Thus far our Boot Camp has considered some basic job-market related things:
- Building a strong CV,
- Writing and organizing a good CV,
- Recommendation letters, and
- Differences between the American and European job markets.
Before we move onto other job market/dossier materials--cover letters, research and teaching statements, the teaching portfolio, etc.--I would like to briefly step to the side and consider a very different issue: namely, whether to utilize a job-market consultant. I want to discuss this issue first because--as I will now explain--I learned a great deal about dossier materials from a job-market consultant that I hired, and I know a few other people who had similar experiences.
Let me get some important things out of the way. First, I have no ties--personal, financial, or otherwise--to any job consultant. Second, I am not here to advertise any particular job consultant. If people would like to share their experiences with specific job-consultants in the comments-section, I will allow and encourage it (though not from advertisers spamming the site!). All that being said, let me begin with some background.
In my first couple of years on the market, while still in/just out of grad school (2007-8), I relied mostly on my grad department's placement director for advice on dossier materials. After that, for the next several years (2009-2013!), I relied pretty much on myself: on my own information gathering (i.e. looking at other people's dossier materials online), and soliciting help from friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, although I did get a decent share of interviews over that period, none of them translated into permanent job offers. And so, at the outset of this year, I planned to simply update my dossier as I did in past years--revise my cover letters, research and teaching statements, etc., all on my own.
Then, however, something serendipitous happened to me: not one but two of my online philosophy friends who had been on the market a few times both reported to me (independently!) that they had (A) hired a job-market consultant the previous season, (B) got a lot of interviews that season, and (C) got tenure-track jobs. No joke--both of them said the very same thing. I have to admit, I was skeptical. But I was also pretty desperate, so I gave it a try. I not only hired someone to help with my cover-letter, research statement, and teaching statement. Additionally, since a good number of my Skype interviews were not translating into fly-outs, I hired the same service for an "online interview intervention." These services were not cheap. But, I have to say, without exaggeration, that it was probably the best money I ever spent. The quality of the help I received was immediately evident to me as I received it, and the results were the same as my friends': I received a lot more interviews--and at better institutions--than in previous years, and ended up with a tenure-track job.
Allow me to share my experience a bit more. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical at first. I thought I had a good cover letter template, a good research statement, and a good teaching statement. Indeed, I had even "tested" my dossier materials against the materials that some of my friends had developed with a consultant--and again, I thought my materials compared to theirs well. How wrong I was! When I sent my cover letter to the job-market consultant, they tore it apart. They said I had the tone all wrong, level of detail all wrong, and...well, just about everything else all wrong too. Three drafts later, after they approved my letter, I looked at the final result and...it was really good: far better, by my own lights, than any cover letter I had ever composed on my own.
Then came the teaching statement. Again, I thought mine was pretty good. It was about two pages, and I thought it nicely expressed my passion for teaching, teaching style, commitment to students, etc. And the job-market consultant shredded it. Again, they told me, I had it all wrong: wrong tone, wrong length, wrong content, wrong everything. Three drafts later, I had a one page teaching statement that was plainly superior--by my own lights--to any teaching statement I had ever composed before. It was really plain to me: I really did have the teaching statement all wrong before. My instincts about what a teaching statement should look like had been totally off: I was thinking of my teaching statement from the standpoint of an applicant, not realizing that the standpoint of a search-committee member is very different (and indeed, counter-intuitively so). And so it went with the research statement too. Finally, there was the Skype interview intervention. Here again, I was skeptical--and just as pleasantly surprised. Although the intervention was only 50 minutes long, it was incredibly helpful, and led me to entirely reconceptualize how I prepared for interviews.
I'll say more about all of this--more about precisely what I learned--in future posts on cover letters and other dossier materials. But, for now, let me just say this. The consultant I worked with did not "write" my materials in any way. Every word, in every draft, was mine. What the consultant did is provide clear, helpful feedback on precisely what I was doing right, and what I was getting wrong. They did, in other words, what we do for our students with their term-papers.
So, then, should you hire a job-market consultant? I cannot answer that question for you, and I cannot provide any assurances that others will have the same positive experiences that I did. What I can say is that, from my perspective, it helped me immeasurably, and that I know at least two other people who reported similar experiences.