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Underground Advice:
Applying for Academic Jobs


For many years I have offered (unsolicited and typically ignored) job-hunting advice to fresh PhDs in my department. With the possible exception of a few years in the late 1960s, the job market for anthropology PhDs has been horrible, and my goal was to provide our students whatever slight advantage they might receive from my experience and/or candor. The document was never posted on-line to avoid letting other institutions learn our secrets.

But now that I am fully retired and cut off from the UCSD students, I offer the advice here to any job seeker with the patience to read it. I have made very few changes here from the pre-coronavirus, revision, including an attempt to accommodate Zoom interviews.

Because I have also had experience in hiring in a range of university staff positions, a separate, much shorter document shares advice for such applications (link).

Good luck in your quest.


Underground Advice to Anthropology Graduate Students Applying for Academic Jobs

Page Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Applying for a Job
    1. General Considerations
    2. Your Vita
    3. Your Cover Letter
    4. Online Job Applications
    5. Letters of Recommendation
    6. Publications
    7. Your Googlability
    8. Telephone Calls
    9. Corvid-19 & the Zoom Boom
  3. Your Interview Visit
    1. Sprucing Up
    2. The Mark’s Web Site
    3. One-on-One Interviews
    4. Students & Secretaries
    5. Other Interview Stuff
  4. Your Colloquium (aka Job Talk)
    1. Job Talk: How To Behave
    2. Job Talk: What To Say About Ethnography
    3. Job Talk: What To Say About Theory
    4. Job Talk: What To Say About Your Dissertation
    5. Job Talk: How To Refer To Your Hosts’ Work
    6. Job Talk: Manipulating Your Audience
    7. Job Talk: Slides, Computers, Powerpoint, & Other Ways To Invite Mechanical Failure
    8. Advice to the Unrelenting
  5. When You Get an Offer
    1. Turning Down a Job
  6. If You Don’t Get a Job
    1. Option A. Freeway Flying
    2. Option B. Broadening Your Goals
    3. Option C. Post-Docs
  7. Beer Debt


Now that you have (about) finished your dissertation, I thought you might be interested in the following words of wisdom (or anyway advice) about job hunting. In the course of participating in many departmental and inter-departmental job searches over many years, I have had occasion to make a few notes about how to apply and how not to apply for a job. The notes are crotchety, but (1) they are right anyway, and (2) you probably don’t have any other notes.

My assumption is that you are looking for a job as assistant professor of anthropology in an American university. The only other kind of job about which I can share first-hand experience from the hiring end is university staff jobs. I have put a few pointers about staff jobs into a separate file (link).

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Applying for a Job

General Considerations

Apply even for jobs that sound as though you are not the kind of specialist they say they want. You are obviously the person everybody wants; it is just that some people haven’t figured that out yet. Do not be dismayed that they “prefer” a specialist in Zulu linguistics and you worked on nutrition in Nepal. They may or may not come to see the light, but they certainly can’t be expected to hire you if you don’t apply at all. Besides, nobody could possibly be serious about wanting someone in Zulu linguistics. (In actual fact, surprisingly few jobs are filled by people who do what the department originally claimed to be seeking. Maybe none. And it is a rare department that agrees with itself about what it ACTUALLY wants.)

Never send a vita by itself. Include a letter describing your dissertation work and other academic interests you have, as well as all the nifty stuff you would love to teach and the fabulous success you have had as a teaching assistant or in any other context. Letters in the file will usually be read, and are always more interesting than just a vita, which tends to look like all other vitas.

Have a letter of recommendation sent whether one is requested or not. It will probably be read (while an unsolicited offprint probably won’t), and it allows your recommender to be immodest on your behalf. Try to pick a recommender who will be as immodest about you as possible. Hiring institutions have a child-like faith that only people they never heard of are likely to be lying, so it is especially desirable to have letters from big shots if they promise to be effusive. (Make sure the big shot can spell your name, however.)

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Your Vita

The normal ordering of a CV puts your name and address first, followed by your education. These tend to be extracted by staff for use in tabular form. Your referees come at the end, where they too can be easily found. In between, in pretty much any order, come courses, taught, publications, grants, TA positions, and other less standardized stuff. To put your list of publications or courses taught before your education in your CV makes anyone creating a summary sheet thrash through everything in annoyance before finding the vital statistics. Nothing is gained by this.

Do not make stupidly illiterate errors like the following (which I extracted from some of the applications of people who applied for jobs in our department over the years and who, I assume, are now making their living washing dishes):

Remember that punctuation errors can also be a telltale sign of illiteracy.

Segregate your actual publications, if any, from obvious padding (such as lectures you have given, writings in preparation, thoughts you had once, courses you thought about TAing in, letters to your mother, &c.). Nobody expects a young person to have published very much, but you ARE expected not to be a mendacious and self-promoting P.T. Barnum. If there are more than two or three publications, separate book reviews from other publications because to some people they seem like padding, and separating them shows you are honest.

Note that in America one writes a doctoral “dissertation” but a bachelor’s or master’s “thesis,” presumably because a dissertation is profound while a thesis is tentative. (British usage allows of a doctoral “thesis.” Go figure.)

Spell “curriculum vitae” correctly. (You can also use simply the word “vita.” The word “vitae” after “curriculum” is the Latin genitive singular, not plural. The Latin plural of the whole expression is “curricula vitarum.” Since that is clumsy in English, the usual English plural is either “vitae” —here a Latin nominative plural, not a genitive singular— or, better, the anglicized form “vitas.”)

More broadly, spell everything correctly. And make sure the grammar works too. And expunge all typos. I have more than once seen a candidate dropped from consideration because of a split infinitive, which was considered to show insufficient attention to detail, haughty disregard for the dignity of the job, illiteracy, or all of these. In the majestic sweep of linguistic evolution, a split infinitive is a sublime triviality. In the immediacy of a job application, it can be the thorn for which the rose is dropped.

Do not try to hide the name of your dissertation adviser. They will find it out eventually anyway. If this person is not listed (and identified) among your proposed recommenders, it will be regarded as suggesting s/he has disowned you for being an idiot. It is probably not a bad idea just to stick it after the title of your dissertation.

Include the title of your dissertation, not just the year you wrote it. The dissertation name is likely to be construed as the topic you are a specialist in and to be listed on summary sheets of search candidates. Having a blank in that space will suggest that you, unlike the other candidates, don’t know about anything at all, which will not help you.

Include the dates and location of your fieldwork. More fieldwork is better than less, so if you did a lot, don’t try to hide it. If you didn’t do much, you should be prepared to explain why if somebody asks.

Your vita will probably (but needn’t) include a list of languages you can use, including your level of fluency. Don’t claim fluency in a bunch of languages you don’t know. For one thing, if you say you can speak a language, somebody may take you up on it. (There is no faster way to crash and burn than to claim to know Swahili and then not be able to reply when spoken to in Swahili.) For another, it is simply not credible for a 28-year-old to speak fluent Hindi, Chinese, Swedish, Thai, Korean, and Quechua in addition to having a competent reading knowledge of Arabic, German, French, Lithuanian, Russian, Basque, Nahuatl, and Classical Greek. Such people get carefully shuffled out of the stack sooner or later even if they impress the hell out of the utterly gullible on the first sort. (As with all else, it is better to be able to deliver more than you promise than to promise more than you can deliver, especially among people who understand that game.)

If you have a web page (of which more below), include the URL in your CV. The chances are that nobody will look at it, at least at first, but it shows you are an up-to-date person, and if somebody DOES look at it, it provides a nice, informal forum in which they can meet the infinitely charming real you as they cannot just by reading a vita. If all you have is a Facebook page, it doesn’t say anything special about your being an up-to-date person, so you should list it only if you think it contains the kind of stuff that makes you look at least reasonably professorial.

Leaving the dates of your degrees off your CV may disguise how old you are, but it also marks you as inattentive or deceptive or both.

Putting “Ph.D.” after your name on your CV is “not done.” As a result, in addition to being redundant with the information in the section on your education, it also marks you as clueless and pretentious.

Centering all lines of a CV makes it hard to read. Similarly paragraph-indentation makes a publication list difficult to read. (Use hanging indentation, or bullets if you absolutely must.)

Asking reviewers to look elsewhere for information they need is asking for more commitment from them than they are likely to give you. If they ask for a writing sample, send it; do not tell them to go look it up in the library.

If your vita includes a list of courses you have taught or are prepared to teach, and if the list is very long and very diverse, an employer may be helped by some indication (through rank ordering for example) of the ones you have taught most or like best. Note that some may sell better for some jobs than others, and you may wish to order the list with this in mind. If you have taught both Japanese and Mexican archaeology, for example, it may be well to feature the Japanese in an application to teach in an Asian Studies department but Mexican archaeology for an anthropology department.

Note that ever more employers will expect you to be able to provide “documentation” of your “teaching quality” in every course you say you have taught. Something like a CAPE summary may be adequate, but a few screwballs want to see what the kids actually wrote. So don’t throw away old evaluations. I have reliably heard of a candidate being thrown off a short list for enumerating several courses taught but neglecting to include evaluations for one of them. (That could probably have been salvaged by explaining the absence, but the candidate said nothing about it, so the committee assumed the course to have been terrible.)

If you have taught a course and bombed, there is enough variation in CVs to allow a little wiggle room. You may do better to list “courses I am prepared to teach.” That can include things you have not taught but would like to teach. After ones you actually have taught, you could then add “(taught such-and-such a term, evaluations available on request).” Presumably you would just as soon not bomb again and would leave the bomb course off the list. (Nobody is going to check to make sure your list is complete.)

Just as some reviewers are fanatical about teaching evaluations, some place high value on grants and prizes, a category with slightly ambiguous boundaries. Assuming you have had grant support, you should create a category for it, and then list every grant or honor you can think of. (In some fields, the ability to “attract grants” is a prime consideration in faculty hiring and promotion. That is not normally the case in anthropology, where much can be done on a very small budget, but it is still part of academic culture to consider grant magnets to be excellent scholars whether they are or not.)

