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Academic Coaching & Writing

The Job Market

Getting an Academic Job

You have successfully completed your dissertation or are close, and are beginning to wonder “What’s next?” You know that you want an academic job, but are not sure how to go about getting one. The career center at your school is not much help because they have little information on the academic job market. Searching online and talking to other people provide some snippets of information, but you still are not sure what the process entails. Don’t worry: while the academic job market can at first be confusing and intimidating, with a little knowledge and support you can navigate it successfully. Here are tips to guide you through the stages of the academic job search.

Preparing to Go on the Job Market

Have an honest discussion with your advisor about going on the market. Because your advisor will be writing one of your letters of recommendation, get his or her honest assessment of your work as a scholar and what you need to do before you will appeal to other colleges or universities that may be looking to hire new faculty. Ideally, you should have this conversation early in your career and repeat it regularly, allowing you to get feedback and to make adjustments as you develop as a scholar.

Have similar discussions with the other people who will serve as references. At first, these conversations may be scary and intimidating. It is normal to feel afraid, but you will receive valuable feedback about your work and potential as a scholar.

Begin to research the practicalities of how the academic job market works in your field. Talk to other students who are going on the market, recent graduates who have been on the market and faculty who have been on search committees. Learn about where jobs are posted, what the application packet consists of, what documents you need to prepare, whether prospective employers interview candidates at conferences, and if so, how to attend the conference.

Decide what kind of an academic job you want. There are many types of colleges and universities, and you need to think about the environment in which you want to work and to what venue your background is best suited. For example, research universities require that you focus on research and grants, while teaching colleges require that you focus more on teaching. Think about which type of institution would be a better fit for you. Even if you are undecided and plan to apply to a variety of schools, spend time researching different types of schools, and looking at how you might fit into each one. A search committee is looking to see how you fit in, and you need to help them see the connection.

Begin preparing your application materials:

  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • Research Statement
  • Teaching Philosophy or Statement
  • Letters of Recommendation (usually three are required, and be sure to contact your referees early in the process).
  • Other materials may be required depending on your field.

Be sure that your documents have no errors. Make sure your letters and materials are personalized for the position. Write a new letter for each position.

Work on what you will say about yourself and your work during your job interview. Very often searches move quicker than expected; you do not want to be unprepared to present your research. At the dissertation writing stage, you are usually steeped in the details of your research. In order to interview successfully you need to step back, take a more thematic view of your research, and be able to communicate it to people who may not be as well versed with your sub field as you are. This shift in mindset can be difficult on short notice, and preparing well ahead will serve you well at all stages of the job market.

Applying for Jobs

Review job postings regularly. The research you did while preparing to go on the market should help you identify where to look for jobs. Create a system to keep track of application deadlines, required and submitted materials, and any communications you may have with search committees.

Finalize your application packet and ask trusted mentors and peers to provide feedback on it.

Provide your advisors and other referees with stamped and addressed envelopes. Clearly communicate your application deadlines and provide reminders when letters are due

Continue to work on your research. It is tempting to focus only on getting a job, but when you get the call from a search committee, you are going to have to talk about your work. If you have stepped away from your research, your lack of confidence and immediate lack of recall about the subject will be obvious to the search committee.

Interviewing for the Job

The first interview usually takes place over the phone or at a conference. Make sure you practice answering interview questions about your scholarship and teaching. Compile a list of questions from your mentors and practice responses out loud and with other people. Sentences that seem articulate in your head may sound unclear when said out loud or to a mentor and practicing potential responses with others allows you to get a sense of how you may appear to others.

If you get a call for an in-person interview, prepare your presentation carefully:

  • Choose a topic that well represents your research and/or teaching.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Make sure you ask each institution what the structure of the talk is. You need to factor in issues such as the time allotted, when the Q & A happens (during or after the presentation), the size and make-up of the audience, and, if needed, what technology will be available.

Research the department. You will be having conversations with people who are trying to decide if you will make a good colleague. Learn about them, their academic interests, their scholarship or teaching style, and the department. This preparation will help you have productive conversations with interviewers and will make the interview more successful.

Be professional, but be yourself. The idea is to find a job in which you will be happy and productive. Unnaturally suppressing your personality makes it difficult for you and the university to judge whether you would make a good fit.

Pay attention to your experience while interviewing. Remember that just as they are interviewing you, you are interviewing them. Be willing to take in the information you are receiving about the institution but try to refrain from making judgments (positive or negative) until you have had time to process your experience.

Negotiating the Job Offer

Congratulations! You have successfully navigated the academic job market, and have an offer! Now what? At this stage, evaluate each offer and negotiate if necessary. Talk to your mentors to get a sense of what is reasonable. You may be able to negotiate the following: salary, teaching load (in the first year and beyond), student advisory load, research expectations, start-up research money, and computing/lab equipment.

Working with a Career Coach

A Career Coach provides support, structure, and accountability while you are on the academic job market. Looking for a job can be one of the most isolating experiences, and is often a time when people allow their inner critics and gremlins to roam free. A Coach can support you by helping you work through your doubts and fears, while giving you specific feedback on your materials and interviewing skills, in a way that is productive and moves you further towards the right job for you.

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