Job Searching in Academia for Postdocs Part 1

In recent years, I’ve often advised post docs to look far beyond the academy, particularly in hard science fields where the skill sets can command high compensation packages in the private sector. However, there are a lot of folks for whom the lure of a tenure-track faculty position and the requisite freedom to pursue one’s own intellectual interests is too important. For them, I am writing these blog posts.

There are a number of gate posts to get through before a job offer appears. Some of them are obvious, some of them are occult. Let’s deal with the latter first: it is almost impossible to know when a recommender is in fact not recommending you. In my own career, I had one individual sheepishly admit after years that he had been anti-recommending me for junior faculty positions while leading me to believe otherwise. His grudge was fairly trivial–but it was enough for him to decide that a faculty job was not for me. So it’s extremely important to develop a coterie of individuals who you absolutely trust to back your job search to the hilt. As I tell my students: ask them face-to-face if they can write you an A+ recommendation. Usually that elicits the truth. And unless they agree to A+, they are off the list.

Another gate post is the Zoom, short-list, interview. This is the gatepost that gains you an invitation to visit campus. Most of us, even two years into a pandemic, are still not at our best on Zoom. And that’s even without technical glitches. So there is a lot of luck at this stage. Still, the key thing is to distill their questions into coherent and clear answers that signal two things: first, your collegiality and willingness to ‘play nicely with others’ and second, your potential for research productivity aligned with. where you see the hiring department’s strategic interests are. The latter of course requires some detective work on your part since this isn’t likely to be entirely obvious–although if you carefully read the job ad, there will probably be a clue. In any case, those are the two key items for the Zoom.

The visit to the campus is the most complex. It deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned.