It's enticing. The job ad states: "Will consider ABD." What else could that mean other than you have a real chance at landing this teaching post? Yet, in reality, there is very little (no??) chance of an ABD PhD student being offered the position and even making it to the interview stage. This is the lesson that I learned after applying for faculty positions the last two years. It is only two years later, after having completed my doctorate, added publications, awards, teaching experience, and presentations that schools are finally inviting me to interviews.
The first year that I began applying for faculty positions was 2008. I remember being excited and thinking that my cv looked pretty good. So why not apply? After submitting the necessary materials for the first few jobs, I learned very quickly what the negatives were to applying for faculty posts.
First and foremost, applying is time-consuming. Have you seen what the requirements are for applying for these jobs? In addition to submitting a cover letter and cv, most require official transcripts and three personal reference letters. The graduate school that I attended charges me $5 per official transcript, and the institution where I earned my doctorate (which does not offer an official transcript because I earned a research PhD from a British institution) charges me £15 for every three letters that states in a few brief sentences that I have fulfilled all the school's requirements for earning the PhD. Besides the costs involved in applying, there is also the challenge of finding three willing referees to write multiple letters on your behalf at a moment's notice. After asking for the fiftieth reference letter from these people, you realize how indebted to them you are.
Even more time-consuming than the initial application are the essay questions that most Christian schools require. It is a mixed blessing making it to "round two." At first you are excited. "Finally!," you say, "I found a school that is interested in me!" You read the email or letter that states, "We have narrowed down our applications and would like to pursue yours further. Will you please answer the following questions and return them to us by such and such date." The range of questions can be as little as two or three or as many as thirty (from my experience). In one particular instance, it took me two weeks, spending almost all my time and energy, to answer a school's essay questions only to receive a rejection letter one month later. Some schools do not even bother informing you of their decision. After spending hours answering their questions, and waiting months with no word, you politely send an email to the appropriate person only to receive the reply back: "Oh sorry about that, but we have filled the position."
None of this information is new. I have spoken with dozens of current faculty members at institutions and they all agree that, for better or for worse, this is the process of getting hired for humanities professors. My point is not simply to relay bad news. Rather, what I hope to achieve here is to convince you to consider the appropriate time on when you will begin the process of applying for jobs. What is the likelihood that you will be hired as an ABD candidate? In my opinion, next to nil. Therefore, why not guard your precious time (and your family's) and begin applying for jobs when you have finished your doctorate (or at least passed your defense).
It is a brutal market out there right now. The economy is terrible and there are few jobs. In some instances, I have applied for a job alongside 300 other candidates. With so many applicants, what are the chances that someone will pull your application out of the pile and say to the other committee members: "I know that we have 150 qualified applicants, who have completed their doctorates, have published extensively in peer-reviewed journals, and have excellent teaching records, but this candidate is special." Applying for full-time faculty positions is "morally degrading," one prominent professor recently told me. If this is so, why not save your energy (and mental health) and begin applying for jobs when you are most qualified to do so? With a doctorate degree in-hand, there is a better chance that you will be seriously considered for a full-time position.