By Yuanqiu Jiang
On Feb 22, 2019, I interviewed Lina Qu (a recent graduate of CompLit), who, beautiful and glowy as ever, has just been offered a full-time position as a Fixed Term Assistant Professor of Chinese at Michigan State University. Our conversation was about Lina’s experience with the job market. It was mainly conducted in Mandarin. Below is the original conversation and its English translation.
Y: What has your experience been looking for work?
L: It has been two years since I started looking for work. Between I finished my dissertation and I did my defense, it was one year, and another year after the defense.
Y: Do you think the defense had any influence on your job-hunting experience?
L: 我觉得可能那些教授他们，就是those who have been on the search committee, 他们都会说可能现在只会邀请已经答完辩的人参加他们的interview。但是我自己的经验的话，我也没有觉得有那么明显的差异，因为那之前那一年我的论文已经完成了，在等待答辩的状态。然后那一年也是有一两个interview，然后这一年也是一两个interview。但是大概你在进行了第一轮的interview以后，在考虑下一轮的shortlist candidates的时候可能会考虑……因为跟你竞争的人很多，不仅已经答辩完成了，而且还已经工作了一两年。
L: Those professors who have been on the search committee probably would tell you that they only interview candidates who have defended their dissertations. But I personally didn’t feel a big difference because in the second year [of looking for work] I got a couple of interviews; I got a couple of interviews in the first year too. But perhaps after the first-round interview, when you are in the shortlist, you should know that some of your competitors might have already defended, and some of them might even have been working for a few years.
Y: 刚刚讲的那个search committee是什么呢？
Y: What is the search committee you just mentioned?
L: It is a recruiting committee formed by the professors from your target school.
Y: Then is “shortlist” the list of second-round candidates?
L: 对，因为一般现在第一轮面试都是电话或者是Skype。这一轮可能会有10-15个人。哦当然还有另外一种是，像我们这个专业去MLA进行那个MLA interview。这三种形式的interview我都经历过。第一轮之后就会有那个shortlist，大概一般是三个人。然后如果是tenure-track，甚至是有一些fixed-term的position，他们会邀请这三个人去campus visit。Campus visit可能会让你去做一个lecture，或者是一个lesson demonstration。但是有一些职位它是没有这个第二轮的，它可能在选出这个shortlist以后就会考虑一下其他的因素。比如说目前对于我们international students来说可能最重要的就是你需不需要sponsorship。
L: Yes. Generally, the first-round interviews are phone interviews or Skype interviews. There are 10-15 candidates. Another type of interview is, for programs like us (Comparative Literature), they will do interviews through Modern Language Association. I have been interviewed in all the three ways. There are usually about 3 people in the shortlist, and if it’s a tenure-track position or fixed-term position, they will invite the three people to visit the campus, during which they might ask you to do a lecture or lesson demonstration. But for some positions, there’s no second round, so they will consider other factors to decide which candidate from the shortlist they will hire. For international students, I think the most important factor is whether you need sponsorship or not.
Y: What does sponsorship mean?
L: 就是你的那个working visa。
L: It’s related with your working visa.
Y: 哦哦，像如果你是需要一个working visa的话会不会对找工作有影响呢？
Y: I see. If one needs a working visa, will it have any influence on finding a job?
L: Legally他们是不能做这样的discrimination的，但是这应该是一个非常重要的factor。比如说我这个工作它是有所谓的probationary year，试用期这一年他不希望你需要sponsorship。所以你需要用你的OPT。
L: Legally they cannot discriminate like that, but this is a very important factor. For example, this job they offered me, it requires a probationary year. During this year they don’t expect that you need any sponsorship, so you will have to use your OPT.
Y: 哦——，所以说你去Michigan State第一年是用OPT吗？
Y: I see. So you’re on OPT for your first year in Michigan State?
L: 对，然后它后面会给我H-1B，这已经是非常ideal的状态。因为我这个职位不是tenure track，如果是对于tenure track的话这些问题可能不是那么严重。可是我另外一个今年做的tenure track的一个position的interview，我跟它interview之后，就还发邮件跟我确认我需不需要visa sponsorship，就是应该说这个对他们来说一个非常大的concern。有一些广告会specify说你必须有working authorization才可以申请，这个working authorization就是指你either有OPT，或者是有其他的green card什么的。然后你自己需要make sure you have working authorization。然后一般你在网申的过程当中他们就需要问你这个问题，就会说“do you need visa sponsorship”。
L: Yes. Then they will give me H-1B. This is already a very ideal situation because this position is not a tenure-track position, for which visa might not be of that much an issue. However, after an interview I did for a tenure-track position, the university still sent me an email to confirm whether I needed visa sponsorship or not. I think it means sponsorship was still a huge concern for them. Some job advertisements may even specify that you can only apply when you have working authorization, which means you should either be on OPT or have something like a green card. Then you have to make sure you have working authorization. For this type of jobs, they will ask you “do you need visa sponsorship” when you do their online application.
