Being on the job market is something that you should anticipate taking up the majority of the academic year. Because it is nearly a full-time job in itself, you do not want to go on the market too early and end up wasting six months of work that could have been devoted to making significant progress on the dissertation.
The APA has typically advised students to go on the market only if (1) they can be confident that, say, three chapters of a five-chapter dissertation will be completed by September (see below for details). It is crucial that the core arguments of your dissertation have been hashed out. Additionally, (2) you should have the enthusiastic support of your advisers.
The most important point in this entire Guide is this: you cannot wait until the fall to prepare for the job market. The process of locating and applying to postdocs and jobs is nearly a full time job in itself, so there is no time in the fall for you to prepare all of your job market materials. You will need to devote time during the summer to other tasks (indicated below). Thus, you will need to be far enough along on the dissertation by the start of the summer so that you can begin your preparations during the summer and still emerge in the fall with a good portion of your dissertation in draft form. In the case you receive a job offer, you will then only have a limited amount of time to turn around to complete your dissertation and defend before employment begins. The main tasks involved will be the following:
- Prepare your CV and short and long dissertation summaries;
- Arrange for at least four recommenders and send them an appropriate amount of material in a timely manner;
- Prepare your writing sample;
- Prepare your teaching dossier;
- Prepare your diversity statement;
- Become a member of the APA;
- Prepare for job interviews;
- Prepare your job talk.
The following are minimum requirements that you need to be fulfilled by September 1 at the latest (preferably earlier) in order to go on the market with the department’s support in the fall.
(A) written a polished draft of at least one “writing sample.”
(B) completed polished drafts of the CV and short and long dissertation summaries.
(C) secured the agreement of at least four people to serve as recommenders, and sent them a CV and samples of your research.
A. The Writing Sample
You should begin your preparation right away in the summer, even in late spring. Most of your effort will be aimed at preparing your writing sample.
It is standard to include with your application a writing sample drawn from the dissertation. You may also consider starting a paper from scratch (though based on an existing chapter). The sample should have the look of a real contender for publication in a good journal. If you already have a published article in a good journal, this could serve as your writing sample.
When preparing the sample, keep the following fact in mind: the typical evaluator will be reading—usually in a short period of time—numerous writing samples. That means that only in rare circumstances will she read a paper from start to finish; you want your paper to be included in those rare circumstances. In order for that to happen, you need to write clearly and engagingly. Bear in mind that most, and sometimes all, of the members of search committees will not be in your subfield. The ideal writing samples and job talks are engaging and comprehensible to all curious philosophers: both those who are specialists in your area, and those who may not have studied it closely since they were in grad school themselves.
In order to increase the chances that your sample is read, you will want to ask yourself the following questions.
- Do the first two pages lay out a problem that is intriguing enough to spark the interest even of philosophers who do not specialize in your area?
- Do you lay out the problem clearly enough so that the reader can easily summarize it to herself?
- Do you make clear—at least in outline—what approach you will take to the problem, and why that approach is at least prima facie promising and original?
Plan to show your sample to several people. Ideally, you will have a draft by July 1. At that time, email your advisers to ask for feedback within 3 weeks. If you and these other readers can answer “yes” to all of the preceding questions, then you are well on the way to producing a successful writing sample. It is also a good idea to send it to friends and colleagues who do not work in your area of specialization.
Sometimes, hiring institutions will ask for additional materials, so it is wise to have two writing samples prepared when you first apply. In the best case scenario, one is prepared at the outset of the job market process with three items: a writing sample that is submitted; a back-up writing sample that can be submitted upon request; and, an item that is ready to serve as the basis for a job talk. (This is why it’s advised you have at least three chapters of your dissertation completed.) You do not need to have a job talk written on September 1st, but it is wise to have a chapter of your dissertation, or a similar item, that isn’t being otherwise utilized and that can become a job talk during the Fall.
B. CV: Short and Long Dissertation Abstracts
Prepare two summaries of your dissertation while you’re waiting for feedback on your writing sample. The short abstract should only be a paragraph. The longer one should be about 1 page single-spaced.
