Job Market Handbook



by Joy Connolly, New York University

Updated September 2014

Like death and taxes, the academic market looms, an inevitable and (for many) an ominous prospect. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize its agonies. This website works on the premise is that there is comfort in simply getting a grip on what gaining a PhD involves, including the final crucial stages of going on the market for a job.  For readers still at the early stages of graduate school, it offers a few words on how best to position yourself for employment in the years leading up to the job hunt.  For job-hunters, application deadlines begin in early October and end with the late-breaking or “second-pass” openings in March and April, so start thinking about the market in summertime, and reserve plenty of time in the early autumn to polish your file. Here are the necessary steps, from Year 1 to the interview.


Your job in your first few years as a graduate student is to take a thoughtfully selected range of seminars and other courses, write full-length seminar papers, learn the tools of the trade from L’Annee Philologique to Pauly-Wissowa to CIL to the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, read as much Latin, Greek, history, and secondary scholarship as possible, pass exams, get some teaching experience, and get to know your departmental faculty.  If you can, take a course or attend lectures in another department, where you will meet other types of students and possibly learn a great deal from their work and interests.  

Above all, you need to take control of your intellectual and professional formation in an active, assertive mode that is likely (and should be) very different from your undergraduate experience.  Depending on the culture of your department, you will not necessarily be given a lot of easily digestible information up front about crucial issues like coursework, exams, advising, publishing, teaching, and so on.  You must accustom yourself to inquiring about these things.  The expectation is that you are always on the qui vive to figure out how the program works, what the faculty expect of you, and what new paths may be open to you, intellectually speaking.  This skill will prepare you for your first years as an assistant professor, where you are likely to receive minimal spontaneous feedback about teaching and research.   

Part of taking control in this way means reading everything you can get your hands on.  Follow up footnotes.  Read non-canonical Greek and Latin texts.  Ask departmental faculty what formative texts they read in graduate school.  Read comparatively in Chinese or Hebrew studies or anthropology or economics.  Read foundational theoretical texts.  Read classical scholarship of an earlier era.  Form a reading group if you like.  Keep it fun -- don't force yourself to read feminist film criticism when you'd rather read Heidegger.  Just keep reading.   

A common frustration in these years is course availability.  What happens when you're an historian in a literature-heavy department?  Or if you're interested in philosophy in a program that concentrates on literature, and the two faculty who share your interests happen to be chairing the department and away on sabbatical in your first two years?  The first answer: make the most of your seminars.  Consult your professors early in the term, explain your interests, and ask them for help in crafting a seminar paper that meets their expectations while furthering your interests too.  Be aware that most faculty don't have skins of iron: they may interpret your comments as critical of them or the class or as dismissive of their fields and interests.  Go the extra mile in making it clear that you want to learn what they have to teach; you're not trying to challenge their course design or to find a "work-around" on the material.  And keep an open mind.  Material that strikes you in the first two weeks of class as alien or boring may prove crucially useful in your first years of teaching, when you're serving as department undergraduate adviser, or at the moment when your dissertation leads you in an unexpected direction.  The second answer: consult with the graduate adviser or a trusted faculty member about independent study.  

It’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to contribute to the field in the years right after graduate school. Do you want to write a landmark study of pre-Socratic philosophy? A textbook of prose composition? A commentary?  A ground-breaking critical analysis of Roman lyric, or a history of sexuality, or a study of democracy theory, Greek aesthetics, or Homeric epic? Get in the habit of mulling over possible dissertation topics. Consider starting a journal that tracks your interests through various seminars and teaching experiences, as well as files of texts or articles that might come in handy later on. Recording your intellectual development in this way also helps you prepare for exams.

During years 1-3, and certainly by the end of your third year, you should consult with your Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and other faculty members you feel comfortable talking to about publicly presenting a paper. Regional conferences like CAAS or CAMWS, graduate student-organized colloquia, or in-house brown-bag lunches will accustom you to the lifetime professional practice of lecturing and handling Q&A. Funds are sometimes available from your home institution to cover travel expenses.  Be creative and persistent.  Ask your graduate Director and/or the larger Graduate School administration for information.  

Many students consider trying to publish a seminar paper in their third or fourth year.  While not strictly necessary for success in the job market, and while I have personal reservations about the quality of much such material, professionally speaking, this is increasingly common.  To avoid the pitfalls of publishing juvenalia, get support and advice from at at least two faculty, who should read and approve the piece before you submit it to journals.  Get advice on where to send it: some journals have substantially shorter response times than others and some are simply easier to publish in than others.   Don’t let the article take up time you need to devote to program requirements.  Having one or two acceptable (but not ground-shaking) articles on your CV will not help you much on the job market if you’re still ABD ("all but dissertation") in your seventh or eighth year.  

Don’t prepare for any exams alone.  Read Greek and Latin texts in small groups with other students on the weekends.  For your field exams, or general PhD exams, least nine months ahead of time, start asking advanced students, the DGS, and other faculty for advice. Get hold of old exams if you can.  Make sure you understand the structure and purpose of the exams the year you are taking them: different faculty members have different standards for Latin and Greek translation exams, in particular.   Find out how exam committees are chosen. Discuss with the DGS which faculty will set the written exams and sit on the orals committee. It’s your responsibility to know the identity and roles of these people -- the faculty are there to consult, but they will almost certainly not reach out to start the conversation: they're waiting for you.  You should meet with them and get a sense of what they expect.  

Keep up with seminar papers and language exams.  Ask more advanced students how they coped with the workload.  

Consider the question of a dissertation adviser. Ideally, as you begin serious preparation for your exams, you will start identifying topics and discussing them with faculty members you think might work well as an adviser.  Once you finish exams, this is your first priority. Normally faculty don’t fight over students, but in order to avoid confusion and embarrassment, it’s best to clarify whom you would like to work with as your adviser and who will serve as the secondary readers (usually two to three people, but find out your institution’s rules). Don’t announce publicly that X is your adviser until you talk to X, and don’t assume that X will say yes; X may have too many commitments, sabbatical plans, or other issues that lead him/her to recommend a colleague instead.  

Reach out to one or two faculty in your research area at other universities in your third or fourth year -- earlier if you feel comfortable and have a good reason.  Ask your home faculty for guidance and/or introductions.  Don't hassle them with demands for comments on papers or recommendations for basic readings on a theme, but if you have a particular topic you want to discuss, you are free to ask them for a half hour of their time to explore it.  These people may turn out to be crucial in shaping your interests and expertise; they may also end up serving on your dissertation committee and/or writing letters of recommendation for you.   

Last but not least, these years are an opportunity for you to learn how to be a good departmental citizen. Classics departments all over the world are usually small groups that thrive most when the burden of institutional work is fairly shared, so this skill is crucial to your future success and happiness in the field. What this involves depends partly on your taste: you may want to organize a graduate reading group in Greek or literary theory, social get-togethers with faculty or students from other departments, or university-wide committee on graduate student issues. 

You might not have time for any of that.  However, there are a few “good citizenship” practices that are not optional, no matter how overworked or stressed you feel:

1)  If there’s a job search in your department, you must not leave the work to others.  Go to the job talks, meet the candidates, talk to your fellow students, think about how to assess intellectual strengths and weaknesses in a constructive way. It won’t be long before you’re in the hot seat of a campus visit, and it’s very helpful to have seen how candidates handle themselves. 

2)  Try to ensure that your fellow students and at least one faculty member (in addition to the DGS) has a good grasp of your work, your interests, and your dissertation plans, however rough they are. Why is this a matter of good citizenship? It makes you available to others as a colleague: it allows others to draw on your expertise and energy. It’s also crucial to develop sources for reference letters early on.  Many institutions have dissertation fellowship opportunities for which you will apply in your fourth year, and these require at least two and often three or four letters of reference.  If you have discussed your dissertation topic only with your adviser, your other letter-writers will be forced to fall back on their knowledge of you from seminars two to three years in the past: this is not desirable.    

