I had promised that I’d consolidate the collected “job market wisdom” of the 2009 graduating class and present it as a set of notes for future classes. I put it off (after getting a job, one still needs to defend…) and I’ve forgotten a lot of the suggestions that other people had. So these notes largely reflect my own job market experience. I’ll try to include other people’s opinions when I can remember them. If you have comments or information that I missed, please let me know. Some people have and requested that they stay anonymous, but I’m happy to attribute the advice to you if you want credit.
Since these documents last longer than is originally intended, I should give a little bit of background information. I went to graduate school at UCSD where I studied econometrics for six years. I went on the job market in the 2008-2009 academic year and defended in July, 2009. My first job out of grad school is an Assistant Professorship in the Economics Department at Iowa State University.
— Gray Calhoun
John Crawley’s Job Market Guide and Advice is the official guide, and you should read it before reading any further here. (First, because it’s better than my guide. Second, because I’m going to assume you’ve read it.) The JOE website links to the latest version.
William Thomson’s A Guide for the Young Economist covers the job market (in the second edition), and you should read the book anyway. Lucky you, the sample chapter that MIT Press has put online is the one covering the job market.
A basic timeline: what happens when; what you need to own or create by that date; and what you probably want in addition to the bare minimum.
The deadlines for job applications largely fall in late October through mid November. About a quarter of the applications are due after Thanksgiving. At the miniumum, you need:
A generic cover letter: Writing more than one cover letter per “class” of job application is overkill; I had one cover letter for research positions (regardless of the department), one for private sector jobs, and one for teaching positions. They got tweaked a little for some of the positions, but not by more than a sentence or two (one example: I mentioned that “I worked closely with Dimitris Politis” when applying to statistics departments). The cover letter needs to include this information:
Your field (and secondary fields if they’re relevant)
The position you’re applying for (sometimes the letter goes to HR. Sometimes the department is hiring for several positions and the same person handles all of it. Etc.)
Your advisors names
The fact that you’ll attend the AEA meetings (It is not always assumed that you’re attending the AEA meetings. I was asked about this by email a few times when I omitted it in the cover letter).
A paper (your “job market paper”): This should go without saying. I was surprised by how many people read my job market paper, though. Before going through the process, I had the impression that job market papers were not actually read, but that the interview decision was made largely on letters of recommendation. I was wrong.
Three letters of recommendation.
A one to two page summary of your dissertation.
A CV: UCSD encouraged us to use its template, which is (unfortunately) very ugly. It probably doesn’t matter if it is ugly… but I didn’t use their template. Karen Kelsky has fantastic instructions for putting together a CV, and I tried to follow them the last time I rewrote my CV. A LaTeX template is available here.
A webpage. Nothing fancy, just links to your CV and your job market paper, which should be clearly labeled “job market paper” if you have more than one paper online (or even if you don’t). A picture of yourself looking relaxed but professional is good too.
You may also need to put together a few things that many, but not all, schools require. You don’t need to put much effort into these elements of your application, unless you badly want a teaching job. But many schools will consider your application incomplete if it doesn’t have these items included.
A summary of teaching evaluations.
A one-page “statement of teaching philosophy.”
And, if you can pull it off, you’ll want these things too. (They are highly recommended):
Another paper: “Highly recommended” is an understatement. I have heard rumors that the department (UCSD) will re-evaluate where they’ll push a candidate on completion of a second paper.
Another letter of recommendation.
A resume: If a job asks for “a resume,” it does not mean “a CV.” A resume should have different information than a CV; for example, computer skills and non-research work experience. Obviously, if you are only applying to academic jobs, you don’t need a resume and, knowing that, you may not want to put your resume on your website (having the resume on your website signals that you’re applying to non-research jobs, which signals that you’re not confident about your ability to land a research job, which signals lower ability… I’m overthinking this, but not really kidding)
If you are not a native English speaker, you absolutely need to have a classmate who is a native English speaker proofread all of your jobmarket documents.
Other academic departments (other than economics; statistics or public policy, for example) may be on a slightly earlier or later schedule than the econ job market. Government departments that don’t hire many Ph.D. economists also can operate on a different application schedule (the State Department, as a hypothetical example), so (if they hire later) they can be useful for hedging. You should be aware that these departments typically pay noticeably less than institutions that hire lots of economists.