Finally, don’t stint on the paper and ink for your CV. Recent research suggests that heavier paper leaves a more positive impression (within reason). (We have occasionally received CVs on pink paper or loaded with perfume. Those turn out to be bad ideas.)

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Your Cover Letter

There must always be a cover letter. What an employer wants to know from it is what you bring to the job and why you are willing to give up what you are doing in order to take it. Some of this may be self evident or may be implicit in your CV, but don’t assume the readers will bother making the case for you. If the new job involves training TAs, be sure to explain why you are qualified to do that. If it involves teaching in a religious school, give evidence that you are interested in spiritually committed students and are not hostile to the religious environment in which you will be working. If it involves teaching in a technology-drenched environment —and most teaching environments became technology-drenched during the Covid-19 pandemic— make it clear that you love technology and are competent to use it.

Nobody wants to hire a candidate who sees the job only as a stepping stone to a different job or only as a chance to retire in a warm climate after two years, or as a Plan B because nothing else is available. You should represent yourself as considering the job to be inherently interesting and attractive in its own right. If it is a limited-duration gig, you should still seem to consider it a positive way to spend the time. If it is an open-ended appointment, they simply won’t hire you if you imply you are going to walk out after a year (unless their more long-term candidates are awfully obvious losers).

Most cover letters say (1) “I do fascinating research”; (2) “I am a brilliant teacher or probably will be if I ever get the chance to teach”; and (3) “I love your department.” The third part is obligatory, but will be ignored, so don’t let it wag the dog. If you are applying to a research university, they will be interested in the first item, so make it the most detailed. If it is a teaching college, they will be interested in the second item, which should be adequately detailed; but if they have any pretensions at all —and they all do— they will want to know about your research too, so the trick will be to include it but to make it seem subtly likely to improve your teaching, teaching being your first love.

If you are applying to a research university, you may wish to make reference to what research you will be doing after your dissertation is published. This should usually be more but different work in the same part of the world, since behind the scenes the search committee will be fighting about area specializations, and as a specialist in India you will lose most of your advocates in the search committee if you say that as soon as they turn their back you are going to shift to the Caribbean because you like rum. (More on your “next research” below.)

If you are applying for a job and have a package of qualifications for which UCSD is obviously the best place to study, your being a UCSD graduate student does not need to be commented on.

But if you have worked on something for which there are stronger or more obvious graduate programs, it may be useful to provide a reason why you chose UCSD. “I was long interested in Nunavut, but, having already gotten some background in Arctic ethnography as an undergraduate, I chose UCSD for the theoretical perspectives it could help me bring to bear on Nunavut childhood experience.” Or, “I came to UCSD to study primate cognition, but after arriving I became more and more interested in the fossil record of baboon evolution, an unusual project for UCSD.” (Bad answer: “It was the only place I could get in.” Another bad answer: “I live down the street and didn’t need to bother moving.” Another, not quite as bad, answer: silence.)

If you are applying to a teaching college, they will probably be interested in what courses you could potentially teach. A research university is likely to be less concerned about this. Either way, you might do well to distinguish a list of courses you have actually taught from general areas in which you are prepared to develop courses. You are trying to sell yourself to a department where there are already established claims on courses or topics or areas, and confining yourself to an overly short or overly specific list could motivate somebody who “owns” a topic to be sure you are not considered. Seem flexible, within reason. Never list specific courses from their catalog unless they ask you to. Since each one of those is already taught by somebody, and the somebody has toes you don’t want to step on. The exception is when a course owner is retiring and they are trying to make a direct replacement. They will tell you that, and you will tell them you are willing to do the course. Since there are no toes out, you will not be stepping on any.

It is extremely unusual for a job candidate to be interested enough in teaching ever to have read a book on the subject. The specific mention of even one book on how college students learn (or for that matter how they do anything else) can be pretty much guaranteed to mark you as FAR more seriously interested in effective teaching than ANY of the other candidates. I have seen this happen. (If you got less than stellar teaching evaluations somewhere along the line, having read a book about how students learn will almost certainly eclipse the evaluations, depending on just how you spin it.)

If you have changed jobs, a potential employer needs to know why or may (wisely) assume the worst. For example, an assistant professor who goes to a consulting job or a different assistant professorship after three or four years is assumed to have been refused tenure, and that is assumed to have occurred for good reason. If that is not why you gave up your assistant professorship, be sure the reason is clear, if not in the CV, then in a cover letter. (Similarly if you changed doctoral programs mid-stream, set things up so that it doesn’t look as though you were kicked out of the first one.)

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Online Job Applications

Being required to submit your application exclusively through a standardized on-line format has not hit faculty positions at most significant universities, but it is creeping through the HR world, has already infected granting agencies, and has struck the world of junior colleges. It will probably become universal in another ten minutes.

On-line applicications have the advantage of facilitating comparisons between candidates based on standardized information. (And reviewers can look at applications at home in their pyjamas.) They have the disadvantage of suppressing most of what it would be desirable for a reviewer to know (including whether the person is able to compile a CV without being silly).

Obviously if the job you are applying to requires that you apply on-line in pre-fab categories, you have to to follow that. It MAY be possible to append a real CV, but more likely not, unless you incorporate it as an appendix to your cover letter. Worst of all, it is regarded as perfectly acceptable in HR circles to delete anything that is not part of the standard questionnaire. Even cover letters may be routinely discarded in rapidly deteriorating institutions with no commitment to developing a high quality faculty.

(The severe standardization is defended on grounds of simplifying the HR job and of “fairness” to candidates who may be too incompetent to present themselves in the best light.)

Typically there is at least one free-form field on the application, however, in which it is sometimes possible to put your website URL, where you can place a copy of your real CV. (More on that below.)

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Letters of Recommendation

Your vita should include the names and addresses of some people willing to provide letters on your behalf.

You need to include your dissertation adviser. Your adviser has put up with you this long and presumably wouldn’t have done so without thinking your work was interesting, so the letter is likely to be reasonably positive. Furthermore, your getting a good job makes your adviser look good, or anyway think so. And finally, unless s/he has died, the absence of your adviser from the list can be viewed as suspect by people proud of their own peasant cunning.

Other names you propose as referees should be people with enough contact with your teaching or writing to be able to say you are a brilliant teacher or writer. If you did TA work in a writing program, the program director’s comments on your intellectual breadth and educational effectiveness (not to say vaulting literacy) can be a plus. If you worked with faculty in more than one department, somebody from outside anthropology talking about how brilliant you are even when not being an anthropologist may make a nice complement to the anthropology letters.

Hiring committees are startlingly gullible if addressed by famous people. If you had a class from the Great Schmalowitz, list the Great Schmalowitz. The Great Schmalowitz will send out his standard letter saying that whoever you may be, you are probably a genius, and everyone will believe him. (We occasionally receive letters on several different candidates from the same Great Schmalowitz saying that each is the best he has seen in all his 130 years of teaching. We snicker over the fact that he is using a mindless and pre-fab template, but we don’t actually doubt him. Who would dare doubt the Great Schmalowitz?)

Usually it is the potential employer who writes to your referees to ask for letters, but you can do so yourself also. It is polite to ask people’s permission (or anyway to forewarn them) before listing them as referees on your vita. Most professors won’t directly decline to write a letter, but may express hesitation if they have forgotten who you are, think you are an idiot, or are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.

If they express hesitation, don’t press the matter. The level of hype in American academic letters of recommendation is so shameless that a letter less than fatuously effusive is seen as negative. A hesitant letter writer risks sounding insufficiently enthusiastic. (I have seen people turned down because one letter writer contented himself with saying they were good rather than excellent or brilliant. Search committees are weary, not insightful. They are committees, after all. And most of them are products of the same culture that produces political campaign ads.)

It is a good idea to talk with your recommenders about jobs you are applying for, and to review why you are magnificently suited for them. Your recommenders are already in a position to say flattering things about you that modesty ought to forbid you to mention for yourself, but they may need to be told about anything that would make you fit a particular job especially well. Don’t be shy with them. (Observation: One of the most common errors made in asking for a letter of recommendation is failing to tell the writer why you fit with the particular job in question. You don’t want a letter to say what a great librarian you will be in a letter for a job as a museum director.)

It is distinctly Asian to include testimonials that you are a moral person. Outside Asia, morality is assumed. Leave your pastor out of the referee list unless you are applying for a job in Shanghai. A probable exception may be small religious colleges, where it is likely to be critical that you be a straight, teetotal, abortion-hating creationist. Such schools usually make it clear what sort of referee they would prefer for this information.

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In a labor market with a shortage of job candidates, schools have fewer applicants and consider themselves lucky when a being so noble as an advanced graduate student is looking at them. They will not be too picky about publications, since you are still a graduate student. Unfortunately, we have not seen a market like that since the late 1960s.

On the other hand, in a labor market with an excess of job candidates (or where panic makes all applicants apply to all jobs so that it looks as though there is an excess of job candidates), schools can afford to be pretentiously picky about looking only at people who have already published dozens of articles and a library of books. Impressively undistinguished little party schools can bray about the need for you to have a Pulitzer prize to be worthy of teaching in them.

You can do only what you can do. However, here are some careerist tips to keep in mind.

