Gearing Yourself Up For the Academic Job Market: Before You Go on the Market

5 August 2015, 1346 EDT

In our last installment, I indicated that this edition of Gearing Yourself Up would include a discussion of how to put together your job market packet.  I think I jumped-the-gun a bit, however.  Before putting together your packet, before trying to log on to APSA and navigate eJobs, before telling your family/friends that you are looking for jobs in academia[1], you need to do one crucial thing:

You need to have a heart-to-heart with your advisor(s). 

This might seem self-evident.  However, I don’t think everyone gets this memo.  I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who apply for jobs and then send an email to their advisor(s) requesting a letter of recommendation.   Sometimes, this is the first time your advisor has heard from you in year(s).[2]

So, you think you want an academic job in a year from now?  Now is the time to talk to your advisor about being on the job market.   I recommend focusing on the three R’s:

Ready:  You need to straight-up ask whether your advisor thinks you are ready to be on the market.  A good rule-of-thumb is to have at least 1 chapter of empirical results based on the theoretical-meat of your dissertation done.   There are other considerations, of course, that go into the “ready” question.  One big one is the availability of funding in Year t+1 if you don’t get a job.[3] Another consideration is whether you have any R&Rs or (hopefully) accepted publications.  If you have the ability to get funding in Year t+1 but no publications, your advisor may not think you are ready yet, even if you have much of your dissertation completed.

Realistic: You and your advisor need to be on the same page as to what your expectations are and how shitty the market actually is.  Sometimes, advisors think a certain student walks on the moon.  Sometimes, a student is just sure that his/her job packet is so good that he/she will be swimming in offers.  Sometimes, the advisor or the student is convinced that the words “do you want fries with that” are right around the corner.  A lot of time, advisors and students are on the same page as to (a) what the student can/cannot land and (b) what the student wants out of his/her career.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen it where this isn’t the case.  It’s difficult to be blunt but sometimes it’s necessary.  I always ask students what their dream job is and what job they actually think they’ll land.  Students and advisors need to also have a frank talk about what visiting jobs are and whether post-docs are an option.  It is incredibly likely that your first job will not be your last job and, quite bluntly, might not be your job in t+2.  It’s good to have this talk.  Be sure your advisor knows what type of career you are hoping for.

This is also the time where you need to be honest about (a) whether you really want to be in academia, (b) whether you want a teaching or research job, and (c) whether you have a significant other that is on the market/unmovable/in academia.   I’ve seen good students that really don’t want to go into academia at all spend a year or two half-heartedly sending out applications before bailing into the corporate sector.[4]  I’ve seen students accept a research job that then have to rebrand themselves when they later go for a teaching job.  And, finally, I’ve seen students not accept positions because a previously-unknown significant other doesn’t want to move.  We all have personal lives and sometimes these personal lives involve other academics.  If you are with an academic and that academic’s ability to get a job at your new employer is critical to you, you need to have a discussion with your advisor about this now.  There is a lot of strategy involved with dual-career couples and you’ll want all the advice you can get.  You also don’t want to spring this on an advisor that has been silently working the back-channels to get you a job that, all things considered, you’ll probably not take.

Relatedly, in the past few years, I’ve chatted with too many junior scholars that have had advisors that haven’t updated their beliefs yet about the difficulties of the job market.  Some came to age in a time where a simple telephone call to a professional colleague was enough to get anyone a job.  Some think one APSA/ISA presentation will just start the jobs rolling in.  This isn’t the case.  Talking about the difficulties of today’s market may be necessary.

Reachable:  You will need a letter of recommendation from ~3 people.  If you haven’t completed your PhD yet, these people should be the people on your committee.  You need to formally ask them (preferably during this heart-to-heart) to write you a letter of recommendation.  A lot of schools are moving the hiring process (including getting letters) to be completely online.  That means that you will enter in the email addresses of your letter writers and they will then have to upload the letters themselves by a certain due date.[5]  Now, we all know that even well-meaning professors can be a little late with email[6], so you want to make sure that your letter writers know how important this is.[7]

Additionally, you’ll want to briefly chat with your advisor about your intensions for a possible job talk and whether you can get additional feedback on that 1 chapter of empirical results I mentioned earlier.  The more feedback you have before you get a call for an interview, the better.

Ok, that’s it.  Start scheduling a time to chat with your advisor(s).  You might have to stalk them email them multiple times to find a time that works.  Let them know you are serious about being on the market and seriously listen to the advice and feedback they provide. 

Next up on Gearing Yourself Up: preparing your job market packet.


[1] At which time, your family will all remind you that they used to socialize with some dean-let at College X and they’re sure they can contact this person and get you a job without any sweat.  They might even offer to talk with the person at the next Euchre/Bridge game.

[2] Oh, yeah, that’s right, I remember Student X.  Good grief, they are still in the program?  I remember working with them in Windows 95.

[3] ie, if you don’t get a job this year, are your likely options at your university include manual labor?

[4] If you are using Interfolio, this is a waste of money AND time. Thanks to Michael Flynn for bringing this cost to my attention.  Holy moly – Interfolio costs add up.  I had no idea.  You might want to take out an extra credit card/start selling plasma now.  Or, you might want to talk to your DGS about other options.

[5] Oh, the humanity!

[6] Thanks for your email from September, 2012.  I will be answering it in the next few years.

[7] Problems with faculty not sending in information on time is what leads many students to Interfolio.  But, beware of the cost (see Footnote 4).