Scattered thoughts on academic job seeking

As I’ve advised my students seeking academic positions last year and this, it has occurred to me that I should jot down the tidbits I offer, at least for my own benefit (I can remind myself what I thought was important next year!)
Here are a few thoughts that came up in a meeting with one student today. I’m not trying to write a clever or even very cogent essay; just gathering some unorganized bits that I remember mentioning.

  1. We all know how important it is to have an “elevator speech” (30 second summary of your current, most interesting research). From the time one is about a year from going on the market, until the time one receives tenure, it is also hugely important to have a “5 minute 5 year” speech. You will be asked many times (in job interviews, at third review, during mentoring sessions, annual performance reviews, and in a research statement for your tenure review package, at least!) what your research plans are for the next five years. Think hard about this, sketch it out, practice it (but don’t sound too rehearsed!). It’s really important!
  2. Be sure some of your time in interviews and other professional advancement meetings is not about you. People — especially those thinking about whether to hire you as a multi-year colleague — want to know if you are interested in them, and their research. Genuinely interested (not just “oh yeah, I thought about that a year ago, and here is what I wrote about it”). More like “What are you working on? Sounds hard: how is it going? What have been the challenges? Results?” Etc.
  3. Prepare a self-evaluation rubric matrix, and fill it out soon after each interview (before the next). That is, come up with a list of evaluation criteria that you think are important (how well did I motivate my research? state the research question? explain my methods? illustrate with compelling and intuitive examples? did I answer questions carefully and gracefully? how good was my 5 minute 5 year speech? etc.), rate yourself on them, with suggestions for improvement, and then use the matrix to prepare for subsequent interviews.
  4. Prepare a job-evaluation rubric matrix: what are the things that are important to you about a potential job? Fill it out shortly after each interview, before the next. For example: dept’s commitment to research / teaching / goofing off; funding support for new faculty; collegiality; frequency of co-authorship among colleagues; teaching load; intellectual / cultural / ethnic diversity of faculty / students; quality of graduate students; average class size; support for teaching assistants; location; urban/rural setting; etc.