Job Search Advice

Job seeking can be fun. Think of it as a relationship — you are seeking a new partner, or community to call “home.” You need them, and they need you. The trick is to get to know what you’re aiming for, and make a strong case for how you will fit the needs of your future employer and community.

In the following I share a host of resources that I’ve acquired over the years (as I have YEARS of experience being on the job market). I speak from my perspective and experiences.

Note: Given that I situate my work in the field of mathematics education, many of the examples, resources, and stories are specific to the context of “Jobs in Mathematics Education” However, I understand job seeking as a process or method. Thus I’ve aimed to communicate these ideas in ways that extend beyond the specifics of one specific domain.

The Search.

  1. Do you need a (paying) job? You may think this is a strange question, but know that it is OK to volunteer, to take time off, to travel, to parent, and to live your life. I am not saying skirt your responsibilities (loan debt?) and be homeless. Instead, I’m suggesting that if you are not deeply (or even remotely) invested in building your career at this time, it is OK to wait for the inspiration to do so. Share your passions, and be happy.
  2. What kind of job do you want? This may be the most important question. And it is OK if you do not know the answer  yet – it may take several years and numerous interviews to really figure it out. And when you think you’ve got it figured out, you might change your mind! You are human. Interests and priorities change. Be curious and investigate. Here are some common options in Mathematics Education:
    1. Academic – College or University, Tenure track or non-Tenure track, Teaching or research postdoctoral fellow, adjunct or clinical professor
    2. Industry & Government – In Mathematics Education there are several research centers that are not directly affiliated with an academic institution. I’ll name a few here: TERC, EDC, SRI, USAJobs
    3. Schools & Leadership – K-12 schools hire specialists of all kinds such as Curriculum Leaders, Coaches or Mentors, Quantitative Research Specialists
  3. How do you find job postings? Tackle this question like a mini-research project. To get you started, many jobs in mathematics education are posted online. I suggest starting with the following websites:

*Note: Do not overwhelm yourself by checking these multiple times a day. Instead, consider it a weekly practice to check sites to see what if any new postings have become available. Typically search committees will give at least 1 month from the time of posting for applicants to submit materials.

The Fit.

  1. Are you qualified for the job? If you don’t know and can’t tell from the call for applicants, just ask. It is the responsibility of the search committee chair to answer any and all questions you may have. For example, I have read job postings that read “specialization in undergraduate mathematics or science education desired.” While I find this interesting, and have worked with preservice teachers, I would not consider this one of my main areas of research. To check on the fit, I emailed the search committee chair if it was worth applying given my research program. I am glad I did because he replied that they would really only be hiring candidates who have at least some strand of their work related to this specialization. Lesson learned: Save yourself and the hiring committee time by making sure you are indeed qualified and would be a good fit for the position before taking the time to apply.
  2. Do you want this job? Will you be a good fit for what they need (i.e., you are qualified and would complement their strengths)? Would you move/relocate if offered the job? If you answered YES to these questions, then perhaps you should apply. Trust your intuition, and seek counsel from trusted friends and advisors.


The Application Process.

  1. Applying for a job is a process. Remember this is like a research project. Give yourself time to work through it. Budget several weeks in advance of the deadline to network with your colleagues, mentors, and peers. You will eventually acquire a host of materials to serve as resources, including application materials, advise, and other wisdom. Stay organized and be patient.
  2. One possible routine. I’ve applied to so many jobs that I have an established routine for how I go about this process. My method usually goes something like this:
    1. Download a copy of the job call. You want to have this on hand any time you are working on your materials and networking with colleague and peers. You want to really understand this document as it will guide how you tailor your application materials.
    2. Understand the job call. I’m emphasizing this point for a reason.If you have questions about the position, what they require, what they are really looking for, AND you can’t find this information from the job call or website, ask for help. There is no such thing as a stupid question, except perhaps the one that is never asked. You are not expected to know all the nuances of a job call on your first read. Who should you ask? Depending on the question, you might start by asking a trusted advisor, mentor or friend who has some insight on the issue. If it’s still not cleared up, or is too specific to the context in which you are applying, go directly to the source (i.e., the search committee chair). Draft a polite and professional email about the nature of your inquiry. This communication gets your name out there, and also can inform how you draft your application materials.
    3. Stay organized. Start a separate folder with the name of the institution and date of deadline. Keep everything for this posting here. You might even have a super structure of folders that separates the types of jobs. E.g., Tenure track teaching, tenure track research, industry. Then within each of these you may have several folders.
    4. Be timely. Add deadlines and reminders to your calendar to be sure you don’t miss the deadline. I put the actual date, the week before, and the month before deadlines on the calendar.
    5. Seek support from professional references. Most calls require 1-4 letters of professional reference. Think carefully about who might best represent you and your abilities. You might also consider references who have a connection or other insight into the type of position for which you are applying. Some calls ask for letters of reference up front (with the application materials, thus the deadline is important for you AND your letter writers). Other calls ask for letters later thus you just need “consent” from your professional references. For example, I usually craft an email like this:
      Dear Reference Writer, I am applying for the X position at X institution. The call is listed here (website/attachment). I think this would be a good fit for me because / I am excited about this position because… I would like to list your name as a professional reference who can speak to my teaching ability / other skills… If this is OK, they require a letter by X / do not require a letter at this time. Thank you for your support. Sincerely, Eager Applicant.
    6. Start compiling and drafting the required materials. Typically this includes: Cover Letter, Teaching Statement, Evidence of Effective Teaching, Research Statement, Curriculum Vitae, Graduate Transcripts. The call for applicants is usually quite specific on this point. Take note and give them what they ask for. (I elaborate some notes on these just below.)
    7. Revise materials and submit. Then celebrate the mixed emotions of accomplishment, uncertainly, excitement, and possibility.
    8. Repeat the process. Maybe you’re lucky, and the stars align and you get the one and only job you apply for. If so, write me about that, and I’ll marvel in how amazing that experience was for you. However, from my experience, it’s better to apply for several positions that could be placed along a spectrum of like to love. For instance, some might be “I’ve gotta have this job and they need me” while others might be “This would be a good stepping stone in my career path.” Stay open.
Advocate for yourself.

