Navigating the Academic Job Market

Where would you like to live? Do you want to big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? Are you hoping to culminate your graduate education with the perfect academic job? If so, it’s important to understand that the process of landing your dream job actually begins the moment you enroll in graduate school. Indeed, your entire graduate experience should be viewed as an apprenticeship for the professoriate. Graduate school is the ideal training ground for mastering the research, teaching, public speaking, and networking skills you need to find a solid academic job.

Included below are key aspects of maximizing the benefits of your graduate experience to help capture the perfect job. To augment the information we are able to include here, I highly recommend reading The Academic Job Search Handbook by Mary Morrison and Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel. The first book goes into great detail regarding the steps you should take to find your perfect job, and what to expect on the quest to do so. The second one helps female graduate students learn how to say no, ask for what they want and more importantly be successful in their academic career.

Building a Solid Reputation

Graduate school is replete with opportunities to begin building a solid academic reputation. Take advantage of them! Present your research every chance you get; a wide range of potential forums exist, from informal on-campus “brown bag” seminars to poster sessions.

Also, you should strongly consider attending and/or presenting at regional or national conferences. Your academic discipline will promote these types of conferences by putting out a “call” for papers which list research categories and specific deadlines for submission. Be sure to mark those deadlines on your calendar! In addition to seeking presenters, the “call” will frequently request help fulfilling other key roles, such as session/topic organizers, discussants, and presiders. If you’re not prepared to present, take advantage of these pathways to participate. Even simple attendance of the conference can beneficial, as it allows you to network with experts in your field; meet publishers; view firsthand the most effective means to present your own research; and even “interview” for a job!

If you don’t have the funds to attend many conferences, be selective about which ones to attend. Be sure you are a presenter, and plan ahead to make your networking efforts purposeful. In addition, research what type of financial assistance might be available to you; some departments, traineeships, grants or fellowships provide travel monies specifically earmarked for students to attend conferences.

The Application Process

Don’t wait until you finish your degree to begin applying for jobs; seeking the perfect position should be a thoroughly integrated aspect of your education! While writing your thesis/dissertation, make researching what job openings are available a part of your regular routine, and apply to all that are of interest to you. I suggest that you send out applications at least twice a month, for example on the 1st and 15th.{dara please make sure these are superscripts

With so much going on, it’s important to stay organized. To streamline the process, I suggest creating a job application packet that includes a basic cover letter, a writing sample, teaching evaluations and a curriculum vita. Be sure to rework your basic cover letter each time to tailor it for the specific job for which you are applying.

(Note: Most academic positions ask for a curriculum vita (CV) rather than a resume. A resume is a summary of your work history and education that typically doesn’t exceed 1-2 pages. A CV is a complete summary of your accomplishments, and should include your name; education; dissertation committee; a summary paragraph about your dissertation; any publications you have completed (e.g., master’s thesis); conference presentations you have done; and awards you have received. Starting out, your CV may be quite short, but it will grow in length as you progress along your educational and career paths.)

Moreover, I suggest that you create an Excel spreadsheet (see below) that helps you track job openings at each university. Universities advertise job openings at various times throughout the year, so it’s important to keep track of important deadlines. Highlight all deadlines, note each time you send out an application packet, and provide an updated file to your committee members on a monthly basis. It’s important to keep committee members apprised of all jobs for which you apply, because they will need to write recommendations for you. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your application is complete and on time, and getting recommendations in on time may be one of the more challenging aspects of this task. Be sure to ask your committee for suggestions about how to make the process go more smoothly, particularly if you are in a small department with limited resources (e.g., administrative support, mailing materials, and supplies).

Try not to get too emotionally connected to the application process, because it can be very trying. Some universities are very good about acknowledging and responding to the receipt of your materials; others are not. Be aware that the process can take months. Because of the large number of applications that are typically submitted for each job, it can take a great deal of time to review all paperwork and narrow down the pool of applicants to a reasonable number of possible candidates. You may not be contacted unless or until you make the “short list.”

You’ve Made the Short List: Now What?

“Making the short list” means that you are among a small number of possible candidates who are still being considered for a particular job opening. If you make it to this point, the faculty and dean of the department will want to take a closer look at you. They will arrange an interview, which usually involves flying out to meet with them face to face. As such, it will be necessary to coordinate your travel plans with the appropriate coordinator (e.g., the person who called you). Be sure to clearly ascertain how travel costs will be handled, and to clarify who will be paying the costs, and when. Some universities want you to pay for the costs upfront, and then reimburse you afterward. Others make and pay for the travel arrangements themselves so that you don’t incur any out-of-pocket costs. Either way, it is necessary to track all of your costs and keep copies of all receipts. You may wish to consider keeping a separate credit card on hand to pay for expenses associated with your job search. You don’t want to lose the opportunity to interview for a great job because you couldn’t afford the airfare!

