Chronicle Vitae’s Free Dossier Service

As you probably know by now I am launching a post-ac branch of The Professor Is In, dedicated to advice and information for people seeking jobs outside the academy. I’ll be posting 2 post-ac posts written by my team of experts early in the week, and maintaining my usual academic-job-market post schedule on Fridays.

Most Fridays I’m going to be re-posting posts from the past 3 years that are relevant to the season of the job market cycle.

But today*, I want to pass along one piece of information that I learned while at the MLA meeting, where I spent time hanging out at the Chronicle Vitae booth.  I am a regular columnist at Vitae, where I do a weekly advice column.   Need job market advice?  Please put it in the comment thread right here on this post, and you’ll see the answer up on Vitae very, very soon.  (Please help—I really need questions for the column!)

Anyway, I like Vitae because it hosts some amazing news and advice by columnists like Rebecca Schuman, Sarah Kendzior, Josh Boldt, William Pannapacker, Joe Fruscione, and many others too numerous to mention.

However, it was at the MLA that I learned the most important thing that Vitae does for you, the job seeker: it hosts a completely free dossier service.

Yes, you can use Vitae as a replacement for Interfolio, and it’s free.

I hate Interfolio and said that in this blog post.  I should clarify, I don’t hate Interfolio per se, so much as I hate what it represents:  more professors who do even less to assist their graduate students, more professors too lazy to even write original tailored letters for each job to which they apply.  I don’t approve.

But the evil of dossier services exists, and if you must participate in it, well, Vitae is free.

Vitae has other capacities that also allow you to host your CV and publications and so on, making it also a replacement for (about which I have no feelings of any kind positive or negative).  Vitae is, I think, more multi-media friendly than, and can host a range of content, including videos of your teaching, for example, more easily or at least in a more accessible and visually appealing way.  And it allows for social networking in a way reminiscent of LinkedIn, but less weird and alienating than LinkedIn.

I want to be clear:  I am paid to write the advice column for Vitae, but I am not getting paid to promote Vitae.  I was never asked by anyone at the Chronicle at any time to promote Vitae in a blog post, and I never intended to do so.

However, sitting at the Vitae booth at MLA and eavesdropping on the information they were sharing about the free dossier service and Vitae’s other capacities (which I want to say to Vitae designers and promoters:  you haven’t done a very good job of communicating to the public!!) I was impressed. And because the cost of applying for jobs is one of the scandals of the job market as it’s currently constituted, I want to encourage everyone to check out Vitae and its free dossier service.

*OK, so technically I missed Friday this week. I was BUSY what with making chocolate-covered bacon rose bouquets for the family, and baking gluten free pumpkin bread for the high school teachers Valentine’s Day breakfast. What can I say?

Chocolate covered bacon rose bouquet

Chocolate covered bacon rose bouquet

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Chronicle Vitae’s Free Dossier Service — 34 Comments

  1. Okay here’s a good question: I’m 45 years old. I look like I’m 29-32 (depending on how much sleep I got). This makes me happy, I thank my mother for awesome genes. And while I’m mature, experienced, ‘clean up well’, and am very professional, that whole “whatever you do, DON’T be a grad student” thing has been hard for me. Partly because, despite all my worldly wisdom, grown up bills, maturity, etc, I *am* a grad student and have lived in a campus environment for practically two decades. It keeps me youthful! I say things like ‘awesome’, and am open and friendly at interviews. I’m professional, well dressed, but I’m not stuffy. I want to be myself because that’s ultimately who they will hire.

    So, the question (sorry, I just turned into the person I hate at the conference Q&A session…): Is there a way (or is it appropriate) to casually mention my age, as this usually comes as a surprise to people. Aside from letting all my grey grow in or talking about my aching hip, I’m not sure how to prove that I’m youthful but not immature. I’m very torn between being congenial/friendly/modern and reserved/conservative/scholarly.

    • hi Juli,
      I’m not entirely sure where your question’s coming from — i.e. why is there anything to “prove?” I assume your CV will date you as reasonably mature by showcasing experiences gained over time, and your demeanor already conveys “unstuffy” so I’m not sure what the problem is, exactly. In my experience, youth sells on the academic market and the LAST thing you want to do is divulge your age unnecessarily if you are older than you look! Really. Let them be surprised after the fact, but in no way focus on this issue in the hiring process!

