Gearing Yourself Up For the Academic Job Market: Waiting

21 July 2015, 1511 EDT

It’s getting to be that time of year again – the time when a fresh not-so-fresh crop of ABDs/PhDs gear-up for the academic job market.  I’ve been there – it can make even the most self-assured academic have an existential crisis.[1]

As much as I hated being on the job market myself, I absolutely love looking up and providing job market advice for students at Mizzou. I think I received especially good advice when I was a grad student and I think the advice I received has been causally related to my present situation (which I love).  I’d like to “pay it forward.” On my first day as DGS, I wrote a 5,000 word memo on the job market process to all our grad students.[3] A lot of the advice I give is similar to what I received when I was a grad student.  As the season approaches, I thought I’d share some of it with you.

For this post, I thought I’d bring attention to what most of the job market consists of  for most people:


It’s a lot of nothing. 


Seriously, gear yourself up for a whole lot of nothing.  A lot of the year will be spent waiting around for the phone to ring/email to arrive.  For every position, you are competing with 200+ other individuals to be one of three or four granted an interview slot.  It doesn’t take advanced calculus to figure out that the odds mean that, quite often,  you will just not be called.  This is disheartening and it might be your first real experience with rejection.[4]

You need to be prepared for the waiting.  I think those that succeed[5] get over the shock of not receiving a phone call and keep plowing ahead on their dissertation, their publications, and their options. Some, however, don’t anticipate the pain and then spend a whole year hitting refresh every 10 minutes on their inbox.  This can really derail everything you could be doing to improve your chances in the next job season. [6]

Others, in an effort to avoid the pain, try to only apply to jobs where they think they have a real shot (i.e. this might be a grad at a middling university that decides only to apply to VAP positions) or to otherwise delay/postpone the inevitable job search.  I hear this a lot from people on the market the first time – “I’m only applying to a few positions this year” or “I’m testing the market.” Frankly, I think this is a horrible decision that will just prolong your pain. You will not get 100% of the jobs you don’t apply for.  If you are going to go on the market at all, why not really go on the market? I’m sure there are some reasons why “testing the market” might be ok advice for a specific student but I don’t think it is good advice for the majority of students.  Before you tell someone you will just be “testing the market” next year, please really think about what that means.  It probably means you (a) should not be on the market at all and/or (b) will be repeating the whole process the next year with a larger search.  In either case, I think your time would be better off either going big or going home – if you spend the time putting your packet together for a small number of jobs, why not just apply broadly?

Of course, you do not have to apply to every job in your area. If your interest is not in research, don’t apply for the Ivy League jobs. If your interest is not in teaching, a small liberal arts college with a 5-5 teaching load is not going to be interested in you.  I just heard some great advice from a wonderful friend, too: even as you are applying broadly, don’t apply to jobs that you wouldn’t ever take.  If you’d rather be working a non-academic job than working at College X, don’t apply to College X.  Just be realistic every time you do this – two or three years down the road, you might feel differently about College X.[7]

In short, concentrate on the jobs you are actually interested in but still apply broadly. Expect rejection.  Expect to be waiting.  Don’t let those expectations, however, stop you from actually giving the job market your all.

This gets me to the heart of my job market advice: regardless of your AA status/religious inclination, think of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

The job market experience is difficult because there are a lot of things you can’t change and can’t control.  There are things you can change, however.  I think applying broadly is one thing you can change while waiting to hear back on your applications is one thing you’ll just have to accept.

In my next installment, I’ll try to provide some less philosophical advice on preparing your placement file.



[1] Picking up a hobby may help.

[2] Those who can’t do, teach.  Those who can’t teach, advise.

[3] File under: things you shouldn’t do during your summer break. Or, things you shouldn’t want to do.

[4] Although, hopefully, you’re submitting things to journals and learning about rejection that way, too.

[5] It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

[6] ie Publish, publish, publish

[7] College X is still probably preferable to Mom’s Basement.