As a tenured professor I have seen a bunch of people on the academic job market. I, unsurprisingly, have been on the market myself. This means I have advice which I hope will be useful. That said, I do not have ‘the secret’ and would never claim to have. I would love to be able to share ‘the five tips to success’ but it is obviously complete nonsense when people do that. So here is my personal advice for the marketing academic job market.
If you find my thoughts useful that is great. If you don’t find them useful that is fair enough. At worst reading this you will have just wasted a few minutes when you should have been thinking about your disseration. You will certainly waste many more minutes on less useful things. My website is at least not going to get you into an argument with your roommate about the news.
At a philosophical level one of the most important things about the marketing academic job market is that it is probably of limited value to call it a single market. Applicants and schools are not interchangable. You will be competing in a specific lane. (You could call this a sub-market or even different markets if you fancy). In each of these lanes the strategies to success are likely to be quite different.
There are a lot of quirks and weird customs on the academic job mark — see more on academic customs here. As such, general advice is hard but hopefully this is useful for someone at least.
Schools To Apply To On The Marketing Academic Job Market
The first thing you have to do is to decide is which schools you want to apply to. Applying to many schools seems like the safest strategy. If you are flexible that could possibly be helpful in some circumstances That said, flexibility is less of an advantage than one might sometimes expect.
Why Apply Broadly?
Trivally, if you only apply to one school you are extremely vulnerable to random failure. The school might have a funding crisis and pull their line (job position). The school might decide they need someone with a very narrow set of skills that you simply don’t fit with. As such, it is understandable that you do not want to put all your eggs in one basket. (I will put caveats on this advice later).
The Job Packet
Actually applying usually isn’t too hard. Putting a job packet together is really hard work. You need a job paper, a CV, good references, and a clear letter that makes sure people don’t miss your brilliance. You might even have to put together a statement on teaching. My favorite thing at this point is when you are asked to share ‘your teaching philosophy’. Clearly this is a very silly thing to ask for. The fraction of PhD candidates who have a teaching philosophy is tiny. Everyone knows this and everyone knows that everyone knows this. At best this request is just a way of saying: ‘if you think you are too good to teach don’t bother applying’. It also might be a way of discouraging the non-serious by adding another step.
You could also be asked for a research philosophy. What is yours? It is likely that you ‘want to publish something, anything really’. You probably will want to write something like: “I want to do research that matters”. Everyone knows such statements are nonsense. It is not that you want to do research that matters that is implausible it is just the implication that such a desire will impact your research choices. Don’t feel bad if you have to write this. Think of it similarly to responding to the question: ‘do I look good in this?’ There is only one acceptable answer. This is obviously not the time to try to be clever or original.
While putting a packet together is really tough, the marginal cost of sending another packet is pretty low. When schools have their own systems then filling in the unique system is a bit of a hassle compared to just sending an email. Still it is not too much of a hassle. They are all pretty similar. This seems like another reason to apply everywhere.
Apply To The School Not The Job
Don’t let the lack of a job posting deter you too much. You should be trying to network with people at any school you are interested in. (This can never start too early — if you haven’t been doing it earlier in your program you are a bit late but it never hurts to start).
Even if a school you want doesn’t have a job applying is rarely a bad idea. Many times schools don’t really know what vacancies they’ll have till the last minute. Even if they genuinely don’t have a job they’ll probably just ignore it and you’ll have lost nothing. Some may even learn your name and you get a tiny bit of self-promotion. (Which is more important in academia than many PhD students might think).
Why then wouldn’t you send your packet to anyone you can find regardless of whether they have a job?
The Dangers Of Flexibility
Flexibility obviously helps in that you have a wider pool of schools to hope for. The challenge is that applying widely doesn’t help those interviewing you to get an idea what you want. Schools talk to each other. If, for example, you are trying to sell a school a story that you really want to join a school in the mid-west of the US if you then also apply all across the south the mid-west schools might hear and be confused.
Also if you won’t go to a school if they pick you then talking to them will likely only confuse things. Some applicants hope to get interviews ‘for practice’. My advice is practice with your friends; why risk anoying future colleagues/reviewers/editors when it is clear you are wasting their time?
