Some Notes for Job Seekers

Having recently returned from my field’s annual meeting, where I encountered a number of job seekers interested in the position open at my university, I find myself struck by a few things, none of which necessarily apply to any particular individual with whom I talked, or will talk. In some cases, quite the reverse is true.

That said, I was rather struck both by the eagerness of the people with whom I talked and their complete lack of awareness on a number of fronts. In no particular order, here are a few observations:

This is a job at a regional public university in the south. Trust me when I say everything that would seem to mean and everything it does mean. I’m sorry it’s not a Research I university or an ivy or whatever else you imagined as your dream job. It is, however, a job. And it’s a folklore job, where you get to teach folklore classes at both the graduate and undergraduate level. And it’s tenure track. (And did I mention it’s a job?) So, please, there’s no reason to demur when talking to a member of the search committee about it. Feign the excitement, if you have to. You may actually want this job when you have a chance to think about it. The expression on your face that would make it seem that someone just dropped a dried turd in your hand is one that will stick around for a while.

I know you have just finished up a long program in which you have memorized the hagiography of at least our little corner of the world and probably one or two adjacent fields. You would like to meet one of the anointed: after all, you have been luxuriating in their company during your graduate career, no? It turns out that the anointed are a rather small group and sometimes it’s really just an apparition created by living within the small confines of a graduate program, especially a large program within a small field. Most of the field’s practitioners live far more diverse lives. They may not have been mentioned in any of your classes, but they have still carved out careers for themselves. They may even have succeeded in ways that you cannot yet imagine being interesting but may one day. You should probably get off your high horse and give them the benefit of the doubt. No, really.

The best way to do that is to know something about the place to which you are applying and the key people involved in the search, especially members of the committee in your field: Hi, I’m John Laudun. I haven’t published as much as I would like, but I’ve got a few things out there. I’ve written a fair number of grants, including one from the Grammy folks. Produced a film or two. Written and directed some other film work. Got a book coming out next year. (And an article in JAF.) Won some awards. You know, the usual stuff. And, oh yeah, there’s this whole blog thing which really makes it easy to figure out what I am interested in. (Funny, that.) And the thing is apparently accessible on just about any device you happen to have in your hands. No, really. I’ve even stuffed a fair number of my AFS papers in this thing. You could skim here and know about all you need to know to fake an interest in my work in less than an hour. That’s efficiency right there.

That’s my annoyances all bundled up. What about some positives? What can job seekers, of all stripes, do to make a better impression?

First, write a good cover letter. It’s tricky to know how to spend your time, but I have to assume that your vita is already prepared and your writing sample is, too. You’ve already got your references lined up — you may even have letters of reference on standby in your school’s placement center. That means the time you spend on any particular job is really the time you spend on your cover letter.

Don’t spend too much time in the letter on sucking up to current faculty members: unless they are on the committee, they will probably never know and, worse, suppose someone on the committee doesn’t like them. (It happens, so let’s just admit that and move on, okay?) Skip it. Sure, somewhere in the letter you need to address the strength and investments of the department and how you will add to them, but don’t talk about people. Keep it abstract. Think of it like a literature review: you need to articulate your project — here the portfolio of things which are your research interests, your teaching interests, and your various abilities — in relationship to the extant infrastructure and make a case for what you add. And you’ve got to do it without ever pointing out the gaping hole in the faculty, if only because it could be a sore spot. (Does it seem like organizational life is like navigating a potential mine field? Good, you are a fast learner.)

Remember, in the case of this particular regional public university, you will be joining a Department of English that produces undergraduates and graduates with degrees in English that might also possess a concentration in our beloved field of folklore studies. That means that when you talk about your research, you might want to think about doing it in two parts: one part which is short and sweet and which signals to the folklorists on the committee that you are a folklorist and you know what you are talking about. The second, and longer, part of the section of your cover letter that treats your research should be a version of what folklorists are now calling “the elevator pitch” which means that you are trying to convey to someone who you cannot assume knows much about our field what it is you have researched and why it is important. Think of this like talking to your parents. (Okay, maybe your parents are academics, too. Think of it as trying to talk to my parents then. My father is an architect, and my mother an interior designer: smart people, but even twenty years later they still aren’t entirely sure what I do — okay, maybe bringing in our parents wasn’t such a good idea.)

Here at RPU (Regional Public University) the tenure track job to which you are applying has percentage split of 40-40-20. That means that when it comes time to evaluate you, 40 percent will be based on your research, 40 percent on your teaching, and 20 percent on your service. We are also what used to be called a Carnegie II school, or what is now called “Research – Intensive.” It’s complicated, but what it boils down to is that you really do need to lead with your research and then talk about your teaching experience.

