ask a scatterbrain (asa employment service)

From someone who is going on the market this year: “I just paid the $25 for ASA’s employment service. What is this largely mysterious ASA employment service really like?”

27 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain (asa employment service)”

  1. I just have to get one thing off my chest. The ASA employment service waiting room (which has registration and computers and what not) is one of the worst places I’ve ever been. It is packed with nervous, shaky, social awkward people, all dressed like office temps and sharing a desperate fear of never being hired.

    Stay out of that room as much as possible! Just show up in time for your appointments. It will help you reduce contagious stress.


  2. My big research-1 university does not use it, but a lot of small colleges do. Hopefully folks from schools that do use the service will post advice & information.


  3. I recommend participating, but only putting down a few time slots. Unfortunately, many students on the market spend all their time there or racing back and forth between that room and their hotel room.

    Your time is often better spent going to sessions and informal networking, but the few meetings that you do have with the service will be great practice for talking briefly about your dissertation, learning what questions to ask, what questions people are likely to ask you, etc.

    I do know a couple people who believe they got their job through the service, but many more who participated and didn’t.


  4. Just to make a more useful contribution … I’d add that for liberal arts colleges, it won’t get you an interview if your c.v. is no good, but it could get the committee to give a serious look at your c.v.


  5. I second the comment that it is a horribly stressful place. Insofar as that can be bad for one’s health, it can hurt. But otherwise, I agree that it’s probably worth doing for most folks. While R1s don’t tend to interview there, few people can be guaranteed to get an R1 so it’s good practice (it’s good practice even for those who are quite sure they can get an R1 job).

    I found it helpful to start interacting with folks on committees. It was also valuable to see how people reacted to my research summary and what questions it prompted.

    However, I’d caution anyone from drawing too many conclusions from it. There was one school (a liberal arts college) that I was especially interested in and put my name on their list (or did whatever it is that you do to express interest). I didn’t hear back from them at ASA. I was disappointed that they wouldn’t even talk to me, I wondered about it quite a bit. Then, a few months later, I did hear and I got an on-campus interview. So not being asked to chat with someone there doesn’t seem to mean too much either.

    I’d also recommend being ready with questions, ones that make you seem seriously interested in the program (but not ones that make it obvious that you took no time to learn about the department in domains you could have done so by simply checking out a Web site).


  6. There are many reasons I have been happy never to have really gone “on the market” right after grad school – the employment service was one! That said, I have had several students have very positive experiences there and do well through it. I think the key is a thick skin and a level of cockiness sufficient to the occasion.


  7. I did not participate in the ASA employment service, but I did use the ASA meetings as a chance to practice talking about my research with new people. I think this can be quite challenging for most grad students as we rarely are required to explain our research to new audiences since we mostly interact with professors and classmates at our own institutions who already know what our research is about. I found it took a few practices for me to articulate a good summary of my research. Good luck! But it seems a bit early to start worrying about this now. My advice is to try to write a lot of the dissertation this summer before ASA, since it is hard to make research and writing progress once the job market is in full swing.


  8. My advisor encouraged me to participate in the employment service, and I’m glad she did — it was a very positive experience. I was not in a highly-ranked PhD program, so I was determined to expand my network and make as many positive impressions as I could (it helped that I knew from my corporate career that I interview well). I highly recommend it for anyone who is not at a top R1 and/or who is not likely to gain interview opportunities through her/his mentors’ networks. (One of my profs, a graduate of a top-five program, mentioned after seeing my positive experience that he probably should have used the job service when he was on the market.)

    I interviewed with 18 schools over three days. It was a bit grueling, as I was going straight from one interview to the next for much of that time (it also forced me to cut back considerably on late-night carousing). But it was overwhelmingly positive. It forced me to hone my various pitches (the 30-second, 3-minute, and 10-minute versions of my dissertation), gave me great insight on dealing with committees, and exposed me to a wide range of questions that I faced again later in the job market. FWIW, three of my job offers came from departments I first met at ASA, including the job I am at now.

    At last year’s ASA, I was on the other side of the table, interviewing candidates for my department. So from my experience on both sides, here are some practical suggestions for students who are planning to participate:

    – Be prepared for a wide range of experiences. Some depts wanted to hear all about me. Some wanted to sell me on on their opening. Some were a combination of the two. The chair of one dept sat down and said, “we’ve never done this before and you’re our first interviewee, how does this work?” (Seriously. “Well, how about if we start with you telling me more about the opening…”). Have answers prepared for a variety of questions about your research, teaching (courses you’ve taught and hope to teach), interests, etc.

    – The 20-minute meeting will pass quickly, so hone your answers on likely questions(tell me about your research and teaching, what are you looking for in a position?, etc.). You can always expand on them if they ask for more, but you don’t want to start out the meeting with a 15-minute ramble on your dissertation.

