New! Hey Jane Column: Preparing for a Job Talk

July 26, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Hey Jane Column, Job Market | Leave a comment


I am currently on the market and preparing for my first campus interview. What advice can you offer as I prepare my job talk?


The job talk is one of the most significant phases of the campus interview process. While a good job talk will not ensure that you will be offered the position, a bad job talk may very well disqualify you from further consideration by the search committee. In addition, your handling of the Q&A is an important piece of the job talk. Delivering a solid, well-organized job talk and Q&A session is thus essential to performing well during the campus interview process.


A good talk is a clear talk. You should organize your job talk around a clear question, a clear argument, and a clear conclusion. It’s a good idea to simplify your basic argument (summed up in a sentence or two), state it explicitly both at the beginning and the end of the talk, elaborating on the simplified argument throughout the rest of the talk. In order to construct a well-organized presentation, the substance of the talk should be clearly framed around your argument. You want to make sure you don’t draw the audience into a thicket of other issues. Structure the talk like a story. Make clear what you are asking, why your research question matters and how you have answered your research question. It is also vital that you clearly address the “so, what?” question! Be certain that the title of your talk reflects the argument you’ll be making as well.

A good talk is on something you know well. Resist the urge to develop a talk around something new, a line of inquiry that you have not yet fully fleshed out or examined in the work you’ve completed thus far. Choose a dissertation chapter with which you’ve developed a good bit of familiarity, even one you have already published or submitted for publication. It will take a lot of the stress out of the preparation of the talk, and you will look a lot more knowledgeable and smooth. There are times to take risks; this is not one of them.

A good talk is interesting to the broad range of sociologists or interdisciplinary scholars that will be listening to the talk. The job talk differs from the presentation of a conference paper in that it is more an introduction to your intellectual biography and research agenda, not a talk geared specifically toward subfield specialists. So don’t write a talk that is focused for a specialty audience or journal. Write a talk that has clear relevance outside of your subfield, one that will allow the audience to connect with your arguments.  Don’t use highly technical or specialized terms, and if you are presenting sophisticated statistical analyses that some may not be familiar with, present them as simply as possible, but offer to answer any additional questions during the Q&A portion of the talk. In the same vein, rather than focusing narrowly on the significance of your work within your subfield (or within your discipline, for those interviewing for positions in multidisciplinary departments), make clear the broader context of your work and its implications in the wider world. Continue Reading New! Hey Jane Column: Preparing for a Job Talk…


On the Job Market When You Have a Tenure Track Job (From the Hey Jane Archives)

May 1, 2009 at 1:24 am | Posted in Job Market, New Faculty, Tenure | Leave a comment


“Although I already have a tenure-track job, I have decided to go back on the job market.  I’m afraid that if I don’t include a letter of reference from a colleague in my current department, then the search committees will think that I am underperforming in my current job.  What advice can you give me about informing my current departmental colleagues about my job search?”


Generally, pre-tenure, it’s not advisable to let it be widely known that you are on the job market.  Despite your actual reasons for searching, people will come up with their own interpretations.  They may assume that you are unhappy in the department, that you are just trying to get a raise, or that you are afraid that you might not be granted tenure.  All of these interpretations may influence the way you are treated in your department by some people.

With that said, I think it is assumed in academia (and in most fields) that everyone is potentially always on the job market and if they find another job that improves their lives, they might resign.   One big difference between academia and other fields is that our job searches are spread out over a much longer time frame than most.  This leaves us with a much longer time period to feel like we are “keeping a secret.” I’ve known people who love their jobs and love their departments, but simply want to move to a different geographic location.  Because they have supportive colleagues, they feel guilty about even looking for another job.  There’s no need to feel guilty, I think most people understand that you “have to do what you have to do.”

As far as a letter of recommendation, if you have a departmental colleague whom you really trust to be confidential, you could ask her or him to be a reference.  It can certainly be handy to have a letter that says “so-and-so is an amazing scholar, teacher, colleague and human being who would be a terrific addition to your faculty.  We really would hate to lose so-and-so, but our loss would be your gain.” However, that letter doesn’t have to come from someone in your department, but might come from a trusted colleague in another department at your institution.  If it is simply not possible to ask anyone at your institution for a recommendation, don’t fret, search committees understand the delicacy of applying for jobs while you are currently employed.

As for informing the rest of your departmental faculty, I would say wait until you have a written offer on the table.  However, if you are hoping to receive a counter-offer from your home institution, you will probably need to begin talking with your chair and/or dean with only a verbal offer.

