The Top 5 Woes of Academic Job Searching

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Although I have a job now, the path to getting a job wasn’t paved with rubies or any other precious stone. I imagine many other job seekers went through trials and tribulations similar to what I experienced over the last year. So here are a couple of my top observations while applying for and finding a job.

1. There are actually a lot of jobs available. The biggest advice I got while job hunting was “it’s a numbers game. Just keep applying”, so you might think that having a lot of options would be great. It’s only great until you get rejected from all of them… then it’s not so great.

2. The job market is saturated with overqualified job seekers. It seems like in my field (i.e., recent PhD graduate in the sciences) there are an awful lot of people that are super qualified for the jobs that are available. I’m not referring to the good student that got out of graduate school with a paper or two and some really awesome connections (that’s me). I am referring to the people that had NSF pre-doctoral fellowships during grad school, finished grad school having 4 or 5 papers in the journals Science or Nature, have now completed a post-doc in a high performing lab with the top brain in their discipline, and have a half million grant to do cutting edge research in their future job. Now its great that super qualified candidates are getting jobs at universities, but how overqualified does one really have to be just to get a job teaching at a small liberal arts college? Pretty damn over-qualified apparently.

3. Communication from potential employers is almost nonexistent. Now that most job applications are submitted online or via email, it is a rarity that job seekers ever hear back from potential employers. Some applications I filled out didn’t even have a contact email or phone number for a representative that knew about the job. I guess the motto is “apply blindly and ask questions later”. Don’t get me wrong… It’s tough to hear back from a potential employer that your application was great but they found someone else. But when you start to tally up rejections and take bets on when someone will finally email you with news, it would be nice to hear something, anything.

4. Employers have not changed their application process to accomodate such large numbers of applicants. Although the job applying process has moved to the realm of the internet, a few aspects make it tough for both job seekers and potential employers. For job seekers, I found any application that requested actual recommendation letters instead of contact information for references particularly annoying. I think I asked my references to send upwards of 40 recommendation letters on my behalf. All that work of sending and then reviewing recommendation letters just isn’t necessary, especially when potential employers have so many applicants to sort through. I would suggest sorting through based on resumes and other additional documentation (teaching and research statements) and then request letters if the applicant makes it past that stage. The additional documentation also bogs down the system. I understand that if the job is a teaching job, that a teaching statement or a sample course syllabus would be helpful in judging the applicants’ merits, but when there are more than 100 applicants, it takes forever. I am still hearing rejections from jobs I applied to in the fall (yep, 5 months later). Having rounds of sorting applications or having the job advertisement open for only a short period of time might curb these issues.

5. In the end, it still really does matter who you know. I have a friend who knows someone whose aunt works at …. sounds like some kind of scam, right? Not so! It’s the way to get a job. Employers would much rather hire someone that is known to a current employee or comes with a recommendation from a friend. This is in fact how I got my job at Westminster. Big thanks need to go out to the frisbee community and all it’s wonderful teachers for passing the word along that I am awesome!

Hopefully I won’t have to deal with these issues again any time soon, but for those of you that are dealing with them, hang in there!

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