Publication Date

December 1, 2005

Perspectives Section

AHA Annual Meeting

AHA Topic

Career Paths

Interviewing for a new job can be a harrowing experience, even under the best of circumstances. When interviewing for a new job in a hotel ballroom surrounded by hundreds of other people—nervous candidates, tired search committees, harried AHA staff—a high degree of stress is both natural and understandable. Having been co-manager of what is formally known as the Job Register (and informally known by a host of other, less charitable, names) since 2002, I present some insider tips to making the experience a bit more pleasant.

Be prepared. Learn as soon as possible where your interview will be taking place. For prearranged interviews, that means, ideally, you should find out the location of your interview even before coming to Philadelphia. Ask a search committee member where the interview will be held. If he or she doesn’t know yet, ask if the search committee reserved its interview space with the Job Register. If it did, visit the Job Register Information Booth outside Salon H on the 5th floor of the Marriott as early as possible after the opening of the annual meeting. The Information Booth will have information for all schools that reserved official Job Register interview space (whether suites or tables). It may also have information for schools interviewing outside of official AHA facilities, but that is not guaranteed as sometimes schools don’t provide that information to the Job Register. Therefore, if the search committee has indicated to you that it has arranged private interview space, make sure you get the contact information for at least one member of the search committee (cell phone numbers are ideal, but e-mail works too) so that you can contact the committee upon arrival in Philadelphia to find out where your interview will be held. If you do not at least know the name of one search committee member, and the hotel he or she is staying at, the Job Register staff will be unable to assist you in finding your interview (despite our reputation as miracle workers).

Be smart about c.v. collections. One of the services that the Job Register provides is to collect c.v.’s for open searches. The waiting while a search committee reviews your c.v. can be quite stressful, but the payoff is great should the committee decide to interview you. Here are a few things to keep in mind: first, get your c.v.’s in early. That means Thursday afternoon or any time on Friday. This gives search committees more time to review your c.v. and more time to schedule you for an interview. It also ensures that the search committee gives your c.v. its fullest attention, as “interview fatigue” tends to set in as the meeting drags on. Furthermore, many schools close their searches at the close of business on Friday and throughout Saturday, so waiting until the last days of the annual meeting to submit c.v.’s will leave you with fewer options. Second, submit only your c.v.’s, not dissertation chapters, letters of recommendation, cover letters, or any other supporting materials. Save those for the (potential) interview. Search committees have enough paperwork to go through—especially in fields where there are a lot of candidates—and the extra materials may weigh against rather than support your c.v. Third, apply only to those jobs for which you are qualified. That seems like common sense, but every year there are individuals who submit c.v.’s for 25 or 30 open searches and wonder why they didn’t hear back from half of them. And finally, bring enough copies of your c.v. (and supporting materials) with you to the annual meeting. Onsite copying services can be prohibitively expensive. Save some money and make your copies at home.

If you are coming to Philadelphia with the intention of finding a job, but do not have any prearranged interviews and are relying solely on filing c.v.’s for open searches, you may want to re-think making the trip. Of course we don’t want to discourage you from coming to the annual meeting (as there are a host of other great experiences there beyond looking for a job), but it has been my experience at the past four annual meetings that fewer and fewer schools are using c.v. collection to find job candidates. While there are usually 50 to 60 schools collecting c.v.’s, there is no guarantee that a significant number of them will be in your field (and the field breakdown won’t be known until we get to Philadelphia). Less popular fields may only have three or four open searches at a time. On the other side of the coin, popular fields such as 20th-century America will have many open searches, but also many people submitting c.v.’s, and yours may get lost in the crowd. Use your best judgment if you plan to rely only on c.v. collection to get an interview.

Be professional. Dress appropriately. You may want to visit your interview location beforehand to get a feel for the temperature and alter your dress accordingly. Bring your supporting materials to your interview (now is the time to impress the search committee). Be on time, but expect to wait. Interviews often last longer than anticipated. If your interview is being held in a private or Job Register suite, go directly to the suite at the time of your interview. The search committee should have a chair outside for you to sit on while they finish their previous interview. If your interview is being held at a Job Register table (in the Marriott Grand Ballroom Salon H), arrive about 15 minutes prior to your scheduled interview so that you have enough time to check in with the table monitors and sit down to collect your thoughts (or get a glass of water to calm your nerves). If you know that you are going to be late for an interview, contact the search committee to reschedule, or at the very least, contact the Job Register so that we may deliver a message to the search committee. If you are unexpectedly late for your interview and the search committee has moved on to the next candidate, do not interrupt the interview (actually, never interrupt someone else’s interview, except in cases of personal emergency). Instead, inform the Job Register staff of your arrival and we will deliver a message to the search committee between interviews. Consideration for your colleagues—both the search committees and your fellow applicants—goes a long way.

Finally, be of good cheer. Where jobs are on the line and careers are put to the test, it is natural to be anxious and pessimistic about the Job Register. It helps to put everything in perspective. Thousands of historians have gone through the Job Register already, and thousands more will in the future. Think of it as a rite of passage. One also has to consider search committees, who in some cases have to sit through 50 or 60 interviews over a four-day weekend and finally pick one to be their next colleague. Every year search committees tell us “there are so many qualified historians” or “I wish we could hire them all!” Remember that it can be an ordeal for them, too (it was Philadelphia’s beloved Ben Franklin who said, “we must all hang together…”). Realistically, it often takes more than one annual meeting to land that perfect job. Use each interview as a learning experience to sharpen your presentation of yourself as a scholar. Even if you don’t get a job the first time around, you are that much more prepared for round two.

In short, despite the negative commentary you may hear about the Job Register, the Job Register experience really is what you make of it. A little advance preparation and a little understanding go a long way in making the experience a lot less painful for all involved.