History Placement Program

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John Sweet
Director of Graduate Placement

Welcome to the job search! Do you want a great job? Do you want to develop career that puts your years of hard work in graduate school to good use? That pays the bills? That allows you to develop professionally? Do you know what a “great job” for you would look like? If so, there remains another basic question: How do you land it? The job search is the process by which you identify what opportunities are out there in the world, decide which ones you want to pursue, and figure out how best to represent yourself to potential employers.

The History Placement Program is here to help you take control of this process. The series of workshops below are designed to introduce the basic structure and demands of the job market and to suggest some strategies you can use to strengthen your applications. Be advised: the job search can be a long process and it can require a substantial investment of time and energy. But such investments can reap handsome rewards. You can’t control how search committees make their decisions. But you can control which committees see your application and how effectively your application communicates your abilities, accomplishments, and interests.

See below for a schedule of Placement Program events this fall and for links to a variety of potentially useful resources. A final note: I’m always happy to consult with individuals about the job market and applications. In addition to my regular office hours, I will post special office hours this fall for people looking for feedback on drafts of cover letters, c.v.s, etc. And you can always make a specific appointment with me via email:  sweet@unc.edu


THE JOB SEARCH: GETTING READY.  Wednesday, Sept. 6, 5:30-7:30 pm, Hamilton 569.

This meeting is designed for everyone embarking upon the job search. Those just curious or planning ahead are also welcome. We’ll begin with an overview of the hiring year: What happens when? And what will I need to do to be prepared for it?  We’ll discuss how to find advertisements for various kinds of jobs—and consider what we can do to discern “what they’re really looking for.” We’ll hear from veterans of the job market about what they wish they knew before they began this process. And we’ll end with some practical advice about how to set up your placement file and what to keep in mind as you begin drafting the basic components your application documents.

EFFECTIVE TEACHING PORTFOLIOS.  Wed., Sept. 13, 5:30-7:00 pm. 569 Hamilton.

If you don’t already have a teaching portfolio in development, you very likely should. In recent years, the teaching portfolio has become an important document for many professional historians—and a crucial component of most job applications. The teaching portfolio allows you to showcase your experience, strengths, and interest. And it allows you to do so in some depth—and to back up your self-representations with actual evidence. This is a terrific opportunity, particularly for those of you who have accumulated a lot of teaching experience here at Carolina and elsewhere. We’ll consider the basic components of a conventional teaching portfolio and discuss some basic strategies for presenting your track record effectively. Even if you are a year or two from the job market, beginning a teaching portfolio now can be very useful.

CRAFTING COVER LETTERS. Wednesday, Sept. 20, 5:30-7:00 pm.  Hamilton 569.

When search committees meet to make their “first cut”—taking a pile of applications and winnowing it down to the dozen or so candidates that seem most promising—they have to make their decisions based on very imperfect information. They don’t know you. All they have is a very slim paper representation of you—a few pages of cover letter, c.v., and letters of reference. The good news is that you can do a lot to control how effective your cover letters and c.v. are. In this workshop, we’ll consider some basic strategies for conveying your qualifications and interests. As with any important writing project, it helps to get started early so you have time to experiment a bit, solicit feedback, and refine your drafts.

COVER LETTER WORKSHOP. Wednesday, Sept. 27, 5:30-7:00 pm.  Hamilton 569.

To prepare for this workshop, take a draft of your cover letter and CV and get specific written comments on them from your adviser or someone else whose judgment you value. Bring to the workshop a) these marked up drafts and b) three clean copies of your application materials. Be prepared to share and receive constructive feedback.

Interviewing Workshop Wednesday, Oct. 11, 5:30-7:00 pm.  569 Hamilton Hall.

The further you go in the job search, the more interactive and in-person it typically becomes. In most cases, when search committees like to briefly meet with or at least speak to a dozen or so leading candidates before the commit themselves to a handful of finalists. Sometimes, these interviews take the form of face-to-face meetings at the AHA convention; sometimes they take the form of conference calls over the telephone. Whatever the format, search committees generally look for pretty much the same kinds of information. In this workshop, we’ll consider the kinds of questions interviewers are likely to ask, the components of effective responses, and some practical strategies you can use to prepare.

MOCK INTERVIEW DAY             Thursday, 7 Dec. (Reading Day)



Carolina Career Services has moved its Credential File services to the web-based company Interfolio. This allows you to manage a portfolio of confidential documents and have them delivered by mail or electronically: “You can request, upload and store letters of recommendation, your curriculum vitae, writing samples, dissertation abstracts, teaching certifications, student evaluations and more and have them delivered to any school electronically or by mail, with Express and Rush delivery options available.”  This does cost some money (as did the service run by the Career Services folks), but in my opinion is well worth the expense. A dossier service like this makes life much easier for your letter-writers. More directly to your benefit, it makes life easier for search committees—since your materials come in one package are therefore less likely to be late, lost, or mis-filed.


