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The Academic Job Search for Grad Students


The academic job search is a structured process with strict deadlines and specific materials to prepare. Keep in mind that you will have to balance the demands of your job search with time needed to write your dissertation. Securing an academic faculty position typically requires you begin applying a year prior to your projected start date, making September a busy time for applying to positions.

Strategies for the academic job search vary by discipline. For example, in some fields it is very rare to obtain a tenure track position without first completing a postdoc. For a successful job search, familiarize yourself with the timelines and requirements associated with your discipline by consulting with your faculty adviser, committee members, and other faculty in your program. Academic job search advising through Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) is meant to complement the guidance you receive through your academic department. NCA staff can assist you in:

Important Considerations

As you review job postings and determine where to apply, consider the following:

Institutional Characteristics

Each institution and department has a unique culture. Reflect upon your preferences related to institution type (public or private institutions), institutional/departmental focus (teaching or research), location of the institution (urban, rural, suburban, or small city), size of the institution, and competitiveness and politics within the department. The fit between your preferences and the characteristics of the institution can be a factor in your long-term success in a position.

Academic Job Market

It is no secret that the academic job market has been tight for some disciplines in recent years. This does not necessarily mean that there won't be available positions in your field as you begin your job search, but you should anticipate tough competition from candidates with varying levels of career experience. Research the hiring outlook and trends for your discipline using resources from The Chronicle of Higher Education and professional organizations in your discipline. As you begin your job search, discuss the impact of current hiring trends with the faculty in your program.

Personal Considerations

Finding open positions is only one piece of the job search. Many graduate students have family circumstances that impact career options. Are you a part of a dual career couple? Are you a parent or are you planning to have children in the near future? Do you have a family to relocate when you accept a position? Maybe you have concerns about how personal characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, age sexual orientation or religious background will fit into a particular institution or academic department. Consult with trusted mentors for advice and to learn from their experience managing similar issues. A Northwestern Career Advancement Career Counselor can also provide guidance to help you determine your priorities as you evaluate potential opportunities.

Additional Resources

Dual Careers

Application Materials

Preparing for an academic job search will include a variety of activities, including requesting letters of recommendation from faculty, developing and finalizing application materials, and ordering multiple copies of your transcripts. Once you determine the positions to which you plan to apply, pay attention to the documents each institution requires. Create a tracking system to organize this process.

Frequently requested materials include:
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV): Your CV documents your academic accomplishments, including your degrees, research, and teaching.
  • Cover Letter: The cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the committee, emphasize your fit for the position, and your interest in the institution.
  • Teaching Philosophy: Prepare a written statement on your approach to teaching and views on education. Provide specific examples of teaching approaches you have used.
  • Research Statement: Prepare a written statement on your future research plans and interests.
  • Course Evaluations: Evaluations provide evidence of your effectiveness as a teacher. This can include student evaluations or evaluations from a faculty member.
  • Sample Syllabi: Syllabi demonstrate how you plan to implement your teaching plans.
  • Transcripts: Official Northwestern transcripts are requested through the Office of the Registrar. There are fees and wait times when requesting transcripts, so plan accordingly as you apply for positions.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Request letters well in advance of application deadlines. Select recommenders who have worked closely with you and are familiar with your work. The recommender should be able to write about your strengths in research and/or teaching and readiness for the position.
  • Writing Samples: Samples are typically publications or dissertation chapters.

Interfolio to manage your application materials. For more information about using this service, visit the Interfolio site.

The Interview Process

If you have been selected by the search committee after they review your application materials, the next step is usually an interview. Interviews typically progress in stages, beginning with a screening interview at a conference or via phone or Skype, followed by an on-campus visit lasting 1-2 days.

The on-campus interview typically includes interviews with faculty, administrators, and current students (sometimes both graduate and undergraduate); a presentation (“job talk”), followed by Q&A with the audience; a teaching demonstration; and a meal or another social event with your hosts. During interviews, committee members are evaluating your potential as a researcher, teacher, and colleague. They also want to determine whether you demonstrate a sincere interest in the position and are a good fit for the department.

Interview Preparation

The time and effort you spent preparing your application materials was good practice for the questions you will be asked during the interview. During the interview, be prepared to:

  • Discuss your dissertation research and future research interests
  • Discuss your approach to teaching and ideas for new courses
  • Convey interest and enthusiasm for the institution and the position
  • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses in teaching and research
  • Demonstrate adaptability, openness and administrative skills

It is important to practice prior to your first interview. Northwestern Career Advancement can assist you with mock interviews through scheduled appointments.

Other Interview Resources

Additional Resources for the Academic Job Search

  • The Academic Job Search Handbook (4th Edition), Julia Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong
  • Job Search in Academe: How to get the Position You Deserve, Dawn M. Formo and Cheryl Reed
  • The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor for Scholars from Grad School through Tenure, John A. Goldsmith, John Komlos and Penny Schine Gold
Online Resources: Job Postings, Articles and Advice

All Disciplines

Humanities and Social Sciences

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

  • ResearchGate  Social networking site for researchers that includes job postings from around the world
  • ScienceCareers  Positions for scientists in industry, academia, and government

Salary Information