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« Job-Market Boot Camp, Part 5: the European job market | Main | The (weak) epistemology of public shaming »

04/10/2015

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a concern

Marcus,
Thank you for sharing this information. I would really like to know how much such a service costs. I have a concern about this trend ... you and your two friends constitute a trend, now. It seems this practice may be making the profession even less open to people from families without money (poor families, as they were once called). The idea that we need to spend even more just to stand a chance on the market is a terrible sign.

Marcus Arvan

A concern: I share your concern. Fortunately, I don't think these kinds of services are prohibitively expensive, at least at this point. The consultant I hired charged $250 total for three job market documents: cover-letter, teaching statement, and research statement. The charge covered four drafts of all three documents. Not cheap. I had to put it on a credit card myself. But, for all that, it's nothing like the several thousand dollars it cost candidates to travel to a single APA to interview...

a concern (though now less concerned)

Thanks for sharing, again, Marcus. I am a bit relieved that it was only $250. But how much was the fee for the assistance with the interview? For 50 minutes I assume it was not cheap.
I am inclined to think that graduate programs should be doing a little more for people to professionalize them. That is, the types of services that you are describing are just the sorts of things a graduate program should assist their students with. When I was in graduate school, in the mid-1990s, my program offered very little in the way of preparation for the market.

Anonymous

I love the fact that you are sharing this information with the wider community - a good jobmarket consultant truly helps to level the playing field, and lessens the disadvantage of those who (like me) didn't have a lot of help from their graduate program. It is not a guarantee to a job, of course, but like you - I found that I got a lot more interviews, one of which panned out in a tenure track job. It was money well spent.
I took the decision to hire a consultant when I was invited to give a talk at a department I had applied to a couple of months before. I had just received a standard rejection letter from them. Several dept members who were also in the search committee of that job really enjoyed my talk, and wondered why I hadn't applied for their job. When I said that I in fact had applied, they were genuinely surprised. They couldn't remember my application at all! So that gave me evidence that, in spite of why my advisor, my reference letter writers, and I thought, my cover materials sucked. The consultant also pointed this out to me: tone, content, level of detail, all wrong.
I wonder whether you have any thoughts on *why* our intuitions about what constitute good cover materials are so off-track?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Anonymous: Thanks for your kind words. In fact, I do have some thoughts on why our intuitions are all wrong!

I think, as candidates, we have difficulty putting ourselves in the shoes of search committee members. We tend to think of our dossier in isolation, not thinking of the fact that search committee members are going to receive several hundred dossiers just like ours! Allow me to explain how I think this misleads us.

Consider some common cover letter and teaching statement tactics that--or so my consultant said--most candidates pursue (and which I had pursued myself!). Candidates tend to emphasize their passion for teaching, give broad generalizations about their teaching style (viz. "I have students work in small groups"), say how original their research program is, etc.

The problem is this. If you are on a search committee, you literally get 300-400 dossiers where people are saying the *same* kinds of things: every cover letter expressing joy for teaching, every teaching statement stating generalizations about having students work in small groups, etc. As such, candidates who say these sorts of thing don't stand out at all! Instead, they blur into all the other candidates, and don't pop out as particularly original or compelling.

In order to stand out from the crowd, you need to move beyond those common strategies--beyond common, banal generalizations that everyone states: you need to provide *precise* details that distinguish you from everyone else in the crowd. All of which takes a *very* different approach to writing dossier materials...

Shaun

Where would you go to get a job-market consultant?

Anonymous Too

Thanks for this post. Did your job market consultant have expertise in either philosophy or the humanities? Or was the consultant a generalist in academia? Or perhaps just a generalist?

Anonymous

I used a job market consultant--probably the same one almost everyone now uses. It didn't help much. While it was nice to have someone completely uninvested in my success look over my materials and give feedback, I also experienced a lot of "No! That is simply not done in a CV" or "No! The cover letter cannot be a narrative!" kind of stuff. Then, as I proceeded to get no interviews again this past season, I began to notice people whose CVs committed the "fatal mistake" the consultant noted and whose cover letters presented narratives get tons of interviews. Honestly, I feel like I paid four hundred dollars for a mixed bag of good suggestions/feedback and some suggestions that, because of their overblown nature, probably hurt my chances. Most of us seek out consultants because we have little to no idea what are good and bad decisions. As such, we are also unprepared to know which suggestions made by a consultant we should adopt and which we shouldn't.

Friend of Anonymous

Anonymous,
thank you for sharing the other side of the story. Indeed, as you point out, it can be challenging to know what gets people job interviews and jobs. Perhaps it was not the consultant who tipped the balance in Marcus' case. Perhaps it was. I would need to know more about YOUR file in order to make any sort of judgment about why things were not better this year.

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous 10:39: Thanks for sharing your story. I'm curious to hear what others have to say. Yours is one data-point for sure--but there is always the chance of outliers. We should judge the usefulness of a particular intervention, presumably, on the basis of trends, not individual cases alone.

In any case, I encourage other people to share their experiences as well, for this very reason. It would be good to know which type of experience--positive, negative, or neutral--other people have had. Like I said, *my* experience was overwhelmingly positive.

Marcus Arvan

Shaun: Googling "academic job consultant" is a good way to start! The obvious next step is to start asking around about specific consultants you come across. You are more than welcome to solicit opinions on particular job consultants here. You are also welcome to email me if you'd like to know who I used.

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous Too: My consultant was someone with a general academic background, not a philosopher.

Derek Bowman

Marcus: Thanks again for sharing your experiences, and for being so clear both about what you found helpful and about your caution in not overgeneralizing from that experience.

But do you think the effectiveness of job market consultants whose "services are not cheap" helps to reduce the level of morally problematic brute luck in academic hiring?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Derek: Yes, I do think that. It's not an ideal situation, but (A) the services are not prohibitively costly (particularly given the costs of other alternatively involved), (B) they are available to everyone, and (C) they provide helpful information which, if used, can improve one's chances on the market. It does not eliminate "brute bad luck" by any means, but compared to the brute bad luck of simply having BAD information, I think the availability of such services significantly levels the playing field, enabling anyone who is willing to pay a significant (but not prohibitively expensive) fee to obtain useful help and information.

Ash

I know I'm way late to the party, but, to pick up on Shaun's question--where does one find a job market consultant? Of course I've googled "academic job consultant", but I only find two people when I do that (one of whom is the famous one who receives very mixed reviews). Is there anyone else out there?

Marcus Arvan

Ash: very good question. I've come across a few, but can't remember precisely who the different ones are. I think I'll run a post tomorrow asking everyone to list/discuss the different consultants out there.

I will say, I used the famous one you're most likely referring to. I haven't heard about her having mixed reviews. The people I know who used her all got jobs and referred me to her--and I found her help tremendous and ended up getting a job too. But perhaps other people had a different experience...

Anyway, I think it would be good to run a post on this. Thanks for the great question!

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