The Job Search – What Not To Do

Here at the ECF, we have addressed the academic job search process, from providing a general overview of the process, to planning for your campus visit and job talk, and deciding whether to return to the market. As both job seekers and search committee members, we’ve been involved in numerous searches. Our previous posts have been geared toward providing advice on how to present your best self in the application process, but there’s another side of things: what you shouldn’t do if you want to advance in an applicant pool and wow prospective colleagues during a visit. With the hiring season in full swing, we wanted to take this opportunity to reminisce about some of the most memorable aspects of interviews and campus visits–those dreaded faux pas that get folks knocked out of the running.

Don’t forget to proof your materials. 

Proof and proof again. Don’t be shy about enlisting assistance. If nothing else, be sure you check the university name in your cover letter. It’s not uncommon to be applying to several positions at a time, but it doesn’t go over well when candidates forget to change the university name in a form cover letter. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It’s disconcerting to speak with a candidate who has no questions about the position, institution, or other aspect of the job. Although rare, it does happen. Not only is the search committee interviewing you for the position, but you also want to ascertain if the position is a good fit for you. One way to do that is to come prepared with questions about the position, program, department, college, and university. I’ve never minded having an applicant pull out a list of questions–indeed, I appreciate it because it communicates their interest and investment in the process. Don’t let your nerves get in the way of asking questions both for your own understanding of the position, but also to convey to the committee that you are genuinely interested. If you don’t inquire about the position, you may inadvertently send the message to the search committee that you are not serious about their position. 

Don’t make them wonder why you applied to their program.

It’s common for us to ask, during interviews/meetings or meals with candidates, what drew them to our position, what they might be looking forward to, etc. It’s not very encouraging or endearing when the candidate can’t think of anything (e.g., I haven’t really given it much thought. I just don’t want to have to work in schools. I just really want to live in this city. I’ll take any job I can get if I can live here. I only applied because my advisor told me to.). Perhaps candidates get nervous and blank when asked these questions, but that makes it all the more helpful to prepare questions in advance.

In this vein, be sure to keep the universities you are interested in separate in your mind as you prepare your materials and interview. It’s embarrassing for all involved when a candidate discusses people and contributions of another program/institutions not knowing those people and contributions don’t apply to us. It’s happened more than I’d like to admit.

Don’t expect your advisors’/mentors’ successes to carry you. 

It’s great to talk about what you’ve learned from mentors and how you hope to extend past work in the future, but avoid excessive name dropping. It’s really hard to get a sense of a candidate who talks almost exclusively about their mentors’ work in both the job talk and other interactions. For instance, I get really worried about a candidate’s potential to develop a viable research agenda or show any independence when they only discuss projects where they’ve had a minor role or everything they say revolves around the mentor and not themselves. We’re not hiring the mentor. Show us who you are and what you bring to the table.

Don’t be undermined by your own hubris. 

Recently, during a series of phone interviews, the committee asked what I thought was a softball question at the beginning of each interview, Why did you apply for this position? Respondents generally mentioned the fit of their scholarship with the posting’s research and teaching expectations, research environment, potential collaborations, etc. The applicant that most stood out stated that coming from the #X department in the country, our #Y department was close enough in rank to be a viable option for them, and we’d be lucky to have them as a soon-to-be grad of a higher ranked department. Given committees are generally looking for individuals who’ll not only be contributing members of the institution but be pleasant colleagues as well, such a response doesn’t bode well for the latter. 

Don’t forget to give the committee insight into where they can expect from you in the future. 

I suspect it’s fairly common for search committees to inquire about candidates’ aspirations and research goals, so it’s problematic to receive one of these responses to a question of where someone wants to be in 5 or 10 years: “I’ve never thought about that,” or “I’m just trying to get through my dissertation/current project then I’ll think about what might come next,” or “I’m on a lot of projects/papers with my advisor and hope to be publishing those for years to come.”

Expect this type of question and prep for it! During a recent search, we were really impressed when a candidate was able to speak about the line of research she hoped to undertake, funding targets, and how she might leverage the collaborative opportunities and resources of our university to bring it all to fruition. That said, sometimes a detailed 10-year plan can be problematic — as in the candidate who listed off accolades (i.e., honors, awards, appointments) they hoped to receive year-by-year but couldn’t really speak to any kind of program of research or other contributions to the field they’d like to make. Before you get to the phone interview or campus visit, it’s best to think about your short- and long-term plans and potential contributions to the program or institution.

Don’t forget to leave the best impression possible before, during, and after your campus visit.

Related to the point above, there may be many “downtime” moments throughout an interview day. These may seem like less formal opportunities for friendly banter, but they are still opportunities for you to leave an impression on your search chair and committee — either favorable or not so much. Remain friendly but professional. Also, communication before and after your campus visit will leave an impression on the individuals ultimately recommending your hire. Be cordial in email and phone communication. Finally, consider emailing brief thank you notes to the search committee. It doesn’t take long and is often appreciated.

Don’t be hard to give an offer to.

When an institution decides to give you an offer, this is a big step. While it is important to take time to consider your fit, as well as possibly make a counteroffer, it is important to be respectful of the institution’s time and needs. As eager as you are to have a job, the institution is equally eager to fill their position with a good match. When given an offer, try to make your intentions known to take the position and your counteroffer requests within 1-2 weeks. If you are not going to take the offer, let the institution know as soon as possible so it can move on. I have been in positions where I have made offers to candidates, I was excited about, only to have them request weeks and weeks of time to consider the job. Certainly, we understand this is a huge decision and more time may be needed, but please don’t string us along if you have little to no intention of accepting an offer. Relatedly, I have had candidates make it to the offer stage who made counter offers that were way off base for our institution (e.g., $15,000 above offer; $50,000 in start-up without a clear plan for how funds would be used to support their scholarship). In the end, do your best to be gracious and tactful.

Don’t give up!

One of the best things about the school psychology academic job market is there are a number of job opportunities. It is not unsurprising to have over 40 announcements to come out each year; however, this does not guarantee you will get an offer. There are a number of qualified candidates not only looking to join academia, but also those interested in changing institutions for any number of reasons. Everyone has their own story as to how they ended up in academia, and not all of them start with landing their dream job on their first try. If your job hunt does not go as planned, consider academic or research post-docs, visiting professorships, or taking the job that might not check all your boxes, but gets you into the game.

Do you have other recommendations for mistakes job seekers should avoid? Share them here.



1 thought on “The Job Search – What Not To Do”

  1. Excellent suggestions Amanda! A few other suggestions:

    -During a video conference interview (becoming more common than phone interviews), be sure to check your technology before the actual interview and even do a practice run with a colleague or friend.
    –In your application materials, be sure to discuss all aspects of faculty life: research, teaching AND service. Don’t underestimate your involvement in student groups or being involved as a student rep in faculty search committees. This activities highlight your knowledge of the “behind the scenes” activities of faculty life.
    -During interviews, it’s ok to ask about work-life balance, what the local schools are like, or other questions beyond just the faculty role. Often, search committees are looking for a good match, and want someone for the long run, which means asking about living in that community.

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