Lessons Learned in a Tortuous Job Search

I began searching for jobs in late February, as soon as I was certain of my next zip code. I applied to a handful of positions in my future town that perfectly fit the degree I was working toward. Adjunct Composition jobs are so stigmatized by some in the academy that we are led to believe that they are, in fact, easy to acquire. I assumed that I could just breeze into one of these jobs. It’s just an adjunct job, right? How wrong I was. Jobs are not plentiful right now and everyone is clamoring for them as desperately as you are. You have to stand out among an applicant pool with nearly identical qualifications.

I have learned volumes about applying for jobs during the course of my search and have volumes more to learn before I land that ideal job. Since I started my search, my cover letters have become more fine-tuned, my CV has become more transparent and informative, and my applications are not being thrown out immediately after I submit them. I am waiting to hear from nine employers at the moment and the delay can be excruciating. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a list of things that I think have helped and hurt me in my job search. Feel free to use this as a guide to help you start out a stronger applicant than I did.

Things that have worked against me in my job search (and how to combat them):

  • My youth
    • I am completely qualified on paper for many jobs that I will never get simply because I am too young. One glance at my CV and some quick math will tell potential employers that I’m only 24 and to them that translates to careless, green, and flighty. I am none of those things, but not everyone will take the time to find that out.
    • This isn’t something I can adjust in my CV, but I can respond to this concern in my cover letters by emphasizing my youthful passion and excitement for my work. I can highlight the positive side of youth and the energy that a candidate like me would bring to a workplace.
  • My recent graduation date
    • Nothing spells “inexperienced” quite like a 2013 graduation date. Yes, I have ample and impressive experience for my age and my position, but few employers want to take a chance by giving someone their first job out of college. Nevermind the teaching I did in and out of my M.A. program, this will still technically be my first “real” job out of my graduate program.
    • There’s no real way to work around this. I just have to hope for an employer who is willing to take a risk on me. I do, however, make sure to mention in my cover letters how recently coming from a graduate program makes me fresher and more up-to-date on pedagogical theories and practices.
  • My address
    • Some employers will not take the time to read applications from out-of-state applicants. They often assume that you are wildly applying to jobs across the nation hoping something will stick. Why hire someone who might not move to the job?
    • If you are in my situation and are applying to  jobs in a very small geographical area, be sure to mention that in your cover letter. I always begin with a casual “I recently acquired my Master’s of Arts in English Literature from Washington State University and will be moving to Mount Pleasant, MI this summer.” If you can, use your future address in your application materials.
  • Shooting too high
    • This is a sad point to make, but an important one. Don’t limit yourself only to jobs that spell out the highest degree you have. Having the required qualifications does not make you a good candidate for a job. Consider the market. Often hundreds of people in the area are as qualified or more qualified for the position than you. I recently applied for a  job in the small town I’m moving to in which 108 other applicants were notified of the position closing. 108! I knew that I was at the low-end of the requirements for this job, so I began branching out.
    • Look for jobs for which you might be not just a suitable candidate, but a stellar candidate. I was probably among the least qualified applicants for that job with 108 applicants, but I may be the most qualified applicant for a job that only requires a Bachelor’s or a high school diploma. Try to be someone’s star applicant.

Things that (I believe) have worked to my advantage in my job search:

  • Reliable transportation
    • For graduation, I got a 2009 Ford Focus from my grandma. This car gets great mileage, handles well, and gets me where I need to go safely. So long as she survives the drive from WA to MI, this car opens up my application possibilities considerably. I know that not everyone has a grandmother willing to buy them a reliable car, and for that I am very privileged.
    • If you have a car or can get one affordably, use this to your advantage. If I didn’t have a car, I would only be eligible to apply for 7/16 jobs I have currently applied for. This investment will pay off.
  • Diverse experience
    • The summer between my first and second years of my M.A. program I applied for an ESL teaching  job I found on a listserv. I was not traditionally qualified for this job, but the fact that they posted it on the WSU graduate student listserv only three weeks from the start date told me they might be willing to take a chance on me. I wrote a heartfelt cover letter that said something to the effect of “what I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm.” It’s a corny sentiment, but it made the difference between me and more qualified applicants who approached the job without the excitement I had. At the interview I demonstrated my passion and that was reflected in the administrators. They seemed as excited to give me the opportunity as I was to take it. I got the job, loved it, and was able to add five lines to my CV about the five distinct courses I taught in this program. My experience in that program got me the job I have now teaching ESL Composition at WSU. Now, I’m able to apply for ESL composition jobs, Intensive English jobs, and have a great foundation should I ever go back for a M.A. in TESOL.
    • Take every opportunity to volunteer, intern, or work in adjacent fields. The more diverse your experience, the more jobs you can justifiably apply for.

Of course, I am still unemployed so my advice is far from perfect. I just wanted to share some insights from someone currently in the throes of the application process for those of you who might soon be coming upon this momentous time yourselves. Best of luck to you, unless you happen to be applying in the Mount Pleasant, MI area. In that case, I do not wish to help you.

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