Sometimes you are genuinely flexible. Maybe you are willing to go to any part of the US, or any country, and any type of school. Maybe you don’t care whether you go to a big city or small college town. You might think that this is great. It means you can seize the best thing that happens to be available. The problem is that schools need to make you an offer.
Think through what they want. One of their main critieria is: “will this person accept?” The more you don’t have a clear desire the less confident they can be about what you’ll do. The last thing a school wants is to interview a load of candidates who probably won’t come to them. The candidate wants, as far as is honest, to send the signal that they will likely accept an offer. This is much easier if you are specific. If you can say “I want to live in city XYZ because my parents are there” makes you seem pretty keen on them to schools in the area of XYZ. “I’m cosmopolitan”, while it might make you a more well-rounded person, doesn’t help anyone.
Waiting For Interview Offers
So you have sent off your packets. Then you wait, and wait, and wait a bit more.
The challenge is that schools vary quite a lot in how they respsond. Generally speaking it is best for the schools to choose quickly so some will get back surprisingly quickly. If you are applying to a ‘quick school’ not hearing is a terrible sign. (You can probably find some information on message boards about who is already giving out interviews).
Yet other schools are a bit slower, more bureaucratic. They’ll get to it eventually. This can be challenging. Should you contact them? You don’t want to come across as desparate or a pain to work with. Pestering too much will do this. You will be anxious so you will probably have a desire to pester more than is reasonable. That said, if you have a small number of schools that you really want you should have made some sort of contact with them before applying. You can definitely use these informal methods to find out what is happening. The people you contact might honestly say, “I’m not the one doing the selection” and not be that helpful. That said, if you are polite and reasonable it really shouldn’t hurt to reach out and show interest.
Waiting Some More
Hopefully, you’ll get an interview offer or ideally many. If you don’t, ‘don’t panic’. It obviously isn’t ideal but it isn’t the end of the world. It isn’t even the end of this interview cycle for you. You may even find you get an interview offer late after it seemed like everyone else was invited. This could be because the school isn’t well organized or you were drafted in when someone else turned them down.
- A) don’t be offended, why not just choose to assume that the school loves you but they are just badly organized?
- B) remember that schools don’t always know what they want. You may as well be positive about your chances of getting to the top of their list when they see you in person and realize how great you are.
If you really get nothing remember this happens to good people. Don’t be too down. Don’t panic all is not lost. See below for more on the secondary market etc…
Getting Interview Offers
When you get an interview offer, of course, you should be polite and be quick to respond. If there is a delay in your response have an explanation or people will think you don’t care about their school. To be honest don’t have a delay. It is hard to imagine any circumstances where you aren’t in phone/email contact when looking for a job.
Candidates craft and tell themselves elaborate stories about why they got or didn’t get interviews. The good, and bad, news is that:
Interview offers you get often aren’t really about you.
That may sound odd but we are all pretty self-centered. There are a lot of factors that go into interview offers and most aren’t really about the candiate. I don’t mean that tons of publications won’t help you get interviews. Still, even if you are doing better than anyone you know it is worth realizing that there is a lot going on that you don’t know and doesn’t directly involve you.
Does Your Adviser Have Good Contacts At The School?
Obviously major hatreds between your adviser and faculty at the school can cause a problem. But a lot of the influence is more prosaic. Some schools will know your adviser well, others a bit less well for largely random factors. If they know your adviser well that (generally) really helps. Sometimes this isn’t great if you merely get courtesy interviews. (Interviews where you never really have a decent chance of a job at the end of it). That said, even interviews where you won’t get a job can be useful to network and I got at least one free meal from a courtesy interview. If you impress people who won’t be hiring you immediately this can help long-term. It might even generate some buzz for you if you do great.
Clearly there isn’t anything you can do about your adviser at this point.
A lot of similar things go for your topic. It is also a bit late to change this. Try and have a good reason why the topic is important. Make sure that reason is a single sentence. No one wants to read your paper to have to find out. (Many times people won’t even want to read you paper at all).
Is The School Having A Cash Crisis?
Cash crises happen. It isn’t much of a secret that universities are not always terribly well run. Maybe the state is the problem, maybe the faculty. It is certainly hard to manage universities see here.