  1. Throughout graduate school, try to write course papers that could imaginably be publishable. That means care and originality. Some assignments don’t permit of this —nobody wants to publish yet another commentary on Foucault— but when practical you might as well migrate toward eventual publishability whenever given the opportunity to do so.
  2. Ditto for your MA thesis, which could have the makings of a brief book or a portion of which could be relatively painlessly turned into an article.
  3. Try to publish some kind of description of something while you are in the field. You are close to the source, and you have fresh and unique data that everybody claims to be interested in. Even a brief note in the local Journal of Weird Views counts as a publication, after all. Furthermore if the publication is not directly on your dissertation topic, it will be taken as a sign of immense intellectual breadth.
  4. Be interested in the time from MS delivery to finished publication. Some journals will sit on a MS for as much as a couple of years before publishing it. Some take months to reject a paper. People organizing groups of papers into a book can sometimes take as long as ten years to find a publisher willing to publish it. (Publishers have noticed that customers don’t much buy collections of papers.) You don’t have very much control over all this, but you can ask about it, nudge people about it, and, when there is a choice, go for the quick outlet over the slow one. Early in one’s career, one can’t really afford to have things “under consideration” forever.
  5. Approach a publisher with your dissertation as soon as you have completed and defended it. The day after your defense is not too early. One of the great truths of all time is that your dissertation will not get better by sitting on a shelf; it will just get cold. A second great truth is that your intention to turn it from “The Big D” into “The Great American Ethnography” will turn out to be mere procrastination and pretending otherwise will come at increasing psychic cost.
  6. When publishing a book, try to provide the publisher with extremely cool stuff for the cover. Most people judge most books most of the time by their covers (though warned by proverbs not to), and publishers are not to be trusted to come up with designs on their own that make people want to hire you. (The truly sadistic publisher will make the spine lettering illegible and the cover monochrome.)

Most potential employers think it is a Very Good Thing that you have publications. And it is an Even Better Thing if the publications are in snooty journals or from snooty presses, although publication in specialist places is entirely respectable.

It does not follow from this, however, that anybody on the search committee actually wants to READ what you have written, any more than anybody else on earth does (not counting your mother, who is probably just pretending). People sorting through 150 applications for a job do not have the time or interest to read anything more than necessary. If they DO look at a publication, figure they will spend about 20 seconds or so in total on it. If it won’t look wonderful within that 20 seconds, it can do more harm than good. For this reason, it is probably a bad idea to send publications to potential employers unless asked, which usually doesn’t happen until you get short-listed.

Don’t figure that you MUST have publications to apply for jobs. Especially if you are still a graduate student, it is perfectly legitimate that The Big D is taking all your time. Once you have graduated, matters change, and the issue arises of what you have been doing with your time since graduation. For research universities, writing and maternity leave are legitimate activities. Love, illness, divorce, and teaching in four community colleges simultaneously to keep the wolf from the door count as goofing off. (The world is not a fair place.)

For lower-tier teaching colleges, teaching counts as great, especially if the courses are ones they want taught. Publication is nice, but less critical. Pretentious teaching colleges may want publication from their applicants even though their senior faculty haven’t published anything in years.

A small number of candidates have begun providing data disks or or SD cards containing dissertation drafts, publications, or other materials. In principle, this is a good idea and shows you know what century we are in. In practice, it is largely a fashion statement. A committee going through a whole file cabinet (or computer file) of applications is not realistically going to cram a disk or memory card into a computer to see what is there. (And their computer will not display it right anyhow.)

On the other hand, it is cheap, and if a miracle happens and somebody becomes interested based on what is in the application file, it is easy for that person to see more. It’s your call, but I would advise against putting anything only on a disk that you need to have people look at unless they actually ask you for it.

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Your Googlability

Many graduate students at this point have web sites, blog sites, or an identity on a “social networking site” such as Facebook.

Since in academic departments the finalists are reviewed by pretty much everybody, you can be certain that SOMEBODY in the process is going to Google you, even if the aging members of the search committee itself still proudly work by candlelight and write with quills.

Time Magazine in August of 2007 cited two interesting statistics. One was that already at that time about 12% of employers in somebody’s survey said they consulted “social-networking” web sites like Facebook and MySpace in the course of the interview process. Another survey said that 63% of those who checked these sources declined to interview a candidate because of what they found. Time suggested that the potential employer’s resultant suspicions (!) of faked qualifications or criminal behavior were the two top reasons given.

The following year a Kaplan study found that about 10% of all college admissions officers checked the networking sites of applicants, usually subsequently declining to admit them. By 2016 the number had risen to 40% of admissions officers who checked Facebook, and a third said that they Googled applicants.

Anecdotal evidence in 2012 suggested that about 80% of non-academic employers routinely looked at applicant’s Facebook pages, and there is every reason to imagine that many academic employers do too, even if the inspection is merely the late-night curiousity of an assistant professor in the department to which you are applying.

So do you honestly believe that nobody will be checking you out online?

For teaching positions, potential employers might also consult RateMyProfessors.com. What your students say about you there could matter. You can’t stop it, but you should know about it and be prepared to discuss it if need be.

Content matters. As we all know, what you post may be cached long after you have taken it down. If you have an outdated, frivolous, partisan, or pornographic site, you might consider cleaning up your act early in the game. Pornography is downright embarrassing. Frivolity says your goal in life is to inherit money and retire, which doesn’t sound very professional. Partisanship antagonizes the partisans of other positions, who surprisingly often turn out to have a voice in whether you are hired. (Overt partisanship, at least on a site you use for teaching, can even offend people who agree with you but who think partisanship itself is undignified.)

The same considerations apply to your Email address. If you are sexkitten@lonesome.com, you might think about changing your handle. Better do this right away.

I am not recommending that you wimp out on all this. If gun control matters enough that you are willing to scuttle a potential job interview with the high-paying Guns-for-All University, then leave it in. It’s a job you didn’t want anyhow. And showing actual character on a web site may even help land you a job you will like. Most people love a Mensch more than a Wimp (except when they don’t).

Most search engines also find references to you on other people’s sites/blogs, stuff your contacts may have copied to their own sites, and references to other people with your same name. If you do not have your own web site, you still might check to see whether somebody with your name is going to be misunderstood as being you. You may be surprised to learn that you were last year’s swimmer of the year at Buncombe County High School, or that you are running a funeral home in Akron or selling auto parts in Biloxi or serving time in San Quentin. You might want to have your own site just so you can use it to say that the other people aren’t you!

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Telephone Calls

If you look stunning on paper, you may be contacted by telephone (1) for more information, or (2) before a visit to the campus (at places with money), or (3) in place of an interview on campus (at places without money). This means you should give some attention to your telephone presentation-of-self. During a telephone call you are on stage. Play the enthusiastic hot new recruit and bright-eyed genius. Don’t play the lifeless drip. (The famous limp-wristed handshake has its monotone voice equivalent, especially on telephones. Avoid it.)

Just for fun, call yourself and leave a long message on your own answering machine. If you sound like a mealy-mouthed teenager who just woke up or a mushy-mouthed grandparent whose false teeth are still in a glass on the dresser, you are playing the drip. It’s simply amazing how many graduate students sound like drips over the telephone. Get over it!

Corvid-19 & the Zoom Boom

The Corvid-19 pandemic did not end academic hiring completely, although its hit on university budgets immediately substantially reduced the number of jobs available, making your probability of getting one somewhat less that your probability of being hit by lightning.

Those hiring searches that survive the budget cuts will probably often still be conducted as Zoom sessions for a while, at rich universities because they are worried about the pandemic, at poor ones because Zoom is seriously cheap.

Everything said on this page about in-person job visits also applies to Zoom interviews, but in addition Zoom eliminates most of the informal friend-making of a real recruitment visit, and it introduces levels of both theatricality and vulnerability. I have treated the "theatricality" issue on my essay on staff hiring. It matters a lot, and I urge you to consider it (direct link).

In the category of vulnerability comes the problem that you cannot see who is paying attention to you. Not all attendees make themselves visible, and not everyone in the room is visible to the camera. (One-on-one interviews probably are not really one-on-one.) Screen shots of your every wince are easily preserved. And the entire interview, like any zoom meeting, may be recorded, so your proprietary PowerPoint presentation can be ripped off.

(Very little text on a PowerPoint screen is legible on somebody’s laptop, by the way, so your favorite PowerPoint slides, suddenly now teeny-tiny, can become an annoying distraction, like having footnotes at the end of the book instead of at the bottom of the page. Think about the problem carefully, and rework your presentation accordingly.)

Unforeseen effects are by definition unforeseen, and we can’t yet know the long-term effects of Zoom (or Corvid-19) on academic hiring. It is easy to foresee that cheapness and availability will make it or something similar a favorite with university administrators. But one possible unforeseen effect could be that Zoom-hiring provides so much less information that initially successful candidates may turn out to be disappointing once hired and end up getting tenure with much lower frequency than those hired after in-person visits.

Whatever Zoom does to us, it is clear that you need to consider carefully how to exploit it rather than letting it squish you like a bug.

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III. Your Interview Visit

Interview visits are fun. You get well fed and politely cooed over, so relax and enjoy it while it lasts.

Sadly, there are ten thousand ways you can blow it, and I have laid out some of them below. A key point to keep in mind is that the many people who can vote, or at least kibbitz, on your appointment do not need to give reasons for their votes, or can give made-up ones. As far as we know, plenty of people opposed President Obama’s presidential runs because they believed that the White House should be only for white people, but they said it was because he was incompetent; similarly people may support or oppose your appointment for reasons they will never directly state. The canny course is to assume the worst and figure ways to head it off.

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Sprucing Up

Before you go for an interview, get a haircut, cover your tattoos, remove your nipple rings, take a bath, wear shoes, sit up strait, wash your clothes, don’t chew gum, and try to remember that some of the most important people in the decision whether to hire you will be prudish prunes old enough to be thoroughly repelled by whatever the kids in your freshman TA sections think is cool.

One study quoted in a 2010 issue of Newsweek found that handsome men earn about 5% more than non-handsome ones. For women the difference is 4%. And 57% of managers said they conceded that ugly candidates would have a harder time finding a job in the first place than good looking ones. You can’t do much about what nature gave you, but there is no point in making matters worse with gratuitous uglifications. (I don’t recall now who it was who described a visible tattoo as a life-long vow of poverty, but you may be well advised to think of it that way, especially since tattoos are sometimes assumed to indicate undisclosed prison time.)

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The Mark’s Web Site

Before you go, you should spend some time on the website of the target job provider. The benefit of this should be obvious, but don’t stop at the departmental site. Check area studies programs, religious studies programs, international education resources, the business school, human development committees, biology and history and geology departments, the school of education, and the like, since you may be asked what you think of such things or whether you would be interested in participating in them. (Your answer, by the way, is yes.)

