Curious about US job market and application process? So were we. Here’s our recap and thoughts on Karen Kelsky’s talk at Warwick.

It was Karen Kelsky’s blog that taught me how to write conference abstracts (among many other things), so I was really excited about her talk at Warwick University. For those of you who got your abstract-writing skills elsewhere, Karen  is the person behind The Professor is In, a career adviser specialising in academic job market and post-academia. Her talk explored the US academic job market, but there was great, universally applicable advice. Here is what I have taken from it…

Yes, it is really that bad

The opening was like ripping the bandage. The numbers are bad, really bad, they made me cringe even though I have never had  aspirations towards the US job market. This is not a mere crisis, decline in funding is constant and terrifying. And the few jobs that are left? Search committees receive several hundred applications, and each of them might get under two minutes of reader’s attention. It better be a good one then.

What is a good application? The one that demonstrates your productivity, professionalism, autonomy and self-respect, self-promotion skills and collegiality. The search committee will judge about these based on your record, application materials and interview skills.

What can you do to improve your chances?

If haven’t earned your PhD in the US but would like to get a job there in the future, it might be good to publish in the US journals, go to conferences there and network with colleagues in the field. Familiarity is works in your favour. Another important tip Karen gives to newly graduates is to lose the grad student behaviour, and act like a colleague rather than their employers’ inferior. This mean losing the self-humility and insecurity, and replacing it with confidence and professionalism. Your appearance should reflect this too, formal outfit is a must and leave that backpack at home. Don’t be yourself advice actually refers to not showing that you are worried, shaky and desperate, rather than hiding any traces of your personality.

Image credits: Robert Shele/CC BY 2.0

Furthermore, over-descriptive emotional language in writing or talking won’t help your application. Facts should come before emotions, and your cover letter, teaching and research statements need to show your merit, rather than tell it. Choose brevity over emotional narratives.

Like with any job applications, it is important to research your prospective employer, even more so here’ since you’re not likely to know much about the US academic circles. Interviews are short and it is useful to practice your answers until you’re able to effectively address every question in a few minutes, if needed. Lastly, factor in for the unpredictability of the job market, sometimes you won’t be even shortlisted for a job that seems like tailored for you, but might land one you haven’t even wanted to apply for.

Final thoughts

The US market came across as more dire in comparison to any other national contexts I’ve heard about. While average length of the US PhD programmes (up to 11 years in some disciplines!) might sound off-putting, more time means more opportunities to publish, win grants, teach and network. It doesn’t sound utterly impossible to get a job in the US but it requires a lot of work to come in a position where you will be competitive.

This talk was an invaluable source of advice on self-presentation in the job search in general and there were many moments when I thought Oh, no, that’s exactly what I have been doing. Not the best feeling in the world, but it certainly gives me something to work on.

Have you been to the talk at Warwick or other institutions? How did you find it? Anyone braved the US job market yet? 🙂

Ana Kedveš  (@anakedves)