3)  Attend departmental talks, even if they fall outside your current interests. Attend departmental talks, even if they fall outside your current interests.  Attend departmental talks...  You get the idea. You never know what might grab your attention: and these events are chances to get to know the field and the people who populate it. Classics is a very small world.  When you walk into an interview where one of the interviewers gave a talk in your department a year or two earlier, it’s much nicer to be able to thank him for his lecture than blushingly stammer that you were preparing for class and you couldn't make it and you really regret it and... Aside from the networking, though, much more important is the fact that visiting lectures are important thought-sharing moments: the best of them can radically change your views or interests in one earth-shattering hour. And even if the lecture doesn’t rock your world, it gives you a chance to hone your question-asking skills—experience you’ll be grateful for as a young assistant professor, when asking questions is an unavoidable part of the job.  You will also learn from your fellow students' and your professors' reactions: you will find out what interests them and why, how they tackle questions, what they view as strong and weak arguments.  If a departmental talk is boring, it's worth remembering it's probably at least partly your fault.  

CONGRATULATIONS, YOU’RE ABD: Writing the Dissertation Proposal

You’re on your own. No more classes, no more exams; and pep talks with faculty and friends only help so much. So the first step toward writing your proposal, and indeed, writing the dissertation, is:

Organize your time effectively

Keep a calendar. If you find days passing and you feel you’re achieving little or nothing, try tracking 48 hours in a row, like an astronaut. Write down every 2 hours exactly how you’ve spent your time; at the end of the two days, evaluate the report. Don’t waste time berating yourself for wasting time. Just know and avoid your time-wasters: the internet, videogames, cleaning, TV, novel-reading, grading or preparing to teach, having long phone conversations. Try varying your workspace: work at home, or move to the library for a few days. Being surrounded by people in a library or department can keep your brain sharper and limit the sense of isolation that inevitably arises when one undertakes a long, solitary writing project.

Don’t underestimate the time it takes to think through a topic before the actual business of producing pages starts. But set a firm deadline for the proposal submission and stick to it.

Make the mental transition to ABD status

Though you probably need it now more than ever, don’t expect faculty to badger you. Just as you are preparing for the next stage of your career, whether it’s an assistant professorship, post-doc, or a schoolteaching job, so they are accustoming themselves to that transition, moving from thinking of you as a student to considering you a junior colleague of sorts. Consequently they will exert far less control over your time and how you spend it.

Without developing a hefty case of paranoia, remember that how you present yourself at this stage will directly affect your faculty’s opinion of you (and their letters of recommendation). It’s one thing to pass in every single seminar paper late (a fault to which I remorsefully confess); it’s another to wander aimlessly through the dissertation process, complaining to everyone you meet, broadcasting every moment of despair and hopelessness. Those moments will come; they will pass. Not everyone needs to know about them.  So strengthen your self-confidence and sense of direction. Remember your successes in the past: ideas you mastered, books you read, exams you aced.

Choose an adviser, and be sure that s/he knows that s/he is your adviser. You may need or prefer to keep talking with several people—I did, and found it immensely stimulating—but you need to identify a single person as an adviser. Consult with the DGS or chair for advice.

Choosing a topic

Only a few people will actually read your dissertation, but it is your springboard into full membership in the field as a professional. It will help get you a job. You’ll mine it for articles or turn it into a book. It’s your chance to expand your mind, develop your writing style, and hone an area of expertise. Start by asking yourself: what do I want to accomplish with this work? What scholarly question in my field do I feel absolutely must be answered, and how can I whittle that down or expand it up into a question others will want answered? Why do I think it’s worth writing about?

That last question: if you can’t answer it, you may as well start filling out applications for law school tonight. When you go on the job market, you’ll have to explain over and over again why you chose the topic you did. If your best answer is “no one had done it yet” or “my adviser thought it was a good idea” or “well, I just happened to be interested in it,” it’s likely that your interviewers will, rightly or wrongly, think less of you. The humanities are suffering in today’s academy, and tomorrow’s academics need to be more than nice gentleman or lady scholars. They need to convince students that ideas matter, and the best way to prove that you can pull that off—to your potential hirers and to yourself—is to choose a dissertation topic that matters to you. Then it’s up to you to make it matter to others.

Know that your final choice will involve the trauma of closing doors to other topics that interest you, but this is just a temporary situation. You’ll be able to work on other things soon: in fact, if you organize your time efficiently enough, you can give papers or try writing something short on your secondary topic right away. If you find yourself hopelessly torn between two totally disparate topics: say, Sophocles and civic ideology or metaphor in Seneca, ask yourself: with whom will I work on this topic? In which area do I want to teach for my first few years out of grad school? Has one of these topics been worked to death in the scholarship? Which topic connects up with interesting research undertaken in other disciplines?

What kind of scholar do I want to be: a cultural theorist or a literary critic? a papyrologist or a historian? a well-informed traditionalist or a well-informed innovator? Do I want to be the kind of intellectual that likes to read Critical Inquiry, AJP, The New York Review of Books or JRS? How does the topic fit into my sense of myself as a thinker?

Scan the APA or MLA newsletter for announcements of dissertations completed. What kinds of questions are your peers asking? How are your ideas similar or different? Check out the forthcoming publications from major presses in your field (if you don’t know what these are, you have your work cut out for you: begin with Princeton, California, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Routledge, Chapel Hill). Read work published by young scholars: their first books are often based on their dissertations. Can you imagine your work being developed in such a way?

Look at recent dissertations in your department and in departments near you. Ask your faculty for examples of dissertation abstracts.

Steps toward writing a proposal

Keep a journal of what you’re reading and the ideas that come to you as you read. It serves you well years into your teaching career. I keep three types: a commonplace book filled with provocative quotations that stick in my mind (from scholarship, film, novels, poetry, essays, news articles); a weekly list of what I’m reading and why I find it interesting, which I keep in my appointments calendar; and an ongoing book of ideas, successive volumes of which I’ve been scrawling since 1995 and which inspire me when my brain feels soft.

Create an ideal timeline of your planned progress, keeping in mind the dates of coming APAs or other conferences where you might present your work or go on the market.

Do not sit down to write the proposal until you can do the following:

1) State your argument in two sentences. Try two versions: one for your colleagues and one for your college-educated but non-academic friends or family. Both should be lucid and compelling. Like any writing exercise, even the 10 page paper, your argument must have a thesis. “Patterns of praise in Latin panegyric” is not enough. “Patterns of praise in Latin panegyric reveal the evolution of conceptions of virtue in aristocratic Roman culture” is better. “Coin imagery from second century Sicily” is not enough. “Coin imagery from third century Sicily demonstrate the following major change in east-west patterns of trade and social thought...” is better.

2) List the 1-3 most important primary texts and 10 most important secondary texts for your research. 

3) Describe your methodology in 1 sentence: e.g., psychoanalytic theory; epigraphical analysis; prosopography; speech-act theory; New Historicism. If you have no method, keep reading and thinking, and talk to your adviser. Combining methodologies is fine.

4) List the types of scholars who will find your project interesting. If it’s just Homerists or Vergilians, you’ve got a problem. Broaden your thinking so that you can frame the question in a way that will speak to Latinists, or people working on archaic Greece, or people in another discipline (English, history, anthropology) who might find your work relevant to their interests.

5) List the 2-3 articles or books that you find most inspiring and useful; in two sentences for each, explain why. At least one should be from outside your direct area of research.