    – Be prepared to give details on when you’ll finish and how you plan to accomplish that. I was not as far along on my dissertation as I had hoped to be, but I had a fellowship that year that allowed me to concentrate on my research, so it was easy for me to convince them that I would have no problem finishing on time.

    – Be positive about what you do. If you’re not excited about your research, why should I (as an interviewer) be?

    – If you are doing a national search and have ASA interviews with schools in off-the-beaten-path locations, be prepared to explain why you are willing to live in Nowhere, Nevada. Seriously, they’ll ask.

    – If you are still unsure about the type of job you want, use this as an opportunity to talk with a wide range of departments. As Eszter said, R1s generally don’t participate, but outside of that, you can talk with representatives of just about every other kind of school.

    – Be organized and prepared. Bring extra copies of your CV (most depts will have them, some will forget). Bring a two-page research and teaching summary. Walk up to the table with your notepad out, so you don’t spend the beginning of the interviewing shaking hands, juggling your coffee, and digging through your bag for your notepad. Look and act like a professional. And if you are in a top-20 program, do not act like you are the second coming of Durkheim. I know of one job candidate who blew his opportunity with an interested dept because he came off as so unbelievably cocky.

    – As Eszter noted, do not get your hopes up just because you had a good experience with a particular dept. While three of my offers came from depts I interviewed with at the job service, there were two other depts that seemed highly interested, with the interviewers strongly hinting that I would be brought to campus for an interview. In both cases, the parameters of the search changed, and they ultimately advertised positions for which I was not a great fit. Still, both depts followed up with me to explain why and to offer encouragement.

    – Last, if you have many interviews, be mentally and physically prepared to be “on” for an extended length of time. It can be draining.

    In short, I don’t see any negatives to participating. It will likely dominate your time at ASA, but in exchange, you’ll expand your networks; have multiple opportunities to put a face and a personality to your CV; and gain vital experience in interviewing, especially in terms of asking and answering questions. The job market, as we all know, is highly competitive, and this gives you a chance to differentiate yourself from the others in the tall stack of CVs.

    I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten, so if you have questions, feel free to ask. Hope that helps…


  9. It’s a waste of your time and money. You can lose a job at ASA, but you can’t get one. It’s a screening device, generally used by power hungry committee members to torpedo candidates they don’t like. The “volunteer” from the department gives favorable reports on candidates she likes, while creating hypernegative spin about candidates she doesn’t prefer. Because of the timing of our meetings, this is not really a job market, like they have in Econ or History. You’d do better to find out which places have job openings you might want. Next, contact someone who you think might be interested in your work from that department and try to set up a meeting in Boston.


  10. @10 I have to strongly disagree with Sherkat. Dysfunctional people and dysfunctional departments may behave that way, but many people and departments are genuinely looking for good people for their departments. The departments that work through personal networks are scheduling interviews a different way, often based on recommendations from advisors. One of the things you learn talking to people from different schools is that department cultures differ. The departments that sign up for the employment service mostly expect to treat seriously the people they interview there. Of course some hiring committees some of the time have hidden agendas and people they are trying to wire for a job,, but many searches are truly open and the searchers are genuinely trying to find people who will be good colleagues. Hidden agendas can be promoted just as easily through the personal network process as through the employment service.


  11. I concur with olderwoman @11. I did ASA employment and it’s simply a job fair. People exchange information and get to know each other, which might lead to employment. What’s so bad about that? It’s good for folks who may not want R1, or who may not yet have the record for R1. And it can be stressful – but so what? Isn’t looking for a job supposed to be stressful?

    In my case, I actually made 1 contact that led to a job offer. Though I didn’t take the job, I did make contacts with some excellent people. Though I could critique the process on minor points, it can be fairly useful if approached as an important first stage in a job search.


  12. FWIW, I’m a dork, but I sort of liked it as a candidate (I did it twice) and as an interviewer (once). I guess one person’s stress is another’s excitement.

    Also, my first time as a candidate, 3 of the campus interviews I eventually went on were with departments I met first at the employment service. I took one of those positions and stayed in that job 3 years and went back out, in a limited way, beginning with a minor turn at the employment service. Once again meeting my future department chair at one of those tiny little tables. I’m at an R1, so there is some variety in terms of departments using the service.

    PS In terms of “what is it really like” – it’s The Iron Cage. Bells, time slots, being assigned a number — very amusing.


  13. It is worth it for the information and experience, if you can stomach it. Another possible benefit I haven’t seen mentioned above is the chance to meet with non-academic recruiters you might otherwise not talk to. I had a good meeting with people from Census the first year I was on the market, and did end up working there for a year. I don’t know how much it is used for such contacts these days.


  14. Following up on OW’s response to Sherkat, you really don’t want to be in that kind of a dysfunctional department anyway as getting tenure is going to be much harder in such a context and it sure doesn’t lead to pleasant everydays. I must admit I was pretty naive about how much things like that would matter and am immensely grateful for all the many wonderful colleagues I have.

