Fall down seven times, get up eight

Michael Parrish

Fall down seven times, get up eight

By the time of publication, the first round of the 2015 academic hiring season will be drawing to a close. I hope that those of you who sent in applications got a positive result, either in the form of an interview or a firm job offer. Congratulations! Unfortunately, the number of applicants always exceeds the number of positions and only a few people end up with a job. Nevertheless, there is still room for hope. It is often the case that for every job that is taken, another one opens up because the current job applicants will either be finishing their present contracts or quitting their jobs (part-time or full-time) in order to accept a new one. This means that in a few months’ time a new round of jobs will begin being posted at those institutions losing staff (typically mid-December through early March), as information trickles down through the administrative bureaucracy. Sometimes the candidate chosen by a particular employer decides not to accept the job, or accepts tentatively, but reneges when a better opportunity comes along. In such cases, some institutions will go back to the list of candidates interviewed previously and offer the job to them rather than having to put out another job announcement. 

So, a rejection letter is not always final. 

This is an important point, a rejection letter is not a blanket condemnation of your skills and qualifications; it reflects a variety of specific and variable factors such as the pool of candidates, the needs of the university, the preferences (or biases) of the members of the search committee, and your skill set and experience at that time. Over time, all these factors will change. As the contract teaching merry-go-round continues spinning, it is very likely that you will apply to the same university in the future. With this in mind, it is important how you respond to rejection at both the application and interview stages. It might seem very satisfying to write a “poison-pen” letter to the search committee informing them of the error of their decision, but ultimately it only makes you seem unprofessional and even less desirable as an employee. Although search committees change composition, institutions have long memories (yes, there are actual black lists) and it can be hard to escape a bad reputation. One alternative is to write that nasty e-mail, but send it to yourself. You can get your negative emotions out and then redirect your energy towards the next opportunity. Similarly, avoid grousing to colleagues about the person who did get the job. No matter how unqualified or lucky the person may seem to be, you will look more professional if you accept your loss gracefully. You may even pick up a “consolation prize” of additional koma (classes) at the same university or from someone who has to quit some jobs in order to take the new position. 

A rejection letter can also be a chance for self-reflection and self-improvement. Examine whether your application package completely satisfied all the requirements in the job posting. Were your accompanying essays (for example, teaching philosophy, cover letter, model lesson, or syllabus) tailored to the specific program or university? Another way is ask the search committee or some of the panel members how you might have improved your application. Bear in mind that some institutions have ethical problems with such specific feedback on employment/hiring practices as it might provide an unfair advantage in future applications. A second option is to show your application materials to trusted colleagues, particularly those with hiring committee experience, and ask for an honest critique.

Remember, keep swinging! There is always another round.