  2. I have millions of questions, but I will leave just a few here.

    1) Coming from the European system with a European PhD, what suggestions to do you have for tailoring your documents to the American system and/or common mistakes you see from European applicants?

    2) I have a slew of people I rotate between for references. How do you pick the best references or the right ones for certain applications?

    3) How hard is too hard to push when negotiating an initial offer for things like teaching releases, start-up funds (for a lab), conference travel, etc.?

    4) I dread the teaching demonstration. What are they looking for and what mistakes should I avoid?

    • these are huge questions and if you really want to get them answered, you will need to work with me personally. If interested, email me at and I can send you info. But meanwhile, i have posts on negotiating, posts on choosing and managing references, and one post called What UK/Commonwealth-Trained Candidates Do Wrong on the US Market. You just need to surf around the blog, and use the categories at right to find everything.

  3. Can you write on the negotiations process when you want to ask for a spousal accommodation? My partner is in the same department as I am, but specializes in a different time period. I hardly dare to hope that both of us will get TT job offers in the same area, and we aren’t willing to live apart. How does one broach this topic, after a TT offer for one of us (purely hypothetical)? We’d like to at least guarantee a salaried lectureship for the other, if at all possible. If this doesn’t happen, one of us will probably be leaving the academy.

  4. I like Interfolio– and for maybe a different reason than you would expect. When I was on the job market, my committee was hard to track down. But the main reason I liked Interfolio was that it gave me control of my job search. My chair would say, “this doesn’t fit” or “you don’t do this” , etc. etc. I was so done with the hypercritical and parental approach to advising– and was able to apply to the jobs I wanted to apply to, without having to ask ‘permission.’ It gave me the power and control I lacked in our working relationship. Moreover, I was in the field, and I was able to have my statements, letters, CV, transcripts, teaching dossier, and so on, available and sendable in a quick email. I never–not once– had an issue with Interfolio–had lots of responses–and landed a job and really good postdoc (prestigious west coast university).

      • I agree with Lola B. Pre-Interfolio, my advisor would harp on how many letters he had written over the years for grants (many of which I got), jobs (which I didn’t), etc. No recognition from him about the state of the market, no offers to review my material and think about how to best position myself. Interfolio freed me from this — one letter at the start of the season and I don’t have to ask for anything else. I heard about the Vitae dossier service when it started but decided to give them a season to work out any kinks. I will definitely be using it next year. Interfolio is great but those $6 fees add up.

  5. Thanks for letting us know about Vitae’s dossier service — I certainly had no idea it existed.

    Some questions:
    –What are the ethics of going to a campus visit when you have postdoc offers that seem like possibly better choices? And since some schools are willing to negotiate over postdocs, should you mention them on the visit or wait?

    –What’s the appropriate wording for withdrawing from a search? Now that offers are being made, if you’re lucky enough to get one you want early, what is the best way to pull out of another search (for which you have an interview scheduled or already completed an interview)?

  6. Would I hurt my academic career if I took 3-5 years out for a highly paid and directly relevant commercial job? I potentially have an opportunity to do some commercial work that is in my field of study and the company has given me permission to publish and present the results in academic settings. I am currently finishing a 3 year teaching contract and I’m tempted to slip into short term commercial work, primarily to pay off $129k of graduate debt. This project has enormous potential and might even become something bigger but I am scared to take my foot out of the academy, after working so hard to get there.

  7. Ok, a question for your column… My husband recently interviewed at a R2 in the Midwest. He mentioned that they asked “illegal” questions about kids/family/spouse job. He answered honestly, but did not go into great detail. (I am not part of the academy.) I am wondering how to handle illegal questions in an on site interview?

  8. Hi Karen,
    I thought Vitae’s dossier system was a great idea when it first appeared a few months ago. However, they don’t have an option for sending confidential letters of recommendation. That’s the reason why one uses Interfolio rather than just an email! I asked Vitae right away if there was such an option and they said they would have it soon, but I still don’t see it. And it’s been a while. In the meantime, while Interfolio’s listed prices have not been changed, in the last month or two I was charged $0 for the only two email applications I’ve done since (I was charged the normal rate for the printed ones, which I don’t mind, since it saves me the time and bus ticket to the post office and printing). Anyways, if you know a way to send confidential letters through Vitae, please let us know. Thanks!

