A reflection on the ever-changing purpose of online dossiers in the quest for the next career opportunity.

Since 1999, Interfolio has helped hundreds of thousands of scholars:

Our team has hosted and fine-tuned these interactions and processes not only so we stay zeroed in on alleviating stress and facilitating preparation for the scholar, but also so our users can succeed and focus on the outcome of their efforts—getting to their next career milestone.

Indeed, for twelve or thirteen years, Interfolio’s primary focus was making things easier for extremely busy academic applicants and recommendation letter writers. And as we’ve peeled back our take on the preparation story more recently, our Dossier has really expanded to encompass the whole scholar’s lifecycle.

The real crux of managing your academic career online, or even a piece of it, bears some explanation (partnered with trust). So here, we break down what we think are the five central benefits of an online scholar-focused dossier, and speculate about what a global network of digital academic portfolios could mean for networking and the sharing of knowledge.

Benefits of an online dossier:

  1. It makes it possible to manage multiple confidential letters of recommendation for multiple applications. Surely this is the best-known purpose of an online academic dossier—and it’s a game-changer. Instead of asking my letter writers over and over to submit letters to dozens of destinations, I can just ask each of them to submit one unaddressed letter (or several variants) to my dossier service. By making it easier for my letter writers, I maintain a stronger relationship with them—and I don’t have to constantly check in on whether they are playing their role in a particular opportunity.
  2. It facilitates the sharing of materials for feedback in a relatively seamless way. The ability to send a digital copy of your CV or a collection of materials at the push of a button to anyone, anywhere, is a fairly new capability of online dossiers. I can simply upload and then send my mentor, advisor, even a peer, a copy of my application packet and receive their thoughts and feedback in almost real-time on how to put my best foot forward. And all the feedback is captured and held in a place I can easily accept and translate it, or pass on certain thoughts and ideas.
  3. It enables a scholar to apply to a large number of opportunities, and to apply on short notice. For a scholar who maintains an academic dossier online, the actual sending of application materials is simpler and quicker. I can send off an application packet with a few clicks from anywhere. If I don’t have this option, it’s true: it is like the old days. The time available to me to invest in the most substantive, meaningful aspects of my career management—to revise my statements, research opportunities, learn about peers’ work, and attend events—is severely constrained by the labor it takes to get all my applications out the door.
  4. It gives scholars a natural place to store the most up-to-date versions of their own materials. If I use an online dossier service, I have a dedicated space for my career materials that is accessible from anywhere and that translates immediately into an application I can send off. Is an academic dossier service the only way to store my documents online? Of course not. Am I capable of making a folder on my own computer? I sure hope so. But if I am storing documents in my online dossier for a more functional reason (see above), then clearly I gain the added benefit of a dedicated venue in which to organize my work. I’ll know where to go to find what I need.
  5. It gives scholars a ready-made, consolidated historical record of their career steps. A dossier service makes for a more informed applicant. When I organize my job search, my grant applications, or even my medical school portfolio online in this way, I can rely on a single place to reference my past attempts. It’ll help me remember which opportunities I applied for at which times, which materials I sent to which destinations, to whom I addressed a packet at a particular institution (and at what address), and similar details. The service stores this information for me.

To be sure, there’s something to be said for elbow grease. It’s not about rewarding laziness. We’re talking about a group of highly qualified applicants who are applying for dozens and dozens of opportunities in a very tight market, with limited time at their fingertips.

Nor, on the other hand, would it be a service to the academic community to build a machine that reduces professors to some robotic formula of quantitative data points or a cycle of churning out generic letters. Rather, by shortening the path from point A to point B, it affords individual scholars greater freedom to represent their contributions and character, and to make connections with the right collaborators—rather than further limiting the doors behind which a stable position can be found.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This post continues our series—begun last fall during faculty hiring “high season”—by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, on good practices for academic career success.

