How to fail better (and even succeed!) in the academic job market

I’ve been on a few searches now, and observed a dozen or more hires across every stage in my academic career. There have been barrels of ink spilled on how to do better in today’s awful job market, and academic job consulting is now a thing (if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with The Professor is In).

So why write (another) post on the job search? Two reasons. First, I’ve been through both processes in the last few years, so I’ve got a recenlt perspective from both sides of the process. And secondly, I see a lot — a LOT — of really easy, fixable mistakes made by people vying for academic jobs. I was almost tempted to title this post, “If the job market sucks this much, why aren’t you trying harder?” because there have been a surprising number of times that I’ve had this thought as I’ve gone through terrible cover letters or struggled through painful interviews or downright awful job talks. But the fact is, the market sucks, and a lot of the search process is out of your control. Most people are probably trying about as hard as they can. They just may not realize what they’re doing wrong, because the process can be obtuse from the outside, and a lot of us don’t get the mentoring we need.

I’m not going to talk about what you can’t control in this post, because while that will account for a number of your specific rejections, it’s not going to be the systematic cause of failure over the long-term. If you’ve been trying for a long time and you just cannot reach the next level of the search process, it’s likely to be something you can fix.

So, your goal should be to fail better. Let me explain:  Continue reading

Guest Post: The burden of representing a demographic

I am incredibly proud to be a woman in science, to be a role model for other women and girls, and to hopefully push some of the barriers that still exist for women advancing in academia. But sometimes this can feel like an incredible amount of pressure to succeed, to show the world that I, one woman, can be great, somehow demonstrating that all women can be too. Let’s be honest – I’m not always great.

When I was interviewing for postdoc positions I had a particular experience where I really discovered this feeling. This interview was two days long and on the first day I gave my research talk. I dressed in a skirt suit and tried to be very professional. I am generally a good speaker and was confident about my talk. But part way through, a young man about my age asked a question that threw me off my game. It was a really simple question that I should have been able to answer easily. But I didn’t know. I gave a bunch of related information that led to an indirect answer, but it was clear that I should have had a direct answer to the question. The question-asker and other attendees talked a little more about this issue without pushing too hard. But I felt stupid. It made me hyper-aware of everything else in the rest of my talk, from the words that I said to the way I was presenting myself. Continue reading

Guest Post: How to improve the job search process, from the perspective of a candidate

Job openings are both a blessing and a curse. They can infuse both search committees and applicants with a sense of hope for the opportunities to come, but at the same time the search process is stressful for everyone involved.  Search committees and departments spend their time and energy reading through applications, selecting candidates, and making choices. Are they making the right decisions? Are they selecting the ideal candidate for the job?  But, no matter the stress the current faculty are under, the applicants are under more.  Each of us applicants are applying for dozens of jobs, possibly year after year.  What’s a minor annoyance in one application, such as a system that keeps crashing, or having to ask for yet another letter of recommendation that may never be read, can become a heavy burden when you multiply those annoyances by 10, 20, or 30. The same goes for interviews, both on the phone or in person.

I’ve submitted close to 40 applications over multiple years, and I have seen the worst the application and interview process has to offer.  I’ve also had some really great experiences that have helped me feel more comfortable, that I think would be great if other search committees adopted.  So what can search committees do at each stage of the process to make the search better for future searchers so the emotional toll can be reduced? Continue reading

I can haz job? Tips and tricks for the academic interview

The job season is in full swing, which means those of you on the job market are probably anxiously checking and re-checking your email for an update about your applications. If you’ve done the work of putting together a really compelling application package, and you’ve pitched yourself appropriately, and you’re a good fit for the jobs you’ve applied for (yes, it’s a real thing), you can probably expect to get an interview at some point in your job-hunting future. I’ve had a bit of success with interviews and been on a couple of search committees (if you haven’t done this yet, I urge you to do so! It’s really valuable!). Given that the interview season is just starting up, I wanted to share my thoughts as a recent hire with the folks still in the trenches. Some of this will vary by discipline, so I’ve tried to keep this as broad as possible. Also, as a blog by and about women in academia, we’re often writing for a particular audience, but most of this post is really relevant to folks regardless of gender.  Continue reading