Academic Interviewing: Finding and Evaluating Academic Job Ads

In the usual ebb and flow of the academic job market postings are advertised in the fall with application deadlines in December or January. In this post I offer some advice on how to identify and evaluate academic job postings for research and teaching tenure-track positions.

1) The first trick is to find academic job postings. When I was on the market for a job I had already spent some time identifying where jobs in my field of science were often posted. Two great resources for academic job listings in Canada are the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers’) Bulletin (http://www.caut.ca/) and University Affairs (http://www.universityaffairs.ca/default.aspx). In addition I had a list of specific universities where I wanted to work and frequently checked their Human Resources page for career opportunities for Faculty positions.

2) The second important tip is to spend some time thinking about what you want in a career and how that fits with your personal and professional goals. Spending the time to really figure out what you want (and sometimes equally important what you don’t want) is time well spent. There is no point in applying to job ads if the “fit” between you and the position is poor.

3) You’ve located a job ad that looks like a good opportunity. Your next step is to very carefully read the job ad in detail. In particular you want to determine:

a) What position is the ad for? Is it tenure-track? A limited-term appointment? A short-term contract? It is being advertised for someone at the beginning, middle, or near the end of their career?

b) Is the academic area of the position a comfortable fit for you? A bit of a stretch? A massive stretch? Can you really do the job? Do you have the research, teaching, and/or service experience to be successful in the position?

c) Where is the job? What country, province, and city is the job in? What kind of institution is offering the job (e.g. university, private institute, etc.)? What do you know about the institution and its culture? What department is the posting in? Can you live and work in this geographical location and be happy?

All of the above points are usually revealed in the first one to two sentences of the job posting. That’s a lot to think about before you dive further into the job ad!

4) So far, so good! This looks like a job that could be a good fit. Now you will want to determine:

a) What set of knowledge and skills are they looking for (e.g. Plant Physiologist, Particle Physicist, Urban Geographer)? Can you make a solid argument that you fit this description?

b) What do they tell you about the duties of the job? Is it a teaching position, a research position, or a bit of both? Does the type of position match with your career goals?

c) Will you be interacting with undergraduates and/or graduate students? Do they list any specific courses that they are looking to cover?

d) Do you need to set-up and fund an active research program?

These things can be determined by reading the body of the job ad. You want to go over this section of the ad with a fine tooth comb in order to ensure that you have a very clear understanding of what they are looking for.

5) Still interested? Now you need to figure out how to apply to this job.

a) When is the application deadline? Do you have the time to put together an excellent and solid application package and meet this deadline?

b) Who is receiving the package? Is it the search committee chair, the departmental chair, an administrative assistant?

c) What has to be included in the package? The usual components are a curriculum vitae (CV), research plan or proposal, and a teaching statement or portfolio. Sometimes ads will request 3 reference letters up front, but recently many committees are only asking for these if you make the short list of candidates for the position. Are there any other pieces requested in the application (e.g. professional portfolio, etc.)?

d) How do you send the materials? Email? Snail-mail?

Your in-depth analysis has indicated that this is a job you are interested in that may be a good fit for your future career aspirations. The next step is to get busy and start putting your application package together.

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