When you’re on the academic job market, looking ahead to a professional review or applying for grants, it’s a great time to break your lingering undergrad habit of sweatily completing applications 15 minutes before midnight on deadline day. The reason? You should get feedback—from your dissertation advisor, the jobs coordinator in your department, a professor you’re friendly with, even a slightly-farther-along peer who’s been there and knows what it’s about. Your letters of recommendation, teaching statements, and project statements will improve accordingly. 

Here’s how to get the most out of getting feedback.

1. Pick the right person to comment.

The “right person” is going to vary depending on the job, placement, or funding opportunity that you’re shooting for, and your particular concerns about your application. 

  • If you’re fretting about your grasp of the subject matter at hand, ask someone who’s got it down—and let them know that’s why you’re asking.
  • If you’re most worried about your writing, ask somebody with good prose style—or, even better, a person with good prose style who you already know is great at commenting on other people’s writing.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a connection with someone who has experience with the department or program you’re aiming for, ask them to use their institutional knowledge to assess whether your materials strike the right tone.

2. Leave plenty of time.

The person who’s willing to comment on your materials is doing you a solid. Reciprocate by making the experience as seamless as possible for them. That means finishing drafts of your documents with time to spare, and sending them along so that the commentator can fit reading them into his or her own schedule. Ask your commentator how much time they need, and set yourself a new deadline accordingly. And be sure to budget on the other end for your own turnaround time. You don’t want to give your commentator three weeks with a document, only to have them send it back on the eve of the deadline with revision suggestions that will require heavy lifting.

3. Provide context.

Your commentator needs to know what kind of promotion or funding opportunity you’re applying for, at the bare minimum. After she has agreed to read your materials and comment, and you’re ready to share your documents, include an email in which you send along the link to the desired role or opportunity. In brief (don’t rattle on), provide a bit of framing and summary to help them understand your approach. 

Include answers to questions like:

  • What do you think your chances of getting this job or grant might be, and why do you think you might be a good fit?
  • What are your concerns about the draft materials you have produced?
  • Are there any problem areas you want the person to address?

The more explicit you can be about the kind of feedback you’re seeking, the better. You don’t want a person you’ve asked for subject matter expertise to get hung up on comma placement. (They may not be able to help themselves! But by making it clear, in a gentle way, that you’re asking for a particular kind of feedback, you may make the experience easier on everyone.)

4. Be cool about the feedback when it comes.

It is only human to bristle when criticized. But try to remember, again: they are doing you a solid. In this context, there’s very little to be gained from defending yourself. Send an extremely polite reply email (or even a handwritten note!) thanking them effusively; if there are things you need clarified, ask, but make sure you truly don’t understand, and you’re not just being reactive. If you know it will take you a while to get over hurt feelings and get on with revisions, build that recovery space into your timeline.

With some preparation and the right mindset, getting feedback on the materials you’re using to present yourself when applying for jobs, fellowships, grants, future study (such as medical or graduate school) can help you sharpen your portfolio—while strengthening your relationships along the way.

One final rule: When somebody asks you for feedback in a couple years, say yes! Keep that karma flowing.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This is one of a series of infrequent posts by a onetime faculty job seeker, now academic-at-large, on the job market.

You know how to pull your materials together when assembling your applications for faculty jobs. You have strong relationships with colleagues or mentors who can write confidential recommendation letters (and maybe you have them stored online). But how do you find the jobs that are the right fit for your carefully curated set of documents? Don’t rely on one or two websites to surface job ads—cast your net wide with these options.

