As the of the application phase of the job market begins, you are surely working diligently on your job-market packet and plans for the coming months. You may have some questions about how to handle the process and what to expect. Those of us associated with EconJobMarket (EJM) have relevant experience on both sides of the market (working to place graduate students, recruiting for our own departments, and also as candidates ourselves). Like most faculty members, we are in the habit of doling out advice, solicited or not. So, for what it’s worth, here is a short list of common questions and answers. These questions are geared toward the Ph.D. student who plans to graduate at the end of this academic year. Most also apply to candidates who have already completed a Ph.D. degree.
1. Whom should I rely on to provide guidance?
Your main dissertation advisor, along with others on your dissertation committee, should be your primary source of support and guidance. In addition, if your department has its act together, it has a designated faculty “placement coordinator” whom you can rely on for useful information. Mainly, though, your main advisor/mentor should be making sure that you are going on the market at the right time, are prepared, and are well supported. Hopefully you have a good working relationship with this person. Don’t be afraid to press him/her for advice and information. It’s part of his/her job.
2. Under what conditions should I defer going on the market?
Ideally, at this stage the decision about whether to be on the market this year should be long behind you, but there are special circumstances under which the choice is made at the last minute. Talk to your advisor/mentor; it’s a decision the two of you need to discuss and work out together. You have the ultimate choice; it’s your life. However, your advisor has a great deal of influence over when you will be awarded the degree, and this matters a great deal for timing on the market.
3. What is a “job-market paper?”
To most candidates, the answer is obvious. However, we periodically get this question so perhaps the following will be useful to some people. The job-market paper is a candidate’s main piece of recent scholarly writing. It represents the unique qualities and qualifications that the candidate brings to the profession. The job-market paper is normally a contribution to the scientific literature, but alternatively may be a contribution to pedagogy or a study in the practical application of economic theory. The latter alternatives may be the case, in particular, for candidates who seek positions in teaching-oriented colleges or consulting firms. Recruiters often rank candidates partly on the basis of their reading of job-market papers and, later in the recruitment season, on the candidates’ presentation of these papers in a seminar format.
4. Is it really important to have a lot of papers listed on my curriculum vitae (c.v.)? Should I include a paper that I wrote for a class but decided wasn’t novel enough for my dissertation? Should I include papers that are incomplete? What should I focus my time on at this stage?
It’s my view that improving your job-market paper is typically more important than getting an extra paper into your job-market packet, but you should talk to your advisor about this. Regarding weak or half-baked projects, the standard advice is to think twice before including on your c.v. a paper that is not ready to be circulated. By putting a paper on your c.v., you are advertising it and essentially asking people to read it, so you should be ready to send the paper to people who request it. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with someone reading the paper, then you probably shouldn’t put it on your c.v. In my opinion, having many “lines” on your c.v. is less important than is having the top-line item (your main paper) in good condition. As always, though, talk to your advisor about how best to structure your c.v. and what papers to include. And keep working hard on your research.
5. How can I be sure that an organization has received and is reviewing my application?
Candidates sometimes ask EJM to confirm that a recruiting organization is processing their applications. In fact, EJM does not provide this kind of service. It collects and transmits application materials but it does not offer any assurances regarding whether and how these materials will be processed. For example, when you use EJM to submit an application to University A and your references submit their letters, the EJM system makes this information available to the recruiting directors at University A. These folks can log into EJM to view and download your application materials. They can also have the application materials automatically transferred to their own systems or to third-party “back-end” systems that are used to review applications. But EJM has no control over whether the folks at University A will look carefully at your materials. How they deal with applications is their responsibility. You can confirm when logged in that your materials have been uploaded and have been “delivered” to University A’s EJM account. But, to answer the question, if you want to make sure that University A is reviewing your application, then you should contact University A directly.
6. How can I be sure that my references have written and submitted their letters of recommendation?
EJM folks are sometimes asked to remind references (also called recommenders) to write and submit letters of recommendation. We resist this for two reasons. First, we think it is more appropriate for candidates to communicate directly with their advisors and their other references. It is not efficient for EJM to serve as an intermediary in this regard. Second, we must be sensitive to the wishes of the references, who usually tell us that email reminders from EJM can be annoying especially when they have designated proxies to handle letters on their behalf. We recently added features to EJM that allow references to specify the frequency of automated emails; these emails provide a summary of recent activity (letters automatically delivered and recent new requests). So, depending on how references configure their EJM accounts, they already receive regular reminders. If you want to make sure that they are reminded to write and submit letters, we strongly recommend that you talk to them directly.
7. Where can I find more information about the workings of the job market and how to prepare?
Placement directors in various economics departments around the world have put together documents on job-market procedures and advice. A good place to start is this one on the AEA's JOE page. Some useful documents can also be found on the Harvard Econ site, and at Oxford, Purdue, and elsewhere.
If you have any questions about the workings of EJM or suggestions for blog topics, feel free to submit them here. I will create another post with additional questions and answers if there is sufficient demand.