Graduate students and other job seekers planning to go on the academic job market in 2018 might be thinking that the job search season, which typically begins in the fall of each year, is still a long way off. But the start of a new year is also an apt reminder of just how quickly a year goes by, and it’s not too early to start preparing for your upcoming job search.
What can job seekers resolve to do throughout this year to prepare before going on the market? Below are some suggestions for how to make the most of the coming months.
Study the current job market. Even if you don’t intend to go on the market for almost a year (or more), use the month of January to survey the job ads that have been posted over the last few months and to evaluate the state of your field and the profession. What types of institutions are hiring? Are there more openings for teaching positions or for research jobs? What sorts of positions best fit with your interests and experience? What are search committees looking for in candidates?
While the job ads posted one year are no guarantee of what will happen in the next, looking at current listings from different institutions can provide insight about how to approach your job search and how to frame your applications for different types of jobs.
Attend a major conference in your field. Presenting at a regional or national conference offers the chance to practice talking about your research and to listen to how other scholars in your field discuss their work. Both opportunities can help you learn how to more effectively describe your work in cover letters, research statements, interviews and job talks. Some conferences also offer sessions on the academic job market, during which scholars based at a variety of institutions provide insights about what their departments might be looking for in a prospective hire. Look for such sessions in the conference program and make them a priority when setting up your conference schedule.
Start talking like a scholar. In conversations with advisers, family and friends, make a conscious effort to discuss your research in ways that make you sound like a scholar, not a student. Your dissertation defines your graduate school years, but prospective employers will likely want to know where your research is headed in the future. Use the months before you go on the job market to practice talking about your research interests in ways that suggest a trajectory for your work beyond your dissertation.
Arrange a mock interview. If you are a graduate student at a program or institution that offers mock interviews, sign up for one (or more than one, if possible). If your program doesn’t offer mock interviews, request that it start doing so. You can also ask advisers, mentors or even a spouse or relative to mock interview you. Use these as opportunities to think about the kinds of questions you might be asked in future interviews and to gain more practice in getting comfortable talking about your work.
Teach a course. For graduate students trying to finish their dissertation before going on the market, it may seem counterintuitive to resolve to teach a course this year. But at teaching-focused institutions, such as community colleges and small liberal arts colleges, search committees will be interested in your teaching experience as well as your research, and job candidates with no teaching experience may find it quite difficult to discuss teaching in cover letters and interviews. While it is possible to talk about teaching philosophies or ideas for future courses and assignments, there’s no substitute for being able to talk concretely about real experiences with students in the classroom. If you’re thinking about applying for jobs at teaching institutions but have had little or no teaching experience, it may be well worth your time to seek an adjunct position for a semester or teach a summer-session course in order to gain some hands-on experience in course design and instruction.
Assemble a teaching portfolio. Whether you are teaching for the first time this year or have a great deal of teaching experience already, if you haven’t started assembling a teaching portfolio, resolve to do so this year. Your portfolio can consist of student evaluations, faculty observation reports, sample syllabi and assignments, and recommendation letters you have written for students. It will be extremely helpful to have those documents readily accessible and organized in one place, especially if you end up interviewing for teaching-oriented positions. If you wait until you are invited for an interview and then try to assemble your portfolio, you may find yourself too bogged down with other preparations to make time for this task.
Make progress on your dissertation. Some hiring organizations will consider job applicants who have not yet defended their dissertations, and you may even find some benefits to going on the market while ABD. But the more of your dissertation you have completed by the time you start your job search, the more effectively you can write about the project in cover letters and research statements and talk about it in interviews. Resolve to keep plugging away at your dissertation every single week of the year, even as you begin the time-consuming work of launching your job search and preparing your application materials.