Ph.D. Job Searches: Are You Ready for the Job Market?

Because “going on the market” takes a great deal of resources (your time and your money), and because you want its outcome to lead to the best possible options, you should take the question of your readiness for the job market seriously and discuss your prospects with your dissertation advisor. To help you make your decision, please consider the following:

A “trial run” of the market is not to your advantage. The expenses for attending the MLA convention (which you need to commit to in advance of knowing whether you will have interviews or not) and the time and expense devoted to preparing and sending application materials are far too great to approach as a dabbler. Many job candidates report that the process of preparing materials over the summer and applying for jobs in the Fall feels like a full-time job (on top of any teaching, research, and writing they are doing). Additionally, you may find a “trial run” demoralizing - more and more jobs are going to candidates with “degrees in hand,” so you will face stiff competition as an A.B.D. (and further delay your getting your own degree in hand).

Furthermore, if you should obtain a job during a “trial run,” you might actually regret taking it. Completing your dissertation during your first year on the job, when the tenure clock has already begun to tick and your service and teaching loads have increased, is not an ideal way to begin your career. You will also likely find yourself wondering whether you could have found a position that is a better fit for your interests and expertise if you had waited until you were on the market “for real.”

Have a significant portion of your dissertation complete and approved by your committee. If your dissertation will be four chapters long, then you should have at least two chapters complete and in polished form. If your dissertation will have more than four chapters, you would be wise to have more than two chapters complete before attempting the job market. These are base minimum guidelines. The ideal situation is to have as much of your dissertation completed as possible by the Fall of the year you plan to search for a job. Here are the reasons why:

  • To go on the job market, you will need to be able to speak and write about your dissertation project as a whole, and often that is difficult to do when large sections of it have yet to be drafted.
  • Having a few complete chapters also means that, if you have not already, you can slightly retool one or two of them and send them out to a distinguished, peer-reviewed journal. More and more, having a publication in a peer-reviewed journal on your CV is becoming the mark of distinction of a successful job applicant for all types of institutions. (Until you have an acceptance from a journal, list on your CV any article you have submitted to a journal as “under consideration” or, if appropriate, “revised and resubmitted.”)
  • The job application process requires that you enter it with a highly polished writing sample (usually one chapter from your dissertation) and text you can revise for a “job talk” (usually another chapter from your dissertation). There will not be adequate time to prepare these two materials from scratch during the job hunt process.

To be considered a viable candidate for many positions in this competitive market, you will need to be able to indicate in your initial application materials that you either already have obtained your Ph.D. degree or that you will do so in the next few months (at the very latest in the summer before the appointment begins). If you cannot realistically make one of these claims, you should wait until the next year’s cycle to search for an academic appointment.