Final steps before writing the proposal

Erase your brain of narrow-mindedness. You’re a graduate student, and unlike many of the people whose work you’ll be reading, you haven’t been doing this job for very long. Deciding that X methodology is hopelessly stupid or Y scholar is an idiot smacks of immaturity and mental laziness. So don’t formulate your thinking from a negative base.

Instead, focus on the joys of idea-making. Consider how your work will make a positive impact, not just to your field but to the humanities at large. It might help to imagine what direction you’d ideally like the field to move toward and how your work will help do this.

Develop an ideal table of contents.

Structuring the proposal

Your institution will have rules that you must follow. But a good proposal does four things:

1) It states the thesis in 1-2 sentences, and then expands the explanation to 1-2 paragraphs.
2) It provides a clear and honest chapter outline.
3) It sets the context for the research by briefly reviewing the scholarly literature and intellectual trends relevant to the topic, making clear the dissertation’s contribution to the tradition or where the dissertation breaks new ground.
4) It gives the dissertation a clear and helpful title (even if it changes, and it probably will).


You should consider submitting a paper for presentation at the APA, regional conference, or graduate student conference during the first year of writing. Stay on top of deadlines: normally February to March for APA panels, May for APA individual abstracts, and throughout the year for other conferences. Plan to submit an abstract to the APA for presentation at the Annual Meeting the year you go on the market; this means submitting an abstract up to 12 months before you apply for jobs.

The two simple keys to finishing graduate school now are: limiting procrastination and recording your achievements of small chunks of work every week.


May and June

Consult with your adviser and confirm that you’re making sufficient progress on the dissertation to go on the market in the upcoming academic year. Be sure that each member of your committee—ideally, the entire department—knows about your plans, so that they may prepare to write letters and to spread your name around informally as they learn of new job openings over the summer and early fall.

At this stage, if it hasn’t come up in casual conversation already, consider asking your adviser whether it is appropriate to invite a faculty member from another university to sit on your committee. Their answer may be no, and that’s fine, but it’s worth asking. Getting a perspective from outside your home department can be useful, and search committees are generally impressed by job candidates who have support (i.e., letters of recommendation) from outside faculty. That said, though, it’s worth emphasizing that your home faculty are your first and best source of support.

Thanks to the efforts of Ortwin Knorr and Christopher Nappa of the APA/AIA Joint Committee on Placement, you may now find extensive and very helpful advice on the job application process on the APA website. Read their notes now.

July and August

Create a dossier in your department or Career or Placement office. Be sure you are familiar with their internal procedures and deadlines.

Solicit recommendation letters from faculty; remind them that your dossier must be complete no later than the first week of October. It may seem early to make the request, but they’ll appreciate being asked sooner rather than later. (Further information on recommendation letters appears below.)

Register yourself as a job candidate with the SCS (cheaper if you register by early in the fall). You may register on the Web at the address printed at the end of this booklet. Once you register, the SCS Placement Service will (a) provide you with up-to-date listings of job openings, and (b) include your CV in their candidate catalog sold to search committees (and any other interested parties). You may choose to receive the updated job listings via e-mail. In order to register for the Placement Service, you must be a member in good standing of the SCS, so be sure that your dues are paid in full. See their guidelines and advice. (Then follow their link back to this handbook.) 

The WCC listserv also sends out notifications and reminders of many (not all) new positions as they are announced; a good reason to join!

Finish your application file. This normally includes a curriculum vitae; a cover letter; at least 3 letters of recommendation; and writing sample(s). On occasion, you will be asked to provide a separate description of your research and/or teaching interests, and many institutions now request teaching dossiers. Not every department will require a transcript, but be prepared to send out an official copy from both graduate and undergraduate institutions.

Politely remind your letter-writers that you are indeed going on the market this year. Forewarn them that in September, you will provide them with your CV, cover letter, and relevant writing samples or dissertation material. Ask them if they need anything else to write their letters (transcript, seminar paper, teaching evaluations).

Presumably, you hope to secure a tenure-line post. But competition is tough, so prepare alternatives now. This means researching external grants and fellowships, especially post-doctoral fellowships—the latter being a great way to gain some teaching experience before starting the tenure clock. Deadlines fall as early as September/October and continue through the year, so move fast. Post-doctoral fellowships can be difficult to track down, but it’s well worth the effort, especially on those days when you’re making slow progress on your dissertation. Consult your graduate director, fellow students, and your graduate dean’s office for information about internal sources of funding. Remember to look beyond your university’s typical “dissertation fellowship fund” (if one exists) for competitive grants open to applicants from all over the university. 

Sources for dissertation funding and post-doctoral fellowships are available in some predictable places: the Mellon Foundation (especially the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the National Research Council, the Fulbright Program, the American Association of University Women. They pop up in less predictable places too: check publications like the Chronicle of Higher Ed for advertisements and do a few thorough searches on the internet. Keep a sharp eye out for fellowships offered at Humanities Centers and various specialized institutes. Mellon Foundation post-docs relevant to most classicists, historians, and archaeologists are offered through various universities and humanities centers, sometimes chosen according to a theme (“globalism,” “race,” “borders,” and so forth) which changes yearly or every two years. For now, until the Mellon Foundation provides a full list, you will have to hunt these down university by university.  

Sign up for any and all services offered by your university notifying students of these opportunities. One useful resource is the IRIS database:

Ask faculty where they and recent graduates have applied for post-doctoral support. Google “society of fellows” to learn more about opportunities at Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, and elsewhere.

Be adventurous: a couple of days spent web-surfing and talking to the graduate dean’s office will uncover a wider range of opportunities than you might expect. The Spencer Foundation funds scholars of education; some political think tanks (oriented toward conservative, liberal, feminist, cultural, and religious issues) will fund classical scholarship; women’s organizations fund research into women’s history and feminist theory; arts organizations, while underfunded themselves, might add a welcome top-up to your funding; other places to look include the Carnegie Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Read the grants and fellowships notices in the Chronicle, the APA newsletter, the New York Review of Books, and any relevant newsletter in other disciplines.

The Application File

The SCS Placement Service is used by all job candidates and hiring committees.  You are best advised to consult their website for up-to-date information.    

Most applications require the following pieces: 

The CV 

Be sure that it is accurate, up to date, clear and easy to read, without a single error of grammar, spelling, or formatting. The APA website lists the data that must be included. The APA version cannot be longer than 2 pages; you may wish to prepare two versions, one long and one short. There are plenty of online resources for CV-writing; an example of the bare necessities is included at the end of this booklet.

Special note on Teaching/Research Interests. This datum consists of a list of anywhere from three to six categories, normally appearing on the first page of the CV prior to the listings of your talks, publications if you have any, teaching experience and so on. Be aware that departmental committees receive scores of CVs, and that your statement of research/teaching interests is likely to classify you more narrowly than you might wish. With this in mind, frame your interests with care, implying breadth and focus simultaneously. You can do this, even though it sounds oxymoronic. Identify your special areas (diss topic, PhD exams, etc.) and then broadly contextualize them in terms of a chronological period, genre and/or your theoretical interests.

The importance of putting some thought into this is demonstrated by the following example. Department X wishes to hire in Greek Drama, but the committee is aware that senior scholar M, a Homerist, loves to teach Sophocles. To avoid stepping on M’s toes, the committee decides to focus their search on junior scholars who do not specialize in Sophocles. Candidate Z has written a dissertation on Sophocles and the polis, but is very eager to teach outside her dissertation area, and in fact is planning a major article on Aeschylus. She is fully prepared to explain this in her interview. Unfortunately, she lists her research interests as “Sophocles, ancient education, Seneca, performance theory”; the committee scans the list, looks at her dissertation title and abstract, and decides to put her file on hold. Needless to say, this is an extreme example, and of course there are bound to be committees here and there who desire narrow specialization above all. In general, however, describing yourself in generalized terms places you at lower risk for the kind of pigeon-holing that could adversely affect the fate of your application. Candidate Z would have been better off with a simple change: “Greek and Roman tragedy, ancient education, performance theory” (she might add up to two additional topics).

Cover Letters

Other aspects of the job hunt are either beyond your control (such as letters of recommendation) or a done deal (your transcript and CV). By contrast, the cover letter offers you the sole opportunity to describe yourself in the manner you think best. Use it wisely. While, as Plutarch says, one should not exalt oneself as a young deity of academe, don’t be afraid to sing your own praises in a matter-of-fact way, describing your research interests and their significance in the field, publications if you have them, teaching successes, public lectures (including invited appearances at in-house courses and graduate student colloquia), and so on. You don’t have time to write a different letter for each job application. This is worth repeating: you don’t have time to write a different letter for each job application. You have a dissertation to finish! Instead write two different templates, one for research institutions and one for smaller colleges, and touch them up with a bit of personalization later on.

Nowadays, many departments maintain informative websites, and committees expect to see evidence in the cover letter and interview that applicants have visited their website and gained some familiarity with faculty, the student body, and departmental degree programs. If you are applying to more than 8 or 10 jobs, you will not have time to research all of them in detail; but try to work one or two small pieces of institution- or department-specific information into your letter. (At the stage of the on-campus interview, of course, you must familiarize yourself with the publication areas of your potential colleagues and the special strengths of the department before arriving on campus.) Be sure your information is current. Above all, do your best to express your enthusiasm for your dissertation topic and the field in general. Engage your readers! While they have dozens of files to read, they will take note of eloquent letters that communicate intellectual depth and personal verve.

Of course, you can take your stand in the cover letter using a much plainer structure and style than the one described below. Plenty of successful job applicants simply cover the basics and let the rest of the file speak for itself. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea that the letter is a textual extension of yourself, this is the route for you. Just be sure the letter is professional, polite, and well-edited, so that its brevity isn’t misinterpreted as lack of interest.

What to include: where you saw the ad; topic of dissertation and adviser; research and teaching interests, including plans for immediate future; assorted relevant information (in brief); formal request for interview. One full page can do it; stop before going over 1 1/2 pages.

Detailed advice on structure:

1) Opening Paragraph: keep it straightforward. Specify the job and where you saw the ad. Set the tone: for a research university, “I would like to apply for the tenure-track position in Greek history that was advertised on the APA website...” whereas for a small college you might try, “I was excited to see the advertisement for your teaching position in Latin.” Describe your main research and teaching interests in one dynamic sentence.

2) Paragraph on your Research Interests, featuring your dissertation as the star example. Cut this down to 2-4 sentences describing the high points: the texts you work with, the main argument/topic in 1 sentence, and your theoretical orientation if you want. If you’re concerned that you’re selling your dissertation short, and you simply must tell them more, then refer your reader to a 1 page abstract (please, no longer) that you can enclose with the rest of the application. In this paragraph, convey a sense of why your work needs doing. Don’t say “this study has never been done” but rather why it’s important to do now: if you think it should interest people who work on literary theory, ancient philosophy, science, now’s the time to say so. In the eyes of the committee, breadth and excitement about your research bode well for your teaching persona and collegial potential.

3) A Short “show-off” Paragraph, highlighting 1-2 things you’re proud of (special lecture for someone else’s class, conference presentation, an article). If you can spin this into a short gesture toward future research, all the better: e.g., “In my APA presentation on this topic I argued that... This talk, along with my dissertation chapter on Varro, is pointing the way to future work on...” If showing off makes you uncomfortable, then describe your next project. This is important: the committee will interpret this not only as a sign that you’re ready to hit the ground running in your research and near-future publication record, but as a hint about what you’re prepared to teach.

4) Paragraph on your Teaching Interests. As always, try to make a smooth transition from topic to topic. Show range, but think carefully before you let them see every eccentric angle of the real you (e.g. “I never teach Homer without getting students to fight mock battles in Bronze Age armor they make themselves”). Points like that make your letter stand out, but you may want to aim instead for a more conventional combination of solid and adventurous: “I’ve found that Hollywood westerns enrich my courses on mythology and epic.” Or: “In my Latin language classes I like to discuss Latin’s influence in the western tradition, usually by asking students to compare several adaptations of Ovid by Christopher Marlowe and Ted Hughes.” Incorporation of creative projects, web research, cross-disciplinary work, or an innovative approach to teaching grammar — say, by including a brief crash course on the Indo-European language family — will put your interests and skills center stage.

5) Extra Information. Your next project, if you haven’t already mentioned it; special reasons why you’re perfect for this job. For the latter, write 2 versions, one for small college, one for big university. If it's a job you especially want, you might mention the English department’s famous scholar of the classical tradition, or the school’s reputation if you can make it sound sincere; e.g. the core at Chicago or the intense small college atmosphere at the University of Puget Sound. Family connections to the area, including spousal/partner’s employment there, or a special desire to teach at the school (for a specific and plausible reason!) are fine, but don’t lay on the sentiment with a trowel. Don’t say that you’d like to have professor X as a colleague; it’s tacky and sounds like a graduate student application.

6) Closing. Interview contact information over the holidays.

This is the template for the big research university. You can certainly mix up the order of these paragraphs according to your taste, especially 3 and 4. For small colleges, you can make the “showoff” paragraph teaching-related, and stress how your teaching interests segue into your scholarship.

Letters of Recommendation

For APA jobs, 3-5 letters is standard for applicants still in a graduate program. If you’re teaching in a temporary slot or doing a post-doc, solicit 1-2 additional letters from your chair and/or other supportive colleague at your current institution. For MLA jobs, 5 or more letters are the norm. For jobs in other fields, check with members of the relevant departments and the organizations’ official websites (some available at the end of this booklet).  Your letter-writers should aim to cover both teaching and research. Most recommenders will welcome discussion with you on the direction their letters should take, in order to avoid duplicating their colleagues’ comments.  Tell your recommenders who else is writing on your behalf.  A letter from the chair is standard for European jobs, common but not required for positions in the US.

Gone are the days when faculty could simply ask the departmental administrator to mail copies of an all-purpose letter of recommendation.  The brave new world of internet job applications is upon us, and it is neither organized nor consistent.  It can be a nightmare for faculty writing on behalf of up to a dozen (and sometimes many more) students who may be applying to twenty or more posts.  Depending on the institution, faculty may be asked to submit letters by traditional snail mail, by direct email to the job-search chair, or (worst of all) via a password-protected Human Resources website crammed with vacuous mini-questionnaires.  Some students use the Interfolio service, which is convenient except when the faculty member wants to personalize a letter.  And Interfolio is not free.  How best to deal with this mess?  Until a central secure database is established (don’t hold your breath), it is most helpful for faculty when you send each recommender a list that looks like this.  Try to limit yourself to one list per month, and try to convey as much information as possible in long emails: don’t send a dozen short emails that scatter information up and down the faculty member’s inbox.   

Round #1: September 22, 2014

Letters submitted by US Mail:

University of X Full address Deadline

Letters submitted by email:

University of X Email address Deadline

Letters submitted on the internet: you will receive an email with a link *

University of X Deadline

* Keep in mind that the email requesting a letter of reference will not be sent until you activate your application, and in some cases, go through a specific reference-request process.  This means: activate your application as soon as possible.  

As jobs are posted, your list will change.  Keep your lists of rounds separate, and number them, so that faculty can easily track which places they’ve already sent letters to.  

Round #2: October 14, 2012

[same format as above, but do not duplicate institutions]

Round #3: November 1, 2012

And so  on...