In any organization long-term planning is not as interesting as short-term fire fighting and petty machinations. This means there are lot of things that change pretty rapidly. Schools often pull jobs for financial reasons — even absent major financial crisis. And, writing in early 2021, we are already on our second major financial crisis in the last decade and a bit. On current form maybe you can expect your graduation year to be impacted by major financial crisis about one in three years. Clearly these are unlikely to be your fault. Still, you won’t be getting a job at a school in financial meltdown however great you are.
Do They Need Some Particular Skill?
Schools sometimes need a special skill. The Dean might be insisiting upon a data analytics type person for example. You aren’t that? Bad luck. Try not to take it personally.
Rule: Internal Politics Trump External Talent
Often who gets a job is a internal political compromise. You may just not be the sort of person that can get the job. At the risk of seeming too obscure in my analogy John Major got to be UK Prime Minister in 1990. This was widely reported as happening because everyone in the ruling Conservative could tolerate him. It wasn’t clear anyone actively wanted him. When candidates who the Conservatives didn’t want for political reasons were ruled out then only one candidate, however bland, was left standing.
Remembering that this all isn’t about you can really help. Don’t beat yourself up about not getting interviews. Often it is nothing to do with you. It is egomanical to think you are being rejected. I am sorry to pile on if you haven’t got many interviews. You are probably feeling bad and now I’m calling you an egonmaniac. That said, try and remember other scholars have better things to worry about than rejecting you. (They are worrying about themselves which I guarantee they think is more important). It is worth remembering that most people don’t care enough about you to actively bother to reject you.
Interviews And The AMA
In an ideal world you get some interviews. When I did the job market it largely revolved around the Summer American Marketing Association meeting. This involves the formal AMA process but most schools seemed to do their own thing happy merely to coordinate around the single meeting. With Covid-19 in 2020 this seems quite different as far as I can see. Plus there has probably been a trend away from Summer AMA for a while now anyhow. Still if you get a chance to go the Summer AMA it will likely remain an interesting event. There are advantages to coordinating on an event for both applicants and schools. (Not least it tells you when you should apply and the schools should release news of their vacancies).
Perhaps the most significant benefits of Summer AMA go to less prestigious schools and less obviously strong candidates on paper. With coordination around an event the less obviously desirable schools get a chance to interview candidates who might as well see what the school is like. Similarly if you are sending faculty to the Summer AMA you may as well see a decent number of candidates. So why not interview a candidate who seems interesting but might not work? When a school takes a risk and sees a more marginal candidate that they might end up seeing a candidate who they wouldn’t have flown out but still might impress.
Coordination Does Not Help All The Same Amount
My logic with this statement is if they got a chance to interview at Stanford, Wharton, Duke etc.. most candidates would do anything for that chance. They would go to the interview even if it were very inconvenient. The brand name schools therefore benefit less from coordination. They can see whoever they want to see anyhow.
Similarly great candidates on paper will still get fly outs without pre-screening at the Summer AMA meeting. They don’t need a pre-interview at AMA to break through.
A caveat on this advice. Zoom interviewing could in theory allow more screening interviews. Still Zoom interviews aren’t as good for anyone. How do you present well in a Zoom interview? Don’t worry, no one does. Furthermore, who wants to interview 30 people on Zoom? I certainly don’t, and I wouldn’t mind meeting that many people in person.
With Zoom interviews etc… and lessening of the centrality of the AMA I fear it’ll just benefit prestigious schools and better on paper than in person candidates. That said, I don’t have a solution.
Do as much of this as you can. Use other students to help with the prepping. Family and friends work too. You might think “they won’t know what I am talking about”. That is true, but it is also something to think about. Short interviews are not about getting into the details. Short interviews (like the 45 mins at AMA) are about selling a story. If people who aren’t marketing academics don’t understand why you are doing what you are doing this should be a warning. You should change your interview approach because there is a reasonable chance you aren’t explaining it at all well.
Remember in the room there is likely to be a smattering of colleagues from different areas of marketing. You may have an obsessive contribution to a niche area but this is likely only to work for a very small number of scholars. Most want to know a bigger picture reason why they should care.
Create A Broad Pitch
Why have a broad pitch? Scholars who really care that much can read your paper. Those that don’t care too much really just want to know if you are cogent. If you are describing something obscure they won’t know what you are talking about and will likely assume you are an idiot. This may be unfair but why risk it? You must have a clear sentence or two on what you are doing and why someone non-obssessed should care.
