Posts Tagged ‘Job Market’

A nice video examining the credit crisis: The Crisis of Credit. See also Frontline: Inside the Meltdown.

Both go a long way toward demystifying a complicated problem (which is not helping the fact that the job market sucks).

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Since Voltaire clearly wrote Candide as an allegory for the academic job market, I thought that it would be fitting to share a few more of his insights into academia:

On leaving graduate school for a tenure-track job:

“We are going to another world,” said Candide; “it is there, without doubt, that every thing is for the best.  For it must be confessed that one has reason to be a little uneasy at what passes in this world, with respect to both physics and morals.”  (pg. 30)

On modern life:

I find that all goes contrary with us, that no one knows what is his rank, or what is his employment, or what he does, or what he ought to do; and except entertainments which are very gay, and over which their appears to be considerable union, all the rest of the time passes in impertinent quarrels, Jansenists against Molinists, members of parliament against dignitaries of the church, men of letters against men of letters, courtesans against courtesans, financiers against the people, wives against husbands, relations against relations; it is a continual warfare.  (pg. 68)

On graduate training:

“Some fools admire everything in an author of reputation; for my part, I read only for myself; I approve nothing but what suits my own taste.”  Candide, having been taught to judge of nothing for himself, was very much surprised at what he heard…”  (pg. 79)

On academic pride:

“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide, “when you were hanged, dissected, severely beaten, and tugging at the oar in the galley, did you always think that things in this world were all for the best?” “I am still as I always have been, of my first opinion,” answered Pangloss; “for as I am a philosopher, it would be inconsistent with my character to contradict myself.”  (pg. 89)

Pangloss confessed, that he had always suffered dreadfully; but having once maintained that all things went wonderfully well, he still kept firm to his hypothesis, though it was quite opposed to his real feelings.  (pg. 91)

From:  Voltaire.  1966.  Candide and Zadig.  New York: Airmont.

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Having prepared answers to frequently asked questions on the job market can make the interview process a lot smoother, but I think that it is also important to prepare good questions to ask.  I first realized this a few years ago when I heard that faculty members laughed when a fellow graduate student asked what their students were like during a phone interview.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this question.  The problem arises when it is asked so often that it becomes hackneyed.  The solution is to ask questions related to this theme that show you have thought about the meaning behind it.  For example, ask how many of the students have jobs, what type of placement (academic and non-academic) they typically receive after graduation, and whether the school’s selectivity affects typical grade distributions.  The answers to each of these questions will help you form an image of what their students are like.

You can also ask questions that show you have done your research.  Rather than asking how many majors they have, when this information is available on the department web site, note that you know how many majors they have and ask if this number has changed over the past five years.  For schools with a religious affiliation, you can ask how that affiliation is reflected in classroom interactions.

Obviously, I have not cornered the market on good questions, but here are some suggestions for engaging faculty and administrators in conversation (also available as in PDF format).

Questions to Ask


Other than graduate school, what types of jobs have some of your students recently received after graduation?

How many of your students have jobs?

What are typical class sizes at each level?

What kinds of faculty development opportunities are there?  Travel?  Computers?

How does advising work?  Does each faculty member advise a certain number of students?

What is the process for deciding the topics and professors for the special topics classes?

What are the tenure expectations for new faculty?  Have those expectations changed since you went through the tenure process?

What is the human subjects process like here?

What is your typical grade distribution/how does your school’s selectivity affect grade distributions?

What is the relationship between the community and the school like?

What do you like most about working here?

What is the anticipated timeline going forward?


What are your tenure expectations for new faculty?

How is the sociology department thought of within the school?

Where do you see the school going in the next 5-10 years?

What is your vision for the college/sociology department?

What would you like to see in terms of teaching, service, and research from a junior faculty member going up for tenure?

How is faculty assessment handled?

What is the school’s financial status?  How is the school responding to the recent economic downturn?

What support exists for faculty research?

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Being on the job market this year, I was frequently reminded of Candide by Voltaire.  This occurred whenever friends, family members, or my advisor told me that everything would work out for the best.  My advisor repeated this mantra after I ended up with a job at my second choice of the schools that had interviewed me, arguing that the region of school #2 would be a better fit for me than that of school #1.  A writer in the Chronicle’s “Landing Your First Job” section shares this view, stating:

I’m amazed and relieved and convinced, now more than ever before, that things usually happen for a reason, or at the very least, things eventually work out for the best.

