The Academic Job Market aka That Other Job You Signed Up For

By Aria S. Halliday (@Queen_Diva6)

For many traditional* academics, the “job market” is the scary place you go to find the worth of your PhD. The “market” in the past twenty years has seen lots of changes and led to PhD programs scaring students into believing there’s only one right way to get a job.

In my previous post, Learning How to Break Up, I explained my experience with pursuing the degree that I wanted despite scare tactics and fear mongering. That process taught me that I have to be smart, diligent, and an advocate for myself. The job market is so similar to that process that I decided to drop a few gems of wisdom from my experience this past fall:

  1. Be organized — I’ve never been a fan of excel sheets, BUT having information about each job you are applying to in one place will help you! You can even create different sheets for different types of jobs; for example, as an American Studies scholar, I applied to jobs in Women’s Studies, African American/Africana Studies, and film/visual studies. I kept everything in one sheet for ease (and because I’m lazy), but do it how you want. I had labels for different columns: position, institution, job submission site, due date, required documents, letters of recommendation (and who I would ask to write), and other details (specific to the position). Once I finished a job, it was color-coded to show me that I’ve progressed to a different stage in the process. Same was also true for how I dealt with rejections and interviews.
  2. Be early – Your excel sheet should have due dates and how the job wants you to submit your file. You need to complete all applications at least 2 weeks in advance. Being early will help keep you organized and allow time for jobs that pop up randomly. One of the most stressful parts of the market is having multiple applications due at the same time and then seeing a job you should apply for pop up with a shorter deadline.
  3. Be vigilant – Each position will not be posted in every location. You should have 3-4 main sites that you use to locate jobs. Depending on your field, chroniclevitae, higheredjobs, and H-Net are great places to start. I checked these sites and a few others on Mondays and Fridays because most positions were posted on these days.
  4. Be talkative – in many ways, academia teaches students to be hushed about their aspirations and ideas for fear of others taking it. However, I learned that the job market is a great opportunity to pull on your networks and see what positions will become available soon. People are also excited to place you, especially when they know you are a great scholar. Also, communicate with fellow students about jobs. In my opinion, one of my friends getting a job I applied for is better than a stranger getting it. Therefore, share your resources and encourage your friends to apply.
  5. Be a harasser – Your committee/letter writers have a million other things to do. Most of them want to write as many letters for you as they can—because your success reflects well on them—so don’t be scared to send them reminders. I sent monthly reminders to my committee bulleting all the jobs I was applying for. The emails were specific to each member so that they knew what was required ahead of time. At least two weeks ahead (which is why you have to be early), I sent a reminder to them and included my cover letter so they knew how I was positioning myself for the job. I also sent a reminder three days ahead of the deadline. When you do most of the work for them, they will come through. Of all 57 jobs I applied for, only one job had to request a letter after the deadline.
  6. Be committed to your success – One thing I heard from several other people on the market with me was that they were only applying for a few jobs. I don’t understand! As my committee chair told me, “It’s a numbers game.” If you only apply to 20 jobs, how many of them do you expect to hear from? I applied for 57, and only heard positive news from about 3-4. You HAVE to apply far and wide. I understand not wanting to end up in a random city in Oklahoma or some terrible place in southern Indiana, but it’s only temporary. And having an offer from one job can give you leverage for the negotiations for the job you really want. As my mother has always told me, “it’s easier to get a job when you already have one.”
  7. Be careful with your emotions – Applying for jobs and getting rejections is hard. You will get many more rejections than you will good news, but like your degree, it is a test of stubbornness. Are you stubborn enough to keep applying? Are you stubborn enough to know that there’s a job out there for you? If you know me, you know that I am. So I kept applying, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s not too late—there’s time!

There are a few other things I could say, but these are the main ones. Keep shooting for the stars. There are a lot of qualified candidates, but there are also a lot of scholars who are retiring or changing fields. There’s space for you! Make up your mind to apply and get it done! Feel free to contact me if you’d like to see my excel sheet.

*Traditional means planning to become a faculty member at a institution of higher education; and yes there are other jobs. 

One thought on “The Academic Job Market aka That Other Job You Signed Up For

  1. Hi Aria, thank you for sharing this insightful information. I’ve been bouncing back and forth about applying for “traditional academic” jobs as I have become more knowledgable about various fields outside of the academy where I can use the skills I’ve acquired over the course of the my graduate matriculation. Organization is key and I’ll definitely put some of the gems you’ve given to use over the course of the next and final year of the Ph.D.


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