assessing one’s readiness for the market and General Advice

We strongly recommend that you meet with the chair of your committee to assess whether you are ready for the market and to identify the type of jobs you will apply for, as well as the general strategy you will use to present yourself. The department encourages all job candidates to have three chapters of the dissertation completed in near-final form, or 80 percent of the dissertation done, before the candidate goes on the job market.

Recommended links for general advice:

Places to look for job listings & Subscriptions

NB: The MLA Job Information List (JIL), the Inside Higher Ed “Careers” job portal, and the Chronicle of Higher Education “Vitae” job portal do not require memberships or departmental codes to access. All graduate students also have access to the departmental membership of the MLA JIL and to the Department’s print subscription to the CHE. The CHE can also accessed daily through the UF library remotely when connected through Cisco AnyConnect. Please contact the Placement Officer directly if you have trouble accessing any of these resources.

The traditional locations to look for jobs are the MLA Job Information List (JIL), the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed. We are suggesting that you also look in H-Net and other professional list serves.

Selecting jobs to apply for

Community College Applications

The focus tends to be mostly on teaching, and then on service and community outreach though some Community Colleges like to see research activities and many go through a tenure process involving review of research projects.

Most candidates are asked to give teaching demonstration. If it is not mentioned, ask the person inviting you about it.

Travel costs are generally not covered.

Please see the detailed advice handout from our alumni on how to prepare for community college positions (under Other Resources), and the sample materials (CV, Cover Letter); these are located in our password-protected portal, “Placement Models: Sample Job Materials”

Recommended Links:

Timetable and steps in the application process

The MLA Convention has traditionally been the centerpiece of the job market search, although this is changing. However, the job market now operates year-round, and the majority of UF candidates find their jobs in the spring and summer. In addition, more and more institutions are conducting interviews via phone and Skype before MLA and even skipping the MLA for a variety of reasons including saving money. Here is a timeline of the traditional process, whose stages reflect the process in the spring and summer.

1. July–September Prepare Job documents and request letters of recommendation.

2. September–November Apply for jobs. Initial job postings usually ask for a cover letter, C.V. and letters of recommendation—and possibly a dissertation abstract and teaching philosophy. Look carefully at each ad and send only what it requests—but no less! In the traditional MLA season job deadlines fall between October 1 and sometime in November.

3. November–December Search committees then evaluate all the applications and decide whom they are interested in and request further information (which depends on what they asked for in the ad). They may request letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and further documentation about your teaching (see teaching portfolio). This stage might be called the initial or first cut and the list a long short list (this could be quite long, possibly 50 people). This would occur typically several weeks after the first deadline.

4. December Search committees then often make a second cut based largely on the writing sample to narrow the field down to roughly ten candidates for MLA interviews. Requests for MLA interviews often fall anywhere from 2-4 weeks prior to the Annual Convention, with a few institutions notifying applicants at the very last minute.

5. January The search committee at the MLA then decides the finalists. This number has typically been 3. The committee may have the power to decide on this list and invite people before the MLA ends or the committee may have to confer with other colleagues and wait even several weeks before calls are made to invite people to the on campus interview. On-campus interviews traditionally occur in the early months of the spring semester(often February), and the final candidate might be decided on in February or March. However, there are many variables involving scheduling: the date when classes start at the institution, waiting for other candidates to negotiate among jobs, and institutional idiosyncrasies. As a result, even within the traditional system, an offer can be made relatively late in the spring semester. For instance, an institution can decide not to hire any of its picks from the MLA or be unsuccessful in making an offer to one of the first finalists. The committee might then return to list of MLA interviewees for an additional on campus interview.

Even before the economic crisis and Skype, many schools did not interview at the MLA, see for instance Broughton, Walter and William Conlogue. “What Search Committees Want.” Profession (New York: MLA, 2001) 39–51. However, it would be fairly safe to assume that a process of progressive narrowing of the field occurs along the lines above whether that occurs in the fall, spring, or summer (though it may be shortened in the spring and summer).

6. March, April, May, June, July and August Jobs are listed as departments learn of faculty leaving for new positions, going on sabbatical, taking fellowships, getting sick etc... We have had one person each year for the past two years receive an offer for a tenure-track job in August. However, most jobs in the March–August season are non-tenure track. There is more likely to be an uneven trickle of job announcements rather than an avalanche at any one time, so check often and sign up for email alerts for jobs in your field. In the spring and summer, the process of evaluation and choosing finalists can move very quickly.

