The concept of “success” is NOT formulaic; it is highly subjective! Maybe your job is prestigious but you end up unappreciated and overworked. Maybe your job is otherwise amazing and supportive but you don’t feel challenged. What “success” means to you depends on your personal interests, your background, your goals, your family situation, and much more.
That being said, the most frightening thing about the job market is the uncertainty! (eek!) Especially in desperate times we look towards a smart advisor or a friend who can give THE PERFECT advice! Maybe THE PERFECT advice will save me? Problem is, advice is wide and varied and contradictory!
My personal advice is:
Seek out AS MUCH advice as you can find (or as much as you can handle), but don’t treat it as gospel. Trust yourself and understand your own unique situation in order to parse the advice.
Here is a list of memorable and contradictory pieces of advice that I received when I was in the job market, together with my experiences and observations to compare.
- “Don’t cold apply. People on hiring committees are tired of reading impersonal copy/pasted letters.” [– by a senior colleague at a conference]
- SEEMS TRUE because a tenured professor on a hiring committee at a big university said it, and he said it very passionately too.
- SEEMS FALSE because many of my fly-out (on campus) interviews were at institutions I had never heard of before applying.
- “Apply everywhere. The application system works. If you are persistent you will eventually be placed in a job that fits for you.” [– by a graduate advisor]
- SEEMS FALSE because in certain years me and my PhD peers each submitted from 50+ to 200+ applications per year, some of us hearing NOTHING back in certain years, and some of us hearing 1-2 back in certain years. The percent return is so low in academics it makes you question how persistent is persistent?
- SEEMS TRUE because after 5+ years of submitting that many applications per year among my peers, indeed now at this point we are mostly all currently placed in academics somewhere.
- “It’s all about who you know. Even in scientific fields, if you are not connected, you’re in big trouble.” [– by practically everyone]
- SEEMS TRUE because I know of a lot of job applicants who got their foot in the door by being connected well enough.
- SEEMS FALSE because I know of a lot of job applicants who got their foot in the door by just simply submitting their application.
- “If you are personally invested in a location, make sure that that is known to the hiring committee. It may get you the job.” [– by a person who was interviewing me]
- SEEMS TRUE because interviewers frequently give sales pitches for their town. (Ooooo, check out our McDonalds … great chairs!) Everyone wants a stable hire who will be invested in the institution.
- SEEMS FALSE because even among the *top two* applicants out of hundreds, I have seen the out-of-towner favored more than once! Jobs in higher education are extremely competitive, and sometimes the personal touch simply doesn’t matter.
- “Don’t take this job because we want you. Only take it if it works for you.” [– by a person who was interviewing me]
- SEEMS FALSE if you are in a bind and really need the job but the job has some big downside(s).
- SEEMS TRUE because remember “works for you” is not the same as “perfect for you”. Sometimes a job can lead to another job, or a meeting can lead to another meeting. Can you make it work? Can you make it work FOR YOU?
So much advice has rung true or false depending on my situation at the time.
The more advice gems you know, the better, but TRUST YOURSELF and UNDERSTAND YOURSELF to make the best decision that applies to you!