The U.S. Job Market Season

By Rachel Herrmann

As an American who has moved to England, I have to admit that I find it a bit odd to see UK job postings still appearing from the coming academic year. It’s strange to me because back in the states, advertisements have already started to go up for hires that begin in the fall of 2014. I continue to read these postings (despite the fact that I’m excited to begin a history lectureship at the University of Southampton) because I think it’s a great way to keep track of popular topics in my field, and because I want to be able to offer solid advice to postgraduate students who seek it.

With these considerations in mind, I’d like to make a few suggestions to advanced postgraduates who are considering applying for jobs in the U.S.

In the UK, job ads appear as positions open up, and interviews take place a month or two thereafter. The U.S. season is a bit more cyclical, but also more protracted. On my (former) side of the Atlantic, a department usually knows it will conduct a tenure-track search before the fall semester gets underway. Ads go up over the summer and in the fall, with some deadlines passing as early as 15 September (most, however, tend toward 1 and 15 October, and 1 and 15 November). H-Net and the Chronicle of Higher Education probably post the most ads, and it’s worth searching them both because they sometimes advertise different jobs (you can also check Inside Higher Ed). You can also find opportunities posted on the American Historical Association’s website. In case you don’t already know, “assistant professor” is about the same as a “lecturer”; “associate professors” are sometimes equivalent to “senior lecturer,” but most associate professors in the U.S. have already published at least one book, and have received tenure. Keep those categorisations in mind when you decide whether or not to apply to a particular job.

For this first round of applications, at a minimum, you should be prepared to send a 2-page cover letter, a CV, and three letters of recommendation; some institutions will also request a teaching philosophy and sample syllabi. I’ve written a blog post about U.S.-style cover letters here. You should also note that whereas UK job applications ask only for the contact information of your references, search committees in the states will expect actual letters of recommendation. To that end you might want to consider investing in an Interfolio account, which will allow your recommenders to upload letters so that you can then send them out whenever you want (for a nominal fee). I found it helpful to maintain a running database of deadlines, complete with the application requirements and contact information listed in each posting.

Rather than immediately moving on to campus visits, many U.S. search committees undertake two additional culling processes to manage the number of applications they receive. First, they will select a shortlist of applicants who will undergo a phone or Skype interview. Second, they will hold in-person interviews at the American Historical Association’s annual conference. These interviews are not funded by the search committee; you should expect to pay your own way there. This coming January the AHA will take place in Washington, D.C. If you’re thinking ahead about going on the job market in the fall of 2014, you might consider putting a panel together for AHA 2015, as it might be easier to obtain funding to attend a conference than to obtain funding to interview at a conference.

One of the most frustrating things about the U.S. job market (aside from the fact that it’s pretty competitive in general) is that you will wait longer to hear anything back from U.S. search committees. Whereas in the UK you can assume that you’re out of the running if you don’t hear about an on-campus interview within six weeks, in the U.S. people sometimes hear about interviews for the AHA in the two weeks leading up to the conference itself. Your best bet if you want to be as in-the-loop as possible is to check the jobs wiki, which lets people anonymously post search updates. Just a warning, though: it can be a depressing page, and some people prefer to ignore it rather than learn that they haven’t made it to the next stage of the application process.

If you’re lucky enough to land AHA interviews, you’ll be competing with several other candidates for an on-campus visit. Based on my experience, it seems as though search committees end up bringing three or four candidates to campus. These on-campus visits are probably the point at which the U.S. system diverges most drastically from the UK system. The UK campus visit is usually a one-day affair, and much of the time all candidates come to campus at once. In the U.S. candidates visit campus one at a time for a period of two days each. On the first day you will generally have dinner with several search committee members. On the second you will have breakfast, take a tour of campus, meet with the search committee, meet with the dean, and present a job talk to the entire department. Some departments will, in addition, ask you to give a teaching demonstration. At the end of the day you will go to dinner with the search committee, where you will have to resist the urge to pass out at the table.

After campus visits you should hear whether or not you obtained the job within a couple weeks (not nearly as quickly as in the UK). But if nothing goes you way, you should also know that many visiting positions begin to open up in the spring, so do keep checking the job postings to see if anything new gets announced. It’s a rough market, and luck has a lot to do with it—but it never hurts to organize a list of deadlines, get your materials ready, and send out the best cover letter possible.

Best of luck to everyone braving it this year!

About the Author

Rachel Herrmann completed her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, and is currently a lecturer at the University of Southampton. She has won fellowships from International Security Studies at Yale and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. She is a contributor to the the Chronicle of Higher Education, Not Even Past, and the Junto Blog. Her dissertation, “Food and War: Indians, Slaves, and the American Revolution,” asked how Native Americans, free blacks, and slaves used food to wage war and broker peace during and after the American Revolution. Her first article, “The ‘tragicall historie’: Cannibalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown,” appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly. She is happy to discuss the U.S. job market via email and on Twitter .

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