Writing Samples

Some schools will ask for a writing sample up front in mid-autumn.  Others will request it at the time they decide on their initial interview list. Ideally, you should have at least two chapters of your dissertation approved by your committee, proofread, polished, and ready to go out as writing samples by mid-October. If not, all is not lost. First send the completed chapter(s); when that source is exhausted, send a copy of your best seminar paper, with the dates and course information removed. If you like, you may write a brief note explaining that the paper represents your research interests beyond the dissertation. Some departments ask for two or more writing samples: simply send more seminar papers (and rush to get the next chapter finished!). Do NOT include an unfinished chapter in your initial application: on this first sweep, they are interested only in polished work. If and when a department asks to see the entire dissertation as it stands (which may happen in late December or January), that is the time to confer with your director, deciding along with him or her which chunks of writing to send and how best to contextualize them.

This having been said, you should be aware that search committees will infer from your choice to send seminar papers as writing samples that your dissertation is not finished. Meet this problem head on. Write the paragraph of your cover letter that describes your dissertation in a highly authoritative and organized fashion; send an abstract of the dissertation, with clear chapter divisions, with the rest of your materials; and if you get to the interview stage, be ready to answer the skeptical question, “So how close to completion is your dissertation?” with aplomb. Of course, you may indeed have only one or two chapters finished at the time of the interview: in this case, be honest, but be sure to express confidently (and in detail) the degree to which you have researched and planned the remaining chapters.

Teaching Dossier

Increasingly, institutions demand personalized responses to questions.  Follow their directions.  But you are well served by preparing a basic “teaching dossier” in summer or early fall that will provide the backbone for individual applications.  This should include:

1) A two to three page statement incorporating the following:

  • a brief, 1 to 2 sentence survey of your teaching experience, keeping in mind that readers can always consult the CV for specifics.
  • Your “teaching philosophy” (a declaration along these lines is sometimes explicitly requested in the job advertisement). Try to avoid sounding too cheerleaderish or vague. You might try to convey some substance to your statement by answering the question: “I believe an education in Classics/the liberal arts should aim to...” or “the single thing most important in teaching to me is...” NB: You may be tempted to highlight your personal experience (“I was originally drawn to Classics by an inspiring high school Latin teacher, whom I’ve tried to emulate by...”). Beware: this approach can come off as amateurish and cheesy. I recommend against it, but you know your own style best.
  • A few specifics on how you encourage student participation, creativity, etc. By the way, this is good prep for variants of the interview question “what exactly about your teaching style best helps students learn?”
  • A short (1 paragraph) description of your methods of evaluation, both evaluation of the students (do you prefer papers to exams? do you incorporate oral exams or presentations into classes?) and self- evaluation. If you’ve used informal assessments in your past teaching, note that and include them in the folder.
  • Another short account (1-2 paragraphs) of what excites you most about your teaching, past and future: think of this as a summary of your accomplishments and what you hope to achieve. Alternatively, explain what distinguishes you from other teachers (use of music or the web, cross-disciplinary projects, and so on).

Along with the statement, you should include:

1.  1-2 syllabuses you’ve used in the past or syllabuses for courses you’ve planned but not yet taught.
2.  Summaries of student evaluations and a half page of representative comments from students. If your university does not make summaries available, you don’t want to load the committee with dozens of xeroxed pages of evaluations, so type out a page of representative comments from students.  If you have no evidence of your teaching at all, consult with your adviser: you may wish to solicit a few letters from students.
3.  Typical final exams you have written (don’t send exams written by faculty with whom you have worked as a TA) or assignments or handouts that worked particularly well (no more than 3-4 of these).

A Word to the Wise

Oversight. Show each item in your file to at least one faculty member (normally the chair of your dissertation committee or the graduate adviser), who may catch unseen errors and generally give you good advice. In most departments, this person (or the DGS) will also willingly vet letters of recommendation, to check for full and fair coverage of your career and accomplishments.

October and early November

Register to attend the APA and make necessary travel plans, including reservations at the official hotel. Staying nearby with friends or family might seem like a good option at first, but once the APA gets going you will probably appreciate having your own place on the spot to relax between talks, interviews, and parties. In any case, try to stay within walking or very short cab distance from the hotel.

Late November and December

Now is the ideal time to settle on the topic of your job talk and to begin a draft. Opinions differ on the competing merits of presenting a dissertation chapter or something entirely unrelated. Your deep knowledge of your dissertation area can be of genuine assistance in the stressful atmosphere of a job talk, boding well for your performance in the Q&A. On the other hand, if you want to show your range and you have a well-developed thesis on hand, think carefully about that option. Be aware that moving far beyond the committee’s job description (e.g., by giving a paper on Alcman when the slot is Roman Prose) is rarely advisable.

At this early stage it’s important to bear in mind that the job market is tight, and even very good candidates can end up empty-handed the first time around. Protect yourself by developing a Plan B and a Plan C.  Look into opportunities for teaching inside and outside the department. Many universities need TAs for courses in General Education, “Great Books,” “western civilization,” or composition. Chairs and graduate advisers, especially if they are new to the post and/or worried about keeping up your morale, won’t always bring up these opportunities of their own accord, and sometimes they delay until the last minute, when it’s too late. This kind of extra-departmental interdisciplinary teaching, while challenging, can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your early career. So ask around, look through the undergraduate course guide, or contact your graduate dean for information. If you’re not sure whether this kind of teaching is right for you, seek out fellow students who have done it. Once you decide, make certain that your adviser and graduate chair know that you’re interested.  

Look outside your home university too: ask faculty for advice about local departments and part-time opportunities that have been available in the past. Teaching high school is an immensely rewarding and financially stabilizing option.  It is also immersive.  Discuss this path with someone who has pursued it.  


The final deadlines for the majority of first-round job applications have come and gone by December 1, and the Annual Meeting (also called “the SCS" (or "APA" for those who aren't used to the new name, or “the convention”) looms ahead. Start your preparations in early December by scheduling a mock interview in your home department. If by some accident you can’t pull enough faculty together to do this for you, request help from market-experienced friends. Commonly asked questions appear below.

Committees will telephone or email you with the welcome news of a convention interview.  Then it’s up to the SCS Placement Service to arrange your available slots.  If you’re giving a paper, remember to avoid scheduling interviews during the panel session.  Be patient with the Placement Service, but if you know you have interviews and you haven’t received a schedule by the end of December, contact the SCS directly and ask for help.

The Annual Meeting usually falls during the first Thurs-Sun in January. Whether you must console loving family members who hate to see you leave post-New Year celebrations, or soothe students disgruntled at your departure from campus at the beginning of term, it makes no difference. You should attend the meeting from the evening it begins to the late afternoon it ends. Thumb-twiddling at the hotel or airport on the final day is better than missing an unexpected interview because you tried to make an early escape from the scene.

If you’re planning to visit family or friends over the holidays, include in your application (at the end of your cover letter or on a separate page, if your plans are complicated) your temporary contact information, with dates of travel and phone numbers clearly marked. If your plans change at the last minute, call or send an e-mail to the chair of the search committee, including those who have not contacted you to ask for an interview: they may simply be running late in their interview decisions. Tell your young relatives to answer the telephone politely and write down messages on paper, not Play-Doh.



Once you register as a job candidate, the SCS will send you a time sheet for each day of the conference on which you must mark down the times at which you will not be available for interviews. If you’re presenting a paper, black out the entire length of the session, because it is considered bad form to leave a panel as soon as you’ve given your talk. File the time sheet with the Placement Service the moment you arrive at the hotel. The Placement Service has run smoothly in recent years, thanks to great effort on their part, but you must do what you can to ensure that you won’t be lost in any unforeseen bureaucratic shuffle.

