Essay on conducting an alt-ac job search
When the Modern Language Association’s September Job Information List was published, there was grumbling on Twitter that the list contained no alt-ac job postings. That made us realize that while we have, in previous columns, written about what types of alt-ac positions exist and how to describe success when applying for them, we have not yet written about how to conduct an alt-ac job search. In this column, we outline what the alt-ac job search process looks like.
Unlike the tenure-track job search, which generally follows a rigid timetable, alt-ac hiring happens year-round. That said, some areas, such as student affairs, do have more defined hiring cycles with a lot of the hiring taking place around the big conferences/placement exchanges held in the spring (February-March).
Nonetheless, if you are interested in applying for alt-ac positions, you should know that there is no window of time when such jobs are posted. You need to be looking all year to determine what jobs are available.
The search process itself can be broken down into the following steps:
- First (and most important), take the time to think about why you want to pursue the alt-ac track: What kind of work excites/interests you? What type of institution (small, private, public, R1, urban, rural, etc.) would you like to work at? Do you want to work primarily with students? Support faculty development? Design educational technology? Write grants and support research? (For an idea of the types of alt-ac positions available, see our previous column on “What is Alt-Ac?” as well as the From Ph.D. to Life site.) At some point in the process, you will be asked why alt-ac and why this particular position. You need to have a convincing answer.
- Research alt-ac: Part of the process of thinking about what interests you and working on your document revisions (see below) will involve a fair amount of research as you familiarize yourself with the alt-ac job market. Read job descriptions to get a sense of what’s happening in higher education (at the moment, there is a lot of talk about "student success"), conduct informational interviews with people in positions that you find interesting, and keep up with publications like Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Redo your job application documents: We have written before about the importance of transforming your academic C.V. into a résumé when applying for alt-ac positions. Key to this is your ability to describe the skills you have developed as a graduate student, researcher, and teacher ("effective writing, public communication, awareness of student needs, program development, corporate organization, data analysis, and many others") without getting bogged down in the content details. As Shaun often points out when we work with our clients, the academic C.V. is essentially a list of content (grants received, books and articles published, courses taught, etc.) while the alt-ac résumé highlights your skills and prior experience. Similarly, the cover letter should emphasize how your skills and prior experience translate into an ability to do the job for which you are applying. Do not simply send your traditional academic C.V. and cover letter. Take the time to revise these documents for the alt-ac market.
- Finally, apply: Once you have identified what you want to do, it is time to find that dream job. The alt-ac job search can be daunting because there is no central database of job listings. Instead, you have to look at a variety of sources. Brenda has previously compiled a list of places to start looking for alt-ac. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle both have extensive lists of job postings, as do the Higher Education Jobs and University Affairs (for jobs in Canada) websites. Many jobs are never posted to those sites, however, but are instead advertised only on college/university websites. If you are looking for a job in a particular geographical area, a good way to search is to regularly visit the HR sites of the colleges and universities in that area to see what openings they have. As with the academic job search, be sure to meet all deadlines and include all requested materials.
One common mistake folks make when trying to move from an academic to an alt-ac job search is to assume that it will be easier and/or less time-consuming. This is not the case – the alt-ac job search can be just as difficult and challenging as looking for a tenure-track position. It will require a substantial commitment of both time and effort. What tends to aggravate the situation is that alt-ac options sometimes are a “last ditch" attempt at employment after unsuccessfully attempting to land a tenure-track position. Avoid dovetailing in your mind the time spent on one type of job search over the other and try not to let the frustration of one bleed into the other. Job searches can be, and often are, very stressful; continue to cultivate your network, vent with friends (not potential hirers), and keep honing your application materials. The skills you build in this process will help develop a broader sense of your professional self and can afford more opportunities to land a career arc that will be meaningful for you.
Brenda Bethman earned a Ph.D. in modern German studies and advanced feminist studies. She is director of the University of Missouri at Kansas City's Women’s Center and acting director of the women’s and gender studies program.
C. Shaun Longstreet earned a Ph.D. in Christianity and Judaism in antiquity. He is director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Marquette University.
Bethman and Longstreet are the co-founders of and consultants for Alt Academix.