The Academic Job Search

The application process can be daunting. Here are practical tips for the search process and preparing your materials.

It is getting to that time of year when, if you are about to go on the job market, you may be starting to get a little nervous.  A lot of questions may come up: where do I find out about jobs? What can I do to prepare ahead of time? What materials are expected? How in the world am I going to have time to apply for jobs while I’m _____  (writing a dissertation, preparing publications, teaching classes, etc.)?  Two years ago that was me – and it is me again this year (and maybe next year too).  The goal of this month’s blog is to share some tips and strategies that I collected over the years to help organize and plan the job search.  (Stay tuned for future blogs on interviewing and negotiating tips!)

First, here is a list of websites that I used:

http://www.higheredjobs.com/ (my fave #1)

http://chronicle.com/section/Jobs/61/ (my fave #2)

http://psychjobsearch.wikidot.com/ (This is a great resource where users can post jobs and then say where each institution is in the process of hiring. So someone will update saying that they got a phone interview and you’re able to follow the progress and won’t be kept in suspense for months on end. A cautionary note: one may procrastinate and/or significantly increase his or her anxiety level by checking this site too often!)

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/employment (every once in a while there would be job here that wasn’t listed elsewhere and they have a postdoc exchange)

http://www.apa.org/careers/psyccareers/ (perhaps a little better for clinicians)

http://careers.srcd.org/jobs/

https://www.s-r-a.org/announcements/job-postings  (You have to be a member to view these jobs but if you are reading this blog there is a good chance you are already a member.)

Make sure you play around with different search terms (i.e., developmental psychology, human development, adolescent development, child development, child psychology, and terms that might be more specific to your specialty).  Also, a little tip from my co-blogger Sarah: higheredjobs.com, The Chronicle, and APA will let you sign up for daily or weekly e-mails of job postings that meet your search criteria.  What a great time-saver!

Getting organized

Good organization is key for making the job search process as painless as possible (not that it could ever be totally painless – prepare for rejection!)  When I was first on the job market two years ago looking for tenure-track faculty positions, most applications were due in October and November with the earliest due date being Sept. 15 and the latest being Jan. 30.  Be aware that post-docs and instructor positions are much more likely to be advertised in the spring and summer so if a tenure-track faculty job was your first choice but it isn’t working out, don’t panic yet, you’ll still have time to apply for other types of positions.

I would highly recommend prepping now –  NOT the week before the first due date.  I found it helpful to set aside 1-2 days a week to peruse the websites with job listings.  Constantly checking the websites for new job postings can be very addicting!  It is also important to keep track of the jobs you decide to apply for. An excel spreadsheet was passed along to me and it was incredibly useful for keeping track of all the jobs (I applied to about 30 – I’ve heard of people applying to over 60).  My excel sheet has the following categories: the actual hyperlink to the job ad (so you can easily find it again to reference), the institution, specialization sought/department, whether it was an online application, contact person with address, and deadline for submission.  You may want to add categories with any other helpful or pertinent info that will help you when writing cover letters. This kept me organized and was helpful for tailoring the first sentence of the cover letters.  I also included columns for each of the following possibilities:  whether an acknowledgment letter was received, any additional materials requested, when additional materials were sent, date of telephone interview, when the thank you letter was sent, on-campus interview, travel arrangements confirmed, thank you letter sent, offer or rejection received, deadline for decision, date hard copy of acceptance/denial letter received.  Here’s to hoping a few more of these columns will get entries this time around!

What can you do now?

So, assuming you’re convinced to start preparing early, where do you start? First, identify and ask people to write your letters of recommendation.  Make sure the people you indentify are willing to write you a good recommendation and then ask what they need from you to make their job easier. For instance, do they want to do most of them all at once or a few at a time? How much info do they want about each application – the full job posting or a summary?  Would they like to see your teaching and research statements (hopefully yes)?   You will have to let them know whether the letters are to be submitted online, sent separately (you should provide envelopes and stamps), or put in a sealed envelope and sent with your application materials.  An excel sheet with all this info is a great way to organize it for your letter writers.