These will go on your curriculum vitae, or CV. A sample CV has been posted on Box. The CV should be polished and professional looking, with your AOS and AOC prominently displayed. You should discuss your proposed AOS and AOC categories with the Placement Officers and your advisor. It’s important that one not claim to have too many areas of expertise: as a rule of thumb, two or three AOS areas is plausible, along with three or four AOC areas. If one lists ten AOC areas, e.g., then readers will likely be incredulous (of course, it’s possible that one can teach courses in ten areas, but the CV must look credible).
You should include the short dissertation summary in the body of the CV itself where you specify you dissertation title and committee. The long summary can be appended towards the end. There is good advice on what to include in the CV in §4 of the “APA Placement Brochure”.
Since the market is so competitive, there is more pressure for candidates to have something on the CV that sets them apart. Typically this includes publications and conference presentations. Also, keep in mind the advantages not only for your CV, but also for your professional development, of presenting papers at conferences. APA divisional meetings can be good venues for presenting your research, though remember that deadlines for submission can be far in advance of the meeting date, especially in the case of the APA Eastern Division meetings in early January. Also, you must balance work on conference talks with work on the dissertation. It’s great if these kinds of work are complementary, but if they are not, keep in mind that the closer the dissertation is to being finished by the time you go on the market, the better.
C. Ask for letters of recommendation and supply letter-writers with relevant information
You want at least four letters: three letters--including, of course, one from the dissertation advisor--that speak to your promise as a philosopher, and one that addresses your teaching. You can have either a separate letter on teaching, or if your letter writer is familiar with both your teaching and research, they can speak to both in their letter. Start thinking now about who you would like to write your recommendation letters.
It is wise to obtain an “external” letter, i.e., one from someone not affiliated with Duke--a letter, e.g., from a former teacher at UNC Chapel Hill would count as external. In general, since you will be competing with the students of any external letter writer, hiring departments accord them more weight than internal letters. One advantage of presenting papers at conferences is that it provides the opportunity to make contacts with people outside the department who are candidates for becoming outside recommenders.
Make sure that your recommenders either now know your work well, or will have the chance to know it well, significantly ahead of writing their letters. In mid-August, remind them that they promised to write for you, and by September 1, provide them with your CV and with the samples of your research that you and your advisor decide is appropriate. This is to ensure that we get their letters on time by mid-September. In the case of the person writing your “teaching letter,” you will want to provide a copy of your “teaching dossier”. The departmental Placement Officers will then work to ensure that the letters you request are in on time and appropriate for your file.
You can certainly have more than four letters. But don’t go overboard: there is at most a negligible advantage, and at worst a positive disadvantage, to having an additional letter from someone who does not, in fact, know you or your work well.
- Sign up for Interfolio. The department will provide services to help you get your letters delivered to potential employers and will cover the cost of sending confidential recommendation letters through Interfolio if you have met the September 1 deadlines for preparing material and sending it to recommenders. Those who do not satisfy these conditions but still wish to enter the job market must arrange for their recommenders to send letters directly to search committees. This option should be avoided if at all possible.
- By mid-August, sign up for the job market workshop.
Send the placement officer(s) your most recent CV and writing sample by this date. This workshop will meet in late August.
A. Prepare a Teaching Dossier
You should prepare a teaching dossier that should include the following. A copy of a teaching dossier has been made available on Box.
- Teaching statement/teaching philosophy
- Statement of teaching interests and competencies
- Course evaluations (these may be abbreviated because sometimes, and especially if you’ve taught a few courses. There is simply too much material to include in its totality)
- (Selected/representative) student comments
- Sample syllabi for courses you have taught and those you are interested or have advertised yourself as being able to teach
- Misc. letters of support from students, course materials like handouts
Note that with respect to (1), we fully recognize that such requests can lead one to present a bunch of generalities, e.g., one says that one wishes to teach students to think critically. Of course, it’s certainly a good idea to teach students to think critically! The challenge is to write a teaching document that stands out from the crowd. We think the best way to accomplish that task is to avoid generalities when possible, substituting specific examples from your teaching experience. All of you will have taught courses before applying to jobs, so you will have plenty of teaching experience to rely on. We recommend thinking of examples of assignments, teaching modules, exam questions, or discussion topics that worked well in your courses. Genuine examples from a course are much more memorable and compelling than the kinds of generalities that we all fall back upon when we’re forced into writing such documents. Don’t be afraid to describe the lessons you learned from your well-intentioned teaching fails. Everybody has experienced them. The best philosophy teachers are those who recognized their mistaken pedagogical assumptions and found a creative and effective way of recovering and doing better the next time.