In some cases, faculty from other departments may get to vote on your appointment because you will also be expected to participate in some kind of interdisciplinary program or because they are believed knowledgeable about your field of study.

The more you know about the place, the better you can seem to fit in. (Be sure to compliment them on their web site if it is a nice one. Few faculty will ever have looked at it, but it shows that you are a with-it, up-to-date, electric type of person.)

In the world of administration, I have seen jobs lost because the candidate appeared to know too little about the hiring institution. Although that doesn’t usually happen with academic jobs, having “done your homework” is still construed as a strongly positive thing, and not having done it is taken as a sign of lack of interest. (It is useful to know how big a “big” class can be, for example, before you hold forth on your teaching style. A “big class” of 25 is very different from a “big class” of 500. You need to know.)

If you happen to have read something by one of their faculty or can get ahold of something, or can find something posted on their web site, read it and then mention to the author that you liked it. There was ne’er a creature on this earth more shamelessly susceptible to flattery than an academic author, and I have seen a colleague become a raging advocate for a candidate he previously disliked only(!) because the person had read one of his papers. (Do not mention your reading to the non-authors, who won’t give a damn.)

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One-on-One Interviews

Once you arrive for the interview, sit at attention and maintain an extremely high level of energy at all times. Interviewers want you to be “exciting,” which means noisy and manic. Indecisive mousiness will count against you more than anything else will, even including boneheadedness. (Reread that sentence several times. It is the most important advice you will ever get. Mousiness is worse than boneheadedness.)

Something else that counts against you, however, is being a chatterbox in one-on-one interviews. Although you should answer questions affably, do not lecture your interlocutors, lest you seem “arrogant.” The erroneous attribution of “arrogance” is not limited to snotty freshmen evaluating TAs. Faculty members do it to job candidates.

Worse yet, a single attribution of arrogance by a single faculty member who interviews you can kill your chances, especially if you are male. (I have never heard a female candidate being called arrogant; like being a jerk or a nerd, it appears to be a character flaw available largely or only to men and attributed especially by women.) Arrogance in nearly all cases means you talked too much and listened with insufficient displays of fascination.

Be prepared to deal with hostility to your intellectual framework. Coming from UCSD you are not used to berserker attacks on you for being interested in personality or motivation or anthropological archaeology. In general, you should be prepared to defend what you are doing within that frame without having to defend the whole damned frame. In other words, do not let yourself be put in the position of having to defend psychological anthropology in opposition to all the other ways one might spend one’s life. Your position is that you are not a fanatic; it is simply the frame in which you work. The same goes for sociobiology, feminism, functionalism, evolution, or whatever else you get attacked for.

Be prepared for mind-numbingly stupid attacks from Postmodernist Litcrit Twits. They are a dying breed, but they are still all over the place (and often mendaciously deny that they are twits). The best strategy in face of a really stupid (or utterly unintelligible) attack is to insist that the attacker’s position is fascinating, but that it is not the tradition within which you are developing your argument. (Don’t roll your eyes; rolling your eyes loses you points.)

People like to think they like humility. They want to hire somebody really knowledgeable about a research region, but not cocksure after a mere two years there, so sound knowledgeable but uncocksure. Be prepared to be fascinated by any place anyone else has worked. Several of our candidates over the years have lost points for seeming “uncomparative,” which meant not thinking our field sites were fascinating enough or not noticing that everything they ever experienced in Mexico or Japan or South Africa happens in New Guinea too. (It is perfectly possible for candidates to be dismissed from consideration simply for not listening politely to field anecdotes from people already on the faculty. Listeners are usually thought more interesting than talkers, I’ve noticed, at least as judged by the the people they were listening to.)

Be prepared to talk about the next research you want to do as soon as the dissertation and its droppings have all been swept up. As mentioned, it should be in the same region, since you have not exhausted its riches yet, but on a slightly different topic to show how flexible and intellectually alive you are. (You can be dropped off a short list for not having future plans, so you need to pretend to have plans even if you don’t. It is okay for them to be vague or to be contingent in various ways. Furthermore, nobody is going to hold you to them anyhow; in fact they are unlikely to remember them for more than a few minutes. They just want you to sound right about this.)

If somebody asks you whether you would be interested in fieldwork in some particular place else (the Solomon Islands when you have worked in New Guinea, Northern China when you have worked in Hong Kong, or whatever), the answer is “eventually, yes, that would be really interesting.” They are nearly always asking you because they are trying to classify you as working in an area the department is targeting. Replying with a clear “no” disqualifies you from that classification and deprives you of one or more in-house advocates.

If you have worked outside the United States, be very careful about saying that your next research should be in the United States. That implies that you think you have already paid your dues by dealing with grubby foreigners and that you don’t want to risk getting too far from a fish taco ever again. If you really do plan an American project, be sure to describe it as one project among many, including some outside the United States.

There are a couple of problems with this, however. If you worked in another country and the department (or worse yet, the dean) specifically asks if you would be interested in working with a local population, it may mean that their administration is trying to use the anthropology department to show its board of overseers that it is doing local ethnic studies research, encouraging multiculturalism, and supporting affirmative action without disrupting departments that matter, like physics or history.

Your answer has to be that you would love working locally. But in the back of your mind you should think twice about taking the job if they really seem to mean it, since (1) you may end up working locally forever —killing your career— and since (2) it shows they are spinelessly giving in to the demands of kiss-up-kick-down administrators.

Deans and affirmative action aside, some departments are dominated by sociologists or by rational-choice theorists with a strong prejudice against any unnecessary concern with foreigners. For them you should not exclude American research completely, but to insist on comparativism is still generally the best strategy. It’s a fine line to walk, but your identity as an anthropologist in a department dominated by sociologists depends upon your perceived comparativist inclinations. On the whole, your image will fare better by your appearing to believe that there is life outside the United States, since that is the only reason combined sociology-anthropology departments put up with anthropologists.

Some anthropologists of course HAVE worked within the United States and plan to continue doing so. Unless the work was done with some “culturally distinctive group” (which usually means American Indians or recent immigrants), you will bear the lifelong burden of people muttering behind your back that you didn’t do “real fieldwork.” You wouldn’t have got this far without being able to answer that objection if it is presented directly, but it is harder when it is not voiced. Subtly arming your defenders to answer it in your absence when your hiring is discussed is probably best approached by presenting the research as growing out of a classically anthropological problem that, as luck would have it, is optimally approached by fieldwork right here at home. (Don’t mention fish tacos.) This has to be a simple enough and classical enough problem that somebody who gets it a bit wrong can still make a credible defense in your absence.

Avoid jargon. Somebody will have private interpretations of it and will think you are an idiot for not sharing them. (I have seen people wax screwballish even about well established terms like “shaman” or “material culture.”)

Avoid politics. Not all anthropologists belong to the Socialist Workers Party, and a few are closet Republicans. Some have more nuanced views that are politically incorrect anyway. (Actually, most nuanced views are politically incorrect, but never mind that now.) Surprisingly, many academics are serious political whack jobs. Make no assumptions. And always remember, a job interview is not a mission field.

Tell field stories. Everybody likes field stories. This can be overdone, but the absence of ANY field stories during your visit means you did not actually do fieldwork and can lose you the job. (Only field stories means you are shallow and incapable of generalization or theory.)

Explain that your interest in the host university is an interest in them and their program, not an interest in living in a nice part of the country or being near family. If it actually IS a nice part of the country, they are likely to be suspicious of people coming there for “non-intellectual” reasons. (We hate it when people say, “I grew up in San Diego and I really like the ocean.”) Similarly, and for very similar reasons, if you are being interviewed by an Ivy League school, do not say “I am a snob and I like the idea of being in a really snooty place.”

Do not rejoice in your ignorance of anything. Ignorance of standard anthropological topics, from dendrochronology to moiety systems, from socialization to postmodernism, from central place theory to hologeistics, is potentially devastating anyway, of course, but seeming to celebrate your ignorance (or missionizing for it) will make you seem intolerably uneducated.

Do not be dismissive of anything; it is probably something that the person you are talking to respects and considers important (or thinks is a threat).

Be prepared to discuss instructional technology and your experience with PowerPoint, web sites, and WebCT, Zoom, clickers, Wikipedia, Twitter, distance-learning, Google-Doc collaboration, on-line plagiarism detection services, commercial course support services, and so on in teaching, since these are hot (or anyway warm) topics in colleges these days.

Most professors at most universities feel a little guilty about not knowing as much as their colleagues about all this and they look to the new recruit to save the department from its dinosaur image. If you have an elegant web site, go ahead and give them the URL. If you have none or only a marginally adequate one, keep the discussion hypothetical. (That doesn’t mean they won’t find it. See above.)

Your official position is that all this techie stuff is fine in its place but must always be evaluated with reference to its educational effectiveness. (That leaves you free to be seen positively by technophobes and technophiles alike.)

Be interested in students and studentdom, especially if you are talking to students. Somebody might actually ask their opinion (and could even be persuaded by it as long as it is expressed outside of a formal meeting). Students are perpetually anxious, so they will want to be reassured that, if hired, you will take their welfare into account at all times and will be their defender before colleagues who wax predatory. Reassure them. You needn’t mean it, after all!

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Students & Secretaries

With students, jargon is probably fine. They don’t know any better and will often be impressed as long as it isn’t threatening. Also, students are suckers for high-energy levels even more than faculty are. Bounce up and down with love and joy as you speak.

If they are graduate students, they all have been trained to tell people what their “interests” are, even if they themselves are already bored by them, so you should ask this and let them deliver their template speeches. The correct response to each expressed interest is joy and enthusiasm (and bouncing up and down).

You could also suggest an obscure author that might be relevant to the work of this or that graduate student, just to show what a wonderful mentor you would be. (The student won’t actually look up the reference, or if he does and finds it is irrelevant, he will figure you were brilliant to see relevance he can’t see. Giving references, useful or not, to graduate students is a no-lose proposition, except for the graduate student.)

