Skip to content Skip to navigation

Becoming a Job Candidate: The Timetable for Your Search

Tomorrow's Graduate Students and Postdocs

Message Number: 

Think about your job search, your participation in scholarly organizations, and the completion of your research as a unified whole.


The posting below looks at possible timetables for applying for academic positions.  It is from Chapter 3 – Becoming a Job Candidate: The Timetable for Your Search, in the book, The Academic Job Search Handbook, Julia Miller Vick, Jennifer S. Furlong, and Rosanne Lurie. Fifth Edition. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia Copyright © 2016 Julia Miller Vick, Jennifer S. Furlong, and Roseanne Lurie , Copyright © 2008 Julia Miller Vick and Jennifer S. Furlong , Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001 Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Science Policy Decision-Making Modules


Tomorrow’s Graduate Students and Postdocs

---------- 2,146 words ----------

Becoming a Job Candidate: The Timetable for Your Search


It is important to begin to prepare for your job search well before you expect to finish your dissertation or your postdoctoral research. Think about your job search, your participation in scholarly organizations, and the completion of your research as a unified whole. In some fields candidates may go on the job market before completing their dissertation. If this is the case for you, be sure to be realistic about the time you will need to complete it. Most faculty members will advise you not to begin a tenure-track position before your dissertation is completed. It is important to note that in a tight job market, candidates who have completed their degrees are likely to be chosen over those who have not. Many scientists are competitive on the tenure-track market only after a few years of postdoctoral research. Postdocs should fulfill all their obligations to their current lab before leaving for a new position. A postdoc will want to start his or her own research program and not have to worry about finishing research conducted for someone else. Once you have accepted a position, you will gain tenure as a result of research accomplished as a junior faculty member. If you are late beginning your new research agenda, you will already be late by the tenure clock, and be in the position of a student with several incompletes, who can never catch up with current work.

Funding considerations may force you to look for paid employment before beginning your new position. If this is the case, choose the employment most conducive to furthering your research and publications. Use the timetable below to plan your job search while completing your dissertation or postdoctoral research and participating in scholarly activities. If, by chance, you read it thinking, “I wish I had done some of these things last year,” don’t despair! Fill in the gaps as best you can. Certainly many people obtain positions without having conducted the “perfect” job search. However, if you see gaps in your preparation and do not do as well as you hope on the job market this year, you may find much more success if you go on the market again next year after better preparation.


Timetable for Applying for Jobs That Begin in September

Two Years Before the Position Would Begin

-       Specifically for those who are currently graduate students:

o   Make sure all members of your dissertation committee are selected.

o   Consider getting a degree mid-year, which enables you to apply with “degree in hand.” (International scholars, however, should consider the visa implications of this timing.)

-       Know conference dates and locations. If you aren’t aware of these yet, it’s essential you find out about them, plan to attend, and, if appropriate, give a presentation. Learn deadlines for submitting papers.

-       Learn about all the important sources of job listings in your field. In some disciplines the job listings of one scholarly association cover almost everything. In other fields there may be multiple sources.

-       Explore the many online resources focused on academic careers and job searching, such as The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and Higher Education Recruitment Consortium. Use these to read about the issues and trends that will help you learn about life as a faculty member.

-       If your institution or department offers career programs on academic searching, plan to attend some. In particular, faculty speakers or panels can offer candid insights and advice.

-       If your department allows students to review candidates’ application materials or to sit on hiring committees, take advantage of this opportunity. Think about what candidates do that does or does not work well.

-       If you find that most people in your field have a professional website, start to develop one.

-       Cultivate your online presence. Utilize potentially useful networking resources such as and LinkedIn.

-       Work on developing professional relationships / networks outside your department or institution.

-       Begin the process of submitting an article or articles to reputable journals in your field. This way you will have at least one current publication(s) on your CV by the time you complete your degree or postdoc.

-       Consider whether proactively enhancing your teaching skills will benefit you, in particular if you are considering applications to teaching-focused institutions. Many doctoral granting institutions have centers for teaching and learning that provide support services for graduate students and faculty to improve their teaching competence. Locate your teaching evaluations, particularly if you’ve taught at multiple institutions. You will need them for your job search.

-       Give thought to your long-range goals and consider the kinds of jobs you will wish to pursue. If your plans will have an impact on a spouse or partner, begin to talk with that person about geographic locations you will both consider acceptable.

-       Identify any relevant postdocs for which you may want to apply and learn their deadlines.

-       You will want to seek a tenure-track position when you feel your research record is strong enough. Once you’ve decided you’re ready to put yourself on the market, see, “Fall, Twelve Months Before” below.

-       Think about developing a backup plan. If it includes seeking non-faculty positions, start to educate yourself about the options, read Chapter 23, and use the resources listed in Appendix 2.


Summer, Fifteen Months Before

-       Specifically for those who are currently doctoral students:

o   Make sure your dissertation will be finished no later than the summer before the job begins, and preferably earlier. In many cases, hiring departments will not consider a candidate without a degree in hand.

o   Find out how faculty in your department provide letters of recommendation. If they use a credentials service provided by your institution, establish an account. Get letters of recommendation now from those with whom you will have no further significant contact.

o   If you will be applying for individual postdoctoral funding, begin to prepare applications. If you will be applying to work on someone’s research grant, start to network with potential principal investigators.