Note that if you are trying to meet the September 1 deadline, this should be also be complete at that time and provided to your recommender assigned to discuss your teaching.
B. Prepare a research statement
Universities/colleges, especially those that are research oriented, and post-docs tend to request research statements. These statements typically outline not just the current but the future projects you envision yourself undertaking. These will likely be fairly close to your dissertation topic, and you’ll want to be able to speak about these future anticipations in interviews with some familiarity/detail.
C. Diversity statement
Institutions are increasingly requesting diversity and inclusion statements. All University of California schools, for instance, will require them. Schools are interested in candidates’ commitments to diversity/equity/inclusion, and there are a number of ways that your research, teaching, and service (and even your background experiences) can inform this. Here are some samples from UC San Diego:
D. The Spiel!
You should prepare and memorize a 4-5 minute summary – really an advertisement of you and your work – to the search committee. Practice this and time yourself. It should be based on your dissertation research and aimed at convincing your audience that what you’re up to is a fruitful bit of philosophy. Your goal is to engage them in philosophical conversation. In the interview itself, you may very well be interrupted (some people never get through their whole spiel in the first-round interview). Note that the interview committee may not know anything about your topic. It’s good to do the following:
- Start off right away by stating what it is that you’re interested in and why it’s interesting. A concrete example at the beginning of your spiel for your audience (especially if they are not in your area) to glom onto is good.
- Then, get to your main argument(s) right away, which should be delivered clearly and concisely.
- Plant give-away feeder questions; e.g. you might mention an auxiliary argument, a concern, further implications, etc. that audience members can pick up on to ask you during the discussion.
A. Make a webpage.
Services like pix and weebly make it easy for you to set up a nice looking website; Duke University also provides resources to host your website.
They don’t have to be fancy. You can include a photo of yourself, your CV, a page about your research (which could include your sample, drafts of published works and works in progress – with the caveat that you might need to be a bit creative if something is currently under review), a page about your teaching, and any other interests you might have that you feel comfortable sharing.
B. Join the APA
Please apply for membership in the American Philosophical Association by September 1, and then ask us about having the Department cover the cost of membership fees.
Please note that the Department will pay APA membership and conference registration fees for up to two years for those of our PhD students who are on the market and are in full residence in the Department.
A. Send off those apps!
Note that while most post-doc and job application deadlines will appear during the fall, they do appear nearly all year-round. Check the following websites regularly for openings:
- Philjobs.org (this will be your go-to)
- Philos-L (a listserv)
- Chronicle of Higher-Ed (https://jobs.chronicle.com/jobs/)
Also note that individual societies sometimes have their own listservs that regularly post announcements. You may have to do a bit of digging to find the ones that are relevant to you. Ask colleagues who also work in your AOS for suggestions.
A number of our PhD graduates in recent years have found both tenure-track and postdoc opportunities in interdisciplinary settings, including business schools, public-policy and PPE programs, science-policy initiatives, bio-medical institutes, and even in other traditional departments. In many cases, while they were grad students, they built a credible interdisciplinary profile that made them attractive to non-philosophers in these settings. And they searched early to learn about the specific places where academic positions in these other fields are advertised. If your research profile is interdisciplinary in any way, you should seek out this information. It is entirely possible that your advisor will not know where those academic jobs outside philosophy departments are announced.
Make sure to check the specific required documents for each institution. They may require a certain number of letters, for instance. There is a spreadsheet that you can use for organizational purposes on Box.
