It’s a Process

Somewhat recently, I had a professor tell me to think of the (academic) job market as a three to five year process. I continued smiling but immediately thought about how terrible the (academic) job market is. In part, because it actually is a multi-year process. You dip your toe in as an ABD and apply for a few good fits. The next year, you apply for everything out of complete panic. Maybe you get a postdoc or Visiting Assistant Professorship and keep applying. After that, maybe you’re part of the lucky half that gets a tenure-track job. Otherwise, you keep the dream for a few more years until you (hopefully) realize that you are worth more than continual temporary employment.

This is not to say that finding a job outside of academia is any less of a process. Most speakers during the HWWAltAc program have stressed the amount of effort, research, and time you need to put into your job search to find a good position for yourself. The process of a job search, however, gives you much more control than going on the academic job market.

For the academic job market, you do not need to do much investigating. The jobs are centralized on a list (or two lists if you check both H-Net and Inside Higher Ed*). The work is in finding every job for which you can stretch yourself to fit the description. After that, it’s about making a good impression and waiting for your call up to the majors^.

The nonacademic job market requires much more research and self-reflection. Because there are many positions in many industries, it is incumbent on the job seeker to find positions, companies, and industries that will provide sustainable work (emotionally, financially, and morally). There is no job list given to you. You need to make it. While this requires much more initial effort, it provides a much greater amount of control in terms of determining the work environment, location, and benefits you desire. During this program, many speakers have discussed the process of informational interviews (to learn about different fields and jobs), self-interrogation (to determine the skills you have, the work you enjoy doing, and the work environment in which you thrive), and patience needed to discover and work your way to a position that you find fulfilling.

Far too few graduate students bother to ask themselves if they’ll be happy being a professor (and especially being a professor at the type of institution that their department generally places). Whether looking for academic or nonacademic jobs (or both), don’t simply enter the market and hope someone buys you. Undertake a job search and discover a position that works for you.

* The italics are meant to convey the sarcastic nature behind this overgeneralization of the academic job market.
^ To use a sports analogy, as white men tend to do (without regard for who it may exclude)

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