Digital Humanities Jobs by the Numbers

Desmond Schmidt of Queensland University of Technology did some data mining in the Humanist archives and compiled the following numbers for digital humanities jobs:

2002: 11
2003: 6
2004: 15
2005: 15
2006: 18
2007: 24
2008: 27 (incomplete – 1/2 year)
2009: 36
2010: 58
2011: 65 so far

Breakdown by country:
US: 133
GB: 65
CA: 35
IE: 18
DE: 13
FR: 8
IL: 3
NO: 2
NL: 2
ES: 2
AT: 1
AU: 1
BE: 1

Normalised by population:
IE: 4.0
GB: 1.051779935
CA: 1.038575668
US: 0.433224756
NO: 0.416666667
IL: 0.405405405
DE: 0.158924205
FR: 0.127795527
NL: 0.121212121
AT: 0.119047619
BE: 0.092592593
AU: 0.04587156
ES: 0.043572985

About that AFS Job


The Library of Congress serves the Congress in fulfilling its duties and preserves and promotes knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people. It is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the world’s largest library, with more than 145 million items in its physical collections (including books, manuscripts, prints, photos, film, video, and sound recordings) and almost 20 million items online. Located on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the Library is the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Law Library of Congress and the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

As division chief of the AFC and principal officer for folklife in the Library, the director has full managerial and professional responsibility for the development and growth of research programs, collection development, public and scholarly service, preservation and custodial management, interpretive and other special programs of education and presentation (including publications, exhibits, and events) of the AFC. The Director is also responsible for managing the AFC gift and trust funds and for raising private funds to support AFC objectives. The Director is responsible for the management of the Folklife Reading Room to carry out AFC’s custodial responsibility for the AFC Archive collections, including significant oral history and born-digital collections (e.g. the Veterans History Project Collection, the StoryCorps Collection and the Civil Rights History Project Collection).


As Director, administers the AFC’s public programming, reference, processing, managerial and administrative staff to attain program goals and objectives; directs the AFC’s annual budget process and manages budget execution, for appropriated, gift and trust funds; and represents the AFC at professional and management meetings. Provides professional, technical and administrative direction for all activities of the AFC. Plans AFC’s annual program and activities within the Library Services performance budget, and determines short-term and long-range goals and objectives. Determines research and collection development projects for staff, assuring that analog and digital collections are relevant to researcher needs and that they are served in a timely and efficient manner. Coordinates the AFC’s security, preservation, and collection and space-management programs. Determines digitization project priorities in consultation with other Library managers. Develops and recommends policies governing the use of collection materials in the AFC’s custody, and the provision of reference and research services to meet the needs of Congress, scholars, publishers, and other research communities.

Performs the full range of human-resource management functions relative to the staff supervised. Hires and assigns staff as required. Establishes performance expectations for staff members, which are clearly communicated, and oversees performance-management principles in accordance with Library regulations, procedures and collective-bargaining agreements. Provides informal feedback and periodically evaluates staff on job performance. Resolves informal complaints and grievances. Initiates personnel actions as necessary.

Develops, conceives, plans, and implements policies and guidelines affecting broad, emerging, and/or critical agency programs. Translates new legislation and/or Library strategic goals into program goals, actions, and policies and interprets the impact of new legislative or strategic planning requirements on agency programs.

Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with the AFC Board of Trustees and facilitates board meetings to ensure continuity of efforts toward the fulfillment of national goals and objectives. Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with various high-level individuals, including members of Congress and their staffs, other legislative and executive agencies, members of the Madison Council, executives of major corporations, and distinguished members of the public, including scholars, in order to advance the mission of the AFC and the mission of the Library of Congress and in furtherance of the Library’s strategic goals.

Qualifications and Evaluations


The Director of the American Folklife Center (AFC) serves as the Library’s primary expert on folklife and cultural heritage collections, and directs staff in the delivery of public programs and reference services related to folklore and folklife.

A candidate’s resume must show a proven record of accomplishment that clearly demonstrates he or she:

(1) Has the ability to build coalitions.** The successful candidate has represented, presented, negotiated, defended, explained, advocated and expressed facts and ideas in a convincing manner in order to negotiate with individuals and groups in a manner that influences them to support a position and achieve results.

(2) Has skills in business management. ** The successful candidate has experience applying regulation and principles of business management, including entrepreneurial skills through fundraising and collaborative partnerships.

(3) Has the ability to lead people and inspire change. ** The successful candidate has led people effectively and inspired change in developing and implementing an organization’s vision that integrates key goals, priorities and values.

(4) Has knowledge of folklife, ethnomusicology or related fields represented in the American Folklife Center. ** The successful candidate has extensive knowledge of primary and secondary research in the fields of folklife or ethnomusicology in order to administer folklife programs and collections.

Your resume is important to this application process.  It will be reviewed to determine whether you possess the qualifications referenced above. All applicants are required to submit a resume that provides specific information (to include accomplishments, work experience and education/training) that clearly describes what you would bring to the position.


The Library of Congress will evaluate applicants using the information provided in your resume.  Reviews are intended to explore applicants’ experience, knowledge, and training directly related to the job in order to identify the best qualified applicants for selection.

For Executive Schedule positions, applicants do not need to respond to specific competency questions but will be requested to answer one question related to how they became aware of this job opportunity.

What an Apple Job Offer Looks Like

Glyph, founder of Twisted — the Darwin calendar system, has recently been offered a job at Apple, which he is taking. He shared with the world the unboxing story to end all unboxing stories: the offer itself. I offer a sample of what he shares below, but it really is worth [checking out for yourself]( What you see is a company for whom design — design with a clear goal and aesthetic — has impregnated every aspect of its culture, even making paperwork look good.

Glyph’s Offer 2
Glyph’s Offer