Y: What have you found most helpful during the process?
L: Professors, they helped me a lot.
L: 就是我觉得申请工作当中虽然更多的是看你个人的表现，但是其实它是一个teamwork。比如说首先就是你的教授要跟你写推荐信，你要跟他们去把deadline的这个事情处理好，因为其实他们很忙。而且很烦的是不同的工作它们的application process完全不一样，它们用的portal，就是那个门户网站也不一样。有的用学校自己的employment的一个网站，有的用通用的那种interfolio之类的，然后有些会要求你把所有东西都发到一个email address，就是非常混乱的一个状态，完全不同的申请的方式。那你自己可能要把这个work out，怎么能让教授更明确地知道这些方式，然后明确的deadline可能要提醒他们。因为他们能在deadline之前及时帮你提交推荐信，这个是一个非常重要的因素，很多工作会说在你的材料不齐全的情况下，包括你的推荐信，它是不会review你的申请的。所以在这个方面它其实是一个teamwork。另外就是当你得到interview invitation的时候，可能你去准备的过程中，老师帮你做一个mock interview，或者是你的peers能够帮你做mock interview是很有帮助的。因为你自己的perspective是非常有限的，他们可能会指出一些你没有准备的东西。比如说我在interview之前宋老师，Janet，还有Jorge他们都有帮我做准备。因为他们很有经验，所以他们知道一般interview会问什么问题。然后他们就听一听我回答当中有什么好的和不好的地方，能够帮我变得更好一些，甚至帮我想一些应对各种问题的策略。另外我同时也跟我的朋友，就是把我准备的东西讲给他们听，然后他们去帮我润色一下。
L: I think though your own performance matters the most, applying for a job is a teamwork. For example, you need recommendation letters from professors. You have to coordinate the deadlines well because professors are busy. Also, different jobs have completely different application processes. They might use different portals: some universities have their own employment websites; some use websites like Interfolio; some will ask you to send all your materials to an email address. You need to work out a good plan: let professors know about these portals; remind them when deadlines are approaching. Some employers will not review your materials until you have all the required ones, which means you should really make sure the professors submit the recommendation letters in time. Another thing I’d like to mention is that when you get an interview invitation and are preparing for it, it is helpful to do mock interviews with your professors and peers. Your own perspective is limited; other people can point out certain aspects that you neglect. For example, before I did my interview, Professor Song, Janet, and Jorge all helped me prepare for it. They are very experienced and know what questions are generally asked in interviews. Also, they can help me know the good and not-so-good aspects of my responses, then I can improve them. They also helped me to devise strategies to deal with various questions. My friends were really helpful as well. I rehearsed what I prepared in front of them, and they helped me polish it.
Y: Could you give a couple of suggestions for other Comp Lit students about to enter the job market?
L: Just try your best but prepare for the worst.
L: 这个我觉得这个心理的建设其实是很重要的。要不然你的过程当中会有太多的自我怀疑，然后你在自我怀疑的时候其实是不能够最好地表现自己的。那你去避免这种情况最好的方法就是你先有一个心理建设，先把工作市场搞清楚，把你自己的期待明确，在你不断遇到挫折当中很快地调整你的心态，去准备下一次的申请和面试。当然最重要的就是要在way before你需要的时候就build up your resume.
L: I think preparing your mind for the difficulties is very important, or you will doubt yourself very often in this process. When you doubt yourself, you will not be able to demonstrate your talents properly. To avoid this, you really need to be prepared: know the job market as well as your own expectation, adjust yourself quickly after setbacks and start to prepare for the next application or interview. Of course, the most important thing is to build up your resume way before you need it.
Y: Did you/Have you tried applying to jobs overseas? What was that like?