There’s disagreement on whether you should or should not apply for jobs that are “out of reach.” I did. The cost of applying to any given job is tiny, and it seemed like getting my paper read by as many people as possible had benefits on its own. I didn’t see a downside, and don’t know what the counterargument is; but it does apparently exist.
It is often easier to apply for a job than to determine whether or not you are a good fit for that job. If you find yourself agonizing and trying to decide whether you should apply, save yourself some time and apply.
Economics Department jobs are posted on JOE (the AEA’s website), ERN, FRN, Walras.org, inomics, UK-JOE. Most business schools, government agencies, and private companies looking for Ph.D. Economists post to JOE as well. European departments sometimes post here, sometimes post elsewhere. Many smaller, less prestigious liberal arts colleges won’t post anywhere but will have faculty jobs listed on their HR website.
Be aware that this process is stressful and busy for everyone. You won’t be an exception.
About organization: I kept an Excel file where each row contained all of the information for a given job: deadline, department, contact info, JEL codes, etc. In retrospect, this was complete overkill. I made slight errors in transcribing the information, and I went back and checked the original listing before writing each cover letter. The point is, you’re only sending 200 job packets at most, so automating and computerizing the process is silly. If I were doing it over, I’d print out each job listing and keep it in a binder sorted by the application deadline.
Schools will contact you about interviews at the meetings. This is more stressful than earlier, but not particularly busy.
Your advisor and committee can make phone calls. Ask them to if you’re not getting interviews. This stage is the one that your advisor’s pull matters. They can get you interviews at the AEA meetings, not flyouts and certainly not jobs.
There are sales (Macy’s, after Thanksgiving, etc.) that are especially helpful for buying luggage and suits. Shopping would be a nice way to blow off steam.
Generally, people perform worse in their first few interviews, perform best in the early afternoon on the first day, and perform worse again as they get fatigued later in the day and on the second and third days. If you could schedule your interviews to reflect that pattern, it would be great. But you really can’t. You will get calls about interviews over about a two week period; suppose the first interview you get is very prestigious, and the next interview is much less. You have no way of knowing where they fall in the distribution of interviews you’re going to have. By the time you’ve scheduled enough interviews to know how you should schedule them, it’s too late.
One thing you can do is know how far it is between hotels; this is hard to do if you haven’t lived in the city, so ask someone who has. Last year (January of 2009), some people didn’t realize that SF has hills, and walking up those hills is more difficult than walking down.
You’ll be at the AEA meetings, have fun! The biggest thing you’ll need is to have practiced describing your job market paper and dissertation! Professional attire and comfortable shoes are also a good idea, but are much less important.
You really are running from hotel room to hotel room for three (or more) days; one of the only things I was surprised about was how much my feet hurt.
You need to practice a lot for the interviews. Practice with friends. There are lists online of potential questions specific to the Economics job market. The basic format is:
You sit down, someone says, “tell us about your research” with some amusement.
You describe your job market paper – they may interrupt with questions and they may not; it really depends on the interviewer.
You want this period to be very busy. It may or may not be stressful
If you are invited to a reception, you should go. Even though you’ll be tired and feel exhausted. I skipped some and was asked (by one of them) why I didn’t attend, so apparently people do notice.
It is hard to describe how different various people’s experience was at SF last year. Some people had a great time and enjoyed meeting with everyone. Other people had interviews that they thought were hostile and unpleasant. In general, the people who resolved beforehand that the experience would be fun usually had fun – obviously, there’s a huge amount of endogeneity in that statement, but it does mean that your experience is heavily influenced by your attitude even if (and I don’t believe this) your outcomes are not.
If you have co-authored papers (I didn’t, but this advice comes from someone who did), expect to be asked where the idea came from, who did what, etc. I assume this is even more likely if it is your job market paper.
Some research has been done on what happens in a “bad” job market. In short, the best candidates get more interviews and other candidates get fewer and worse interviews. Whether or not you believe the results, this research suggests that whenever you’re asked how the job market is going (by someone other than a close confidant) you should reply, “I’m really happy with the interviews I have and I’m busier than I expected to be.” It’s plausibly true, it’s a subtle signal that you’re a “good” candidate, and (most importantly) it’s a much more pleasant answer than, “this year sucks and I hate all of my interviews,” especially when you are asked the question during an interview.
