realworld PhDs

A resource for job hunting PhDs.

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A good salesman always goes for the hard sell.

In prepping practice interview questions for a client last week, I was struck by the very strange about-face everyone has to do while job hunting.  The first steps of job hunting are all about selling yourself - in your resume, cover letters, and interviews, you want to present your best self, the one that fits the best for the position you’re seeking and has the best chance of being successful in that role.  Yet as soon as you’ve done that successfully, and you’re made an offer for that position, you have to turn around and negotiate for yourself.

Now, I’m not saying that you should misrepresent yourself in application materials, or that you should be intractable when it comes to negotiating an offer, but I think for a lot of people, it’s a weird switch, to go from saying, “yes, I can definitely do that” in interview to “but what’s in it for me?” once they’ve been made an offer.  Unfortunately, as a result, I think a lot of us try to hold back on negotiations because we don’t want to come off as difficult or not a team player.

For me, I’ve found one way to stop myself from underselling myself is to go into interviews assuming I’m going to get the job.  Again, I don’t mean I go in acting cocky or entitled - really, the change came from my own experiences as an interviewer and manager.  The fact of the matter is that no one interviews a candidate they don’t think they could hire. Interviews take a lot of time to organize and execute, so it’s just not worth the hiring manager’s time to interview a ‘meh’ candidate.  I still go into interviews presenting my best self, but inside, I’m also noting the positives coming out of the interview that I can use once there’s an offer on the table to negotiate for myself.  That I bring particular experiences or skills with me is both a selling point in the interview, and also an argument for why I deserve a good salary.

If you’re still finding it tough to negotiate for yourself, think of yourself as a salesman, and your product is you.  Salesman are great at telling you why you need their product, but when it comes to price, there’s always a hard ask - depending on what you’re buying, they may even intentionally inflate the initial price, assuming you’re going to try to negotiate them down.  The same goes for selling yourself - be prepared to sell yourself as the best fit, but also be prepared with a hard ask at the end.


Shameless Self Promotion! (And a little introspection)

I’m doing a series for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae website on transitioning into alt-ac employment, the first entry of which is up now - check it out!  I’ll also have another, similar but longer piece on my own experiences with job hunting on VersatilePhD shortly, for anyone who has subscribers’ access.

In addition, I’ve just confirmed that I’ll be leading a workshop for the Graduate Students Committee at this year’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Antonio on job hunting off the tenure-track, for anyone attending the conference.  I’ll post the time, location, and meeting number as soon as the program book is published.  I’m also happy to meet with people one-on-one at the conference - email me to schedule something (

It’s been interesting to revisit my own job seeking experiences.  I often joke with people that if you’re actively job hunting, and you feel disappointed or frustrated, that’s how you know you’re doing it right!  For better or worse, to get a new job, you only need to find one position that’s a good fit, but to find that one position, you often have to suffer through a lot of rejection and disappointment.  However, in talking about past job seeking experiences, it’s easy to see it as a nice, clean arc - I looked for a job, I found a position that was a good fit, I got a job.  All of the negative aspects - the long periods of applying without getting any interviews; the disappointment of getting an interview for a job that sounds great, and then getting rejected; the frustration of finding the energy to keep applying - are just pushed aside as backstory, or we sort of zip through them, like a training montage in a movie.

I suppose it makes sense to gloss over these negatives when talking about how to job hunt, as they’re not strictly relevant - they’re side effects of job hunting, not part of the process.  Yet when you’re going through the process, they can have a tremendous impact.  Job hunting is incredibly stressful, and all of the selling yourself and rejection can leave a serious ding in your self-esteem, especially if your job hunt drags on (which it often does through no fault of the candidates - the academic job market is a perfect example; if you don’t get an offer after a round of interviews, you may have to wait an entire year for the next round).  From the outside, however, job hunting always looks like a clean, straight line, and it’s easy to think that everyone else is on some neat trajectory.

So consider this your reminder - no one’s got a cleaner trajectory.  It’s always a mess.  Everyone feels lost in the woods sometimes, especially while job hunting.  Looking back, it will be easy to see how you ended up where you are, but in the meantime, don’t stress out more by assuming everyone else is running off some secret playbook you can’t see.