Preparing for Trends in the Academic Job Market
Another academic job market cycle is upon us. Many graduate students and postdoctoral scholars may wonder how the events of the past year, such as the coronavirus pandemic and social movements like Black Lives Matter, have changed the academic job market and how someone can better prepare themselves to put forth a competitive application.
Many institutions took a financial hit due to the pandemic, losing revenue in housing, dining services and athletic events. As a result, they've put in place hiring freezes or pauses to help compensate for those losses. Will academic institutions be recruiting to fill open positions this year? Yes. Will fewer faculty positions be available? Very likely.
Treating any job search process like a research endeavor is a helpful approach. Tina Solvik shared how to navigate this process in a previous article. As a starting point, assess your own skills, values and interests. Then, gather and analyze data, and initiate informational interviews to make an informed decision about your career trajectory.
What do you want your academic career to look like? What balance of research and teaching do you desire? What types of institutions are a good fit to support this balance?
It's advantageous to start looking at job ads now to determine what search committees are looking for in new faculty hires. Those job ads are typically posted in the summer and continue through the fall the year before the position is slated to begin.
We wanted to know more about recent trends in what is required for applications for academic faculty jobs, so we've done some initial research to help you get started. We randomly selected job ads from 100 public and private institutions across the U.S. representing 50 research-intensive doctoral granting institutions and 50 master's, regional and primarily undergraduate institutions with start dates between fall 2020 and fall 2021.
Here are some key insights we uncovered:
Experience with teaching online isn't a priority. Given that academic institutions transitioned to online teaching in mid-spring 2020, we expected that job ads would emphasize online teaching experience as one key credential. Surprisingly, only 13 percent of all the job ads (4 percent of research-intensive institutions and 22 percent of other types of institutions) mentioned teaching online. Many of the job ads that did ask for online teaching experience were associated with an online degree program. So if you don't have experience teaching online, it's likely not a characteristic in high demand, but if you do, it's good to highlight it as part of your teaching experience.
Value of diversity is important. With social movements like Black Lives Matter highlighting an increased awareness of and need for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training in the workplace and beyond, we expected that academic job advertisements would include verbiage about an institution's commitment to diversity (in addition to required Equal Employment Opportunity statements). We also thought they'd probably require applicants to submit a diversity statement as part of the application package.
Nearly half of all institutions (48 percent of research-intensive institutions, and 58 percent of other types of institutions) included language in their ads about the value of diversity. In addition, 35 percent of all institutions (44 percent of research-intensive institutions and 26 percent of the others) required job seekers to submit a diversity statement document.
As a caveat, we found several job ads asked candidates to describe their commitment to DEI explicitly in the cover letter or required them to explain their commitment to diversity throughout all pieces of their application materials. Keep in mind that just because a job ad does not include language about diversity values or require a full diversity statement, the institution may still value diversity. Thus, it's best to do your research about the institution's mission and how you might address DEI in the application and interview process. A resource to help you get started is Tanya Golash-Boza's article, "The Effective Diversity Statement."
CV and cover letters are required. The cover letter is your opportunity to sell yourself and to explain to the hiring committee why you're the best candidate for that position. Use the job ad as an outline to help structure your cover letter. Unlike jobs in industry or other nonacademic fields that may use computers to triage applications, cover letters for academic positions do get read by human beings, so don't submit a generic letter! Don't rest on your laurels (i.e., don't just repeat your CV), but rather explain how you will succeed in the position and contribute to their institution. See these references on academic job cover letters and samples of cover letters for more guidance.
For the CV, standard sections include Education, Research Experience/Scholarship, Teaching Experience, Presentations, Publications and Grants/Awards. Provide enough detail, but don't write paragraphs. Be sure to separate presentations from publications since employers valued them differently. For graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, it's generally acceptable to demonstrate research progress by including manuscripts that are submitted, under review, accepted, and published. Here is more in-depth guidance for creating and maintaining your CV along with some samples.
Research statements highlight your future vision.
Our analysis showed that 70 percent of the research-intensive institutions and 42 percent of the other types of institutions asked for a research statement, indicating it was an important component of the job application. For such cases, make your research statement understandable to a non-expert audience, as not all faculty members who serve on the search committees will be in the same discipline as you. Explain why your scholarship is important, have a vision for your future research agenda, and tailor the statement to the type of institution you're applying to. Check out these resources for more details on writing a research plan and research statements for faculty positions and for sample application materials for those positions.
Teaching statements demonstrate how you'll interact with students. Faculty positions that involve a significant amount of teaching will probably require a teaching statement as part of the job application. In our analysis, 72 percent of research-intensive institutions and 76 percent of other types of institutions required such a statement. This is your opportunity to describe yourself as an instructor, outline your expectations and goals for students, provide examples of teaching effectiveness, and reflect on how you're continuously improving your teaching practice. Here are more tips on how to write the teaching statement, avoid eight pitfalls of teaching statements and distinguish your statement.
A strong, competitive application will take time and effort to craft. Even though it's clear that application standards like CVs and cover letters are here to stay, these 18 months have taught us that we need to be flexible and adaptable. The goal is to communicate your value, expertise and skills that will make you the ideal candidate. Good luck!