You should also prepare your CV, teaching statement, and research statement.  You should end up having a few different versions of each of these.  Depending on the job, you may want to go into further details on your teaching experiences. Or you may want to highlight certain aspects of your research.  For instance, my area of interest is adolescent decision making and risk behavior.  I applied for jobs advertising for someone who studies judgment and decision making, social development, cognitive development, and adolescent or child development more broadly.  I brought certain aspects of my research to the forefront accordingly.  Have anyone and everyone who is willing to read and give feedback on ALL your materials do so. Typos or grammatical mistakes will look bad to the search committee.  I kept finding lots of little things in my CV like using periods at the end of some statements and not others. Ask to see the application materials of individuals who have recently gotten a job at your current institution or former grad students who went on to academic jobs (i.e., people who were successful in their job search and application process).

Research and Teaching Statements

The following is a summary of the tips I received for writing the teaching and research statements.  Most graduate schools should have some good resources on these types of materials. Eventually all the tips and suggestions will start to be repetitive, but I would recommend seeking out as many resources as possible. There is always likely to be a different or new idea that is useful to you and your specific situation.

Teaching statements:

1.      Keep it short and snappy – 1-2 pages.

2.     Think of a course you enjoy teaching the most, a course you’ve taught recently, or a course you’d like to teach if   you haven’t taught one before.  Concentrate on that specific course.

3.     What are your goals for the course? Try to limit yourself to 3.

4.     What instructional methods, materials, and techniques to you use to support your teaching goals?  Why do you   choose the teaching strategies and materials you use?

5.     What does learning look like when it happens? How do you assess impact?  What evidence of effective        teaching do you have?

6.     What do you do to improve your teaching or develop as a teacher?

As part of your overall academic portfolio, you’ll probably want to include a summary of teaching evaluations and select student statements (the positive ones only, of course).  Turning all of this into a brief and clear summary of everything you’ve done in graduate school is very time consuming – plan accordingly!

Research statements:

1.     What is your general research area? What major problem(s) do you wish to explore?  Is it a basic science question, a particular application? Are you developing new methodologies? Why should we care about your research?

2.     What is the focus of your most recent research? How does this research relate to where you’ve been and where you’re going?

3.     What unique accomplishments make you ideally suited to do this research? The research should arise naturally from your prior accomplishments.

4.     What is novel and exciting about your past/current/future research?

5.     What is the problem’s relevance to your field? What is its importance to scientists outside your field?

6.     In what directions do you hope to take this research? What are your specific research goals in the next 3-5 years? Explain how your future work facilitates long-term research directions.  Providing evidence of a program of research is essential.

7.     Are there particular funding agencies that might be interested in your research? And what are your specific plans for obtaining funding? (This last point will be important for many types of jobs).

Don’t forget to mention specific projects, grants, and publications you’ve had a part in.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge Dr. Kellas and Dr. Bellows who directed the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) course at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for supplying me with this information.  By the way, if you have an opportunity to be involved in a PFF course, definitely look into it. I found it very beneficial in my preparation for the job market.

The Cover Letter

Finally, let’s talk about cover letters. It will be rather difficult to prepare cover letters ahead of time and these will take the majority of your time while you are in the midst of sending applications. These should be tailored to each job ad.  There will be many good candidates for each job and essentially it comes down to fit.  So the purpose of the cover letter is to convince the search committee that you will be a good fit for the job, the department, and the institution.  Academic cover letters are not like “real world” cover letters. So following examples of cover letters from catch-all job sites like monster.com or careerbuilder.com is probably not going to be very useful.  Cover letters for academic jobs are much more involved and specific – and longer. Definitely ask if you can see some examples from newly hired faculty members.  For me, every letter started out with a paragraph with basic introductory information including who I am, my degree and where I got it, which position I’m applying for, and all the materials that were included. (This is where that excel sheet helps out a ton).  The next paragraph usually detailed my research program and my specific research experiences including any relevant publications.  In this paragraph I really tried to point out where my research interests matched up with the job ad.  If the job you’re applying for is more focused on teaching, then the second paragraph is probably where you want to go into detail about your teaching experiences.  If you’re applying for a clinical position, you will want to describe relevant clinical experience.  In other words, the sequence of your paragraphs will vary depending on the job.  Many institutions, even those that are teaching-focused, will be interested in how you involve undergraduates in research, so be sure to include that information.  My third paragraph was usually about my quantitative training and search committees are likely to be interested in whether you know some sophisticated statistical techniques (e.g. SEM, multilevel modeling, etc.). Then my final paragraph would be on my teaching experience and include the courses I would be interested in developing within that department.  The content of each paragraph will probably be similar, but you should be very specific about how your unique experiences and interests fit with the job.  In general, try to mention as many of the required and desired qualifications from the job ad as possible and how you meet those qualifications.

By Jen Wolff