While this statement may seem natural for somebody who has just received her first tenure-track job, the author had been on the market for six years before having success.  Surely, she would have found a job sooner than that if things had truly worked out for the best.  Personally, six years on the job market sounds a lot more like “Mad World” than “Shiny Happy People.” Could it be that we as candidates are so beaten down by the job market that when and if we finally accept a tenure-track job offer we are compelled to feel that it is “for the best,” regardless of our experiences on the market?

If this is the case, Candide is a particularly fitting allegory for the job market experience.  Written in response to the philosophical optimism of Pope (whatever is, is right) and Leibnitz (God is good so he created the best of all possible worlds), Candide represents the candidate who is forced out of the comfortable confines of graduate school and onto the job market (Ch. 1 – How Candide was brought up in a fine castle, and how he was expelled from thence).  The philosopher Pangloss represents the candidate’s dissertation advisor, who is denied tenure and is forced to enter the market shortly after Candide.

Each new adventure in the book can be seen as a job interview.  Most of these go painfully wrong and, thus, end in rejection.  Throughout these adventures, Candide attempts to maintain that everything that happens is for the best.  Eventually, he is offered his dream job, which he turns down because it is not near his fiancee (Ch. 17 – The arrival of Candide and his men at the country of Eldorado).  After a great deal of suffering on the market, Candide and Pangloss finally accept tenure-track jobs at a low-ranking institution, causing a friend to ask:

I want to know which is the worst; to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, to run the gauntlet among the Bulgarians, to be whipped and hanged, to be dissected, to row in the galleys; in a word, to have suffered all the miseries we have undergone, or to stay here, without doing anything? (pg. 91)

After a visit with the dean (represented by a Turk), who tells him that success and happiness depend on getting work done (no doubt referring to tenure expectations) Candide accepts his position and turns his attention toward receiving tenure.  The end finds Pangloss arguing that if he hadn’t spent six painful years on the job market he wouldn’t be where he is today, to which Candide replies “That’s very well said, and may all be true, but let’s [get back to work on that conference submission].”

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One way to prepare for an interview, whether by phone or in person, is to prepare (and study) answers to frequently asked questions.  This allows you to organize your thoughts in advance and minimizes the likelihood that you will be caught off guard (as I was when asked about my vision for a department).  The questions below have been drawn from multiple sources and, while they are slightly skewed toward liberal arts positions, many of them are relevant to academic jobs in general.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Job Market*


Why do you want to work here?/Tell us about the kind of job you’re looking for.

Why liberal arts?


What are you looking for in a job?

What is your vision for the department?

About You

Describe your teaching philosophy.

What unique qualities would you bring to this school?

What kind of colleague are you?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?

How would you describe yourself to a room full of sociologists?

Can you think of a book in sociology that you’d say has had the greatest impact on your thinking as a sociologist?

In your ideal job, what would be the balance between teaching and research?  What % of time would you devote to teaching and what % to research?

Can you tell me something about your interests and involvements beyond your teaching and research?

What kinds of support would you expect from the university?

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?


Can you tell me a little about how you use engaged learning in your courses?

What do you find the most exciting about teaching?

What do you find most frustrating in dealing with students in general?

What do you think are your strengths as a teacher?

What do you think are your weaknesses?

Can you think of a difficult situation that came up in a classroom that you handled well?

What is your favorite class to teach?

What is your dream class?

How would you teach (a particular course mentioned in the job ad)?

Which five classes would you most like to teach?

How do you usually go about developing a course on something that’s not in your specialty area?


Have you thought about involving students in research?

What do you plan to do with your research (publications, teaching, community presentations)?

Where do you see your research going?


How would you describe your dissertation to an undergraduate student?

Where do you stand with the project now?

What sorts of things are you finding?

When do you expect to finish your dissertation?

What broader literatures do you see your dissertation speaking to?

*Also available in PDF format.

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Phone Interview

Phone Interview

Another mystery of the job market is the phone interview.  While some large schools forgo phone interviews, small and medium-sized schools often use them to help determine which candidates from the short list will be invited for on-campus interviews.  The mysterious part is that, like your application, you cannot know exactly what interviewers are looking for.  What you can do, however, is prepare yourself by practicing responses to commonly asked questions and researching the school and department.  You can also spread your notes about the school and department, job market materials, questions to ask, and even prepared answers around you, as the picture above demonstrates.