-       If you are a postdoc, you should be adding to your list of publications and planning to finish your research approximately twelve months from now. This would be a time to open or update a credentials account for your reference letters.

-       Discuss your plans with your advisor or postdoctoral supervisor and any others in the department who may be interested. If they don’t think you will be ready to go on the market until the following year, consider their point of view very seriously. If you begin a new position before your dissertation or postdoctoral research is complete, you will start off behind schedule in terms of the “tenure clock.”

-       Renew contacts with faculty members whom you may know at other institutions, letting them know of your progress and that you will be on the market soon.

-       Collect all the materials you have that you might want to use or refer to as part of an application and make sure you can find them. Your collection could include teaching evaluations, samples of student work, syllabi you have prepared, press coverage of your work, and notes about things you want to remember to stress in a cover letter.

-       Update your CV with recent accomplishments.

-       Inevitably, applying to faculty positions will require that you talk about your long-range research plans. Take time now to give some thought to where your work will lead, and focus on a clear articulation of your future research agenda or goals.

-       Begin to prepare the additional written materials you will need in your search. You may be asked to provide an institution with a research paper or article, a brief statement of your research plans or teaching philosophy, “evidence of successful teaching,” an abstract or the first chapter of your dissertation, a diversity statement, and/or sample syllabi.

-       You may also be asked for a copy of your transcript. Be sure you know how to order it and how long it takes to fill a request.

-       Think about what resources you will need to do your research as a faculty member. Begin to look into ways of funding your research. You may be asked about this in an interview.

-       If you are also considering non-faculty options, be aware that opportunities for non-faculty positions become available throughout the year. If an academic position is your first choice, concentrate on that search at this time.


Fall, Twelve Months Before

-       Finalize your CV (you may need to update it a few times during the year) and complete additional supporting written materials.

-       Monitor job listings and apply to those for which you are a good fit. The first applications you write may take longer to prepare than subsequent ones. Be sure to meet all deadlines.

-       Arrange for letters of recommendation to be written by everyone who will support your search. Your advisor will probably update his or her letter as your dissertation progresses through its final stages.

-       Prepare your teaching portfolio in case you are asked for it. Develop a list of the materials you plan to include.

-       Keep working on your dissertation or postdoctoral research.

-       If you’re in an art or design field, prepare the visual materials you’ll be asked to submit with applications.

-       Attend any programs on the academic job search that may be offered on campus or at conferences.

-       Continue to keep in close touch with your advisor and other recommenders, and let them know where you are in the application process.

-       If you find yourself confined to a specific geographical location, make direct inquiries to departments that particularly interest you. (What you are most likely to discover in this way are non-tenure track positions.)

-       Review the literature in your field and subfield in preparation for interviews.

-       Check to see that letters of application have been received by the departments to which you have applied.

-       Investigate sources of funding for your research so that you can discuss your plans with hiring institutions.

-       Plan ways to maintain your perspective and sense of humor during what can be a trying time. Be sure to seek out campus resources, encourage others who are going through the same thing, and nurture your own support network.


Eight Months Before

-       Prepare yourself for the possibility of being contacted by email or phone to schedule interviews.

-       If you are in a discipline where preliminary interviews for faculty positions are held at conferences, you may wish to consider whether or not you will attend even if you do not have interviews scheduled well in advance. Requests from search committees may come up unexpectedly, and it will help if you know how you will handle them.

-       Prepare carefully for each preliminary interview, whether it is a phone, video, or conference interview. Remember to send thank you notes after each interview.

-       If you are contacted for preliminary interviews, know that campus interviews are the next step in the process.

-       If you give a presentation or job talk as part of an interview day on campus, practice it in advance. Organize a practice talk/presentation with your department and get feedback.

-       Continue to look, apply, and interview for positions.

-       This may be a stressful time. Plan to take some breaks for activities or events that you consider relaxing and renewing.


Six Months Before

-       Continue to apply and interview for positions, although most openings will have been announced by now.

-       You may begin to get offers. If you feel you need more time to make a decision about an offer, don’t hesitate to ask for it. You will, however, have to abide by whatever time frame you and the institution agree on for your decision. You don’t need to be totally open with everyone at this stage, but you must be completely honest. When you do accept a position, consider your acceptance a binding commitment.

-       It is possible your job hunt will not yield the offers you seek. If you have received offers but have strong reservations about them, don’t think that you must take absolutely any job that is presented to you. Keep in mind, however, that in a competitive job market, tenure-track offers can be few and far between, so think carefully before rejecting an offer.

-       If you did not receive any offers, talk with your advisor and others about the best way to position yourself for next year’s market. You can also keep watching for one-year appointments, which are often announced later than tenure-track positions.

-       If your Plan B involves a non-faculty job search, see Chapter 23, “Exploring the Expanded Job Market,” for helpful resources.

-       After you have accepted a job, take time to thank everyone who has been helpful to you in the process.