Be nice to secretaries. They are in an excellent position to lose needed papers if they dislike you or to remind the faculty of your particular virtues if you are nice to them. Secretaries never make the final decision, but they nearly always affect it at least slightly. (By the way, the word “secretary” is politically incorrect in most places these days. The generic term is “staff member” if you are unsure what they do, or “assistant” for anybody who is clearly a secretary. Clerical work is called “staff support.”)

Both research universities and teaching colleges love the idea of your potentially taking wealthy monolingual undergraduates to your field site to muck around and (let their parents) say they have been there.

If there is any chance of a little ethno-tourism, you might suggest that you would enjoy leading such a “field school” or “fieldwork experience” or “foreign experience.” If they hold you to this, you can travel to Mexico city with sniveling undergraduates if necessary. You won’t have to take them to Baluchistan; a convenient but unanticipated State Department advisory will surely intervene. Either way, we all know you can’t take them to your village in Burkina Faso for two weeks without damage to relations there, and you shouldn’t even think about doing so, whatever you say in the job interview.

It will work out fine; all that colleges actually care about is being able to tell parents and donors that their kids travel, so a little museum hopping and bird watching is all that will actually need to be involved at worst. If you are an archaeologist and can arrange for them to haul dirt in Nevada in the middle of the summer, it may increase your chances of getting a job to say so during your interview. You surely must know somebody who needs dirt hauled in Nevada.

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Other Interview Stuff

Few faculty interviews will ask you about affirmative action, which is of interest mostly to administrators and is passé except for presidential candidates anyway. But if their Human Resources units require the question, the only correct answer is that you love Diversity and Multiculturalism and support Affirmative Action because we are not “there” yet but that you are uncomfortable about racial quotas, while acknowledging that they may be necessary. Dissent from these views is not tolerated at American universities, and this is not the time to come across as a rebel by expressing any doubts you may have. (If UCSD has socialized you properly, you have none anyway.)

Anecdotes about the joys of having TAed for throngs of incredibly diverse undergradu-kiddies are fine, but be careful to avoid being seen as patronizing. (UCSD has no majority ethnic group among its undergraduates —unless you block all Asian kids together— and roughly half of its undergraduates speak something other than or in addition to English at home, so you can legitimately claim to be coming from a place that is “multicultural” as hell as long as people don’t think “multicultural” means only Black.)

It is technically against the rules for you to be asked about your marital status (or other aspects of your private life), but people will be interested in it, for better or worse. Since jobs for spouses are often an issue (and some universities offer help in finding jobs for spouses), you may want to raise the matter yourself to find out what the situation is on that front.

As far as I know, academic departments are just as homophobic as other employers, so if you are believed to be gay, it will probably reduce your esteem in the mind of some reviewers, even if they know better than to say anything and instead think of other reasons to oppose your candidacy. (One 2014 study suggested that being thought gay reduced the chances of an average job applicant getting a call-back by about 23%. The figure is no doubt different for academic jobs, but it may prove advisable to keep things vague at least till after you are hired.)

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IV. Your Colloquium (AKA Job Talk)

Very few people involved with deciding whether you are hired or not will actually read your file, and many will never even be offered the chance. Accordingly, your job talk is the ONLY contact that many or most people voting on your appointment will have with you. Worse yet, some of them will arrive late and/or leave early, or will listen to (part of) an audio recording or podcast after you leave. (That is an argument against depending on visual aids, by the way.) Accordingly it is crucial to be lovable and brilliant throughout the time they are sitting there, and to mention the whole range of your multifarious achievements. (I have seen candidates dumped because nobody believed they did anything they didn’t happen to talk about.)

Job Talk: How To Behave

Be animated: shout and hop. People MUST not go to sleep. Spontaneous bubbling over is WAY better than reading your remarks, at least part of the time. And remember: Yawning during your own presentation will kill you. (I have seen it happen!) If you bore yourself that badly, pretend you are suffering a sneeze that doesn’t come, since a yawn looks like the beginning of a sneeze anyhow. If you actually fall asleep during your own presentation (which I have also seen), you are past help.

For all of that, if somebody listening to you goes to sleep, do not be obviously bothered. There are lots of reasons for people sleeping other than your presentation —all-nighters, old age, low blood sugar— and your hosts should be embarrassed, not you (unless you are really boring).

Reading is boring. Nevertheless, in anthropology it is not unusual to read a job talk out loud. Know that in some fields that is a sign of not fully understanding what you are talking about. If more than one department is involved in evaluating you, it is probably a good idea to ask ahead of time what the expectation is.

If you speak from notes, make sure you use a fresh printout. This is supposed to look like work in progress, after all, not a warmed-over talk from a former interview that turned sour. (In senior searches I have seen ancient professors use notes that were actually yellowed around the edges and held together by rusty staples. It was not pretty. Now that I think of it, neither were they.)

Different departments have different conventions about how long a talk should go on and when questions should be raised. Do not talk for a substantially longer or shorter period than you have been told. Quitting early suggests you had nothing much to say and makes you look like a simpleton. It also increases the time available for off-the-wall questions you have no control over. On the other hand, going past the conventional quitting time results in accusations of mindless and unnecessary nattering and delays your hungry hosts getting at the refreshments. Either way you make people mad. These criticisms will never be voiced to you, but I have seen them count surprisingly strongly against a candidate in subsequent discussions.

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Job Talk: What To Say About Ethnography

This section obviously refers especially to socio-cultural anthropologists. Presumably if your specialty is archaeology or physical anthropology, you can do the mutatis mutandis thing and make it relevant to your work too. Don’t skip it, however. I’ve seen it matter.

Talk about your ethnography. For one thing, it is what you are most expert on (and your listeners are not). For another, there is an unsavory tendency for graduate students to hang out in the big city with expat Americans and call it “archival research” instead of confronting the locals, and the only way to convince your audience that you are not “one of those” is to talk about the locals, not about the archives or the expats. (I have seen people dropped from short lists because they didn’t talk about the people they said they had studied; listeners later decided they had probably never actually seen any. Some of them were postmodernists, so maybe they hadn’t.)

Never quote taxi drivers or hotel managers as representative informants. Monolingual CNN reporters and monolingual political scientists think these two categories of people represent the whole of the “ordinary population,” but anthropologists are supposed to dig deeper than that. Job-talk-quotation-wise, the prestige ordering is like the old Confucian class system: Farmers above artisans, artisans above merchants. (Confucians put scholars on top, but never mind that here; stick with quoting farmers and artisans. I have seen a job lost by too much attention to scholars and not enough to farmers and artisans.)

Being “reflexive” (which means talking about yourself instead of your fieldwork) should be done with extreme caution, and preferably over dinner rather than in a formal presentation. The truly pomo folk in your audience, the ones who really do talk about themselves, are too narcissistic to give you any points for doing the same thing. And to their fed-up, non-pomo colleagues, you will be seen as pretentious (aka “arrogant” aka “dead in the water”) or as too dumb to talk about anything besides how you spent your summer vacation. So you got mosquito bites; you probably deserved them; suffer in silence!

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Job Talk: What To Say About Theory

Job-talk speakers are evaluated both on how ethnographic and on how theoretical they are. If you do not include ethnographic detail, you are suspected of not having any. If it is not linked to theoretical issues, you are suspected of not being able to make such a linkage.

The best general plan is to begin by stating what the theoretical problem is that you will allude to, then outline the general field situation, then refer to the theoretical issue once again for the people who arrived late, then give some nifty field stuff that is the meat of the whole business and that is all anybody will remember, and finally close by telling everybody that this all links to the theoretical issue, yessir.

If your ethnography is mixed up with theory, be as crisp and clear (and brief!) about the theory part as humanly possible, and confine yourself to what is immediately relevant to the ethnography you are discussing. The problem is that no two people ever agree on exactly what a theorist has said, so the probability of being thought an idiot for not saying what your listener expects to hear is very high. Vagueness and brevity deprive your detractors of an opportunity for enthusiastic misinterpretation.

If you have occasion to mention the ancient high gods of theory —Durkheim, Freud, Weber, and that crew— do so only by referring to an issue that they threw into focus and about which you have something to say; do not even seem to imply that you are ignorant of the vast scholarship that has already modified (or debunked) much of what a “Weberian” or a “Durkheimian” position would be if it were formulated today. Above all, do not EVER treat them as ethnographic sources. (To cite Weber as an authority on Confucianism or Durkheim as an authority on the Australians is a guarantee of unemployment. Read if you must —you actually should— but do not cite.)

If you cite Foucault more than once on the same day you will probably not be hired, at least not by any place where you would want to work. (Would YOU hire somebody who cited Foucault more than once on the same day?) The same goes for all the rest of the obsolescent French pataphysicians recently modish in the United States.

Never use a term you are not prepared to define if somebody asks. (Also be prepared to defend your definition as legitimate at least for your purposes. Some terms —like “shaman”— awaken remarkably contentious definitional inclinations among certain people.)

Finally, if you wax self-consciously and aggressively theoretical, people will resent the implication that a young whippersnapper like you has anything to teach old duffers like them about Grand Theory (especially if they are still actively duffing.) If you must do the Theory Thing, play the cards very close to your chest. Above all, pick a topic that does not imply that anybody in your audience has been doing it wrong all these years. Such an implication counts as sneering.

(We once had a candidate come and ask us all to line up behind him as the great leader of a bright new theoretical future for all of social science. When he left, the faculty agreed with rare unanimity that he was one of the most pretentious boobies ever to come down the pike. He was a nice enough chap, for a pretentious booby, but he went on to a well deserved minimum-wage career in waste management in central Kansas, as far as I know.)

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Job Talk: What To Say About Your Dissertation

Refer to your “research” or your “work,” not to your “dissertation,” which sounds excessively wet behind the ears. Frequent explicit reference to your dissertation risks creating the impression that you are “too green” for the job. (If the department where you are interviewing has graduate students, you need to sound further along than they are, anyhow.) It also implies that you have not published anything. That may be true, but there is no point in pointing it out over and over.

