Grad School: When to Enter the Job Market
How do you know when you are ready to leave grad school, and enter the Academic Job Market?
July 24, 2019 by Destenie Nock
I was in the middle of my first on campus interview when some of the graduate students and post-docs I was having lunch with asked me how I knew I was ready to go on the academic job market. In truth I was mentally ready to go on the job market a year before I actually did. I was ready to be done with grad school, and my research was well under way. The only issue was that none of my dissertation papers had been accepted for publication, and I knew I would kill myself trying to rush and write my dissertation. I was mentally ready, but academically I wanted more credentials, and looking back I hadn't yet established myself as an up and coming researcher. In my opinion the year before you go on the job market is the most important. So if you planned to graduate in May 2025, then you would go on the job market in the Fall of 2024. That means that the ideal year for you to really start networking with people and getting your name out there is in the Fall of 2023. Hopefully, you have been networking throughout your career, but if not, just know that it is better to start early.
But seriously...How do you know when you are ready to go on the job market?
Honestly, there is no cookie cutter answer to this question. However, there are some questions that can help you determine if you are ready to enter the market:
Does your adviser think you are ready? - probably most important question because they will write your letter of recommendation. However sometimes you need to show them that you are ready and have a clear graduation timeline.
Have you completed the work for at least two chapters of your dissertation, with the work for the third chapter underway? - This assumes the three essay dissertation format.
Have you started writing the introduction for your dissertation?
Are you tired of being in school?
Do you feel ready for the next step? - This is probably the most difficult to answer.
Are there jobs that you want to apply to? - If you see jobs popping up that you might qualify for it could be good to throw your name in the goblet of fire.
If you answered yes to at least four of these questions, then you are most likely ready to go on the market. If you haven't started writing your dissertation yet but you have completed most of your research for the main chapters, my suggestion would be to start writing as soon as possible. Please refer to my other blog post "Overcoming Dissertation Writing Hurdles" for tips on finishing the dissertation quickly.
There are little negatives that I can see from entering the job market too early. Let's say that you enter the job market and the interviewers do not think you are ready. The outcome of this will be that you probably won't get a call back, and you will have to go on the job market next year. Many people experience multiple years of being on the job market so this in itself would not be abnormal. If you do get a call back then you get interview practice, and could end up with a job offer, meaning you can decide whether to hurry up and graduate or take another year to finish your dissertation. Either way entering the market a year early is a good way to get feedback.
In my first informal campus visit I was told by the department chair that while my research interests aligned with the department, he did not like that all of the classes I suggested I could teach were graduate level classes. He then suggested that in future interviews I list a mix of undergrad and grad courses I could teach. Although I did not get a formal interview with this university it helped me prepare for the interviews I did get. In my next visits I made sure I was familiar with the course catalogs of each university, and had a mix of current and new classes I could teach for a variety of levels.
Entering the market a year early is a good way to get feedback
Networking the year before allows you to practice communicating your research to people outside of your core research area, identify opportunities for collaborations and future work after graduate school, and get your name out there. Promoting yourself is one of the best things you can due to set yourself apart from the many applicants that will be entering the market with you. The goal is to get someone to remember your name, and build relationships that can last no matter where you end up.
The year you are on the job market it is in your best interest to tell as many people as possible that you are looking for a position. I am not saying that you should go around spamming people, but there are tactful ways that you can let people know. A few examples are as follows:
Post on Facebook and Twitter that you are excited to graduate in ____ and are looking forward to the next stage.
Change your LinkedIn Status to currently seeking positions.
If you have a mentor (or hopefully a few) ask them if they know of any job opportunities coming up because you are looking for positions to apply to in _______ field. Also ask them to tell you about any jobs they think you would be qualified for.
Follow up with contacts you made at conferences in the years prior to entering the job market. Ask them if they have heard of any positions you could apply to.
You will be amazed how many job opportunities you might have missed. Although my PhD is in Industrial Engineering some of my mentors recommended that I apply to positions in Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Business Schools, and Sustainability Institutes. In total I applied to 58 jobs during my first year on the academic job market. Of the 58, roughly 20 of the jobs I applied to were based on the recommendation of a mentor.
Additionally, I have found that there is a lot of luck involved in the job hunt (in academia, industry and government). You have to hope that there are jobs in your field, in the right location, at the right time, and with the right work environment. Before my heart was set on academia I really wanted to work for a non profit, or for the government. At that time USAID and the World Bank were my top choices. When I went on the job market I was very unlucky in the governmental sphere because there was a government shut down (over a debate regarding a wall), and there was a freeze on hiring. If you think getting a job in academia is going to be tough, try getting a government job during a complete government shut down. In the words of NF, “it’s hard to get a break when the doors ain’t open.”
This is why it’s better to go on the job market as soon as you can to give yourself more time to find the right opportunity. Seneca said it best... “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
There is a lot of luck involved in the job hunt...luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.
If you are going in to the industry job market make sure your cover letter and resume is in great shape (ask a friend and a mentor to proof read). If you have decided you are ready to enter the academic job market some things you will need are a professional photo, abstract for your job talk, funding sources (you want to say more than just NSF), and an idea of some research projects you want to pursue in the future. I will post more on this in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned! If you are worried about missing updates some options are to subscribe below, or to follow me on Twitter.
Good luck in the job hunt! Remember to smile and be your best professional self. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Tip for when you get a job interview: If you are on the job market and are an "All But Dissertation" candidate (i.e. you still are writing and defending your dissertation) then I suggest that you set a defense date before you start going on interviews. This will help you stay on track for writing your dissertation, and show the hiring committee that you are serious about graduating. In one of my January campus interviews I noticed some people took me more seriously when they asked, "so when are you going to finish," and I said (without hesitation), "I am going to defend on March 18th at 10 am, and I will graduate in May."
Note about the author: Destenie Nock holds a PhD in Industrial Engineering an Operations Research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is going to be a Post-Doc in the Carnegie Mellon Engineering & Public Policy Department for 2019, and in 2020 this will transfer to an Assistant Professor position. She earned a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen's University of Belfast, and two BS degrees in Electrical Engineering and Applied Math at North Carolina A&T State University. In her free time she enjoys hitting the gym, playing tennis, and volunteering with the Girl Scouts.