Job Hunting in Academia: Why Didn’t They Choose You?

Applying for an academic job can be a frustrating process. If you’ve been rejected from an academic job and you’re stewing over why, read on to find out the reasons that your job application might have been unsuccessful.

You don’t have enough experience

One of the most important factors that hiring committees look at in an academic job hunt is the amount of research experience which you have — and that means publications. You will be expected to produce a certain number of publications as part of an academic role, and prior success in publication demonstrates that you’re capable of doing this. It is unfortunate but true that many hiring committees are more interested in the quantity of publications than the quality when it comes to assessing applicants. Unless you have a publication in a very major journal like Science or Nature then it’s possible that the hiring committee won’t even read your publications, they’ll just count how many you have. So if you’re not finding success in your job hunt, ask around to find out how many publications typical applicants have. You might need to publish more work before you can land a position.

You weren’t a good match for the institution

Another very important factor in hiring decisions is good fit between a candidate and the department. Even if you are a brilliant candidate with lots of experience, if your research interests don’t match the department’s, then you are unlikely to be hired. Do your research about the department before applying, and make sure that you have a really good understanding of the work which is done there. You need to find at least a few members of the department whose research interests coincide with yours, and spend some time thinking about how you work could add to the profile of the department.

Too many people applying for the position

Sometimes, being rejected from a position is not a reflection on the quality of your candidacy or your skills. In academia generally and in some fields in particular, there are many many more candidates looking for jobs than there are advertised positions. If this is the case in your field, even if you are perfectly qualified and perform very well throughout the hiring process, you still might not get an offer. This is frustrating but an inevitable part of academic job hunting. If this is a problem in your job hunt, the best thing you can do is to get a temporary or part-time job in another field to support yourself while you continue applying for academic positions. If your field is over-saturated with applicants then it can take a long time to get a job offer, so make yourself financially stable in the short term and dedicate yourself to a long-term job hunt.

Your application materials weren’t good

If you’re not even getting called for interviews when you apply for an academic job, then there may be a problem with your application materials. It’s time to take a long hard look at your CV and cover letter. Too many people write cover letters which are generic and simply describe past job duties, rather than describing their particular achievements. Use the cover letter to highlight how you exceeded expectations in previous roles and what makes you unique as a candidate. This is one area in which people with a business or industry background are often much stronger than people from academia, so ask for help from friends from different fields!

You didn’t come across well in the interview

One final issue to consider, if you’re getting interviews but no job offers, is how you come across in the interview. Many academics don’t receive any kinds of soft-skill training during their career, and sometimes the importance of inter-personal skills is not fully realised. If you’re generally a bit timid and introverted, then you need to push yourself to show your best at interviews — and that means not being afraid to promote yourself and sell yourself as a candidate. Don’t be afraid to talk yourself up a bit! However, if you come from a verbally assertive field like philosophy, then you might need to tone down your argumentative side during interviews. Make sure that you’re letting members of the hiring committee talk and not dominating the discussion, and keep your tone even and neutral.

We wish you the best of luck with you job hunt!

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