How to be successful on the academic job market
Now that the new academic year has arrived, many Ph.D. students will be going on the job market for the first time. And many others will be re-entering the academic job market. While there’s a lot of good advice that you can find online about job market strategies, I thought I’d pass along four important tips that I give to my graduate students when they prepare for interviews and fly-outs.
Know Your Audience
Every academic department is unique, and it’s always an excellent idea to solicit the opinions of your mentors, your dissertation advisors, about the character and focus of a department that you visit. Some departments may have a history that is more quantitative, others may be more qualitative. In some departments, political theory might mean the spatial model of elections, while in others it might mean Aristotle.
Understanding the unique nature of each department is critical for preparing for your interview and job talk. You may want to stress components of your research portfolio differently across departments, and be flexible in your thoughts about your teaching interests in different contexts. Understanding each department’s character will help you anticipate the sorts of questions you’ll be likely to get in your job talk, and will help you think about how you’ll answer those questions.
Research Your Interview
No matter the situation, whether it’s a coffee meeting with a search committee at a professional conference, or a full day of one-on-one interviews during a campus visit, you’ll be meeting with a diverse range people. Get to know these people BEFORE your meeting or visit. For example, if a search committee asks to have coffee with you at a conference, ask them who is on the committee, and who you’ll meet with. Take a look at the websites of those people before the meeting, get to know their role in their department, their research and teaching interests, and think of some intelligent questions to ask them.
This is also very important advice for a campus visit, where you might meet with a wide number of faculty and administrators during your interviews. Do your best to get your interview schedule in advance of your visit, and spend some time researching those who you will be meeting with. You always want to have specific questions for people you visit with, about their work, about their teaching, and their experience in the department or at the university.
Prepare Three Pitches
When you are preparing for the job market, you need to prepare three different summaries of your work, each summary appropriate for specific situations. In your interviews, you’ll encounter people with different degrees of interest in your work, and you need to gauge their degree of interest and give them the right pitch. This is why you need to prep three pitches.
The first is the “elevator” pitch. This is a very short summary of your research topic, your contribution, and why someone should care. This is the pitch that you will literally use when you are going office-to-office during your interview day, when you have a very brief opportunity to describe your research agenda quickly. You’ll use this pitch for people who work largely outside your area, so it needs to be short, punchy, and interesting.
The second is the “breakfast” pitch. You’ll sit down with three or four people for a meal while you are interviewing, they will have diverse interests, but you’ll have an hour or so for conversation. Someone will inevitably say, “tell us about your research.” Here you need to have a two minute introduction to your work, with sufficient detail that other specialists will find something of interest to talk further with you about, but which also has sufficient generality that people outside your area will be able to participate in a broader conversation about the topic or area.
The third is the “office” pitch. During your one-on-one interviews, you’ll have a chance to sit down for at least thirty minutes with other specialists in your area. You need a more detailed three to five minute summary of your work. Here you can tell them about the innovative methods you are using in your work, the amazing field work you did, or details about specific chapters that they will find of interest. This pitch should be designed to get other specialists in your area thinking about your research topic, and to stimulate an interesting conversation with them about your work and their ideas about your research.
Being on the academic job market is not easy. You’ll be anxious and stressed, and it’s hard to stay focused.
But throughout this process, stay confident. Approach your interview and job talk with a great confidence.
How? Keep in mind that you are the expert on your research. The point of researching and writing a Ph.D. is that it makes you the world’s expert on your topic. Sure, you will meet people in your interviews at other colleges and universities who are plenty smart; some of them will know a lot about your subject, and will ask you lots of difficult questions. But always remember that you are the expert, that you know this material better than anyone in the world. That attitude will help you excel when you give your job talk and when you conduct your one-on-one interviews.
Also, your job market experience is a fantastic opportunity for you to get feedback about your research. Keep in mind that your research will be the focal point of your interview and job talk. Present your work with confidence, and collect all of the questions and feedback that you can to improve your research and presentational style for the future.
Have confidence, and make sure that being on the academic job market is a learning experience.
Professor of Political Science, Caltech
Co-Editor, Political Analysis
Recipient of the 2017 SPM excellence in mentoring award
Co-Editor of the Analytical Methods for Social Research book series for Cambridge University Press