Say or suggest that the topic of your job talk is related to, but different from, the main theme of your dissertation research. This has three advantages: First, it is true, since you can’t cover the main theme in a single job talk anyhow. Second, any roughness in it will be attributed to it not being your main research. And third, you will be seen to be moving “beyond” your dissertation research. (Academic reviewers are programmed to suspect that your dissertation research was thought up, researched, and written entirely by your adviser but that doing something different shows that you are “original.” And people hiring you are mostly buying your future, not your past … like stockholders.)

If you DO talk about the central topic of your dissertation research, stress that you are able in the brief time available only to skim the surface or only to cover a teentsy weentsy itsy bitsy wee but logically complete aspect of a vast ocean of fascinating stuff, and then be prepared to be very learned in answer to any questions presented. Do NOT keep saying that there is more detail to be found in the dissertation, since that implies that you are unable to tell a story concisely (and it uses the “D” word again).

If you cite some telling quotations from field informants —and you almost certainly should— do not use any quotation more than once without extreme caution. Doing so implies that you don’t have any more and that your fieldwork was “thin.” (An obvious exception is the extensive unpacking of a single quotation as a major theme. But that doesn’t happen much. Or anyway usually shouldn’t.)

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Job Talk: How To Refer to Your Hosts’ Work

Do not assume members of your audience know what other members of the audience have been doing. A job hunter would lose points by coming here and saying, “I know that in David Jordan’s department you all know about the implications of causatives with double objects, so …” It is true that David Jordan has written about that, and probably somebody somewhere has read what he has written, but nobody here reads, knows, cares, or remembers such stuff, so it is nothing to build on.

Although it is polite and politic to refer to relevant research by some of your hosts, do so in a way that politely “reminds” the others what the hell it has been, since they will in fact never have heard of it. (Best of all, begin your talk by saying what an honor it is to be among people whom you have hitherto known only from their splendidly inspiring writings, and then leave well enough alone.)

More generally, although you should politely pretend to assume that everybody in the room already has enormous background about what you are going to say, you had better “remind” people of virtually any background they need to know because in fact most people don’t know much of anything, especially if you think they do. And if they ever did, they have long since got over it.

Don’t make transparently overblown claims. For example, don’t claim to be answering through archaeology a question about society as though sociocultural anthropology had nothing to say about it. (“Nobody has ever studied mother-child bonding, but I hope to be able to get at this through the distribution of south-Yemenite sleeping platform foundations.”) For one thing, you will insult all the sociocultural types. But more generally, if you say something has “never” been done, said, or thought, somebody in the room will have done it, said it, or thought it. Never say “never,” as they always say.

By the way, your research is not actually world-shaking. If it were, the jobs would be applying to you, not you to them..

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Job Talk: Manipulating Your Audience

Remember those kids in your TA sections whose principal desire was to be loved and safe and whose secondary concern was for you not to be boring? Well, they represent the general human condition. Treat your colloquium like a TA section and it will go well. Treat it some other way at your peril. (Think of professors as freshmen with wrinkles.)

Never decline to use a microphone if offered. Turning down a microphone in the belief that you are inherently loud and/or macho means you are destined to come off as mumbly and/or wimpy. Importantly, you are in competition with all the other noises in the room (including snoring and whispering), and you are the victim of a low-bid architect’s ideas about acoustics. A microphone probably wouldn’t be offered if it weren’t needed. (They cost money, after all.) Besides, you want to be remembered as just as loud as other candidates, not as the person nobody could hear very well.

Write exotic (= non-English) terms on the blackboard (or whiteboard), if there is one, or include them on PowerPoint slides. Draw a sketch map showing where things are. Losing the audience does not get you points. Don’t get carried away with detail on the map —a casual sketch map is normally just fine, probably better than just fine. Confine yourself to features you will actually discuss. Additional information will be experienced as irrelevant clutter, at best. (I saw a job candidate kicked off a short list once for using a map with too many names. I think the charge was failing to appreciate the “big picture.” The real crime was piling too much straw on the listeners’ intellectual camels.)

Do not use more than three or four local place names, especially if they are even remotely similar. They are meaningful only to you. To others they are obscurantist or worse. If real place names all sound alike or all start with G or something, use pseudonyms.

Don’t speak in acronyms. Telling people that “All cases of OCC occur among DMR even though they might be expected in FNT, especially due to its high rate of BBL” will not get you a job except perhaps in a company manufacturing alphabet soup. Even a single acronym can be excessive. Will anybody besides you REALLY remember that VOC is an acronym for the “Dutch East India Company,” or that KMT stands for “Nationalist Party”?

People believe what you tell them more often than you might think. Accordingly do not tell them that you are ignorant or unoriginal. Instead tell them that you have a unique and wonderful take on the material you studied that is different from anything they will hear about it elsewhere.

Self-lauding is a critical academic skill —you’ve watched the faculty long enough to know that— and most people will believe whatever you tell them without noticing how they came to this conclusion.

I once heard a speaker say, “You won’t hear this anywhere else.” That was crude, perhaps, but it was completely believed and was raised in his praise in subsequent discussion of him, when somebody actually said “that’s something you would never hear anywhere else.” (He got the job.)

You may know that Aristotle already said everything you have ever thought, but your audience hasn’t looked at Aristotle for a while, so keep it between you and him. (Actually, if we didn’t repeat Aristotle, we’d all sit in silence.)

That said, it is important that self-lauding not be noticed. Remember that “arrogance” is mortal sin in a job candidate, as noted earlier. The goal is subliminal manipulation and subtly providing weaponry to your supporters. Don’t get carried away.

Similarly, it is a good idea to say things like, “What is fascinating here is that … “ or “It is interesting that … .” People are likely to believe it. (Do not humbly say, “What I find interesting here is that …” since it implies that they don’t. They do. They do. They do. They just don’t notice till you tell them that they do.)

It is a bad idea to start the colloquium with a joke, especially if the audience is largely unknown or very quiet or foreign and/or the joke is political, insipid, or risqué. Unlike colloquium speakers who are not doing job talks, you are on trial, and the right to tell a joke and have it laughed at comes later in the hour, after you have proven that you have something serious to say. A kick-off joke that falls flat embarrasses the audience and makes them think you are not very good at this. Begin by thanking the audience for inviting you, and then go right into your act.

(Don’t put cartoons in PowerPoint presentations either. For the same reasons. Humor must suit the audience and the context, and you can’t know that when you are preparing the PowerPoint ahead of time.)

Since some people arrive late, you should cunningly contrive to provide a statement of “where we have gone so far” at about the ten- or fifteen-minute point. Do NOT say it is for the benefit of latecomers because they think they are invisible.

Do not explain peculiarities of your field situation by reference to features of the general human condition. (“They tie blue threads through their noses because of global warming.”) It is a very primitive logical error, and will be noticed, even if nothing is said to you directly. Believe it or not, I have seen several candidates do this and get smashed for it in later faculty discussions of them. Fortunately for us, we didn’t hire any of them. I hope we never do.

All methods are limited, so if you talk about your methods, you will be told they are limited. Unless the methods represent an important point of your research —you have worked out a new way to detect trade patterns from tooth enamel, or whatever— it is usually best to keep attention on your findings rather than your methods.

The title of your job talk doesn’t have to be memorable. They have invited you to come because they (might) want to hire you, so they are a captive audience. In general, a forgettable title is probably best, since it can’t be held against you later. However, the most important thing is not to promise more than the talk will deliver. If the talk is called “The Getmegetchu: A New Theory of Globalization” any failure to revolutionize the entire field will be regarded as a terrible deficiency, regardless of how competently you describe your fieldwork among the Getmegetchu. If the same talk is called “Globalization Among the Getmegetchu,” pretty much anything you say can be regarded as more than was promised and you will come across as brilliant. Same talk. Different promise. Different reaction.

Do not make jokes at the expense of any variety of anthropology that wasn’t dead by 1905. Somebody in your audience thinks he founded that school of thought and thinks everyone should take it seriously. Even legitimately silly ideas are dangerous targets, right up there with mother-in-law jokes. (“Three sociobiologists are in a rowboat …” “A Stanford Postmodernist goes into a bar …” “A poor woodcutter went into a forest of cognitive trees …”)

Do not be dismayed by people whispering and snickering to each other while you speak. It is boorish of them, but they are the buyers, not you. Besides, they are probably not talking about you anyway. (Most academics prefer to talk about themselves.) Interestingly, I have seen it happen that the person who appears least interested in a colloquium is the one who fights hardest to hire the candidate. (It’s the unctuously polite ones who will stab you when your back is turned. It’s part of being unctuous.)

If you have a handout, always make twice or three times as many as they told you was the maximum necessary. You can always throw the extras away, in theory, but in fact it is a rare host who tells the visiting speaker to prepare nearly enough. (If the hosts graciously offer to make copies, they will make too few.) Keep part of your supply available in your briefcase so that you don’t conspicuously have far more than needed, since that would imply that you were anxious enough to make extras. (Life is complicated.)

On the whole, it is best that a handout not actually be critical to what you will be saying. Even if the stack makes it to everybody in the room —and it probably won’t because some low-life will fail to pass it on— extra copies will often be on the wrong side of the room for the latecomers, and people who miss the talk and listen to it on their smart-phones while driving to the meeting where your fate will be decided won’t even know there was a handout unless you mention it. (Be sure to mention it so they can give you the benefit of the doubt if your podcast persona strikes them as incoherent in thick traffic.)

Do not seem to be defensive about your presentation. There are lots of ways to see practically anything, and your view is perfectly legitimate. Cling to the validity of what you are doing without insisting on the illegitimacy of doing it other ways. (But remember what I said earlier about “arrogance.”)

Do not be intimidated by the presence of a hundred-and-eight-year-old Major Authority. Unless you are a total screw-up, the Major Authority will turn out to be the friendliest person in the audience, since
(1) you are doing something on his or her favorite topic, and any normal Major Authority knows from personal experience that it is necessary to simplify things when addressing the unwashed masses, and
(2) the Major Authority does not want the position to go to a person who does something s/he is not interested in rather than to you. Besides,
(3) the Major Authority is probably old enough to be your grandmother and feels protective of you.

