The Job Market

I’m in it, and this week I am panicked. I feel a strong pull toward the academic market, even though I continue to dislike the idea of becoming a professor. But for an academic job search, I know what to do because it is the only job search they talk about in graduate school. We have model “teaching philosophy” documents, and model “letters of interest”. The department is very invested in helping us assemble the perfect dossiers to make us shiny, attractive candidates.

For the non-academic job market, I have nothing: no support or feedback, no adviser, no idea of what makes a good dossier.  They want “skills” and “accomplishments”, not “Grants” and “Sample Syllabus”. An application asked two “long answer” questions (500 words). My writing samples are 10,000 words. How can you answer a question in 500 words? There is no room for a lit review!

This week, academia was attractive to me. It felt like the safe way to go. I want to resist the inertia, but feel like I’m walking into one of those ugly, foggy, dark forests in movies where we all know the main character is about to get in trouble.

To end on a positive note, I would like to recommend “So what are you going to do with that?”, a book by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius. This book has great and very practical advice about leaving academe. It helped me stop wallowing in my “I hate academia” sorrows and start taking action about my future and my professional happiness.




  1. Post Medievalist

    Well, the forest is definitely dark and foggy. It’s pretty scary and frustrating too and mostly because, as you have already pointed out, you have no one to tell you how to get into it and out of it. However, I think it’s better than standing at the base of the ivory tower in a crowd of about 100 other people shouting “Pick me! Pick me!” to the tenured professors hanging languidly out of the window.

    It takes time to figure out what you want to focus on, at least it took me a while. Some of the best advice I have heard is to pick a company or several of them and target them. It’s easier to get a position if you talk to a real live human being rather than sending out a bunch of resumes all over creation. Also, I would see if there is a career center on your campus. They may have some tips about how to job search in a particular field or in your geographic region. Good luck! We’re pretty much all in the same boat, so most of us have been there or are right there with you.

  2. Mama Nervosa (@MamaNervosa)

    Yeah, it only feels safe because that’s what everyone around you is doing. You’re following the sheep into the dark and shaggy forest. It feels safe because no one around you is willing to even talk about not getting an academic job. But when you think about the actual chances that you or they will get an actual job, it reveals how fucked up academic culture is.

    • dissentingscholar

      Yes. Beyond the “safe” and familiar process, I know the academic job market can be a lot worse than the actual job market. A lot of it is like Mama Nervosa says, nobody is willing to even talk about the non-academic market. I think it’s partly a “not-wanting-to-jinx-it” type of attitude: for some of my peers, talking about the non-academic market means facing the very real possibility that they might not get a job. It may feel like admitting defeat. Another part of it is the academic culture, which has always made me feel like the non-academic world is just *wrong*. I ended up disconnecting from my academic community for the weekend: enjoyed some time with the significant other, met with people who work in different industries, and forgot all about acad and post-acad jobs. Now it’s Monday, I’m hoping for a fresh start.

  3. Anthea

    Yes, it’s hard out there…and it’s a forest which is dark and foggy as Post Medievalist has said. It will take time to work out what you want to do since there aren’t any guides to working it out. But Mama Nervosa is right in that the academic world feels safe since it’s a familiar process. The non-academic world is difficult to talk about it since it really means leaving the known bubble…where it feels ‘good’ as it’s a familiar bubble where you know the boundaries. I think that it for many people who are still in the academic bubble and ‘haven’t seen the light’ (I’m trying to make you smile now)…don’t want to talk about the non-academic world since they fear that it means that they’re admitting defeat etc etc. I think that you can fill in the blanks here.

    As for cv/resume etc for the non-academic world I’d suggest that you see whether career centre can give you a guide on how to restructure your academic dossier. I’m wondering whether there might be a guidance councillor there who you could talk to…perhaps suggest as post-medievalist suggests some possible industries even job options. I went to one. Admittedly it wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped in that it wasn’t helpful since the guidance councillor thought that I might consider working for management consulting firms since they take people with PhDs or the civil service. Neither option had any appeal but I later discovered from having talked to a few people in the guidance centre that the advisors were obsessed management consulting firms as the alternative job option if you said no thanks to being a government bureaucrat. Mind you this was before the 2008 crash …so things are different now. Mind you I’ve no idea of what any of my departmental colleagues found out if they went to career guidance centre. However, I did take some time to examine the job sections of several websites of companies of different sectors to isolate how I might create a non-academic cv and to establish how to identify my skill sets, what I need to highlight of my PhD that might be useful to the non-academic world, etc…

    It’s also worth asking at the career guidance centre to see whether they have templates of how to create a CV for the non-academic world. This is crucial. I also know that the format of this CV will vary by country. Everything in that CV must be tailored to the sector that you’re interested in as well as the job that you’re applying for.

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