Application Materials.

Give these materials time to breathe. Revise them often. Seek feedback from peers. I find the process of writing and revising materials to be a helpful way to see my career, not as a burden or another thing to do. It is actually quite useful professional development.

  1. Cover letter. I tend to think of a cover letter as an introduction, and persuasive essay. Your goal is to show how you have crafted a professional identity and emerging career path that meets the needs of the call for applicants. Communicating how your credentials map onto sought qualifications is a key aspect of the job search (application and interview process). First, this helps you understand if you are indeed qualified for a position. Second, this is a critical part of your cover letter. “Sought Qualifications” tend to fall into both scholarly credentials and professional experiences. Spell it out for them how you indeed meet the requirements. It is OK to be the “Minimum Champion!” Think of this as an opportunity to tell a story about the potential for a great relationship to emerge when they hire you.  Be a word builder. Take the letter word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph.
    1. Introduce yourself, the position you are applying to, and why you are the best candidate for this position. Keep it to the point and brief. Order the remaining paragraphs per the call itself (e.g., for research positions, put your research up front).
    2. At research active institutions (i.e. where faculty are expected to conduct research), they expect that you are doing research and have something to show for this work. They also expect that you are doing something that is uniquely you. Communicate how you are crafting a trajectory for yourself. Show how your experiences have shaped that trajectory, and what you are doing to build on your ongoing/future work.
    3. You’ll likely have a paragraph on teaching as well, highlighting important aspects, and again, specifically address what is asked for in the call for applicants. Do not tell. Show.
    4. You almost always close with a specific paragraph detailing why you are a great fit for this position that is specifically tailored to the job you are applying to. I repeat: be specific. Tie in the background research you did on the place you are applying. Who is there? What work are they doing? How can you contribute to their mission? How will you advance and extend their expertise?  Why do they need you?
  2. Research Program or Agenda. What are the burning questions you seek to answer in your research program? How is your work situated in a broader context? Give both a big picture overview of your work and it’s importance, and specifics on how you are shaping this program and gaining some traction with your ideas. You might also allude to future work. I find that writing about my research program is a helpful way to solidify what it is. Read about my research program here. I also like to visualize my work with graphical organizers such as these.
  3. Teaching. I think of teaching broadly as a form of sharing knowledge, designing opportunities to meet set out goals, and bolstering the learning of others in a social or community setting.
    1. Teaching Philosophy. How do you think about and conceptualize teaching and learning? Show evidence of how you support learners in diverse settings. Show evidence of how you innovate in curriculum and instruction. For example, I posted my current version here.
    2. Teaching Experience. Teaching experience (for me) includes formal teaching in school settings and universities, mentoring opportunities, and professional development. For an example, scroll to the bottom of this page. *Note: If you do not have “formal” teaching experience, do not panic. My advice would be to first think of teaching broadly, and second to contact others in similar situations to see how they have handled it in writing about this.
    3. Teaching Excellence.  Given that you have some teaching experience in formal or informal settings, how good are you? You’re awesome, right?! Yes, you are. Gather evidence that makes sense to you and introduce it in a succinct way. For example, performance reviews, qualitative and quantitative results from student evaluations, awards or nominations, etc. Email me and I can send you an example of what this might look like.

Be Resourceful.

Remember, this is a research project. Get creative and start digging! Please leave a comment or send me a note with additional resources you’d like to share.

  1. The Professor is In has continually served to be a guide for my job search. Get familiar with her advice and return to it as needed.
  2. Here is an article by Bob Reys, Barbara Reys, and Anne Estapa on jobs for doctorates in mathematics education (PDF). They utilize the Carnegie Classification in categorizing types of positions. While the data are a bit outdated (2011-2012), it is still relevant, and helps give a feel for some of the variation in jobs in mathematics education.
  3. Check out Ryan Nivens’ article on a comparison of two job offers (PDF). I appreciate the care and attention he gives to factors other than base salary.
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