I have seen people lose jobs by trying too hard to impress the Major Authority and in the process losing everybody else, and I have seen them lose jobs by being so nervous about the Major Authority that they disintegrate into gibbering ninnies. You and the Major Authority are on the same team. Enjoy it.

Job talks always have questions from the listeners. A few departments have a proud tradition of interrupting with questions in order to put you off your stride and make it impossible for you to finish the talk on time (or at all). But most departments will let you say your piece more or less continuously. When you are done, you should say so. It is surprising how many talks, unless they are being read, wander gently off the subject, sometimes in response to a question, so that it is hard to know when the end comes, and people start slipping away out of boredom or conflicting schedules. Let people know that you will in fact stop, are stopping, or have stopped. It reduces the chances of their telling themselves that they left because you bored them.

Questions should not be answered in a way that implies the questioner wasn’t paying attention. Never say, “As I said earlier…” Saying it earlier obviously didn’t work. It is gracious to assume responsibility for that yourself, not to kick the person who asks the question. (Sometimes people arrive late and then ask questions you have in fact answered before they arrived. They are being boorish, but hold your temper. You may, with luck, become one of their colleagues some day, and you will have plenty of time to stab them in the back then.)

Questions should not be answered in a way that implies one never thought of the point raised. It is better to suggest you thought about it but couldn’t bring it into this short a presentation, or found that there was simply not enough material to work it out in that direction, or the like. (“That’s a really interesting point, but so far I just haven’t been able to address it reliably from the data available.” Not: “Oh, I never thought of that.”)

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Job Talk: Slides, Computers, Powerpoint, & Other Ways To Invite Mechanical Failure

PowerPoint presentations, like slide projectors and overheads a generation ago, provide electronic assistance in losing a job.

If you must use these things —and you probably think you must— then (1) have a backup plan in case they tell you to lecture in a sunny garden; (2) check that any photos included don’t fade to blobs when the projection screen is flooded with bright light because there are no window shades; and (3) make sure that you understand exactly how the equipment works. (Exactly means exactly. You know how to correct keystoning, right?)

Nine out of ten graduate students do not in fact have a particularly clear idea how projectors, PowerPoint software, or even word processors work, but eight out of those nine assume they can just fake it; the result is that they get in trouble eventually. (Believe me on this. I have seen lots of TAs in action. Faking it is a central skill in graduate school, but it is not without risks.)

Knowing how a piece of equipment works does not mean just knowing how to turn it on; it means how to change the bulb, how to extract a jammed slide, what to do if the computer has a different version of the software (or different software), what to do if the available printers work only with a Macintosh, how to correct keystoning, how to force Windows to point at the com-1 port, how to set the computer resolution to agree with the projector resolution when it doesn’t happen by itself, why the remote doesn’t work when it worked okay yesterday, what to do when Windows thinks you have two screens instead of one or vice versa, etc. And if there are any Macs in the mix, be sure to have a converter plug in your pocket.

Slides. Slides are obsolete, but occasional people still use them and remain respectable. (Mostly, like their slides, they are nearing retirement.) Be prepared to explain why you, as a Young Turk, are still using slides and composing your articles on a yellow pad, but if it is what you do, go for it. It can be endearingly quaint. However, getting the slides in the wrong order or upside down is not cute and brands you as incompetent rather than quaint.

Even more than with PowerPoint, you must be prepared for defective bulbs, noisy fans, podiums positioned out of sight of the screen, rooms without screens, rooms that cannot be darkened, rooms so dark that there is no way to read your notes, screens located directly behind the speaker’s stand, and projector operators who don’t know how to focus the projector (or don’t bother) or who drop or misfeed the tray or bend your slides into unusability. Are you ready for this?

Powerpoint. While it is true that PowerPoint presentations provide the opportunity to edit images and insert movies and all the rest, the equipment can be unpredictable or incompatible or both, and there are occasional incompatibilities between versions. (A particular gotcha is that not all computers have the same fonts, and PP doesn’t carry the fonts with the file the way it does pictures. Be chary of non-Roman scripts with PowerPoint unless you use your own laptop. And anticipate that the spacing may work differently from what you figured out two weeks ago.) Remember that a PP file saved in Office 10 won’t necessarily work in Office 5, Macintosh cut its teeth on incompatibility, and Google Docs, Open Office, and LibreOffice files are designed to be compatible with Windows except during job talks. I don’t know that anyone has made a study of it, but quite possibly PP presentations today flounder even more than slide presentations used to.

If you do not do PowerPoint presentations all the time, if you can’t produce PowerPoint pages in your sleep, then do not experiment on a job-talk audience. Most institutions do not have quite the same equipment you do, and many have old or incompatible systems installed or maintained by idiots. (I was provided a laptop while lecturing at Harvard that had an 8-year-old operating system and in which nobody had ever activated the USB ports where I planned to insert my flash drive. Any community college in the country would have had better equipment than Harvard provided. Fortunately I don’t trust anybody very far, so I had a backup. Also fortunately it wasn’t a job talk.) If you have a tablet that connects to projectors or a computer small enough to bring to your job talk, it is probably a good idea to insist on using your own equipment (especially at Harvard).

Fieldwork movies and audio recordings are attractive to the person showing them, but they are not the basis for hiring you, so they are, in some sense, a waste of the job talk audience’s time, a fact not lost on them. If you absolutely MUST show movies or play recordings, keep the extracts extremely brief, and make sure that they carry actual information important to understanding what you are saying. NEVER use them to create an “atmosphere”; the atmosphere turns out to be poisonous.

Overheads. Overhead transparencies, not quite as obsolescent as slides, are close to booby-proof in themselves, have excellent resolution for data presentation, and are very good to write on while they are being projected. But I have seen more than one speaker get them out of order. (Since they are transparent, it is hard to see which is where in a stack.) If you must use them to display graphs or similar data, stop at that. The fewer sheets you have, the less the probability of getting them all mixed up with each other when your host drops the stack while helping you set up. If you plan to write on them, bring your own transparency markers, since whiteboard markers and standard felt markers, regardless of color, all appear black when used on a transparency, and since no university in this vale of tears keeps fresh, nicely damp markers of any kind within reach of a job candidate anyway.

In sum, when in the slightest doubt, don’t use electric media. (Chalk is usually harmless, but, as with whiteboard markers, remember to bring your own if you really need it. And be prepared to be hosted in a room with no writing surface. Think church pulpit.) If you do use visual aids, remember that at least some people will be insulted if the graphics don’t clearly add value. If you don’t have anything that absolutely has to be visual, then leave this technology alone. (On the other hand, if you use them, be sure you are reasonably expert and then use them enough justify the fuss about the projector.)

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Advice to the Unrelenting

Assuming you are bullheaded enough to use this stuff anyhow, here are a few pointers:

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words, but if it is a bad picture, they are cuss words.
  2. If you use a map, do not mention geographical names that are missing on the map, and do not put stuff on the map that you don’t use. Both errors are annoying and make you look disorganized. (By the way, cell-phone photographs of National Geographic maps are always tacky.)
  3. All words should be large enough to be legible at 100 yards, which is a very long distance. (Beware of GIS software, which errs on the side of miniscule.) Remember that the blind old folk dozing in the back of the darkened room usually have the most shares to vote when the job is awarded. Putting too many words on a PowerPoint slide is probably the commonest (and dumbest) error a presenter can make.
  4. Projectors are noisy as hell to the people who sit beside them, even if they sound quiet to a speaker at the front of the room. Run the projector only when you are actively using it and turn it off when you are done. (Some say it is better for the bulb to cool slowly than to be fanned to coolness anyway, but even if it weren’t, your priority is to land the job, not to lengthen the life of the bulb.) Exception: Projectors hanging from the ceiling are, for obscure reasons, quieter than other ones. No need to worry (much) about them.
  5. People go to sleep when the lights go out. Keep the lights mostly on if possible. (On the other hand, ambient light wrecks the color on projected pictures. Make sure you use pictures that can stand that, or turn the lights back on when you are done, even if you leave the projector going.)
  6. It is distinctly tacky to leave the computer cursor visible on the screen when it is not in use. It suggests you don’t know how it works.
  7. Many university lecture rooms are very badly equipped and/or the equipment doesn’t work right. If you depend on your notes, bring a lectern light of your own. For many years, UCSD, for example, provided lectern lights only on special order on a recharge account —which our hosts never remembered to do— so when the lights went out, your notes went away. (One of those little “book lights” works if you keep fresh batteries in it.)
  8. It is Bad Form to touch a hanging screen, which makes it wiggle on the one hand, and which can abrade the little glass beads on its surface, leaving a spot, on the other hand. If you need to point to something on the screen, keep your hand out from it or use a laser pointer. Universities don’t own laser pointers, it turns out. Or if they do, they have usually been carried off so people can worry their cats with them. Bring a laser pointer of your own (and a backup). If the beam is dim or the spot small, keep it on the screen long enough for people to see where it is. But don’t wiggle the laser dot excessively; that really annoys some people. Right up there with rocking back and forth from foot to foot.
  9. Do not stand between the projection screen and ANY member of your audience. EVER. (“Any” means any, as in “any whatsoever” or “any at all”! “Ever” means ever, as in “never” and “forever”!) Blocking the view of the people you expect to hire you is in a class with purposely spilling your milk shake on them, but is one of the commonest errors around. Why would you do this?

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V. When You Get an Offer

To get an offer, you have to be Dr. Lovable and God’s Gift to Anthropology and to Universities. Once you actually get an offer, however, this act should fall away a bit. It is good to seem a bit hesitant about accepting an offer once it is given. Never again —at least till you get your first Nobel prize— will you have as much bargaining power as you do after an offer is made and before you have accepted it.

Some interviewers will ask you ahead of time whether, if they make an offer, you will promise to take it. The question is cheating, and the answer is, “I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t serious about the job.”