Visit our own professional development page. Here you will find resources to aid your academic or non-academic job search, as well as general tools and readings to help you grow as a scholar, teacher, writer, and speaker.

Excellent overviews and advice on all aspects of the academic job search can also be found on the websites of the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley. Mary Corbin Sies, who teaches American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park has compiled several resources, including an Academic Job Application Checklist.

There are also a number of individuals offered advice—sometimes free, sometimes for a fee.  Dr. Karen Kelsky is primarily focused on academic job searches and careers.  UNC History Ph.D. Maren Wood is a leading expert on alternatives to the academic job track; visit the Lilli Research Group’s website.  Both of these sites include useful links to other resources.

The Chronicle of Education publishes  a wealth of tools, forums about the academic job-market on their website, though sometimes you have to poke around a bit to find stuff—it may help to create a (free) account to organize the sections of the website you’re interested in. Many have found their CV Doctor column interesting. Another place to start is their page for those new to the academic job market. More specifically targeted to historians on various aspects of the job-search process are articles in the American Historical Association’s newsletter, Perspectives, which can be accessed and searched on-line. Examples include an essay by Michael Foley on the “Facing the Indignities of the Job Search”. The American Historical Association also produces guidelines for ethical and professional hiring processes—and compiles data on the job market for historians, which may be of interest.

There are a number of books on the job-search process, including those by Richard Bond and Pillarisetti Sudhir, eds., Perspectives on Life after a Ph.D. (Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 2005), which includes a substantial section on public history and other non-academic jobs; and Melanie S. Gustafson, Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2003).  There is a chapter on “Landing an Academic Job” in John Goldsmith, John Komlos and Penny Schine Gold, The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001)—which has some useful suggestions despite the book’s sometimes patronizing tone.


Of course, one of the first phases of the job search is searching for the jobs themselves.

For most jobs within the United States, the two best places to start are:

—The AHA Perspectives. This publication is available in the History Department office and in other places on campus. The AHA job listings are now freely available online.

—The H-Net Job Guide—searchable by field, on-line, open access.

Jobs in other countries are often listed separately. Some places to being include:

United Kingdom:


NOTE: Different kinds of institutions are likely to value different qualities in candidates. David Allen Harvey discuses teaching at a small liberal arts college.  Emily Sohmer Tai discusses teaching at a community college.


In addition the Berkeley and Chicago websites mentioned above, the Duke University Career Center offers advice on cover letters, c.v.s, etc., for academic job candidates.

Richard Reis gives general advice about cover lettersCarl AshleySteve Hochstadt, and Laura York offer specific advice about cover letters and c.v.s for historians.

The UNC Center for Faculty Excellence has historically offered workshops on teaching portfolios among other aspects of graduate student professional development. At the moment I can’t find anything meaningful on their website, but don’t hesitate to contact Brian Rybarczyk, Director of Graduate Student Academic and Professional Development
(919) 962-2505, brybar@unc.eduBetty Dessants introduces the purpose and components of a teaching portfolio.


Several pieces published in the AHA Perspectives give advice on interviewing, including contributions by Lucy Barber and John SweetSandra Gustafson, and  Paul Jerome Croce. Linda Gordon <esp. on discrimination issues>.

Mary Corbin Sies (who teaches American Studies at University of Maryland at College Park) offers useful advice and a long list of potential interview questions.

Sally Hadden offers advice on campus visits.

Also useful, for many people, is the perspective offered by cognitive-behavior psychologist David Burns in his Feeling Good Handbook (Plume, 1999). See chapter 16, “How to Give a Dynamic Interview When You’re Scared Stiff,” and chapter 19, “The Five Secrets of Intimate Communication.”

On job talks, many people have benefited from, Ed Wolmuth, Overnight Guide to Public Speaking(Signet, 1993), particularly chapter 1 “The Six Signals Every Audience Wants to Hear.”


Sound advice on negotiating job offers have been posted on-line by the UNC Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, by Margaret L. Newhouse of the Harvard University of Career Services (1995), and by Chris M. Golde, “After the Offer, Before the Deal: Negotiating a First Academic Job,” Academe: Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors, January/February 1999, Vol. 85, no. 1, 44–49. A frequently recommended book on negotiations is: Roger Fisher and William L. Ury, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin, 1991).

A useful resource is the the AAUP’s faculty compensation survey, the Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, which is published each year in the March-April issue of Academeavailable through the UNC Libraries website.

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