The need to have a pitch that works for a wide range of people means that testing your pitch with a wide range of people makes sense. You might think that because someone does not know your field they won’t have an opinion. If you think that then I’ll just say that maybe you need to meet more academics. Lack of detailed knowledge has never stopped any academic from forming a strong opinion.
If you are lucky enough to have an interview with a school where everyone specializes in your area you can always create a variant pitch for them. Regardless of whether you need a specialized pitch you must always have a general pitch. You may need to sell yourself to a school where no one knows your work. Maybe they just need a scholar of a different type to pack out their team.
Spouting giberish to the listener is never good. For example, just directing the interviewers to look at a load of Greek letters isn’t a good idea. Think it through. You have, say 20 minutes, are you really going to explain all the variables in that time. If not how could someone possibly understand the equation you present? If they don’t understand the variables what information does an equation convey? Probably that “You are not sophisticated enough to convey your ideas in words”? It isn’t great.
What I would say is that you should listen to advice but don’t obsess about every detail of the advice. Think most about the big picture as you can’t do everything you are advised. Often advice will be contradictory. Other advice might be great for the average person but not really good for you. Another person might be able to pull off an idea — and it might be a great idea. Yet, you may not be able to pull it off. Don’t worry if that is the case. Remember it is your presentation, do what works for you.
I would especially say beware making radical changes late in the day. As such, beware scheduling all your most respected practice interviewers close to the interviews. Why not save some fellow students etc… for the end. Do not schedule the best for last in case they come up with some essential advice that changes everything. This will render all prior practice interviews largely irrelevant. When you make alterations the slides will change, timings will change, even your message will change with some advice. If you expect a lot of good advice from someone then schedule them early.
BTW maybe think of how much you need slides. They are a great crutch but there is a reason why great communicators have slides with only pictures of flowers or smiling faces on them. You probably won’t get to that level of presentation skill, and that is fine, but don’t forget listeners should enjoy your talk. Don’t hit them with endless detail. They won’t be able to read text and also listen to you.
Also remember font sizes should never challenge anyone interviewing you. Don’t set a challenge to the interviewer and give them a headache as they squint to see. Chances are interviewers are older, maybe have worse eyesight than you. Plan accordingly.
You, The AMA, And The Marketing Academic Job Market
If you go to Summer AMA there are things to bear in mind. I don’t think I realized how physically exhausting the AMA meeting would be. It was, in many ways, a lot of fun and the energy may help keep you going. I didn’t even notice how tried I was till I got back on the plane at the end of the meeting. I barely had the energy to lift my bag into the overhead compartments.
Don’t Run Up The Stairs
At the risk of giving too much information I am not the sort of person who likes waiting. I certainly didn’t like the idea of waiting for a lift (elevator) when I needed to get to the next interview. Thus, on more than one occasion I thought, ‘I can run up a few flights of stairs’. Now you may not be as silly as I am. You certainly won’t do it more than once as I did but… Getting to an interview red and winded is not the best look. Neither is sweating profusely.
In some ways it was nice that my appearance showed the interviewers who I really am. (I am the sort of person who runs up stairs because he isn’t patient enough to wait for a lift). This is, after all, one aim of an interview. Still I’m not sure that any interviewers valued the sort of can do/get there on time attitude that I showed. They would rather have an interviewee not dripping sweat all over the hotel room they needed to sleep in. (This advice is mainly for younger Neil, I’m sure you won’t need it). On a tangential note I think we have moved away from bedroom interviews which seems like progress.
The key thing to remember is that people know that things get pretty hectic at Summer AMA. Everyone understands this. People won’t freak out too much if you are a little delayed coming from your prior meeting. It might even make you look popular. Looking a little popular isn’t a bad thing. Schools like social proof that they are making the right choice. (Compare it to dating when you are younger. You want the social proof that your partner is desirable to others but not too much social proof that makes you think they are about to go off with someone else).
In The Room Where It Happens
Once you are in the room it seems pretty obvious what you should do. Be upbeat and be interested in your own work. This is likely the best way to be interesting to someone else.