Preparing documents

The basic documents you will need for your applications are:

Some other document requests that you might be required to send (less frequent):

Letters of Recommendation

We recommend that you have four letters, one of which should focus on teaching and may come from one of the faculty who has evaluated your teaching for the department. It is traditional to ask your committee members for letters but you may also ask other scholars with whom you have worked at UF or on other institutions. (If you do have a letter from someone outside UF, make sure they are familiar with your recent work and be sure to give them your CV and writing as you would a professor at UF.) It is also a good thing if your advisor can observe your teaching and speak to it in her or his letter. You can ask the Director of Graduate Student Teaching (Terry Harpold) to pull copies of all of your teaching letters from your file, so that you can choose the most appropriate of the letters for this purpose.

Give your recommenders the information they need to write a good letter

Ask if they would like other information. If you have taken more than one seminar or it has been a number of years since you have taken a class with the recommender, you may wish to include a list of courses and other work you have done with the professor in the email to remind them.

For further advice, see Teresa Mangum, “Getting the Letters Right,” Inside HigherEd

Credential Management

A credential management service stores your confidential letters of recommendation and other documents and delivers them to the search committees to retain confidentiality. Most students use Interfolio. The MLA now has an arrangement with Interfolio through which anyone who applies for a job through the MLA’s Job Information List (JIL) receives a free Interfolio account. Job seekers and advertising departments using the MLA Job Information List receive access to Interfolio services. Job seekers receive free online dossier accounts, and advertising departments have free access to Interfolio’s search-management services. For more information, see The MLA's page on “Dossier and Search Management Services”.

The Job Letter and the CV

We suggest that you think of the job letter and CV together, with the CV being a table of contents and the job letter illuminating particular elements of your cv that are more pertinent to the specific job you are applying to.

The CV includes the following items.

Order and Appearance

The order reflects the relative significance of the items, which is why they tend to move from your degrees, teaching, and publications to your service and professional memberships.

The key to the CV is a clean look. No clutter. However, please look at the template.

The job letter

Components

Versions, Order, and Emphasis

If you are applying to jobs in different specialties, produce a basic letter for each of the specialties tailored to the presentation of your credentials to highlight how you are a good fit for that specialty. We recommend discussing these strategies with your advisor.

In addition, we recommend having at least two boilerplate job letters, one with an emphasis on teaching and another with an emphasis on research. The former would contain a somewhat more expansive version of your teaching experience and principles and put that information before the research section while the latter would foreground your research (dissertation and publishing), placing that before the teaching information. We recommend a similar strategy for order and emphasis on the CV.

Tone and Function

Your CV lists the key components of your career. Your letter narrates your career in a way that explains why you are a well-qualified candidate for the jobs you are applying for. Don’t just list the courses you have taught; provide the range of your teaching experience (fields, levels, class sizes, student population) and explain your approach to teaching (why you teach the way you do.) Are there goals or approaches to teaching that connect the different courses you have taught? Similarly, don’t just provide the title and topic of your dissertation and publications. Explain your larger goals in research and writing, and how the dissertations (and possibly other projects) contribute to it.

Write with confidence and clarity for intelligent people in your field or a related field but not in your subspecialty. Avoid jargon. Use Helen Sword’s “Writer’s Diet” test to streamline and enliven your prose.

Specificity

Read the job description for each position carefully, and tailor your letter to the specific needs and characteristics of the school as outlined in the ad. Tailor the presentation of your teaching and research to highlight how you would be a good fit for the position as it described in the ad. To achieve this, do a little bit more fact-finding. Find out if the school is a college or university whose primary mission is teaching or whether it is a research institution. Know if it is a small liberal arts college, if it is urban, or rural; these details will help you to highlight your appropriateness for the job. Perhaps you too went to a small liberal arts college or you got your MA and began to teach in a large state school like the one you are applying to. This type of tailoring is easily done and helps to make clear that you are writing to the specific search committee reading your application. However, do not do a lot of research into each institution when you are sending out the initial applications because you will be sending out a lot of applications.

Further Advice on the Job Letter and CV
Cover Letters
CVs

Teaching Philosophy and Evidence of “Excellence in Teaching.”

A teaching philosophy includes the range of courses you have taught, but you should place particular emphasis on how you teach and why you teach in this way, illuminating your underlying goals, principles, and methods. These are abstract ideas, but you must illustrate them succinctly from your own teaching experience so that readers understand clearly what you mean and can differentiate you from other applicants.

The teaching philosophy should be no more than 2.5 pages. Please consult the examples we have. Regina Martin’s discussion of the job market is also particularly helpful in discussing this.

Not all jobs posting ask for a teaching philosophy.

Increasingly, job applications ask for you provide evidence of excellence in teaching. You can write or call to ask what the particular school is looking for. However, you can also prepare a simple portfolio to send which would include:

Later in the process, you may need to provide a more complete portfolio with more syllabi, sample assignments, and papers, and more student evaluations.