Once you file your time sheet with the Service, believe it or not, you will be assigned a secret number (this practice may have changed: ask the Placement Service for more information).  Keep a constant eye on the message board near the Service desk for notes bearing that number, and ask non-marketing friends to do the same, because this is the only way search committees can easily contact you. Via this board, you may be asked to come for an on-the-spot interview, to reschedule a previously arranged interview, or meet the committee for a second interview (this happens, and should not be interpreted in either positive or negative terms). Despite some assurances to the contrary, the Placement Service will NOT call your room to inform you that you have a message.

“Smile, everyone, smile!”...THE INTERVIEW

You may face anywhere from two to ten or more people, though three to five is average; from shaking everyone’s hand in greeting to doing it again in farewell approximately a half hour will pass. The best interviews tend to follow the structure of “real” conversation, each answer opening up brief discussion among the group at large. Don’t grow nervous if your interviewers enjoy a minute or two of conversation among themselves, though you may wish to lean forward and make a polite interjection if you feel that time’s a-wastin’.

In the unlikely case you encounter a truly hostile interviewer, bear in mind the following advice. Don’t let yourself get angry or defensive. Try to elicit a clear statement of the nature of his/her problem with you: is it your dissertation topic? methodology? interests? If this leads nowhere, keep in mind that anything from a bad hangover to social ineptitude may lie behind an interviewer’s rudeness. Happily, these people make up a definite minority, and their colleagues will usually be too embarrassed at their discourtesy to think the worse of you or your interview performance. Keep calm, and answer his or her questions as best you can — but avoid going on for too long, and as soon as you finish talking, look around the room in order to invite questions from a different quarter. Most likely, the other members of the group will want to play good cop to the hostile person’s bad cop, so they’ll be quick to jump in with another topic.

The urge to apologize (for the unfinished state of your dissertation, your inability to answer a question) can be overwhelming: resist it! Try to turn any unanswerable questions to your advantage by using them as a springboard to a different issue. The following example of interview mythology, while not intended to stand as an ideal model, offers a useful lesson. One candidate was asked out of the blue to comment on the career and works of Demosthenes. He responded, “Ah, Demosthenes...a great orator...interesting rivalry with Aeschines.” His knowledge of Demosthenes exhausted for the moment, he went on to say, calmly and coolly, “His accomplishments are brought into sharp focus by comparison with an exact contemporary — born and died the same years, 384-322 — Aristotle! Now about Aristotle...”

The understandable desire to build fellow feeling with the interview group can lead down some dangerous paths. Don’t belittle your home institution’s undergraduates or your graduate colleagues (“I can’t wait to be in a place where my students understand me!” “I really wish I had peers who cared more about the field,” etc.). Don’t name-drop. Do not permit your anxiety about your dissertation to take the form of complaints about your adviser (“I meant to finish earlier, but my adviser didn’t give me comments on chapter 3 until the fall”). Beware, in general, of strongly criticizing your home department, even if one of your interviewers makes noises along these lines (“Everyone knows X department has had problems...I hated it when I was there”; “Professor Z still giving pretty students trouble?”). You certainly shouldn’t whitewash your graduate experience if you or others have suffered mistreatment. Remember, though, you’re not on a departmental evaluation committee: you’re being interviewed for a job, and you don’t know the internal dynamics or the collegial connections of the group you’re talking to. Although interviewers will tend to greet lamentation with a sympathetic smile, inside, they’re wondering why you’re wasting time complaining. So, unless for professional reasons you must mention departmental dirty laundry, leave it alone. If someone raises the issue, be honest. Acknowledge the problem, if it exists; or suggest that it’s all ancient history, if that’s true: but deal with it quickly and move on.

The same goes for jeers about others’ scholarship. Differences of opinion over an important trend in your field may well arise, with one or two scholars singled out as examples: this is fine, and can lead to productive exchanges in the interview. But if one of your interviewers expresses criticism in an unprofessional manner, don’t join in. One of his/her colleagues may be silently seething at the spectacle.

Even stolid people are often surprised to find how high emotions can run at the Meeting. What seemed like an interesting new challenge back home may now feel, in the elevator jam-packed with pallid besuited fellow sufferers, more like a capital trial with a hostile jury. By the same token, very tense candidates often discover that the hellish tortures they anticipated amount in fact to exciting interactions with people who are genuinely interested in their work. Because of this emotion-telescoping effect, the biggest challenge of interviewing well depends on you. If you’re nervous, don’t shrink into silence or overcompensate by talking loudly a mile a minute. If you’re confident, don’t self-inflate into an obnoxious version of the real you.

A few words on style. Dress professionally but in a style that feels comfortable to you. That blue suit you haven’t worn since your sister’s wedding or an unfamiliar set of high heels and an ill-fitting “business suit” may have strange effects on your posture and mannerisms. Men are advised to wear coat and tie, but a stylish professional look minus the tie can work well.  Women should avoid evening wear in interviews: however flattering, little black dresses, very high heels and the like are not appropriate professional attire. Because interviews are often conducted in hotel rooms or suites, you may find yourself seated in a low chair or sofa, where a very short skirt can be embarrassing and distracting.  

Walk with confidence. Speak with assurance. Don’t twiddle with pens and pencils. Get a good night’s sleep before your interview — this is what they invented Tylenol PM for — and keep up your blood sugar and accustomed caffeine level through the day. You may want to avoid smoking, especially close to interviews, since the smell of smoke bothers some people, but save quitting until next week: for now, there’s Nicorette. If you had a terrible mock interview, remember that it is almost always the worst, toughest, most embarrassing interview of all; the real thing involves people who want you to do well so that they can see you at your best.

The Annual Meeting is also a chance to meet new colleagues, and classicists are known for enjoying their social time.  Especially if you've been fueled by nervous energy throughout the day, be careful not to drink too much too fast.  Though it’s refreshing to change outfits for the evening parties, be aware that you’re sure to bump into your interviewers, who may be flustered by encountering you in super-informal or club-appropriate attire.  Academics are not the most worldly of people, and many of them hold more conservative ideas than they like to admit, especially about class- and gender-appropriate behavior.  Sorry to say, it is still the case that men’s outfits are usually ignored, but women in tiny t-shirts and tight jeans or low-cut dresses or lots of make-up risk being downgraded on intellect and competence.  Though many of us (including me) find these retrograde attitudes irritating and constraining, they exist and they’re powerful, and they can harm your career prospects.   Keep it vanilla for these three evenings.  Once you have a job, you can work on expanding your colleagues’ values and judgments. 

Interview "Don'ts”

I’ve served on job committees for most of my nearly twenty years as a faculty member.  This is what makes interviewers say “Can you believe s/he said/did that?”  after you walk out of the room.  Worth noting that most of these rules apply just as well to interviewers!  