In British universities it is apparently assumed that if the offer is made, it is insulting not to accept it. (But see below, about turning down jobs.) In Chinese universities, it is customary to make the offer only after the agreement has been reached and all parties have subscribed to it.

In American universities there is no such expectation, and the attempt to get you to promise before they tell you the details counts as high pressure. Be your charming self, but once you get the offer you still get to bargain. That said, don’t overdo this; assistant professors are hardly in short supply, and no department likes to be jerked around. But don’t ignore it either.

Universities differ in how much negotiating is done before an offer is finalized and how much afterward. Unless you are being hired by the dean to be the chair of a department riven by hideous internal antagonisms (a job you really don’t want), your prospective department wants you to come and be happy and is generally your ally against the Dreaded Dean, who is inevitably (if not always realistically) cast as the opposition in this.

Because of the differences in “corporate culture,” you may need some local advice from “friends” you have made during your visit about how much to push for and where or how. I have seen the well poisoned by a job candidate who hamhandedly demanded too much; I have seen candidates who expected too little and got it; and I have seen a job candidate offered the world because the hand was well played. Be attentive to clues, and don’t expect generic advice at this stage to be infallible.

Some universities can give you more goodies than others, but for a beginning ladder-rank position here are some of the bennies that might be dangled in front of you:

  1. A contribution to your moving expenses.
  2. A summer salary for a year or two for “junior faculty development.”
  3. The possibility of a low-interest mortgage supplement if you buy a house. (Not the big deal it used to be when mortgage rates were higher.)
  4. A lower teaching load at the beginning so you have time to publish world-shaking articles and work toward tenure. (Caution: A lower teaching load is probably more useful if it involves fewer classes than if it involves smaller classes. All classes require preparation, after all, large or small. And come promotion time, you don’t need some administrator complaining that you failed to teach any freshman classes, graduate seminars, or whatever the administration is on about at the time.)
  5. A lower teaching load if you are expected to take on any serious administrative work, such as setting up an ethnic studies program, organizing summer travel courses, being undergraduate adviser, running the museum, or doing community outreach.
  6. A new computer. (Not the big deal it was when computers were more expensive, but the one that got you through graduate school is probably getting a bit long in the tooth.)
  7. A couple thousand dollars a year more than initially offered (private colleges only). (Caution: If the university has pay-scale “steps,” sometimes you can manage to be appointed at a higher step than initially proposed, which brings more money. But it can backfire: that almost certainly puts you a year or two closer to a tenure decision, so you may need to scurry to produce enough “tenurable” publications in the reduced time available.)
  8. A lab (maybe). If you are in a field that reasonably requires a lab, the lab and its equipment should be part of the negotiation. If you need it, you need it, and the university understands that, at least until you sign the contract.

You can ask wistfully, but don’t try to demand a job for your spouse. That properly comes only only when the university is trying to keep you from moving somewhere else, and it annoys the new department more than almost any other demand you can make. Even for very senior appointees this demand can poison a lot of human relationships both for you and for your spouse for years. Even forever.

Don’t dither and stall for too long, which counts as jerking people around and makes your future colleagues annoyed with you before you ever get there. (Keep an eye on deadlines. Job offers CAN expire, and if you have annoyed people —even secretaries— enough, they may prefer to let that happen and not to remind you.)

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Turning Down a Job

There are jobs you may apply for and then discover you don’t actually want. If you withdraw your name before you are invited to make a visit to be interviewed, you don’t need to give a reason. You can just write and say, “I have decided to withdraw my name.” (Add a few decorative phrases around that, but don’t worry about providing reasons.)

But if you withdraw your name after a job interview, and especially after being offered the job, you will need to give a reason to avoid having people assume that you have consumed their time and resources merely for your own amusement and are a selfish and inconsiderate schnook, a view that the rebuffed department will probably be quite willing to share with anyone who asks and with some who don’t, both on their own campus and elsewhere.

So your letter of withdrawal should avoid implying that you were not serious about the job in the first place, even if that is a little white lie. Saying state politics are ghastly or that you don’t want to make your kids change schools, for example, are things you should have figured out ahead of time. Using them as a reason to turn down a job offer after a visit is maladept. I have seen that piss people off (including me).

In general, there are two legitimate reasons for turning down a job.

  1. The job is not as you thought it was. Information you learn only after applying (and perhaps visiting) may provide new information that makes the job less attractive. Examples might include a lower-than-expected salary or higher-than-expected teaching load, or poor facilities, or a faction-ridden faculty, or foul allergens, or prohibitively expensive housing, or very poor retirement or health benefits, or a policy of hiring senior faculty only from outside rather than promoting junior faculty into senior positions, or even an irrational distaste for the place once you have laid eyes on it. Sometimes you can blame your spouse’s lack of enthusiasm once s/he has seen the place.
  2. Your own situation suddenly changes in a way that you did not anticipate. Examples might be the sudden offer of another, more attractive job for you or your spouse, or an unanticipated pregnancy, promotion, health crisis, death, divorce, or lottery prize.

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VI. If You Don’t Get aJob

It is a rare job that does not have a huge number of applicants, only one of whom will get it. Accordingly it is sometimes a smart question to ask why somebody did get a job and usually a stupid question to ask why somebody did not.

Your buddy and spy at the target university may be able to report back that you were edged out because the competing candidate was married to the dean or because you were picking your nose nervously throughout your presentation or were doing research in Ecuador rather than Bolivia, but mostly you won’t ever know why you did not get any particular job. In most cases, you didn’t actively NOT get it; it’s just that somebody else DID get it. (The exception is when nobody gets it, but even that may have to do mostly with the department being too disorganized to know what it is doing rather than because no appropriate candidates were found.)

Not getting a job rarely has to do ONLY with you, and often it has nothing whatever to do with you, so trying to change your presentation-of-self on the basis of this or that turndown is probably a bad idea in the absence of better information than you will normally have available. If it is any consolation, selections are made by committees, the same people famous for making a camel when they intended to make a horse.

Still, going for a long time without landing an offer is painfully dispiriting even for the pathologically optimistic, and I would be mean-spirited not to acknowledge that. Rejection hurts; hunger gnaws; and “there there” is not exactly the hallelujah chorus. So what can you do? Here are a couple of possibilities:

  1. Option A. Freeway Flying
    There are in fact many one-shot teaching jobs with community colleges. The community colleges are chronically overpopulated and underfunded, and respond by maintaining a very slim permanent faculty and supplementing it with temporary instructors (often without benefits) from the army of the unemployed. MANY of our alumni have done time in the California Community College system, either as they were finishing their dissertations or after completing their degrees or both. For temporary employees this work pays poorly and is available only sporadically, but in most cases the freeway flyer existence has eventually given way to a real job, nearly always at a 4-year college. The trick is to use all your (minimal) spare time to apply for permanent jobs. (Do not hide in your mother’s basement and try to publish your way to glory. I know of no instance where that has worked.)
  2. Option B. Broadening Your Goals
    There was a time in your life when you did not aspire to be a research professor. (At the age of 5 you probably wanted to drive a dump truck.) Although graduate programs brainwash students into believing that life outside of research universities is not worth living, there is in fact a whole world out there. If you sit back and think about all the skills you have to sell, from your expertise on India to your knowledge of brain anatomy, from your ability to inspire 18-year-olds to love learning to your ability to write sentences in real English, you will discover that there are job opportunities outside of research universities that both need you and are prepared to pay and love you. We have had Ph.D. alumni go into educational research, hospital administration, law, data analysis, psychiatry, counseling, journalism, and so on. It would be silly to imagine that these are bad jobs. (Dump trucks are actually pretty cool too, for that matter.)

    Few college professors have much knowledge of jobs outside the Academy, so your department can’t help very well and your Ph.D. adviser’s feet haven’t touched the ground in years. But the jobs and needs are real, and you have the skills for a large number of them. If strictly academic jobs are not showing up, ask yourself how much you are willing to sacrifice to be a professor instead of all the other things you could be. An honest answer may surprise you. (If it doesn’t, it probably isn’t honest.) If you are still an official student, you can use the Career Services staff to help explore possibilities. Like other matchmakers, they tend to be impressively enthusiastic folk eager to help, at least until they decide you are too unrealistic for them to waste any more time on.
  3. Option C. Post-Docs
    Various benighted agencies believe that when you have just finished writing a dissertation you want nothing more than to write another one, so they fund postdoctoral fellowships so that “promising candidates” can delay a real job and go write some more.

    Some post-docs require that you teach a bit, typically less than a full load, but often in interdisciplinary freshman courses that a sponsoring institution can’t get regular faculty to go anywhere near.

    In the natural sciences, where post-docs are the norm, a post-doc often precedes an assistant professorship, and since the assistant professorship comes after the department has had plenty of time to look you over as a post-doc, tenure is almost inevitable in the fullness of time.

    In anthropology, a post-doc rarely leads much of anywhere, but it does stall for time and keep body and soul together while you look for a real job. (And it is prestigious and therefore presumably helps land the real job.) Keeping body and soul together is not a bad thing, but in general, if you have the opportunity to choose between a long-term job and a short-term post-doc, the job should win out. (The exception would be a post-doc in paradise as against a job at a place you loathe with a crushing teaching load.)

    A potentially important issue is benefits (especially medical benefits). Student health doesn’t cover alumni, so once you have a PhD you do NOT have automatic health insurance, except perhaps through a spouse’s job. A job (even a bad one) usually includes it. A post-doc (even a good one) sometimes does not. Once again, if you are weighing a job against a post-doc, the job probably wins. In fact, in this context, even a job slinging hamburgers or delivering pizza may also win. If you need medical or parental benefits, be sure to check this matter before you jump into a post-doc that doesn’t have them. Always ask.

VII. Beer Debt

If you follow (all, most of, or some of) this advice and get a job, you owe me beer. If you follow it and do not get a job, I do not owe you beer. This is because it is my advice, so I get to make the rules about the associated beer.

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