I was on the job market for three years, starting in the fall of 2008. This is how things went.
In 2008, I was ABD with one book in print (Zizek and Theology) and no solo teaching experience. I applied for 21 tenure-track jobs, about half of which had their search cancelled due to the Global Financial Crisis. I was interviewed for a very good position that year, which was among the casualties. I also applied to 5 postdoctoral fellowships; one told me in the rejection letter that I had fallen just short of the interview phase. Result: By random luck and personal connections, I was offered a one-year visiting position at Kalamazoo College to fill the gap between a retirement and a new tenure-track hire.
In 2009, I had my degree in hand, would have a year of teaching experience at a selective liberal arts school by the time I started any new position, and had an additional book under contract (Awkwardness) and one soon to be under contract (Politics of Redemption). I applied for 15 tenure-track jobs, and I did not advance to the interview stage with any. One of them was the position at Kalamazoo, which they really wanted to fill with a biblical scholar; they told me in person that I would not be interviewed, solely due to the field mismatch. I also applied to 7 postdocs, none of which gave any indication I had made it past the initial filtering. In addition, I applied to one term position in a very undesirable location; they called to set up an interview after I had already accepted a position. Result: The tenure-track hire at Kalamazoo needed a delayed start, so they offered me a partial-year contract to continue as VAP. In other words, I got worse results in a year in which I was objectively much better qualified.
In 2010, I had a full year of teaching experience under my belt, I would have nearly another year by the time I started any position, and I also had an enthusiastic letter of recommendation from my department chair in which she summarized my course evaluations; in addition, all three of my books were in print and my Agamben translation would soon be as well. I applied for 21 tenure-track positions through the AAR job listings, two of which offered me a first-stage interview; I advanced with neither. I applied for 12 postdoctoral fellowships, one of which informed me that I was among ten finalists for five positions; I ultimately did not receive the fellowship. I also applied for three term positions, one of which claimed I was on a shortlist but ultimately decided to remove me from said shortlist for reasons I don’t understand (i.e., they jerked me around). Result: I applied to Shimer College due to a random e-mail from an AUFS lurker, ultimately getting the position.
Overall, I applied for 59 tenure-track jobs, 24 postdoctoral fellowships, and 4 term positions (possibly more term positions — I may not have listed all of them on my spreadsheet). I received some kind of response from four out of the 59 tenure-track positions, for a 6.7% success rate in getting past the initial filter. Among postdocs, I got past the initial filter one time, for a 4.2% success rate. In terms of actually getting job offers, I got one offer out of the 87 total that I applied for, a 1.1% success rate. (I’m not counting the Kalamazoo offers in this figure, as I did not formally “apply” for the position or its extension.)
For the first two years, my “successes” were due to dumb luck completely unconnected to the formal job search process, and in the third, the position I got was not listed at the AAR and I would never have known about it if not for an e-mail from a lurker (i.e., a “social connection” I wasn’t even aware I had). In short, I could have completely skipped the AAR-mediated job search process, which resulted in nothing but wasted time, useless speculation and uncertainty, and profound disappointment at times verging on despair.
The only possible benefits of the process were thinking through my goals for teaching and research, but none of what I wrote in any cover letter or research proposal matches up at all with what I will actually be teaching or closely resembles what I now take to be my research agenda. So in the end, the job application process was, for me, almost pure waste — and I’m one of the lucky ones!