L: 我自己的话没有特别多的申请的经验，我可能申请过一两个比如说香港和英国的工作吧。因为如果这些它是面向国际招聘的职位的话，流程大概跟美国的学术招聘是基本相似的。而且他们也是都要求是英文的材料，所以至少是申请这个步骤我没有觉得有什么特别大的区别。我也没有进入过面试的环节，所以后面的情况我不是那么清楚。但是，有一个事情就是，因为每个国家的学科分类是不一样的。那比如说每个国家地区对于像什么是China Studies就会有不同的定义，然后它有不同的划分，所以它的这个招聘的条件对于你的要求可能跟美国大学会有一些不一样。尤其是对于teaching这一块可能就非常不一样，因为毕竟是教育体制的不同嘛。所以你的申请材料可能会要非常的不一样。比如说像香港的职位他们就是会让你写非常长非常具体的research plan。然后美国的很多学校会让你写非常详尽的teaching plan。即使是那些research universities它们的工作也是需要你至少是一个balanced的状态。所以可能你准备的时候这些材料的侧重点不太一样。
L: I myself don’t have much experience in this regard. I have applied for one or two jobs in Hongkong and the UK. When they are hiring people internationally, the procedure is very similar with what we have in the US. They also ask for materials in English, so I think at least the application part is not that different. I haven’t been interviewed by international employers, so I don’t know what happens after the application. However, one thing I do know of is that every country classifies disciplines and fields differently. For example, different countries and regions have different definitions for “China Studies”, and they might have different requirements as well, especially in terms of teaching, since educational systems vary as well. As a result, you might have to prepare very different application materials. For example, positions in Hongkong will ask you to write really long and specific research plans. And many institutions in the US ask for really detailed teaching plans. Even for those research universities, they still want that you’re in a balanced situation, so you have to emphasize different aspects of your skills during the application process.
Y: What are you most excited about regarding your new professional stage?
L: 我觉得可能最让我期待的是你的position的改变给你所带来的从一个graduate student然后到一个faculty的这种职位的改变，可能会给你带来的一些新的体验和启发吧。我觉得虽然我们在读书期间也一直在教书啊，也在做研究啊，但是可能还是更多的以一个研究生的身份，博士生的身份在做这些。那当你的positionality改变的时候可能你会有一个新的视野。你可以更多地去掌控你想要去做的研究方向跟你想要教学的内容啊方式啊。然后这种的话可能会给你一些更多的自由，当然不是说完全的自由，而是说更多的自由，能够让你真正地把无论是你的研究还是你的课变成由自己来掌控的一个经验和工作吧。这个可能是让我最期待，我觉得最不一样的地方。就是你的职位的改变给你带来的自由度。
L: I think I’m most excited about the position change: from a graduate student to a faculty member. I think it will be a very different experience and inspire me differently. Though we’re also constantly teaching and doing research when we’re graduate students, but a different positionality may give me different perspectives, when I have more control on what I want to do research on and the content and style of my teaching. It might also mean more freedom; of course, it will never be absolute freedom, but comparatively speaking, the freedom of researching and teaching of my own will. This is what I’m most excited about and what I think would be the most different experience: the change of positionality and the freedom brought by the change.
Y: Great! Thank you, Lina!
L: 强调一下international students这块。因为系里面一方面不了解，另一方面他们也没有渠道去了解。但是这是每一个international student要面临的问题。就是如果你的最终的目标是待在美国工作的话，你要思考你怎么样在找工作的这一段比较漫长的时间中去maintain你的legal status。那这是你自己必须要去take care的一些东西，所以如果是我去年就答辩了，然后用我的opt的时间再找工作，那么我现在拿到的这个工作的offer我可能就不qualified。因为他们第一年不想要给我sponsorship，而opt只有十二个月。但是如果你可以毕业论文答辩跟你的工作能衔接上，然后你给自己至少有这个opt十二个月的时间是可以用来工作的，不论是对你还是你以后的雇主来说都会是一个好的选择。
L: I still want to emphasize something regarding international students because our program doesn’t know much about it and doesn’t have the resource to know about it. However, if your goal is to find a job here in the United States, you will face this issue sooner or later: how to maintain your legal status when you are looking for work – this is something you have to take care of on your own. If I had defended last year and used my OPT to look for jobs, I would not have been qualified for this job offer I currently have because they don’t want to give me sponsorship in the first year: OPT will only last for 12 months. If you can streamline the process of defending your dissertation and looking for work and use OPT for actually working, it will do both you and your employer a favor.
Y: 所以你是在拿到这个job offer之后才申请的opt还是之前就申请了？
Y: When did you apply for the OPT, after or before you got this job offer?
L: I will only start to apply for OPT in this May, which means I will apply for it after my graduation. And the OPT will start in August, when I actually go to Michigan State and work there. In this way I can work for a year while my OPT is still valid, then they will sponsor my H-1B. I also hope the program can devise some strategies to help international students, speaking of which I have to thank Andy in particular for his support.