H McKee Stewart Jr

Musings on Business, Finance, and Economcs.

Archive for March 2015

A New View from the Tenure Track Side meets The Dutch Uncle*

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Posted on Max Writes **.  One obvious problem is that we have too many PhD’s, if one opening in rural West Virginia attracts 100 or so applicants**. 

Admittedly , there’s a certain amount of morbid humor associated with PhD’s in English who can’t put together a decent resume, “but the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves…”. More specifically, it’s that nobody goes into a PhD program to become a salesman.  Unfortunately, now that you’re embarking on a job search, that’s exactly your job.  So it’s past  time to start getting the training you need.

100 applicants; 1 job. How are you going to stand out from the herd? How are you going to get your resume (or vitae, if you prefer) into the very short stack that will generate some sort of person to person contact? Once that’s done, how can you close the deal (likely with a committee)? Remember, you’re in sales now, and will be, until you get tenure.

There’s a lot of merit in the notion that the graduate schools should put more effort into helping the prospective PhD understand and work the job market.  University hiring is a pretty specific and restricted market. Since the outcomes are difficult to quantify, and the hiring authorities goals may not be tied to those outcomes, much conventional job seeker advice may not work well.   I’d still recommend finding local job seeker groups that are focused on professional employment. Some will be duds; some will be a great help. Find people whose groceries depend on figuring out what their customers want, and then delivering it.

After all, in business, the finance group puts out a scorecard that measures  your team’s performance, in black and white. Did you meet your sales goals? Did you control costs? Meet your quality standards? If not, good luck in your next gig.

In teaching composition, measurables? Not so much.

Want to move your vitae to the top of the pile?

Understand what your customers want. What will make the hiring committee’s life easier if they hire you? Who are the key committee members? what are their goals? Is it off loading a freshman lecture class? (Of course it is; the department chair wants to keep the small seminar on Shakespeare references in Wodehouse novels…).   It’s a “what can you do for me” world. You have to stand out from the 100 applicants.

Figure out what you need to do to make their lives easier, and be able to explain to them how you will do this better than Candidate X.  Nobody cares about what you want to do, or your research interests, unless it has the added advantage of making them look good. It doesn’t matter about how fired up you are about your specialty. What matters is how you can show that you will make their pain go away.

Next, you need connections. Look at the current members of the department.  Did any of them go to your school? Your undergrad school? Do you have past professors in common? If so, can you get those folks to reach out to gently make an introduction to someone on the committee? Personal relationships matter, but all they will get you is a conversation. What you do with that conversation is up to you.  There are people on your current faculty who may be willing to help; they may need some coaching on how.

Search your university’s alumni directory. Find someone who has made a very good career in technical sales, or better still, technical sales training and development. A good salesman, especially one in a repeat business industry, is a problem solver. For some of these folks, figuring out how to sell a newly minted PhD in English will be an intriguing problem. If they are at all local, ask for a breakfast / coffee meeting.  If not, ask for a phone conversation.  These need to be real business people, not the university’s marketing department. The University can provide clues and connections on the technical aspects of your product , but you need information from people who actually sell stuff. Cause that is your main problem. You need to sell stuff, and the stuff is You. How is your stuff different from anyone else’s? Don’t abuse their time or appear desperate or needy, even if you are. You’re in sales now. Stiff upper lip, what?

Some people you expect to be a big help will be total zeros, some you don’t expect will turn out to be aces. You’re in sales now; rejection is part of life.

Just remember, you’re in sales now. What is your customer’s pain? How are you going to make it go away? How are you going to  persuade the committee you will make the pain go away faster than candidate X?


* No actual Dutch Uncles were either harmed or consulted for this post.

** In the interests of full disclosure, I served as an adjunct in Economics for two years, fortunately only having to keep the wolf from the door for a short time. I have never executed a full bore search for an academic post, so take the above with not a grain, but several tablespoons of salt.


Written by hmstewartjr

25 March 2015 at 10:28 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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