Of late the job search within academia has been popularly compared to the Hunger Games. It would be funny if it weren’t actually true.
Having worked for two years between my completing my Master’s degree and entering the Ph.D. program in art history, I’ve had the benefit of going through this ringer before. While I have no idea if my experience was typical, it was definitely a trial, and I suspect that writing about it can only help anyone else going through this phase of graduate school. Either you’ll relate, or you’ll enjoy a bit of schadenfreude. Without further ado, What I Learned About the Job Search:
1. Don’t take it personally. If you didn’t get the job, or even an interview, it sure feels like the hiring committee has weighed you, measured you and found you wanting. But having been on the other side of the hiring process too, I think I can say with some certainty that nobody was sitting with their feet up on a conference table, throwing darts at a copy of your CV tacked to the wall and joking that you must have been mad to apply in the first place. I have been in the room when hiring decisions were made, and no one cackled like a Bond villain over rejected résumés. A rejection letter often has nothing to do with you. In my field of art history, for instance, perhaps a museum’s upcoming exhibition schedule dovetailed beautifully with another applicant’s thesis on Rembrandt. It didn’t mean other applicants couldn’t do the job. So it’s not you. You’re lovely. And qualified.
2. It could take awhile. After my M.A. program, I spent about six months sending my CV to anyone who would take it, applying for anything remotely within the realm of possibility. In all, I sent out 52 applications and got two interviews and one offer. A few months later, I was chatting with a senior member of the museum staff at an office happy hour, comparing war stories. After his Ph.D., he’d sent out 125 cover letters. Maybe you’ll find something immediately, but be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint.
3. It’s not the end of the world. It just feels like it. Every day I made a point of checking the same sites and searching the same fields – and then trying new ones just in case they yielded anything. Most days, it came to nothing, and it was so very easy to be glum. But chin up. Sometimes things get worse before they get better – it’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.
4. Network. Eat something. Network. Coffee break. Network. Then network some more. I have to admit, I’m not so great at this, since networking in academia can entail attending conferences, which in turn entail registration fees and travel expenses. While they may not amount to a fortune, a small pile of coins can be a fortune in grad school. But things like alumni associations can be useful as well, along with social media such as academia.edu or LinkedIn. And not all functions are pricey – be on the lookout for things you can afford to do.
I’m no expert, and for all the advice I’m dishing out, I will probably let the job search get to me every now and then. It’s hard out there for a prof, especially if you have to take a series of adjunct jobs to string together a meager income. (It happens. A lot. When even fashion magazines are talking about this, you know it’s officially a thing.) But armed with the knowledge that hiring decisions, while not always in my favor, are often the result of a perfect storm of events having little or nothing to do with me, maybe I’ll have fewer sleepless nights.
What advice do you have for people entering the job search?