  • bad-mouth your adviser or committee or department.
  • name-drop famous scholars you know.  
  • lecture the interviewers in a condescending tone.
  • ask about salary or how quickly and often you can go on leave.
  • dismiss the value of undergraduate teaching by contrast to research. 
  • refer more than once to your friendships with one or two interviewers or their partners or friends.   
  • interrupt.  (Social psychologists warn us that both men and women interrupt women more readily than men, so control this socialized tendency.)
  • assume that everyone shares your political views.  
  • yawn or otherwise appear bored.
  • complain without irony or humor in a 9 AM interview that you’re not a morning person.   
  • dismiss the significance of the contribution an interviewer has made to your field of study (“oh, but that article came out twenty years ago, didn’t it?”).
  • look constantly down at your feet, out the window, or up at the ceiling.
  • look at members of one gender only.  
  • ignore younger (or older) interviewers. 
  • focus exclusively on the most well-known scholar in the room.
  • complain that American college students are lazy and stupid and in need of strict discipline.
  • note that not many people really “get” your work. 
  • joke that your committee was too bored by your dissertation to finish reading it.  
  • joke that you don’t know anything about any topic outside of Classics. 
  • joke about suffering from a hangover.
  • go into a lot of detail about illness, surgery, or hospitalization: if it’s relevant to your candidacy or progress in your program, mention it and move on.  
  • volunteer information about your family, especially partner/spouse/kids.  It's illegal for interviewers to ask about these things and any references will make the interviewers uncomfortable.  Put wrong, it can also sound manipulative.   
  • talk for ten minutes straight, disregarding all efforts to interrupt you.  
  • inquire suspiciously why a colleague of the interviewers recently left the department.  
  • make repeated reference to your friendship with the interviewers’ graduate students.  

Common Interview Questions

“Tell us about your dissertation.”

Almost every interview kicks off with this one. Craft 3 different answers to the question according to the manner in which it is asked: a) 3-4 sentences, naming title, topic, author(s), period(s), and main thrust of argument; b) 3-5 minutes, the above plus some elaboration of your argument and the contribution it makes to the field; c) 8-10 minutes, the full-on version. Trot out the last answer only when the interviewer sits back, looks extremely comfortable, and says, “So, why don’t you take ten minutes to tell us all about your dissertation?” Otherwise, stick to the shorter versions, with special attention to version (b). Getting this answer down ahead of time is crucial. You must explain your topic clearly and succinctly without sounding condescending (do not advise your listeners of the dates of canonical authors) and you must explain why they and the field at large should care about it. This doesn’t require arrogance and a huge ego — just well- founded confidence that your work makes a difference, whether to the typologies of Bronze Age archaeology or the study of imagery in Roman epic.

Note that you may well be asked the dissertation question in a social situation (e.g., over cocktails in the hotel bar). Have your briefest answer ready to go at all times: not only is it good practice, but one never knows where such impromptu encounters may lead.

Occasionally, whether from “interview exhaustion” or unwillingness to put the candidate on the spot, interviewers will express interest in your topic, but refrain from asking specific questions. This is an opportunity for you to show off a little, touching on the scholarship that influences your approach and methodology, or presenting a “snapshot” exegesis of a key passage or a knotty and interesting problem that you successfully solved. Don’t lose sight of the clock, and watch out for restlessness in your audience: the committee will be annoyed if you talk so much that they can’t ask you the remaining questions on their list. Still, especially when you are dealing with a department that might be suspicious of your interests, try to show that you are able to engage dynamically and collegially in discussion about your research.

Usually, though, this question usually gives rise to the most interesting back-and-forth of the interview. It can feel like an oral exam—knowing that this is your specialty, interviewers will feel that they can lob just about anything at you—but that’s fine; you know this stuff; have a good time sparring. Keep an ear attuned (and perhaps a pen ready) for important questions that you will want to think more about later: I still remember a great question posed at my very first interview, which helped me frame a book chapter six years later.

Be confident in your ability to explain the impact of your work on the field and the humanities in general. Small colleges are particularly interested in candidates who show ability and interest in connecting their work to other fields in the academy.

“What would you like to teach?”

Another important — and almost inevitable — question. Start by imagining several courses you would be capable of teaching. It helps to review your Ph.D. notes and exams: they constitute your special fields of expertise, and you can easily draw on them to craft classes of all levels and types (large lecture, seminar, etc.). It’s not a bad idea to bring them to the conference; when you’re at your most nervous, they’ll remind you that you are prepared for this next step in your career. Avoid reverting repeatedly to your dissertation topic or closely related areas of specialization. There’s nothing worse than realizing, as the interview is coming to an end, that because of nerves or lack of preparation you’ve answered nearly every question with an appeal to your dissertation area. This narrow field of reference will be the first thing the dismayed committee will remark upon the moment you leave the room.

You may be asked to discuss the following dozen classes on the spot, roughly listed in order of popularity.

  1. Latin or Greek language. For 1st year courses, have a textbook in mind. Don’t be dogmatic about it, and be prepared to defend it diplomatically: your choice may tread on some toes of holy departmental mos maiorum. For 2nd or 3rd year courses, be prepared to name 2-3 specific authors and texts. Show mastery of (and willingness to teach) the classical canon, but don’t be afraid to include an author outside it. Knowledge of secondary literature is key to answering this question thoroughly. You will be expected to name at least two articles or books that you would include on your syllabus, especially for an advanced class. Don’t go overboard, but trot out a few specifics: e.g. whether you’d like your advanced students to write a paper, do some prose comp, perform memorized passages, or take translation tests. The way you answer this gives the committee insight into what you think is important about teaching classical languages and literature. Your description of your upper-level language course on Cicero should aim for more than an emphasis on developing students’ grammar; for your first-year Greek syllabus, skip the Bhabha and Bourdieu.
  2. [Graduate degree-granting departments only] Graduate seminar, your choice of topic. For many research departments, this is a make- or-break question, so answer carefully. Include several concrete examples of primary texts (not “Seneca” but “Seneca’s moral epistles”) and half a dozen readings in secondary literature (try to show off your knowledge of scholarship from the nineteenth century to the present day). Include examples of readings in both primary and secondary literature. Try to avoid areas covered by famous people in the department. Think beforehand about the obvious questions/objections your interviewers might have: e.g., how do you define the generic limits of pastoral/Greek novel/elegy? Will your focus on comparative anthropology/structuralist criticism/textual criticism/New Historicism include critiques of those approaches (i.e., describe those critiques, so we know you know what you’re talking about)? Are you prepared to deal with philosophical or social issues related to your course on poetry? How will you make your seminar in ancient science relevant to our literature students? What role might classical reception play? How will your seminars prepare students to enter the job market? Would you welcome graduate students from other departments into your seminar? Questions like these are designed to probe your approach to the field, your theoretical orientation, and yes, your knowledge and preparedness. If you are in your 20s or early 30s, be aware that you are also being evaluated here as a potential teacher of students in your age range. So hold your ground with your most mature, professional persona.
  3. A genre course, sometimes phrased as “your dream course.” The point for the committee here is to test several things: what really fires up your engine as a teacher and a thinker, where you can comfortably range within and beyond classical literature and its traditional themes, and how creatively you approach the job of teaching in general. Hot themes in the bleak market years of the late Naughties: “monsters and the monstrous in western literature,” “travel narratives,” “the Mediterranean/Rome/Athens in the global imagination,”  “science/utopia in antiquity,” the “digital humanities,” courses on literature or history that include the study of material culture, courses in classical reception.  
  4. “Classical Civilization.” When preparing for this question, focus on putting an innovative spin on canonical topics. You may want to ask a few questions of the committee before launching into your answer; otherwise you risk wasting time describing a straightforward ancient history course when they’re really interested in hearing your thoughts on how to integrate canonical authors, art, and major philosophers.
  5. Greek and Roman Mythology. Does the department currently treat the course as an introduction to ancient literature? or ancient culture? or theories of myth? Make it clear that you are willing to respond to their current needs, but are happy to innovate as well.
  6. A course that involves the reception of classical thought or the impact of classical literature/culture on later periods.
  7. Prose composition. Have a textbook or methodology in mind.
  8. Ancient history — even if you focus on literature; or a literature survey—even if you’re a historian. This question isn’t necessarily intended to humiliate you by revealing possible areas of ignorance. Many departments face severe budget cuts, making professors who are willing to do double-duty across disciplines highly desirable commodities. 
  9. “Great Books.” Pay close attention to the manner in which the interviewer asks the question. S/He might love to teach the canon; or perhaps not.
  10. Any course that could be cross-listed with another department. 

