Want to Get an Academic Job? Maybe You Need to Hire an Application Consultant

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When I was in undergrad, I was asked to serve as the student representative on the search committee for the new Dean of the School of Fine Arts. (Remember when I referenced “smart kid privileges” earlier this week? That’s one of them.)

I am pretty sure it would be inappropriate to share any details about that committee, except to say—no surprises here—that there were a lot of qualified candidates. In fact, whenever I’ve assisted in any part of a hiring process, both in and out of academia, there have always been a lot of qualified candidates.

So what is a person who wants to stand out in the academic job market to do? As Slate reports, you might want to hire an academic job application consultant.

Graduate programs don’t adequately prepare students for the world, so Karen Kelsky does it for them. She is the founder of the academic career-consulting business The Professor Is In, which advises would-be tenure-trackers on such minefields as the cover letter (“Just say no to the weepy teaching statement!”), the interview (“Grad students tend to veer between two extremes: ‘I know nothing’ and ‘I know everything’ ”), even what kind of shoes to wear on a campus visit if you’re a gender nonconformist.

The most frustrating part of the Slate story is they never tell us what shoes. (Come on, Slate.) They do, however, tell us that Kelsky’s services run at $400-450 for an application review, and Kelsky’s own rates page indicates that, in general, she charges $150 an hour—unless you’re asking for help on your tenure review, in which case the per-hour price jumps up to $250.

Kelsky provides a service for anything (should you get an academic job, she’ll help you negotiate your offer package for $500), and Slate’s Rebecca Schuman notes that “I have seen search committees remarking lately on the “Kelskification” of the cover letters and application materials they receive.”

That’s where I feel the tiniest itch of a record scratch; search committees are recognizing Kelsky’s hand on these job applications? To the point where they’re commenting on it as a trend? It makes me wonder if hiring an academic job application counselor is now going to be expected, and candidates who don’t have the money or inclination to hire someone like Kelsky are going to be at a disadvantage.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Kelsky’s website:

I am supremely irritated with graduate students who myopically obsess about this term paper, that dissertation chapter, the next meeting with their professor…. instead of asking real, hard, urgent, immediate questions, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, about their real potential for real, permanent employment.

I can get behind that, and have a story to tell you about the time when I asked myself the same questions—but we’ll save that for later in College Month.

To our Billfold readers who were in the academic hiring process: Did you ask other people to look at your materials before sending in your job applications? Did any of you hire a professional application counselor? Would you have been able to afford Kelsky’s services in your last year of grad school?

 

This story is part of The Billfold’s College Month.

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