This is when flyouts and job negotiation. Here’s what you’ll need for sure:
A reliable laptop: If you have any doubt about the reliability of your laptop, buy a new one. The tiny netbooks only cost a few hundred dollars.
Slides (well, pdfs if we’re being literal): Specifically, you’ll need to give a polished job market presentation that runs 1:15 to 1:30. Different departments have different length seminars. You should be practicing a lot. You should also be aware that the conference rooms vary a lot. [UCSD students] are used to a short and wide seminar room, others can be very long and skinny.
You usually arrive the day/night before
You’ll have dinner the night you interview or the night before. Sometimes, the “official” dinner will be the night after you interview, but people will want to take you out to an “unofficial” dinner the night before; so arrive early the day before if you can to keep that night’s dinner free.
Leave town that night or the next morning
Interviews with the faculty run about half an hour to an hour. you may talk be about your paper, maybe about the university, maybe about misc. topics (the Detroit lions losing, for example, or about the university’s retirement plan). The most fun interviews are when you talk about the other person’s research.
The dinner may or may not be an “interview,” depending on who is free that night. If it is an interview, one standard format is to ask technical questions over dessert. This can be done pleasantly or not; at ISU, I was politely asked to explain how I planned to do a few technical extensions to my job market paper that I’d discussed earlier. So, you should not drink at dinner.
An anonymous reader had the following comment: ‘It might be obvious, but the job interview is the entire time you are with potential colleagues on the fly-out – this includes dinners and happy hours and drinks and whatever. Some freshwater schools, in particular, will wait to ask hard questions at the end of a dinner including drinks, and perhaps even a happy hour before that. Be professional the whole time and be ready to be on your game (your research, the particulars of what your job market does) whenever you are around these potential colleagues. Remember two parts to the term “potential colleagues:” the “potential” means you have to know your stuff around them, and they are very interested to know if you know; the “colleague” means it pays to show that you are a human being that can be sociable, and so isn’t a drag to have around.’
Contacting institutions about nearby interviews is okay. This caused me some stress about what “nearby” means when you’re flying out of San Diego, especially because people here have misconceptions about actual distance between cities on the east coast. I still don’t know.
After you get an offer, you can and should contact everyone else that you interviewed with — they understand how the process works and understand that you’re on a deadline. If you hadn’t heard from them since the AEA meetings, it’s almost certain that they’ll tell you, “thanks for letting us know. We’re going to hire someone else.” But it’s still important; it’s good for “networking;” and they’ll probably say something like, “I really liked your research,” which will make you feel good about yourself.
Fly direct whenever possible. There’s a temptation to try to save the department paying for your flyout a little bit of money, but you are going to be very tired and probably sick, and missing a connecting flight could be a disaster. No one ever was offered a job for saving the department $300 on a plane ticket.
Hopefully this period is busy. It is extremely stressful.
Here are a few things we did when I was on the job market that you might find helpful. I haven’t seen them mentioned on other job market guides.
We set up a different mailing list. People had to opt in to it, the idea being that people are sometimes shy about sharing information because they don’t want to come across as gloating or hurt someone’s feelings if the job market is going particularly badly. If people opt in to a second mailing list, you can be at least somewhat comfortable that they value the information. Almost everyone participated.
For the same reason, we set up a shared spreadsheet with everyone’s interview information. A spreadsheet format makes a little more sense for organizing this information, and getting regular email updates of everyone else’s great interviews is extremely irritating. So we set up the spreadsheet separately.
We held practice interviews. The Federal Reserve interviews on campus before any of the scheduled faculty interviews, and we wanted to practice for those interviews too. Also, there are only two interviews with faculty, and we wanted to practice a little bit more than that. I think that some of us did about 5-10 practice interviews overall.
We attended each other’s practice job talk seminars, and scheduled extras. Again, the job talk matters, so having lots of practice is helpful.
I didn’t do many of these things, but in retrospect wish that I had. So take it for what it’s worth.