Further Advice on the Teaching Philosophy and Teaching Portfolio

Dissertation Abstract and Research Statement

A dissertation abstract is a description of your dissertation (1–3 single-spaced pages) that contains:

A concise statement of a page to a page and a half, including

One standard approach to this is to then include a short paragraph on each chapter often with the title (if you are using the 2-3 page model), totaling another page to a page and a half.

A research statement can focus on your dissertation and indicate at the beginning and end, your larger research goals, how your dissertation works towards meeting those goals (or answering those questions), and what related projects you are currently engaged in or plan for the future.

Not all jobs postings ask for a dissertation abstract or research statement.

Further Advice on the Dissertation Abstract and Research Statement
  • See also the password-protected portal for sample Dissertation Abstracts, Research Statements, and workshop handouts.

Writing Sample

Two things are crucial about the sample.

  1. Keep to the page length stipulated in the job posting. In general that limit tends to be between 20-30 pages. The hiring committee has a lot of samples to read, and they are much less likely to read yours if it is long and doesn’t follow the guidelines stipulated in the ad.
  2. If you are asked for a writing sample, the writing sample will be the most important thing at that point in the job search. You want the strongest, most representative, and most appropriate document available. There are different views on what constitutes “most appropriate.” Published pieces are impressive, and they save you editorial labor and anxiety. However, if your particular article is too far afield from your dissertation research or the specific job you are applying for, it may serve you better to send an abridged chapter from your dissertation that is more pertinent to the job. It is important to discuss your writing sample with your advisor. If you are targeting a couple of different fields (American novel and poetry, or postcolonial film and fiction), you may want to have a couple of samples prepared to select from.
Further Advice on the Writing Sample

Interviewing

General Advice

  1. Please tell the placement officer if you get interviews and keep the placement officer in the loop about on campus interviews and offers, so that we can amass accurate information.
  2. Please interview each other before the mock interviews to prepare for the mock interviews.
  3. Please email the placement officer after the email to discuss interviews and give the placement officer the first questions and any surprising or difficult questions, so we can develop a list of questions.

Annotated list of sources for advice and information about interviewing:

Interviewing: Statistics

Recent Reports on the MLA job market (statistics, data) can be found here.

We highly recommend the following sites:

Interviewing: The Search Committee

Walter Broughton and William Conlogue. “What Search Committees Want.” From Profession (New York: MLA, 2001) 39–51

A study of 671 English department searches conducted in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. While the study is no doubt dated in a number of ways, most importantly because 93% of the positions were tenure track, it may have valuable information that it is still pertinent, such as:

Conclusions: “When screening applications and on-campus candidates, English departments generally look for evidence of good teaching first and research potential second. Only in doctoral institutions does research rival teaching. Across the board, the candidate with the best interpersonal skills–all else being equal–is offered the job. [Interpersonal skills come in at the on-campus level primarily when all the candidates tend to be highly qualified]

What do search committees want? Our data indicate that the vast majority seek a candidate who can effectively teach specific courses to the students the English department serves. The committees want a colleague who will work collaboratively with their department’s faculty members and who will fit in well with their institution. Only a minority of committees seek a candidate with a book or publications. Committees that do, of course, work in the same departments that are preparing candidates to work in the entire spectrum of English departments. It is perhaps mainly because this minority trains everyone that so many believe that ‘preprofessionalism’ is required to get a job.”

Interviewing: the phone call or email that asks you for the interview

  1. Ask who is on the search committee.
  2. “How long will the interview be and how will it be structured?”
  3. In addition to learning where and when the interview is, you may want to have contact information for the committee chair.
  4. Make sure that they have your cell phone information. This will be on your CV and in your job letter as well. (Claire Potter, “Receiving the Call: What To Do When Scheduling A Conference Interview.”)

Interviewing: Preparing for the interview

Shift your mindset from that of a graduate student to that of a colleague and conceiving of the interview as a collegial discussion in which you assess the position and department.

Learn about the institution. Go to the University and department websites. What is the size of the faculty, general composition of the student body, stated mission of the department and college/university (eg., emphasis on teaching, service, small classes etc). Be aware of the institution’s location--rural, urban, small-town. You might even locate it on a map, so that you know the nearby big cities where airports might be and where faculty might live or visit regularly. Does the school emphasize in their materials for prospective students any special campus-wide requirements that might be useful to know? Is there a campus-wide requirement for a writing course? Do all students take an introductory seminar (or tutorial) as freshman or a capstone seminar as seniors?