      • I’m far from an expert, but before going back for my Ph.D., I did work in a small academic career services office sending rec letters to university hiring committees. We did not have the technology to do what the larger services do, and so didn’t give an option to make letters confidential. In my several years in the position, no committee ever mentioned this to me as an issue. Particularly now that letters are often emailed, “confidential” becomes harder to define. From my perspective, it seems like somewhat of a holdover from an older time, and when I go on the market next year, I’m going to choose the free service, even if it still doesn’t offer the “confidential” option 🙂

  9. Thanks for the info about Vitae. I created an account and started filling out my profile, but I didn’t see a way to add reference letters at all, or even a help page. I was hoping to transfer my confidential letters from Interfolio there by paying one last time to have Interfolio mail or upload my letters there, but again no information how to do that. Their current interpretation of “dossier service” is as a place to store files.

    • Btw, I checked their FAQ (didn’t see it at first), and their site seems to require letters of recommendation to be linked to a specific job. The reason that Interfolio was so useful to me is that I could keep letters there, update them once a year, and use them when applying to 137 jobs in a season (as I did the year I was in an expiring position and got my TT job.) It’s only if I make it far into an application process that I would ask someone to send a letter directly. It doesn’t seem realistic to ask faculty to write a letter per job when students are applying to dozens of jobs. And sometimes people may not want their intentions about applying to other jobs to be known.

        • Hi Karen,
          Any word on this? It seems that it is still not possible to e-mail/forward/send existing reference letters to specific jobs that are not promoted through vitae. The only option is to use those letters that are marked as generic, in the application process within vitae.

          • Hi Karen,

            I recently requested “reusable” reference letters. My letter writers have uploaded the letters and I see them under my “Letters of Recommendation” tab on Vitae. However, when I am using Vitae to apply for jobs (not promoted though Vitae) and I want to upload letters, I am prompted to a folder with two tabs (“Documents” and “Letters”) and my “Letters” folder appear empty. Am I doing something wrong?

      • by teh way, my phds applied to dozens of jobs. And I still wrote unique letters for each one. We have things called computers now that hold files that can be updated by changing just a few words. Why do job seekers defend profs’ laziness?

        • My advisor wrote me tailored letters for each job. My other committee members did not. I thought this was fair. (Especially since one committee member had upwards of 2 dozen students to write for — between the ABDs and graduates — and is in no way lazy in terms of advice, feedback, dissertation comments, etc.)

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  11. Hi Karen, I really really like your blog and your work and I hope you will find time to answer some of these questions:

    1. I have been asked to produce a career plan in my application for a scholarship which should lead me to my Habilitation thesis (the “second book” you have to write in Europe after your PhD in order to be worthy of applying for a professor-position). Any advice about how to make it look sincere, but not too personal?

    2. I have read your advice for scholars from Europe looking for opportunities in the US. Any advice for the European academic market?

    Best and thanks again!

  12. Vitae is a good start, but I’m afraid it is doing little to curb the costs of job applications. Vitae offers no method for uploading to third party job application systems. Many jobs use such application systems, which send an email prompt to letter writers requesting their upload (let’s be honest: we simply cannot trust that recommenders will meet the deadlines). On Interfolio, it costs $12 *per letter* to upload to third-party systems. When one considers that so many of us must apply for 60-70 jobs a year, this is majorly cost prohibitive. Yet Vitae offers no method for uploading to third party systems. As such, it only replaces Interfolio for jobs that require applicants to send their dossiers to email addresses.

    • I highly recommend as an alternative dossier service. They do everything that Interfolio does (and the things that Vitae doesn’t) at half the price.

  13. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for this excellent blog!
    Nearly 8 years after finishing my Ph.D., I am considering moving from a well-paying but soul-destroying industry job in my field to an academic position. In your experience, how negotiable are Assistant Professor salaries and what are the chances that the university might consider matching my current salary?

    • I don’t know the industry, of course, or your salary, but by and large I’d say those chances are close to non-existent.

      • I’ll have to disagree with this. LMB hasn’t listed what their industry is, but if it is technical, engineering, or healthcare, then the positions and salaries are possible. Many universities that have engineering/computer science and healthcare programs hire industry professionals as faculty. A person with a PhD is even more in a good spot to negotiate salaries/benefits because they have both the industry experience and the academic credentials. That looks good for the programs and helps to create industry partners with the university.

        And you don’t know unless you stick your neck out there and try (and ask).

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