In addition, job applications often will ask for a cover letter. The guidelines are as follows:
- For jobs in say, the top 50 of the Philosophical Gourmet, you don’t need too much detail in your cover letter. Simply state the position you’re applying to, some cursory information such as when you expect to graduate and from where, the documents you are sending, and your contact information.
- Outside of the top 50, you’ll want to tailor your letters to signify genuine interest, and these will be 1-2 pages. Sometimes, these reasons might be more personal – for instance, a geographical region might be attractive to you because you have family there.
- This is quite different for jobs in the UK, which require much more detailed cover letters that address the explicit specifications attached to the job. In these cases, make sure you carefully read and address all the points that the advertised position asks for (they will typically list required and desired skills that need to be explicitly answered for). See some guidelines.
- Make sure your letters are on Duke letterhead.
A. …But first, set up a practice interview.
Our departmental Placement Officers will set up mock interviews in-house in October and November. It would be to your advantage to have other practice interviews with friends or faculty before that time. There will be options to do these over Skype or Zoom, since these are becoming more popular for first-round interviews. Make sure, in the case that you have a Zoom/Skype interview, that you pick a place with a good connection, non-distracting background, and headphones preferably with a microphone. Experiment with propping up your computer so that it looks like you are looking at your audience members (i.e. look into the camera). Wear adult clothes from top to bottom (you never know if you’ll have to stand up for some reason).
A job interview is not dissertation defense. Job interviewers are considering you as a prospective colleague, first and foremost, and not just as a philosopher. To put it bluntly, they are trying to figure out what it would be like to “live” with you as a colleague for years to come. If a question stumps you, admit it; there is no advantage to bluffing your way through, or to “holding your ground.” It is wiser to try to articulate the reasons behind the fact that the question has stumped you. Above all, try to think of yourself as engaging the members of the interview committee in a stimulating philosophical conversation. That is exactly what they would like to be doing with you.
A typical interview will have four stages, and last anywhere from half an hour to an hour.
- first, you will give a short summary of your dissertation, or of your research (different interviewing committees will pose the question in slightly different ways).
- second, they will ask you a lot of questions about your dissertation and research;
- third, they will ask you about your teaching; and,
- fourth, they will invite you to ask them questions.
But this is merely typical: an interview may lack one or more of these stages. Sometimes the first and second will get collapsed simply into a question of what your research is about. Be ready to start by jumping into your spiel. Moreover, many years of feedback from our students have indicated that it is unwise to predict what will happen at a given interview. For instance, our students have reported many times over the years that interviews with small liberal arts colleges have not involved any discussion of teaching, and in tandem, that interviews with R1 universities have included extensive discussion of teaching. So, predictions are unwise; the only wise plan is to be prepared for each of the above elements each time you have an interview.
Again, the folks hiring you for a job will almost certainly not work in your area. If they are hiring in your area, it is usually because their department lacks that kind of expertise. So your goal in the interview is to explain what is intriguing and important about the questions you work on to people who know little or nothing about your subfield -- while nevertheless being willing to dive deeper in the weeds occasionally with interviewers who do think they can engage directly with your debates.
Here is some advice concerning the four stages of a typical interview.
- Recall that your summary spiel should be short and sweet. It should pass the same tests that apply to the opening pages of your writing sample. This gives you a chance to direct the course of the subsequent conversation, since the interviewers will be listening with an ear to finding interesting questions to ask you. Practice your summary on your own, so that you have it down cold, and in front of other people, so that you can get feedback about its clarity, and about the questions it is likely to prompt. Note: your “performance” at this stage (and the others) will also send immediate signals about what kind of teacher you are likely to be.