The job market is an excellent time to start “networking.” After the job market, you’re going to have a job (I am sure of this. It is a tautology). One aspect of any job is “building a professional network.” If you were smart, you started this in grad school by meeting speakers, going to conferences, following up with people, paying attention to who’s working on what, etc. But, like most of us, you probably did an incomplete job of it. This year, you are going to meet a lot of people at a lot of different institutions, and many of them are going to have very similar research interests to yours — there’s a lot of self-selection. So, approach the job market from two angles: you do want a job, but you also want to start meeting future collaborators. This means: follow up with people, write thank you notes after interviewing, try to talk to them about their research and discuss common interests, etc.
You will be very tempted to skip departmental seminars during the Fall quarter and consequently avoid meeting the speakers. Don’t. There are many obvious reasons that you should continue to go to the seminars and meet the speakers; I assume you can see them yourself. Another, not at all obvious reason is that you are likely to take a job at a department that does not have regular seminars in your field – many departments have a single, weekly, “department seminar” that hosts all outside speakers. So this could be your last year (for the foreseeable future) of working at a department that has regular seminars in your field. Take advantage of it while it lasts.
A note about thank-you notes. They’re not necessary, but they’re nice. Despite what you read in job-search books, write emails and not hand-written letters. People can and do reply to emails. Moreover, since no one checks his or her department mailbox regularly, you can’t be sure that a hand-written letter would even be received. Sending or not sending a note will make no difference on whether or not you are hired, but getting hired shouldn’t be your only goal this year.
Different advisors handle the job market differently. Some advisors are very upbeat before the market, some are very negative, some are very hands-on, some aren’t. Often candidates in consecutive years who share the same advisor will have interviews at many of the same places. So it probably makes sense to contact your advisor’s previous advisees and ask them about their job market experience and what you should expect.
First, it’s useful information on its own.
Also, you are doing similar research to your advisor’s previous advisees, so you should know them. Even if you were friends in grad school, it may have been a few years since you last talked.
For exactly the same reason, you may want to contact recent UCSD grads who work in your field (Micro Theory, for example). (Speaking from the future as someone who now gets contacted by UCSD grads, it’s great. I enjoy it and it never feels like an imposition or burden. More of you should do it.)
For private sector jobs, and probably some government jobs, the stereotypical private sector job search advice applies: talk to people inside the companies you’re considering working at, and if you don’t know someone working there, ask someone who does to introduce you. One of the job market guides (I think Stanford’s) says (in a different context) that a job at an economic consulting company is a sure thing for any of their graduates, which would suggest that trying to get those jobs is a waste of time. This may or may not be true for UCSD graduates in a typical year, but probably isn’t true in an exceptionally bad year. Moreover, it ignores an important point. There are huge differences in working at one company vs. another, in one branch vs. another, and in one city vs. another. Some of these differences are apparent to outside applicants, but most aren’t; and some are clear but there’s no reliable way for an outside applicant to control how the application is handled. The point of talking to people is to ensure that the right branch/department in the right city in the right company is handling your application and to make sure that you know what the “right” one is for all of those variables.
Do not isolate yourself from other grad students. This year is extremely stressful, and almost no one else you know can empathize with what you’re going through (it’s like being a teenager). Talk to each other. Go out to dinner at the AEA meetings. Text each other. One nice feature of the shared spreadsheet was that it removed uncertainty about how other people are doing – which is nice on its own, but also helped make it easier to talk about the job market… instead of asking Chris (for example) “how’s it going?” and worrying that he’ll respond by crying, I could say, “congratulations on that new interview” or “man, why the hell aren’t more places lining up to interview you?”
Do not isolate yourself from your family. Where you move affects your family too. Your spouse is also extremely stressed out. This can go a bit too far, though: I met a few candidate’s spouses at the AEA meetings and found it a bit weird.
You may have noticed that this outline did not mention any of the economics job-market rumor boards, wikis, etc. They don’t have much information, people on them lie, and it’s depressing and stressful to read the messages. I avoided them. They may have improved since I was on the job market, but I doubt it.
— Gray Calhoun, 01 Aug 2009
Copyright (c) 2014–2015 Gray Calhoun. This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License and any source code listed in this document is also licensed under the MIT License.