Learn about the Department’s requirements for the major and courses offered in your field. During the interview, if they don’t volunteer it, ask what your courses you would teach. Be able to discuss how you would teach the courses they offer in your field. If the department requires a general introduction to writing or literature, you should be able to discuss how you would teach it unless it is clear that you would not have this responsibility ( graduate students for instance might teach all intro courses but in liberal arts colleges, faculty are likely to).

Familiarize yourself with the faculty on the search committee. What are their fields? Look at their websites quickly and get a sense of their work by glancing at their CV if it is available. Also, look up who teaches in your field(s) in the department and get a quick sense from their websites of their work. You want to be prepared to discuss how you would teach courses offered in your field, but you also want to be sensitive to not appearing to want to take over courses obviously associated with specific faculty members. If Hawthorne is obviously someone’s life work, and she always teaches the Hawthorne seminar, she may not find your enthusiasm to take it over flattering. As what the teaching responsibilities would be and having a sense of the curriculum, be ready with your own versions.

Also very helpful advice about preparing answers about your research and teaching. Claire Potter’s “Tenured Radical” blog: “Tell Us About Your Dissertation: And Other Commonly Fumbled Interview Questions.” (2010)

Interviewing: General Advice

  1. Never criticize yourself or your own institution. If you are asked about what new courses you’d like to teach or how plan to transform your dissertation into articles and/or a book, discuss how you will develop the good work you have already done in new and important directions. Do not mention what you see as the gaps or weaknesses in what you have done so far.
  2. When you have an interview it is important to act as a prospective colleague rather than as a graduate student.
  3. Use the interview to find out what you want to know about the job.
  4. The interview is not an exam. “The ideal interview is not at all structured like an oral exam, with one party asking and testing, the other party answering and passing or failing. Instead, it is the (potential) beginning of a collegial relationship of mutual respect.’ Search committees are not testing you on your knowledge base.

Interviewing: Questions about teaching

In re: teaching. Act as if teaching is an important—but not the only aspect—of your professional interests. Have 3-4 sample courses in your area that would fit into their curriculum. The Tenured Radical says: “Know how to talk about the courses you will be asked to teach.” This is where it is important to look at the department’s course requirements and offerings and to try to figure out where you would fit in. (See below for more specific questions and advice). You do not need to have the most innovative courses, especially for surveys, though at some point in discussing your teaching, highlight your innovations, your particularly interesting assignments, etc.

Descriptions about courses should gave a theme or concept and not be a list of books, though you should include some examples of texts you would teach and connect those examples to the theme or concept for the course.

Interviewing: Phone and Skype

Increasingly institutions are conducting phone and Skype interviews. These are difficult for a number of reasons. In the phone interview in particular, it can be hard or impossible to know who is asking you the question. In Skype interviews, you can lose sound or picture. You can see only your interviewers only partially or not at all—or too much—and see that they are distracted. The important thing is not to let this bother you. The search committee has chosen Skype or the phone as a medium, knowing that it is a limited and relatively primitive technology. Therefore all the technical difficulties that arise from Skype (unclear or inadequate sound etc.) are the responsibility of the search committee. They cannot reflect on you. If the technological difficulties are so great as to prevent the interview from working, inform the committee and offer to try the phone or rescheduling the interview. You just need to keep in mind that you need to look and speak professionally.

Here is the advice many give:

  1. Dress as if the interview were in person.
  2. The interview is likely to be 20-30 minutes. They will tell you when they contact you to set up the interview. If not ask at that time.
  3. Be careful to have short answers. Brevity and clarity are even more important on the phone and via Skype.
  4. If there is a problem with the technology, tell them.
  5. You can have a sheet of paper with the search committees names and other basic information about the position and your credentials, but this should be very simple (so you don’t have to try to decipher it) and not visible to any one on Skype.
  6. You may want to have a list of your credentials, courses, research field, methodology, contributions (five things for instance) that you that speak to your credentials for this particular job and to make sure that you get to include these in the conversation even as a conclusion. (This advice is from Karen Kelsey “The Professor is In.”)
  7. Select a place to interview that is reliably quiet, adequately lighted, and uncluttered. Take a picture of it onscreen so you can see that it does not have items in frame that might distract an interview team.

These tips are not specific to academic positions but they seem very sensible, except that using a headset may not make sense for an academic interview as it may undermine a sense of collegiality as the interviewers will not be wearing one—though a discreet earbud may help. (Plus, people may be getting used to seeing headsets.) You may wish to mute your microphone when the search committee is asking questions. Tell them if you do this as it will create a delay in your response.

Additional Advice on Interviews
Additional Advice on Skype/Phone Interviews