You’ve Decided to Go on the Job Market. What Might Your Next Year Look Like?

Kelsey Shoub is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a former Post Doctoral Research Associate with the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia. Her research focuses on topics of public policy process, Congress, framing, and race and policing. Dr. Shoub received her PhD in political science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. You can learn more about her research and teaching here.

This post is the first in a three-part series focused on the academic job market.

The political science job market can be daunting and confusing—at least it was for me when I began applying for jobs two years ago. At the conclusion of my first market season, I took a postdoctoral research position at the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia. At the conclusion of my second, I took a tenure-track, assistant professor position at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Based on my experiences applying for positions in American politics, public policy, and methodology (and the advice I received along the way), I recently wrote up a short document aimed at demystifying the process. Using that document as a springboard, this series will provide an overview of a range of job market topics to help you on your job market search.

This first post centers on the question: What does the general job market process look like?

Although everyone’s experiences on the job market are unique, there are some common steps that (almost) everyone goes through on their path to securing an academic, tenure-track job.  This overview is based on these commonalities.

What does being ‘on the job market’ look like?

Being on the job market is anxiety inducing, informative, and (sometimes and if you can relax) fun. The process itself is marked by bursts of activity with long periods of waiting, where the primary market for tenure track jobs in political science occurs in the Fall but continues into the Spring. To me, the market progresses in three stages: the period between deciding to go on the market and starting to apply for jobs, finding and applying for jobs, and then post applying.

Before going on the ‘Market’

The first step you should take when deciding whether to go on the market is to talk to your advisors and mentors about whether you are ready, what it means to be on the market, and what they want to have completed and achieved before you apply for positions. Once you have decided to go on the market but before applying to any position, you should apply to and attend the “big” conferences for your subfield (ex. PolMeth, Peace Science, etc.). These conferences provide you with an opportunity to network and meet with those that are hiring. The annual meeting of APSA also provides the opportunity to participate in informational sessions and initial interviews for some positions, which provide you, as the applicant, with additional information about a position or school and possibly get a foot in the door for a specific position. This is especially true at the annual meeting of APSA if you partake in the formal interviews or partake in informal interviews or coffees with departments that are hiring at APSA or other conferences before or during the market. I did a number of interviews at APSA both formal and informal and found that they helped me both get comfortable with interviewing and yielded better results later in the process (i.e., I was more likely to get an interview or job offer with those I talked to at APSA than my other applications).

“Preparing early will decrease the amount of time you need to spend on any single application and allows you to circulate your documents to mentors and peers for feedback.”

Additionally, the summer before you go on the market, you should be drafting your generic materials for your applications and generate a professional website if desired (these materials will be discussed in more detail in the next post). Preparing early will decrease the amount of time you need to spend on any single application and allows you to circulate your documents to mentors and peers for feedback – thereby increasing their overall quality. At least for me, if I had not prepared my materials over the summer, I would not have been able to submit all of my applications.

Finding and Applying to Positions

Jobs generally begin to be advertised in June and continue to be posted throughout the year. Job advertisements are posted to a variety of locations including APSA eJobs, the Chronicle of Higher Learning, relevant list serves, social media, etc. Not all jobs are posted to every list, so you need to regularly check all relevant sites.

Typically, the first deadlines for tenure-track applications are the last weekend of August. However, there are no set-in-stone dates, with some schools pushing formal deadlines even earlier (i.e., mid-August) and others setting both informal (i.e., for full consideration submit applications by a certain date) and formal deadlines (i.e., will continue accepting applications until a second later date with no guarantee your application will be viewed).  In these cases, make sure your application is submitted by the earliest deadline, and, if possible, one to two weeks prior.  Submitting your application early lets you confront any issues that you may need to address with physically submitting an application as well as address any ‘surprise’ questions that may pop up in the application process.

Post-Application

Once you apply to a job, it may be hours, days, weeks, or months until you hear anything regarding the position. While often you will be waiting weeks or a couple of months until you may be contacted, occasionally committees move fast. On the extreme end of this, I have been contacted about doing Skype interviews the day after the application window closed with the actual Skype interview occurring within 10 days of the application window closing. Similarly, for one fly out, I was contacted a few days after the application window closed about doing an in person interview and flew out the following week. On the other end, I have waited over a month to hear from a hiring committee but still received a fly out. This is by way of saying you need to be prepared early—even if it feels like you are jinxing it.

The next contact you receive from a hiring committee regarding a position can be in one of four forms: (1) they inform you that they have filled the position; (2) they inform you that you are not on the list to initially interview, but that your application is still active; (3) they want to interview you over Skype (or another video conference system) or on the phone; or (4) they want you to fly out for an in person interview.

Although typically there is at least a wait of a couple weeks, you do need to be credibly ready to participate in a Skype or telephone interview as early as a few days after the close of an application window. For example, both my experiences and those of friends and colleagues indicate that there is not always enough time between being told you have a fly out and the fly out to sufficiently prepare and practice the job talk. Preparing the job talk early—even if you have to “brush off the cobwebs” later—is better than scrambling when given the opportunity to give it. In another post in this series, I will talk more about interviews and their various forms. For now, know that many but not all schools conduct an initial round of interviews via Skype or over the phone, and then two to four of those applicants are flown out for an in person, multi-day interview.

“Although typically there is at least a wait of a couple weeks, you do need to be credibly ready to participate in a Skype or telephone interview as early as a few days after the close of an application window.”

Following a fly-out, the waiting begins again and continues until you hear whether you got the job or not. If you get the job and accept, congratulations; you have employment! If you get multiple offers, congratulations; you have decisions to make (remember to negotiate) and employment!

A Note on All the Waiting

As I learned and you can likely tell from this discussion, a common theme throughout the market is indeterminate periods of waiting, which can be anxiety inducing due to a lack of information. To address this, APSA eJobs allows committees to update their advertisement on the progression of their search, which is modeled after the informal effort started on Twitter found by searching for the hashtag “poliscijobinfo.” Not all schools take advantage of either option, but it still provides more (reliable) information than otherwise. To handle the stress and anxiety during this and other periods of the market, ensure that you have built a strong support system and that you make time for hobbies.

What about jobs outside of political science departments?

There are many other career paths outside of political science both inside and outside of academia. Within academia, other departments and disciplines—such as public policy, communications, and data science—welcome political scientists who do closely related work. If your work crosses over into those areas, keep an eye out for cross-listed postings at what might appear to be odd times for the political scientists. For example, while my post-doc was with a center that studies legislative effectiveness, the UVA branch of the center and my post-doc are housed within the Frank Batten School of Public Policy at UVA. Outside of academia, there are many jobs and careers that political scientists are qualified for, such as at Pew Research Center, Gallup, Facebook, and many others.

Neither this post nor this series will directly engage with pursing a job in any of these categories. However, I encourage you to read the myriad of excellent posts in APSA’s “Career Path Profile Series,” attend an alt-ac panel at APSA this year, or become involved with those in either other disciplines or in interdisciplinary roles at their home institutions to find out more.

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