Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blog CLV (155): Success Stories (2)

Today's posting is the second in the "Success Stories" series.  "Success Stories" is an attempt to share what some new scholars have done to beat the odds and find steady employment in the hopes that others my profit from the experiences of others.

This posting comes from Hillary R. Gleason, an assistant professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at Laredo Community College.  She recieved her BA from Our Lady of the Lake University, a MA degree from Texas A&M UniversityCommerce, and the Ph.D. from the State University of New York Binghamton.  Her dissertation is on the tenure of Lieutenant General Walter Beddell Smith as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  She has published book reviews in Presidential Studies Quarterly, History: Reviews of New Books, H-War, Kansas History, Intelligence and National Security, and the North Carolina Historical Review.  Prior to arriving at Laredo, she taught courses for SUNYBinghamton, SUNYOneonta, the University of Phoenix, and Texas A&M UniversityCommerce.  Here is her essay:

I began looking for a job while I was still technically ABD, about a semester before I graduated. At the time, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my Ph.D. Did I want to teach? Research? Go into administration? Go into the private sector? The good news was that I had options. The bad news was that I lacked direction. To compound my problem, I began looking for a job at the height of the Great Recession. Even today, the job market has improved but the overall picture remains bleak—making finding a job harder than ever before. 
In the end, I was lucky. I managed to get a job while most of my friends were still out of work and looking. I accepted a job teaching at a community college and, because I love teaching, it turned out to be a great fit. Yet the road to employment was rocky. I made some good decisions and plenty of mistakes along the way. 
My biggest mistake in the job hunt was that I tried to limit my geographical area. I really wanted to be near my family after being away so long. As a result, I limited my search to the Dallas area. This made finding a job impossible. Jobs for Ph.D.s (academic jobs, think tank jobs, etc.) are scarce anyway and the Recession did not improve matters. My limiting myself to a particular place I was effectively sabotaging myself. After months of frustration, I realized that the only way I was going to find anything was if I was willing to go where the job was (regardless of where that might be). Once I stopped limiting myself I had far more success. 
Another reason for my success was (oddly) my lack of direction. I was not emotionally tied to anything I had to be doing. This flexibility helped me get a job. For example, a lot of my friends felt like they had to be at a research institution. They would not even bother applying to smaller schools or community colleges. The hard fact is that there are only so many top-tier jobs available—most new graduates are going to have to aim a little lower. Pride goeth before the fall—or the employment line. 
I did not have any hang ups about where I was supposed to be. As a result, I applied anywhere and everywhere. I applied at community colleges, at smaller schools, at think tanks, and (yes) even at research institutions. I applied even when I was only marginally qualified. I was told “no” more than I was told “yes.” But my philosophy was that it never hurt to try. 
I applied to Laredo Community College (LCC) in one of my fits of “why not?” Every time I applied for a job, I would add it to a list I kept. This list enumerated what jobs I applied for, when, and listed a date (usually in about a week or two) when I needed to follow up. I added LCC to the list and forgot about it. About two weeks later I had not heard back from them, so I called the history department. My goal was to ask the secretary if my application had been received, what the time table was, etc. When I called and stated my purpose the secretary (to my shock and horror) quickly transferred me to the department head. 
The department head listened as I apologized for bothering him and then I repeated my questions about the application. He asked me a few questions and had me follow up with HR. It turned out that HR did not open the email that contained my letters of recommendation—hence my file was not complete and I was therefore not even being considered for the position. This is why following up is essential! Had I not checked on this, I would never have gotten the job. 
As it turns out, that conversation with the department head swung the door open for me. He was looking for someone with exactly my qualifications and a few days later I was invited for a campus interview. A few weeks after the campus interview, I was offered the job. What then followed was a mad scramble to contact all my pending application-holders and respectfully withdraw my name (better not to burn bridges, after all), move, and write lectures like a fiend (but that’s another story…). 
My job hunt was, admittedly, unorthodox. But the economic climate was so bad (and continues to be awful) that I was going to do what it took to get a job. I was not sure I would like teaching at a community college, but I knew that this did not have to be where I was forever. Why not give it a shot? As it turns out, I love my job. While I may not be here for the rest of my career, I am planning on sticking around for the foreseeable future. So, my advice is that you be flexible, humble, and persistent—you might find employment (and happiness) in an unexpected place!

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