- It is impossible to predict the questions you will be asked. The best advice is probably to focus your attention on the sort of effect you want to achieve in this stage of the interview. First, you want to convey to your interviewers that you have command of the relevant “dialectic.” Second, you want to convey your awareness of, and philosophical interest in, the connections between your areas of research and outlying philosophical areas and long-standing debates in philosophy. Why do you want to do both things? Because your future colleagues will be happy if they know you are not just a narrow specialist, but someone they will enjoy talking to. The best way to prepare for this stage of the interview, prior to having your mock interviews with departmental faculty, is to pester friends to mock-interview you, with the dual aims of tripping you up dialectically, and throwing philosophical questions at you from left field (i.e., the kinds of questions that force you to confront connections between the philosophical material you are most comfortable with and other, less familiar material). You should keep in mind that questions during this stage of the interview might concern not only your dissertation research, but also what your next research projects will be. You will want to give some thought about how best to answer questions concerning the latter.
- At some point during the interview, you most likely will be asked what you would do if you were given such-and-such a course: it might be an intro course, or an advanced undergraduate course, or (in the case of schools with graduate programs) a graduate seminar. Rule of thumb: if you have listed something as an AOS, it’s fair game at this point for any kind of course; if you have listed something as an AOC, it is fair game for any undergrad course. Past experience suggests that most applicants put off, sometimes until the very moment the question is posed, thinking about what they will say in response. Do not do this! You should, in fact, have a short “spiel” to give about every combination of course level/topic that you would be prepared to teach. This spiel should not consist of a syllabus and set of readings, or even a recitation of topics (though these may be mentioned – and if you do, be ready to justify your choices). Rather, it should begin with a one- or two-sentence statement of what you hope to achieve, pedagogically, in such a course—how students who take it would benefit from it. If you can rely on your past teaching experience to answer this question, that is the gold standard. As noted above, it is best to avoid generalities here, and instead to mention specific topics that have worked well in courses you have taught.
- Interviews almost always close with the interviewers asking the candidate if she has any questions for them. It’s wise to think of something interesting to ask, e.g., about the character of the department, or of the undergraduates, or of the university. The more your questions are based on knowledge of the department and the curriculum, garnered, for instance, from the departmental website, the better. In all cases, be sure to learn enough about the department or institution in question to ask an informed question. For instance, if you’ve applied to a religious institution, it’s wise to reflect an understanding of that fact in your question; or, if you’ve applied to a department with a huge MA program, you should evidence an awareness of it; etc.
You should not neglect what is happening elsewhere in the university either. There are almost certainly various cross-campus programs, centers, institutes, or initiatives that you could play a role in -- indeed, some may even look, from the website, like the kinds of things you might actually want to be involved with. If so, ask questions about them, and about whether they are things the department would like to be more connected to. Some campus interviews -- including ours, when we are hiring at Duke -- involve brief interviews with Deans; and some of these interdisciplinary units are things that particular Deans are invested in. (In many colleges and universities, the Dean plays a non-trivial role in the final hiring decisions.)
B. The job talk and campus visit
The departmental Placement Officers will set up times for mock-job talks starting mid-November / early-December. You will need to have something ready for that time. If you think you do not have anything you feel you can present, you probably are not ready for the job market. Those who receive invitations for campus interviews will give their job talks again sometime after the start of the spring term.
First, as already noted, it would be an advantage for you if the topic of your job talk differs from the topic(s) of your writing sample(s). Many departments won’t demand this, but some might (or at least try to); and at any rate, everyone will be more impressed, ceteris paribus, if you give them something new.
Second, the job talk should be based on a finished paper—preferably, a paper that meets the same standards that apply to your writing sample. Keep in mind that some places may ask you to send them your paper ahead of time. You can refuse, but obviously it would be better if you didn’t.
Third, you should plan on practicing the talk enough—informally, in front of the mirror (or video); less informally, in front of friends; and more formally, in front of our department—so that you can give it without reading the paper. If you need to read from your notes, that’s fine, but the goal should be to present in a less stiff and more conversational manner. A job talk may have the superficial appearance of a normal talk by a visiting speaker; but looks can be deceptive. You are trying to do many of the things you would do as a visiting speaker, or at a conference, of course. But again, as with your interview, you are primarily auditioning to be a colleague the host department will want to live with for the foreseeable future. Among the many things they are inferring from your performance during the job talk is how good a teacher you are likely to be for their students. If you are reading too much from a paper, or responding defensively to questions and challenges, you will give up the best opportunity you are likely to get to show off your qualities as an engaging and open-minded teacher.
