Advice on Surviving the Job Register: A Guide for the Bemused and Befuddled
Richard E. Bond, December 2004
"Aww, hell," I remember thinking to myself as I raced to my first job interview at the annual meeting, a scant 15 minutes before my appointment. I smiled in spite of my situation. During my two-year tenure as co-manager of the American Historical Association's Job Register, I had advised countless candidates to budget extra time before their interviews to ensure that they arrived with enough time to collect their thoughts. Yet here I was, not practicing what I had preached.
Arriving at the gigantic hotel, I was impressed with how large and sprawling the building really was. The labyrinthine design of the place was daunting. I had discovered—wisely, I thought—the Job Register's location on the previous day, but I still wandered the twisting corridors searching for the right room. When I arrived at the Job Register, I was amazed that I still had a few minutes to spare, only to discover that the interview was being held not at the Job Register, but in a hotel suite. This meant that I had to explore this Minotaur's maze once more to locate the correct elevator. Almost out of breath now, I finally arrived at my first interview and, unsure of what might come, tried to assume a nonchalant pose against the wall (hoping to persuade the would-be interviewer who opened the door that I had been waiting patiently for a long time).
During the past four years, articles have regularly appeared in Perspectives attempting to demystify the academic job market and the procedures for getting a job.1 By providing concrete advice on writing cover letters, surviving campus interviews, etc., these articles have described the job application process and provided first-time job seekers (much like myself) with hints regarding how to present oneself as the best possible candidate. Yet, there remains a mystique that surrounds the byzantine operations of the Job Register. This article explains the register's primary functions, its general layout, and also suggests some tactics for navigating the register (and the job market as a whole) successfully.
The purpose of the Job Register is to facilitate interaction between job candidates and interviewers in a mutually accessible location. If viewed from this perspective, the register has been very successful. It allows both interviewers and interviewees to avoid the costs, in both time and money, of scheduling multiple on-campus interviews.
As anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in the cavernous halls of the Job Register would agree, however, the situation is hardly ideal. During the past six years, participants in the Job Register—candidates and search committees alike—often had to contend with birds, forklifts, construction equipment, the soothing melodies of jack-hammers, the chirping of cell phones, a maze of curtains, loud voices, and about 800 nervous men and women hoping to find employment—sometimes all at the same time. The Job Register staff work very hard to make the experience as pleasant as possible, but stress levels throughout the interview area inevitably run high. In an effort to meet as many candidates as possible, some hiring committees schedule so many interviews during one day that candidates are left with no more than 15 minutes to make their case to a group of individuals who appear more formidable than a comps committee. This stressful combination of limited time, tightly packed tables, and a distracting environment has led many Job Register participants to conclude that they never want to live through such an experience again.
With such an ominous reputation, it is hardly surprising that most job candidates approach the Job Register with as much dread as they do a dentist's drill. Yet, some of this stress is avoidable. With foreknowledge about how the register works and what information one can (and cannot) find there, the interview experience can be much less nerve-wracking.
The Job Register is divided into three parts: the Information Desk, the C.V. Collection Booth, and the interview locations.
The Information Desk in the Job Register (quite different, it is worth noting, from the Annual Meeting Information Desk) dispenses information to Job Register participants. Stop the desk in the Convention Center's Room 618 first to obtain the Job Register Handout. The handout provides interview table locations for every school interviewing at the tables (see below) and job descriptions for searches that are collecting c.v.'s for review. The desk also maintains the Electronic Search Committee Suite Locator System (ESCSLS), which provides updates regarding table and suite locations.
It is important to note that the Information Desk does not have the interview locations for every school conducting interviews at the annual meeting. Search committees who opt not to interview at a table or in a Job Register suite do not always inform Job Register staff of their interview locations, though they are strongly urged to do so by the AHA's "Guidelines for the Hiring Process." Many committees do inform the Job Register Information Desk of their interview locations, and candidates should check intermittently with Information Desk staff for these locations. One of the most frequent causes for anxiety at the Job Register is not knowing one's interview location. All candidates should, therefore, contact their search committee chairs before the annual meeting to find out where their interviews will occur. If such information is unavailable (for example, because committees will not know their hotel room number until they check in), urge committee members to inform you of the interview's location either through the Information Desk or via e-mail (and ask the committee for a particular date by which they will contact you). It is also a good idea to find out whose name the interview suite will be reserved in, so that you can contact the committee through the front desk at the hotel.
