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Four benefits of an online academic dossier service

Dossier & Portfolio | Topics in Higher Education

A reflection on the purpose and place of online dossiers in the academic talent marketplace.

Since 1999, Interfolio has helped hundreds of thousands of academic applicants navigate stressful application processes so they can focus on looking their best in front of admissions offices and hiring committees. Indeed, for twelve or thirteen years, that was the company’s primary focus: making things easier for extremely busy academic applicants and recommendation letter writers. And as we’ve cracked open the academic committee decision side more recently, our thinking has really expanded to encompass the whole faculty talent picture.

The real intervention of managing your academic credentials online bears some explanation. So here, we break down what we think are the four central benefits of an online academic dossier, and speculate about what the rise of a global network of digital academic portfolios could mean for networking and the sharing of knowledge.

Here are four central benefits, for scholars in any field, of maintaining an online academic dossier.

  1. It makes it more feasible for an employer to require confidential recommendation letters in a saturated job market. 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 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.
  3. 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 academic work. I’ll know where to go to find what I need.
  4. It gives scholars a ready-made, consolidated historical record of their job search. A dossier service makes for a more informed applicant. When I organize my job search online in this way, I can rely on a single record to find out which positions 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 class of highly qualified job applicants who are applying for dozens and dozens of positions in a very tight market.

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. Rather, the benefit of an accurate online representation of the academic network is its potential to give departments, deans, committee members, and independent institutes a more nuanced understanding of the peers that are out there, instead of a less nuanced one. 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.