According to general report, questions 1-3 are asked in most interviews. Your answer should include the texts you plan to use, the major themes you will cover, and (in brief) any innovative thoughts you might have on the subject. Use your common sense: what do you really want students to learn from your classes? and you’ve got these questions down.

If you have syllabuses from the past, or if making up a syllabus is your favorite thing to do late at night, proofread them carefully, print out a bunch and hand out them at this stage in the interview. But don’t waste valuable dissertation time on imaginary classes.

“What would you prefer NOT to teach?”

A mean, tricky question but one worth preparing for. Consider looking the asker in the eye and saying, “At this stage in my career, I can’t imagine: every text seems exciting!” Or if the Doris Day act doesn’t come easily, try the tortured intellectual: “What can I say? I love Pindar so much, but the beauty of his Greek is so difficult to convey...”

“What are your research plans beyond the dissertation?” sometimes framed as “What would you like to have accomplished in the next five years?”

A crucial question. Do not simply tell them that you plan to revise your dissertation into a book. Be prepared to go beyond the thesis, describing at least one new and respectably-sized project in detail. It doesn’t have to be a plan for the second book, though that makes for an excellent answer: material for a solid article or two will suffice. In the absence of specific plans, the easiest and quickest way to deal with this is to choose a couple of seminar papers you’ve already written and in which you’re still interested, familiarize yourself with recent scholarship, and plan your answer accordingly. The point here is to continue to sound perfectly sure of yourself even after the conversation has moved away from your dissertation.

“What’s your take on theory, OR, how does theory influence your work?”

Much more popular in the 1990s than nowadays, but the question of where you stand on theory still pops up--though now it is occasionally asked with the hope and expectation that theory is central to your work. As with any ideologically loaded question, watch to see how it is expressed, and answer diplomatically but truthfully. Your letters and your writing sample will have addressed this honestly anyway.

“What is your teaching philosophy?”

This question has grown more common recently — unfortunately, in my view, since it tends to elicit vapid responses even from fine candidates. It’s impossible to answer this poser on the spot, so prepare a decent reply now.  Consider that answering this question the same way to committees from a top-notch research university and from a small college is probably a bad idea.  Two productive responses I’ve encountered are: 

1) seize the opportunity to leave the committee with a vivid image of you as a well-prepared and inspiring teacher, preferably via an example from your graduate TA experience: your use of oral exercises in the Latin 1 classroom, your views on peer review, your commitment to student involvement in creative writing projects. 

2) Transform the question into a question about the core methodology or values of your field.  One young historian I know answered this question exceptionally well by tying a few well-put sentences about the importance of analyzing primary evidence together with a very short anecdote about students who don’t understand the difference between primary and secondary sources.  It perfectly spotlighted his sophistication as a historian, his sensitivity to undergraduate perspectives, and his commitment to rigorous teaching.   

“Name several scholars who have influenced your work, or whose work you admire.”

This is definitely worth thinking over beforehand. If you can avoid mentioning scholars engaged in long-running feuds with your interviewers, so much the better. Also try to avoid mentioning the names of your committee or the people sitting around the table (a consequence of temporary brain-freeze that I recall from bitter experience!).

“How did you first become interested in Classics? Where do you think Classics / the humanities / the study of literature stands today / is going in the future?”

Be enthusiastic, but avoid naivete. Many classicists are preoccupied with the second set of questions, especially those who have dealt with years of budgetary constraint, so they come up more regularly than you might expect. Give yourself a refresher course on current issues in American education by reading recent issues of the NY Review of Books or the Chronicle.

“What kinds of administrative roles might you be willing to take up?”

Often there is complicated departmental history here that you don’t know about (or if you do, you should probably keep it to yourself). Maybe they’re looking for a near-future chair, or someone to run the undergraduate curriculum; maybe they’re just testing out how you’ll react to the prospect of a bit of extra work. Answer truthfully. Don’t recoil with horror or laugh with power-hungry glee.

“We have a small department at the moment, but we have plans to grow. How do you think you might contribute to that effort?”

Answer according to context. Small college? Talk about teaching great undergraduate courses and attracting more majors, thereby justifying more hires to the dean. Research university? Talk about the above, but add graduate mentoring. Or put your own swing on things. Be aware that this question (like the one just above) may be designed to test your readiness to get involved in departmental issues, and/or your grasp of the challenges facing many Classics departments today—the latter especially if you come from a top program and are interviewing at a conspicuously less prestigious place.

“Why would you like to teach at our elite research university / small college in the middle of nowhere / enormous state university?”

Familiarize yourself with the place where you are interviewing: but if memory or inspiration fails, lob the question back to them after a brief but enthusiastic encomium on the virtues of the place, i.e., “Ah, the American southwest, I’ve always wanted to live there, such a culturally diverse place...actually, this gives me an opportunity to ask you...”  Which leads to the next issue:

“Do you have any questions for us?”

Don’t ask if their library is any good or how talented the students are; ask them about their cultural life on campus, what thoughts they have about increasing their majors, how to integrate students into one’s own research, and so on. In any case, think beforehand of something to ask — otherwise you run the risk of appearing bored or uninterested in their job.

“What are your hobbies?”

Wow them. Like to belly-dance, coach, cook, or do community service? Tell them why. A question like this means that they are interested in you as a person, as a colleague, as someone they hope to enjoy having in their department and, to a certain extent, in their social life. Be honest, but also be aware that you must perform yourself, playing up the best of your character, your interests, and your sociability.


Take good care of yourself over the weeks prior to the convention. Bring herbal teabags; the hotel will likely provide free urns of coffee and tea throughout the morning, but you may want to avoid drinking too much caffeine. Granola bars and chocolate can help you get through a trying day with little time to eat. Aspirin, Tums, and cough drops are good ideas, the last essential if you are giving a paper. Most interview committees will give you a glass of water and a pitcher at the beginning of the interview as a matter of course, but if they don’t, ask for it — taking a slow sip of water or pouring an extra glass can give you that crucial extra second to polish your answer to perfection! And finally, enjoy yourself: this is not an impossible task, since there are plenty of parties throughout the evenings, giving you a chance to meet your peers as well as schmooze with your elders. Keep an eye out for everyone-is-invited, junior- friendly parties like the Women’s Classical Caucus opening night bash, and during the day, if you have the energy, consider attending an informal roundtable discussion (past years at the APA and regional conventions have featured discussions of teaching in the wake of 9/11, family issues in hiring and promotion, preparing work for publication, and town/gown relations).


Following the convention, you will eagerly check e-mail and voice-mail for the great good news of an on-campus interview. I cannot offer the specialized advice you will need to solicit from your advisers at this point. I hope, however, that it has been helpful throughout the early stages of graduate school and going on the market.


SCS: http:// www.apaclassics.orgThe Society for Classical Studies 



A.L. De Neef and C.D. Goodwin. The Academic’s Handbook. 2nd Edition. Durham, 1995.

Author’s Notes. I would like to thank Jacqui Sadashige of the University of Pennsylvania for writing the original version of this handbook, and for her permission to expand it to its present form. Several passages of her original booklet remain incorporated here.

This document is intended to express my informed opinions, which are in turn informed by a number of colleagues in the field. Under no circumstances should these comments supersede advice offered to prospective job applicants by other knowledgeable individuals, especially faculty in their home departments. It is intended as an informal introduction to graduate school in Classics and the process of going on the Classics job market and does not aim to represent the final word on any matter. It is not designed to encourage increased professionalization or corporatization of an already thoroughly corporatized profession; it aims to supply civil advice and comfort to those caught up in the machine.

Please send comments, suggestions, and constructive criticisms to Joy Connolly at