You are back from your discipline's annual convention, where you did everything possible to land interviews and network. Now what? Assuming you're still on the job market, here is some practical advice for your post-convention search.
Adjunct work is better than positions as graduate assistant or teaching assistant. Most employers won’t tell you this, but few count a GA or even a TA as teaching experience. Even if you have worked as an independent TA, teaching a couple of classes without the help of a professor, hiring managers might discard it because they assume you did not develop your own classes. You probably should keep your GA or TA assignment to cover the tuition of your Ph.D. program. Simultaneously, you should also find an adjunct teaching position at a local community college or university that hires a lot of adjuncts. If you fail to find a full-time job in the spring, you should definitely look for summer adjunct work, as this might give you the experience needed to find a last-minute full-time job for the fall.
Look for a job as if we are in a depression. Take my own field – English – as an example. In 2008, 891 English doctorates were awarded. In all other fields, there were 625,023 U.S. M.A.s and 63,712 Ph.D.s earned in 2008, most in the practical fields of engineering, business and education (data are from the Census Bureau). These students have a mean total debt of around $23,000. They have been in school for at least 20 years. According to Modern Language Association statistical reports, 55 percent of English students who finished Ph.D.'s between 1990 and 1995 did not find full-time, tenure-track academic positions: 30 percent found non-tenure track jobs, and the rest entered other fields. Assume that everybody in the application pool has a 4.0 GPA. You have to invest time into raising your qualifications well above the rest. In the last year of your Ph.D. or M.A. work, you might be tired and the beach might be calling you, but you have to find the strength to fill out those online, e-mailed and mailed applications throughout the year, and especially in the spring and summer. Most advertised jobs receive at least 100 replies from applicants. You might as well ignore the 55 percent statistics and think of it more like a 1 percent chance of winning any given job.
Apply for jobs in your region first. I have frequently read and heard the advice that applicants should not be "picky" and should apply for jobs across the country or the world if they want to succeed in their job hunt. Using the hunt analogy: if you want to shoot a deer as quickly as possible, would you travel to Australia to do it? I tried this approach, applying for jobs in China, Hawaii, California, the UK, and elsewhere. I even had several long-distance phone and Skype interviews. In the end, these jobs went mostly to local applicants and I found jobs in my own Eastern region (PA, OH). Think about this question from the perspective of the employer. The phone calls and Skype interviews were nearly free for them; to see a non-local applicant in person, they had to pay for travel expenses, and, if the interview succeeded, extra money for relocation expenses. Your chances of winning a job improve if you can drive to the campus from your current home in less than seven hours. Therefore, if you want to save time, apply for jobs in your region first.
Metropolitan or small-town colleges? The concentration of academic jobs in metropolitan regions like Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York is denser than in other regions (Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages), and there might be more work there than where you live if you are in the Midwest or in the far South. Of course, metropolitan regions also have more higher-degree granting programs and more competition for their academic jobs.
Apply to community colleges if you want a full-time or tenure-track job. Tenure-track jobs are on a decline: they were 56.2 percent of all institutional jobs in 1993; by 2008, they dropped to 48.8 percent. Oddly, in 2008, two-year public institutions, primarily community colleges, had the highest percentage of tenure-track employees, at 63.6 percent, among the various degree-granting institutions. Private universities with Ph.D. programs actually had the lowest percentage of tenure-track employees, probably because many of their classes were taught by TAs. Statistically, community colleges and other lesser-known colleges are simply more likely to award a new Ph.D. a better deal than are research universities.
Anna Faktorovich is an English Instructor at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and is the founder of the Anaphora Literary Press and the Pennsylvania Literary Journal.