I had four phone interviews in my time on the market and each was of a slightly different type, which I discuss below.  From most preferred to least preferred, they were:

The one-on-one interview

While I assume that this type of interview ranges from formal to informal, my experience was at the informal end of the spectrum.  The chair of the search committee engaged me in a wide-ranging conversation about my interests, the school, and his own experiences.  There was no time limit and I was free to ask questions.  I was also fortunate that my interviewer was forthcoming about the perceived positives and negatives of the school.  Our conversation lasted over an hour and I left the conversation with a much better impression of the school than I started it.  I was later invited for a campus interview.

The one-on-group interview (group members in their individual offices)

My third phone interview experience was of this type, which may appear similar to the type below.  While I might have preferred this type because the interviewers were friendlier or more talkative, I believe that there are advantages to having phone interviewers in separate rooms.  For starters, there is increased comfort as a candidate because you know that interviewers cannot see each other’s reactions to your answers.  This means that if one interviewer is rolling her eyes at the fact that your interests exactly match the job ad, others will not be influenced by her reaction.  Another benefit is that this type effectively levels the playing field in terms of nonverbal feedback.  While group phone interviews are always difficult because you cannot be sure if somebody is done speaking or merely pausing, isolating interviewers in their own offices means that everybody shares this problem with you.  I was later invited for a campus interview.

The one-on-group interview (group members on speakerphone around a single table)

As I noted above, group phone interviews are always difficult, but in my experience the presence of interviewers around the same speakerphone compounded the difficulties.  While I’m not sure how the interviewers reacted to my statements, the knowledge that they could see each other but I could not see them added to an already stressful situation.  I also felt that I was at a disadvantage because I was the only person who couldn’t rely on nonverbal cues to tell when somebody was done speaking.  I don’t know that these factors affected my performance, but they definitely reduced my confidence.  I was later invited for a campus interview.

The one-on-one non-interview

One school requested a “phone conversation about your application” before narrowing their list further.  Not knowing what they wanted to discuss, I called the school from the airport on the way to another interview.  Because of this, I did not have the opportunity to fully prepare by researching the school and department and I was not ready to answer questions about whether I had relevant experience in a particular subfield.  I stumbled through a few statements before realizing that I did, in fact, have relevant experience in that subfield.  By that point, the damage was probably done.  If this discussion had been presented as an interview rather than a conversation, I would have approached it differently.  If this contact had come at another time and not on a day that I was preparing to leave for an interview I also think that I would have handled it better.  I was not invited for a campus interview.*

In the end, the interview type is only one variable in your phone interview experience.  Time limits can change the tone of a conversation dramatically by reducing your ability to ask questions and prohibiting more casual discussions.  Another important point is that you should be sure to ask about the commitee’s timeline.  The time between my phone interviews and invitations for a campus visit ranged from hours to two and a half weeks, while a friend was recently invited for a campus interview a month and a half after a phone interview.  A month and a half is a long time in nearly any circumstance, but it can seem like forever on the job market.

*I was invited for one campus interview without a phone interview, resulting in four phone interviews and four campus interviews.

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There is an interesting article on Inside Higher Ed about the desire of graduate students to find employment at “family friendly” institutions, which they typically define to exclude research universities.  The article itself summarizes the findings of a report available on Academe.  “Family friendly” institutions are said to offer a better work-life balance, though Tina at scatterplot has an insightful post about why balance is probably the wrong metaphor in the face of ever-increasing obligations on both fronts.

The ability to have more time for family was one of many factors that led me to seek employment at a liberal arts school.  I have also watched a number of junior faculty members go through the tenure process in my graduate program and have had enough experience with the publication process to know that I do not want my future to rest solely on how many journal articles I can publish in the next six years.

While the Acadme authors take an extreme position by stating that “If this sentiment is broadly shared among current and future student cohorts, the future life-blood of academia may be at stake, as promising young scholars seek alternative career paths with better work-life balance,” anybody who has recently been on the sociology job market knows that this is not the case.  Despite the ASA’s recent conclusion that the job market is good, the current state of the market (i.e., it sucks) is such that candidates are told to apply for all types of jobs and encouraged to take whatever they can get.  While some candidates will have multiple offers, many will not, ensuring that “the future life-blood of academia” will be squeezed from those working long hours under the regime of publish or perish.

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