Best Advice: The Job Market [From the Hey Jane archives]

March 24, 2009 at 2:15 am | Posted in Hey Jane Column, Job Market | Leave a comment

Hey Jane! is a monthly advice column on the SWS listserv that addresses issues of interest to feminist sociologists and sociologist-activists. The name honors Jane Addams, a feminist sociologist not always recognized enough. This Q&A is hosted by the Career Development Committee, who solicits anonymous questions and responses from multiple SWS members.

Column 23 (January 2008)

For this month’s Hey Jane! Column I asked you to send me your “best” piece of advice.

Get as broad a variety of experience in graduate school (research, teaching, advising, etc.) as possible.

Apply for jobs broadly.

This wasn’t exactly advice, just an observation, but it helped me figure out my priorities about the job market.   My undergrad advisor said once, “you have to like young people — really LIKE them — in order to be good at this job” (and the job he was referring to was being a professor at a liberal arts college, as opposed to a Research I institution).  When I was on the market and doing on-campus interviews I paid close attention to the way the faculty at different institutions spoke about their students.  I took the job at the one place where everyone seemed to actually LIKE their students, and I have never regretted it.

As for the best career advice I ever got, I think it is a tie between two, the first from a dissertation committee member and the second from an informal mentor whom I met through a professional organization (not SWS). The first involved a decision I had to make between two job offers, neither of which was an ideal choice. I was advised to take the one with the lower teaching load and the teaching assignments closest to my research interests and to gear my publication productivity level to the type of institution where I would like to work. The advice was good and I was able to move from my first job to one that better suited me. I don’t remember the exact wording of the advice from the informal mentor, but it basically was that to be successful and sane as an assistant professor in academia one needed to be always cognizant of the criteria by which one was being evaluated, but also “to thine own self be true…” If one strayed too much from one’s core values and core interests in the quest to be successful, one would end up alienated and ineffective in the long run.

The best advice I was given came in a “job market” class it graduate school: Stay away from temporary lecturer positions, or visiting professor positions unless they are at the institution where you received your Ph.D.

The best advice I ever received was to *meticulously tailor* each job application to the school to which you are applying (and I don’t mean just swapping out one sentence in your letter or reordering the paragraphs!).  I spent more time than my peers preparing my application materials, but it really paid off.  I came from a decent, but not great, school, and had a decent, but not great CV and I was invited for six campus interviews my first year on the market. It was absolutely the result of the extra time and care I put into those materials.

Regarding the job interview process, I was given three pieces of advice by graduate school professors:  1) Remember that you are interviewing the members of the committee as much as they are interviewing you – this may be your job for a long time; 2) You get an interview because you’re qualified for the position. You get a job because of the chemistry between you and the committee members.  Getting a job is as much about fit as it is about qualifications; 3) When someone on the search committee asks you if you can teach course “X”, you should say yes.


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