The people you are interviewing with should have an idea of how long your talk will last. Make sure you know what their expectations are and stick to them. If you get cut off for reasons of time before you get to the important bit that isn’t great. To do this you will have to learn to manage the time. Be willing to push back and say ‘please give me just a moment and I’ll get to it’. Then make sure you get to it.
Don’t obsess about the details. If you can’t remember something it isn’t the end of the world. You are much more likely to fail because no one knows what you are talking about than because someone digs into the detail and really needs you to tell them some obscure detail.
Love The One You Are With
Each of the scholars you are interviewing with knows their own work better than you. They will likely see connections that you don’t. If they do that is great.
Do make sure you google the people who are interviewing you. Ideally you should know their work — e.g., have read papers — but you must avoid anything too gauche. The easiest way to avoid this is to steer clear of grand sweeping statements. Never say that you don’t like a type of research. Someone interviewing you will have done that type of work. Never say that the prior work in your area isn’t good. They will have done some of it.
That said, there is no need to be obssessive. You can’t be expected to know every minor piece of work someone has done. Don’t get flustered if you mess up. You can probably get away with a few mistakes. Reasonable people know you are under pressure.
When you get questions be ready with answers that are honest and clear. Be yourself it will be better than trying to fake it and fail at faking it.
If things don’t go well try not to worry too much. People interviewing may fall asleep. Someone did for me. Clearly it wasn’t my fault because I am fascinating. This will happen — people fly in from all over the globe. If you have a bad interview there are worse things in the world. Put it behind you and do better next time. Failing is good practice for a career that involves publishing academic research.
Your objective is a fly-out to the school for a longer (1-2 day) interview. I won’t go into detail for that. That said, a lot of the advice is similar. You will meet a lot of faculty who aren’t in your area. Do they understand you and the point of your research?
The main difference with a fly out is the length. You want to appear not to be an arsehole. It is obviously helpful in doing this if you aren’t one.
Other Options: The Secondary Marketing Academic Job Market
Again Don’t Panic
For many people, however, they won’t have a good fly-out in hand at the end of the Summer AMA calls. This still isn’t the end of the world.
It is easy to forget that the marketing academic job market is a continual process. It is lovely to get your ideal offer early in the year and then bask in the pleasure of knowing you are secure. (Actually for most going into junior professor roles it is more likely that you are panicking about your dissertation than basking but let’s pretend that you are basking. Do try and take a little bit of time to bask. There will always be more time to panic later).
That said, many won’t have the luxury of having an offer. This can seem like a disaster and it certainly is stressful. If you don’t have a job you should know that plenty of people don’t. There will also be jobs that weren’t filled, and jobs that the school only found funding for at the last minute. Possibilities are still out there.
When looking for a job keep networking, keep your eyes open for opportunities. Networking matters, keep on doing it even if you come off the job market.
A Bird In The Hand Is Worth?
Possibly the most challenging decision will be whether to accept a job that isn’t your ideal. Should you accept? It is hard to give general advice on that. The best I can do is suggest that you remember the phrase ‘don’t panic’. You often don’t need to take something. That said, if you take an imperfect job make sure you have a plan. How will you keep your research going if the school isn’t as supportive as you might hope? Advisers may be able to help with this. You also might want to get some ‘research in the bank’ getting as much as possible done before leaving your PhD student position.
You May Be Able To Stay Till Next Year
Talk to your adviser, you may be able to stay another year. Think whether this is something you want. If so, it is a simple solution. It really isn’t a bad thing if this is possible. You should be even stronger next year.
Refrain The Marketing Academic Job Market: It Is Not Really About You
The marketing academic job market can be a lot of fun. It certainly can be an excellent way to get your name out to your colleagues.
Realizing that this is not all about you might be seen as a source of concern. Try not to see it that way. Try and focus on the fact that this can be pretty liberating. Don’t fret that if only you had written a better paper, or had chosen a different topic, you would be better off. This is possibly true but it is pretty unlikely. The chances are that you didn’t get a job offer because school X needed a different type of scholar to you. This is because of a deal made between the faculty at that school last year when they hired candidate Z. There is nothing you could have done. So try and relax.
Please pass this advice onto your colleagues, students and anyone else. Follow me on Twitter @neilbendle or better still on LinkedIn.