    Re #13, some of us may have been referring to top 20-30 departments when saying R1, but obviously incorrectly, as it looks like some R1s do participate. Sorry about the confusion.


  15. Even if you ignore “dysfunctional” attempts to influence searches, the bottom line is that you meet one or two people at ASA. Are you more or less likely to get a job when evaluated by those few people than by a full committee? It’s naive to think that all members of all committees have the same preferences, or to think that people wouldn’t want to influence the pool based on our peculiar desires. If you have anything on paper, it’s better to stack your vita against the others, hope for committee approval, and then make a case to an entire faculty. If you’re lacking production and won’t stack up come time for the committee, schmoozing can’t hurt, I suppose.


  16. “the bottom line is that you meet one or two people at ASA”

    In my experience on both sides of the table, those people generally included the dept chair, the search committee chair, and/or other members of the search committee.


  17. @17.sherkat: it seems naive to me to assume that a good CV will speak for itself. In my experience having an advocate within the faculty meeting (or, even better, the hiring committee) can transform an entirely-adequate CV into a top-of-the-pack candidate.


  18. As said, I have no opinion about the ASA employment service. BUT, I have a VERY STRONG opinion on the sentiment that good CVs speak for themselves. (I’m not sure Sherkat was actually saying that, so I’m not sure if my strong opinion is counter to his.) I am continually amazed at what advocates can spin out of what I think are objectively, even undeniably weak CVs, and junior candidates records are so much about projecting promise that dysadvocates can readily sink them no matter what their record.


  19. In grad school, we were told to come up with two ways to describe our dissertation research: a ~25-word summary and a “tell it to the taxi driver” summary. I found developing both a challenging, but informative exercise. The former forces you to whittle down your topic to its barest essence. The latter is a lay explanation of your research, basically answering the question, “why should anyone (esp a non-academic) care?” Both signal to the interviewer that you understand your topic thoroughly and are intellectually mature enough to start working/teaching/researching. They show that you know what’s important about your topic and what/why other people should know about it. Use the ~25-word summary to describe your research at the beginning of the interview. If/when the interviewer asks you to explain your research more thoroughly, use the “taxi driver” summary. The ~25-word summary is also good for the myriad informal meetings that take place throughout the conference.

    One other thing: bring a small snack, like a sports bar. You’ll sound more coherent (and be more focused) if you’re not hungry. Like a campus interview, days at the conference are marathons, not sprints. Plus, you don’t want to compete with your grumbling stomach for attention. Good luck!


  20. Jeremy @ 20: You are right that good CV’s speak for themselves. However, in the early stage of the career, CV’s are low information, even among some eventually good people. Also, employers are also low information. How does the average PhD student get to know anything meaningful about the hundreds (actually, thousands) of non R1/elite liberal arts schools?

    I would say to Sherkat that (a) in small departments, meeting just one or two people can radically increase job prospects and (b) even if it didn’t, you can actually learn about a program with the right questions, which can help you target the job search.


  21. @21 this is a great way to say it, I’m going to pass this on!
    @22 & elsewhere, very few new PhDs have “good” cvs, but you don’t have to have a “good” cv to get a job as a new PhD. Of course, a great track record makes you a star. As one of my former advisees said about the year he was coming out, first the people with two sole-authored ASR/AJS articles got offers from many places, then after they accepted offers the people with one sole-authored ASR/AJS article got offers, then when the market cleared, everyone else started getting offers. Even at top-20 departments, people get jobs every year with no publications or only coauthored-with-professors publications or only lower-tier-journal publications. The typical new PhD does not have an established track record, and that is why recommendations, manuscripts in progress, conference presentations and even interviews contribute important information. My department considers people’s written work (published or unpublished) as the most important the basis for hiring. If we don’t like the work, we won’t hire, no matter how strong the recommendation or where the work is published. And if we do like the work, we’ll generally hire even if it is not published yet. But it is impossible to read the written work for 300 people, so you have to have some way of deciding whose work to read, and that is where these more personalistic and impression-formation factors come into play. Recommenders and interviewers themselves have reputations — some people are known to push their own students or research areas regardless of quality, while others are known to be able of appreciating and making cogent evaluations of a broad range of intellectual styles. A lot of this is behind the scenes and relatively invisible to the people on the market. Although the kind of backbiting Sherkat refers to is part of the process, another part of the process is senior people who really care about noticing talented young people and telling their friends about them.

    And, again, I’m describing the networks in the “top 20” (or top 40?) departments. Most jobs are not in these departments, they are in the hundreds of smaller departments. As others have repeatedly said, part of getting a job in one of these other departments is understanding what matters to them and acting like you care enough about their job to find out what is important to them.


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