Second is the C.V. Collection Booth (also located in Room 618). In years past, the C.V. Collection Booth served as the focal point of the Job Register. Candidates would drop off c.v.'s, noting which jobs they were interested in applying for, and interviewers would peruse the submissions to identify viable candidates. Now, more and more schools are choosing to prearrange all their interviews before the meeting. At the 2004 annual meeting, for example, only 60 search committees collected c.v.'s, accounting for at most 22 percent of all schools holding interviews (this number may even be smaller as data on schools conducting interviews outside of AHA-sponsored suites remains sketchy).
The Job Register Handout and onsite bulletin boards (displaying advertisements submitted too late to be included in the handout) are used to inform potential candidates about schools that are collecting c.v.'s. If suitable jobs are found, candidates should submit a copy of their c.v. (bring many copies!) and a Job Register Message Form to the C.V. Collection Booth for each position. Search committee members will check their application folders periodically and decide if there is an applicant they would like to interview, informing Job Register staff of their decisions (both "yes" and "no") so that the news can be relayed to candidates through the onsite electronic message system (located in the Sheraton's Grand Ballroom A and B).
The final area of the Job Register's operation is the interview location. Interviews typically occur in three places: at tables in the Job Register area, in AHA-reserved hotel suites, and in privately rented rooms or suites (though I have heard of interviews held in local restaurants and hotel lobbies).2 Job Register tables, the most frequently employed location (partly because they are offered to search committees for free), can be found in the Convention Center's Ballroom 6E. Candidates should check in before their interviews 10 to 15 minutes early to insure that interviewers know they are present. Candidates should also ascertain if their interviewers have checked in, especially if the scheduled interview time is early in the morning or following lunch.
Second, the AHA provides 25 hotel suites for interview use, located in the Renaissance Seattle Hotel. The interview locations of committees who choose to use these rooms will be available at the Information Desk. Candidates are not required to check in at the Job Register for interviews held in suites. Rather, candidates should proceed directly to the appropriate room 10 minutes before their interview. Please do not knock unless the scheduled time for your interview has passed.
One other possibility exists for a school's interview location—private suites/hotel rooms. This is the interview location option that most often causes consternation for candidates. As mentioned above, search committees that rent their own private suites sometimes fail to inform the Job Register of their location. When schools provide information, Information Desk staff will record the location in the ESCSLS. The AHA encourages all applicants to inquire about interview locations in advance. With this information in hand, life will be a little less stressful.
While I berate myself for not arriving early to my first interview, I know I made it because I could find the information I was seeking at the Job Register quickly and efficiently. If I had spent additional time that morning trying to decipher the Job Register, I may have been horribly late—a dismal first impression. Yet, it is my hope that by knowing how the Job Register works, you can avoid some of the mistakes I made and have much less stress-filled experience in Seattle.
— Richard E. Bond recently defended his dissertation at Johns Hopkins University. He was a co-manager of the AHA Job Register at two successive annual meetings.
1. Irvin D.S. Winsboro, "Is There a Job Crisis? A Reality Check," Perspectives 42:5 (May 2004), 37–39; Steve Hochstadt, "The Convincing Cover Letter," Perspectives 41:6 (September 2003), 54–55; Betty A. Dessants, "Preparing the Teaching Portfolio," Perspectives 41:6 (September 2003), 56–57; Sally Hadden, " The Campus Visit: Passing the Brains Test and Lunch Test," Perspectives 41:6 (September 2003), 58–59; Melanie Gustafson, "Interviewing Strategies: Survival at Interviews," Perspectives 40:9 (December 2002), 63–64.
2. The AHA Professional Division has approved a set of "Guidelines for the Hiring Process" that search committees are encouraged to follow. Job candidates should familiarize themselves with these "Guidelines" as well. Please consult www.historians.org/perspectives/eib/hiring_guidelines.htm.