Fourth, provide a clear, uncluttered handout that serves mainly to help your audience keep track of the discussion. You can also feel free to use other visual aids such as PowerPoint, though this is optional. If you do use PowerPoint or another visual tool, do so in a way that looks fresh and clean. If you are already distributing a handout, there is little reason to be filling slides with words. Relationships between ideas that are lazily conveyed in bullet points are usually more effectively illustrated with icons or pictures arranged in space. Do not neglect the formatting impact of your handout either. Be sure your name is on top. Have any points, definitions, etc., you want to refer to clearly numbered and/or named. Do not expect older professors (among others) to enjoy reading 10-point font. Modest use of colored font for headings, diagrams, arrows or indenting, and so on, will make a handout easier to navigate at a glance. Print your handouts before you fly out. When the committee sits down to rank all of the interviewed candidates, perhaps many weeks after your talk, they are more likely to recall the overall “look,” “feel,” and use you made of your visual aids, than they are the details of some precisely worded argument that filled an entire slide with text.
Remember that on job talks, you will be meeting various members of faculty and administration as well as graduate students (and possibly undergrads, depending on the hiring institution). You will receive an itinerary beforehand; do a bit of research on who you’ll be talking to. Be respectful to everyone you meet.
A. If you receive a job offer, here are some things to think about during the bargaining process. Depending on your hiring institution, you might have some wiggle room to negotiate some of the following. The key is to be reasonable; for instance, it is not realistic to ask for a lot of reduced teaching if you are working at a liberal arts college. Some of this will also depend on whether you have competing offers on hand. Remember that you’ll want to be able to justify the things you ask for.
- Salary increases. Public universities, like UNC and CUNY, make salaries public. So you might want to do a bit of digging to see what the average salary for a starting position is.
- Reduced teaching load. Some places will reduce your teaching load by one course the first year. You might also request for reduced preps the first year (so, you might teach three courses, but two of them are logic.)
- Pre-tenure sabbatical. This will be different between institutions, but many places allow for a one-semester research leave before tenure.
- Parental leave. Check with your institution that you will get adequate time off.
- Increased research/travel funds.
- If you have a post-doc offer, you may be able to negotiate a later start date by a year or maybe two.
B. If things have not worked out, don’t panic. This is the most common outcome on the first try and does not reflect your ability as a philosopher. A lot of arbitrary factors can figure into the hiring process. If you plan to go on the market again next year, one upside is that you will have most of your materials already prepared and revisions will not take as long as prepping things for the first time.
For those of you who are interested in alternatives to academic careers, there is a growing body of advice on how to accomplish this. There are philosophers who have gone on to become consultants, government/policy analysts, lawyers, programmers and data scientists, educators in secondary schools, writers, medical professionals, and more. Duke provides resources to start navigating this here: https://versatilehumanists.duke.edu/professional-development/. From the APA: https://www.apaonline.org/page/beyondacademia
Decide whether to go on the market in consultation with your advisors and the graduate placement officers. Inform them of your decision.
June 1 – July 31
Work on portfolio. Start contacting potential letter writers to make sure they will write references for you.
Sign up for Interfolio.
Have a draft of your writing sample. Send this to your advisers for feedback. Continue revising.
Sign up for job market workshop. Provide your CV and writing sample, as well as any other materials you might have ready by this time, to the placement officer. Remind letter writers that they have agreed to provide you with references.
Job market workshop.
Internal deadline for job market materials. Provide letter writers with your CV and writing sample(s).
Join the APA. Start being on the lookout for posted job advertisements.
Start working on your spiel.
October - November
Mock interviews. Real ones will take place throughout all of mid-late fall. If you have an in-person first round, register for the APA.
Start preparing a job talk.
Late November – December
Schedule a mock job talk (depending on when it’s scheduled).
Some first round interview may still occur at this time. If you’ve been scheduled for a flyout, schedule a second mock job talk.