Your Three-Day Interview Process

A campus interview is the forum through which department faculty get better acquainted with you and ultimately determine whether or not you are a good “fit” with the job, the faculty, and the staff. This process often occurs over a three-day period, and includes a variety of activities, including an oral presentation commonly referred to as your “job talk,” several meals with the hiring committee, additional social occasions, interviews with students, and one-on-one interviews with the dean and each department faculty member.

Understand that you will be under review from the moment you exit the plane; the only time you will be alone is when you are sleeping.

Note, as well, that how you dress will set the tone for the interview. You needn’t run out and spend a lot of money on clothing, but take care to ensure that your attire is professional. Dressing conservatively is always the safest route; your attire can give you a competitive edge and make a positive impression.

How to Achieve ‘Job Talk’ Success: Practice, Practice, Practice dara this was not highlighted in the copy I saw
Achieving success with your “job talk” should come naturally for you if you have adequately prepared with the help of colleagues and friends. Your “job talk” interview should definitely not be the first time you publicly present your case and research. Practicing before “the real deal” can diffuse a great deal of stress and anxiety you might otherwise feel. To condition yourself for job interviews, take advantage of forums such as on-campus “brown bag” seminars or gatherings of friends and colleagues. Practicing in these types of informal settings allows you to hone your presentation skills in a relaxed atmosphere, and increase your self-confidence.

Keep in mind that the most common question you will be asked will be regarding your dissertation research. Be sure to prepare a concise one- to two-minute summary of your research that you can recite at will. You should prepare a five-minute summary of your research, as well, in the event that someone who is very interested requests more information. You will also be asked about the future of your research: where you see it going, and how it can be applied. It is absolutely critical that you be fully prepared to answer these type of core questions.

For some job interviews, you may be asked to give a class lecture in addition to a job talk presentation. Be sure to fully prepare yourself by carrying overheads, even if you have a PowerPoint presentation. If you are required to give a PowerPoint presentation, be sure to practice this with friends, as well. Avoid simply reading what is on the screen! PowerPoint is a tool to help you synthesize information; the screen should not include every word you want to say but, rather, concise bullet points that serve as “prompts” for the points you want to make. There is nothing more frustrating than having someone read off the screen. I have often felt like screaming at a presenter, “I have a Ph.D; I know how to read for myself!”

Legitimate Questions

One obvious question you will want to know about your “perfect” job is what kind of salary it will provide. However, you should never discuss salary during the initial three-day interview … during this critical time, it’s important to focus on every aspect of the job but money!

Before you arrive on campus, put your research skills to task and read everything you can about the hiring university and department so that you can ask intelligent questions of your potential colleagues. Pinpoint someone on the faculty who is conducting research in your area. And come prepared to answer the common question, “Who on the faculty do you see yourself working with? “

While you’re on campus be sure to ask your potential colleagues questions about the type of resources that are available to faculty (for example, computer technology, server space, travel money, grant opportunities, teaching or research assistants, lab space, administrative support, publication assistance, and opportunities to collaborate with other faculty). These are all very important considerations, particularly if you would be moving from a large graduate program to a small school with fewer resources.

The Art of Negotiation

The appropriate time to begin discussing and negotiating salary is AFTER you have received an OFFICIAL JOB OFFER IN WRITING. A formal offer is a clear indication that the university really wants you to become a faculty member. Remember: you were selected after months of careful consideration. Don’t be afraid that they will renege their offer if you counter for more money and resources. Most likely, they will be willing to invest in your future success. In fact, most university deans fully expect to negotiate on the offers they make. If you need help evaluating the offer discuss it with your mentor/advisor.

To ensure that you maximize the benefits you receive, be sure to do your homework. You should definitively know what other people in your graduating cohort are currently receiving, as well as what other faculty members (especially assistant professors) on that campus are making. Faculty salaries at public universities are public information; look them up!

You should be honest about your financial situation, and know your bottom line. Sometimes the dean and others on the hiring committee can forget what it is like to be a struggling graduate student. Remind them that you may not have any assets when you leave graduate school; for example, if you don’t have a house to sell, you won’t have start-up capital for your move to a new location.

Clearly, salary negotiation is a very important consideration. Not only does a good salary provide a better standard of living, it also establishes the baseline for future income increases, and can also reduce the need to look for other, career-diverting ways to earn additional income.
To thrive in your new job, however, you will need more than a good starting salary. Start-up resources can be even more critical than salary in terms of assisting you to be more successful. Negotiations should focus on getting the things you need to best succeed at your job, while remembering that you will becoming part of a group of people with whom you will likely work for years to come.

In addition to salary, other points of negotiation can include:

o A job for your spouse;

o A down payment on a house;

o Moving expenses (for example, airfare, rental car, transportation for spouse/children, etc.);

o Lab space, computers and specs, materials, server space, etc.;

o Access to graduate/undergraduate assistants;

o Time off from teaching;

o Summer salary (how many summers?)

Understand that the negotiation process is the last time that you will be in the driver’s seat! Once you officially join the faculty, you will be competing with other departmental budgetary priorities and senior faculty for important resources, so make the most of your bargaining powers now!