  • H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online is a massive old-school (archived content goes back to 1994!) organization of interest-group networks, offering newsletters, reviews of new books, teaching materials, and bibliographies. The H-Net Job Guide is the essential database of academic jobs in the humanities and social sciences in the United States. This database is free to the user, and you can register to have new jobs in the categories of your interest sent to you via email when they post.
  • HigherEdJobs is another job site that (like ChronicleVitae) runs ads for administrators and executive positions, as well as faculty jobs, and includes positions in STEM as well as in the liberal arts and social sciences. That means that they have a very large database of job openings (though, of course, many of them may not be in your field!) The HigherEdJobs search page allows you to select for jobs that have marked diversity and inclusion as a particular goal in their hiring.
  • The two-body or “dual career” problem can be a dealbreaker (for your career, or your relationship), so it makes sense to use any advantage you can get to solve it. Inside Higher Ed, which offers compensation data and career advice in its Careers section along with a jobs database, has a nifty Dual Career Search tool, letting you trawl the database for two faculty jobs spaced at a distance you’ll select.
  • The Academic Jobs Wiki can be a can of worms, since that’s where you go to find out (via anonymous user postings) how job searches are proceeding. That can be a recipe for bad feelings when you find out on the Internet that you weren’t picked to advance to the next round. But it’s worth braving the wiki periodically, for the following reason: it’s a targeted, crowd-sourced collection of jobs, aggregated by people in your particular field. The chances that a good job will slip through the fingers of all of those peers is low.
  • The Higher Education Recruitment Consortium is a group of institutions that banded together to help each other recruit diverse candidates for faculty and staff jobs.Since, as HERC’s website points out, female academics are especially hindered by the two-body problem, it makes sense that an organization interested in advancing diversity would invest in solving that problem. So, like Inside Higher Ed, HERC offers a special tool to use to help couples find jobs near each other. 

Depending on your field, and the year, the academic job search can be tough. But at the very least, the Internet makes finding every possibility easier.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, and send materials anywhere, including confidential recommendation letters, in application to faculty jobs. Learn more about Dossier here.

This is one of a series of infrequent posts by a onetime faculty job seeker, now academic-at-large, on the job market.

You can procrastinate while writing seminar papers (coffee), putting together conference presentations (but don’t count on that plane wifi—take it from us), or completing group projects (just don’t ruin any friendships in the process). But try not to procrastinate when it comes to one grad school task: asking faculty members for recommendation letters. These are the relationships you can’t afford to mess up.

Ask for recommendation letters early

So, ask in a timely manner: as soon as you’ve decided to apply, or at least a month or two before the deadline. In your admirably early email, make sure to include a link to the description of the opportunity (job or fellowship or grant) you’re applying for. To that email, or in a follow-up sent well before the deadline, attach as many relevant documents as you can provide. The writer should see what kind of a case you’ll be making to your potential employers—or to funding bodies, in the case of grants and fellowships. You could show your recommenders drafts of a cover letter, project statement, or teaching statement, all of which would give them a sense of which qualities to emphasize in their own letters. (Some kind faculty members will also help you edit these drafts, if you produce them far enough ahead of time.)

Consider your writers

Ask the right people—the faculty members who know your work the most intimately. If you aren’t quite sure whether your target recommender knows you quite well enough, everything we just said about providing context counts double.

Also, supply the writer with as much information as you can: the year you took the seminar; the gist of your final paper; the subject of the in-class presentation you did. Don’t assume this borderline recommender will recall your brilliant seminar comments in a class you took two years ago, or the work you did for a departmental committee your first year in your program. If it’s appropriate, attach copies of the writing you did that the professor really liked, and follow up by describing how that work fit into projects you’ve done since the class concluded (“I took this research I did for your class and turned it into a journal article on Helen Hunt Jackson; here’s a copy of that article”). That’ll help the professor get a full picture of your evolution as a scholar.

Provide deadlines

If you’re asking a recommender you know well to write recommendation letters for a wide array of jobs during your faculty job search, create a spreadsheet for them to access, with all of the relevant information for each job: contact info, deadline, a link to the job ad. Arrange the rows in order of deadline.

Remind your letter writers

And now that your recommenders have all the information they need, with plenty of time to put it to use, don’t forget to remind them to write. You can ask them when they’d like to be nudged, or you can take matters into your own hands and send a reminder ten days or a week before the deadline arrives.

Keep in mind, some of your recommenders may be writing recommendation letters for you for years in a row, and will then become trusted colleagues in your home field. In this situation, a little professionalism goes a long way.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, and send their materials anywhere—including storing reusable recommendation letters, kept confidential from the requester—in application to faculty jobs and other academic opportunities. Learn more about Dossier here.