Once you are tenured, job hunting is a whole different story.  At this point, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for a letter from a departmental colleague.  Ideally, you wouldn’t want to bother people for letters until you have made a short-list based on your CV, however, some searches will request letters right away.  In this case, you might contact the search committee and ask if you can postpone letters of recommendation until the short-list phase of the search. At this level, there is still no need to widely inform people of your search, however, once you’ve been invited to interview, it’s probably okay to let people know.  Often, someone desired elsewhere becomes more valued at home.  Once you’ve been offered the interview, you might want to inform your home institution because some administrators have the freedom to make preemptive counter-offers to encourage faculty to decline the interview.  The counter-offer might be attractive enough that you will choose to forgo the interview.  However, if you turn down the counter-offer and then are not offered a job, you have lost out on whatever was offered by your home institution.

A few more things to consider: Continue Reading On the Job Market When You Have a Tenure Track Job (From the Hey Jane Archives)…

Phone Interviews [From the Hey Jane Archives]

April 29, 2009 at 1:09 am | Posted in Hey Jane Column, Job Market | Leave a comment


“I am on the job market and have been asked to participate in a phone interview. My department has prepared me well for the on-campus interview, but I am less confident in my phone interviewing skills. Help!”


Phone interviews are a very important part of the interview process.  Search committees often use phone interviews to narrow down a short list of 10-12 people to the 2-3 people that they will invite for campus interviews.  Phone interviews are tricky because non-verbal communication is completely absent.  However, there are many things you can do to prepare for your phone interview.

General Tips for Phone Interviews:

  • Usually, the phone interview will be scheduled ahead of time.  However, if someone calls and wants to interview on the spot, it is perfectly okay to ask to schedule the interview at a time that is better for you.
  • Be prepared.  This is not just a casual chat, but is often a very serious stage of the interviewing process. Just as you would prepare for a face-to-face interview, during a phone interview, you should know something about the organization, department, and people who will be interviewing you.  You should be prepared to answer questions about your research, teaching and service and to ask questions about the position, the department and the university.
  • Practice!!  Many departments give graduate students the opportunity to do “practice job talks” but may not provide an opportunity for practice phone interviews.  Ask your mentor or your friends to practice a phone interview with you.  This is especially important for conference call phone interviews (which I will discuss more a little later).
  • If possible avoid taking other calls or potentially stressful meetings just prior to the call.  One time (before caller-ID) I answered the phone about the time the interview was scheduled and it was my mother.  Before I could say “can I call you back, I have a phone interview any minute now,” she blurted out that her neighbor (someone I was close to) had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  While I tried to clear my head and get ready for the call that came about two minutes later, I know I was not at the top of my game that day. Needless to say, I was not invited for a campus interview.
  • Make sure you have a quiet environment.  If at all possible, leave the kids and the pets in another room (you might even consider hiring a babysitter).  Make sure that background noise such as televisions, washing machines, etc. are eliminated.  Turn off the ringers on any cell phones that might be in the room.  You might also consider turning off the call waiting function on your phone if possible.
  • Know your equipment.  Many people recommend using a landline phone with a cord rather than a cell phone or a cordless phone that might lose power or in some ways be less reliable.  If you plan to use a mute button or a speaker phone function, make sure you know beforehand where they are and exactly what they sound like on the other end.
  • Dress nicely.  Even if you normally wear pajamas when you work from home, it’s a good idea to dress for the phone interview as you would for a face-to-face interview.  It puts you in the mind frame of a professional meeting.  However, if you normally wear earrings, you might take them out for a phone interview as they could clatter against the phone or just be uncomfortable while talking on the phone.
  • You might consider standing up while participating in the interview. This will keep you “on your toes.”  And SMILE!!  It will come through in your voice.
  • Keep your CV and any notes you have about the department handy.  You may want to post large notes on the wall, this will keep them at your fingertips, but let you avoid the sound of rustling papers.  Also make sure you have paper, pen and calendar close by.  It’s unlikely that a campus interview would be scheduled right away, but it is possible.
  • Don’t eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, etc. while participating in the interview.  However, you might remember to have some water handy in case your mouth gets dry.
  • Remember that they can’t see your non-verbal cues.  If you need a minute to think about an answer, say “That’s a great question, I need to take a minute to think about it.” Or let them know when there might be an unexpected silence or unexpected noise –  “Excuse me while I take a sip of water.”
  • Don’t ramble to fill the silence.  Finish your answers with a note of finality.  You want to avoid yes or know answers, but keep your answers succinct and with a clear ending.

A Note about Conference Call Phone Interviews: Continue Reading Phone Interviews [From the Hey Jane Archives]…

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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