Job Search Information for Economics Ph. D. Candidates

Introduction

Below is some information on how the job market for new or prospective economics Ph. D. s operates. Whenever you have questions you should feel free to ask the graduate advisor, your dissertation advisor, or any other faculty member. In particular, whenever you do something for the first time--such as putting together your vita, writing a letter of application, etc. --you should ask for advice.

To realistically go on the job market during a particular academic year, there should be a very high probability that you will successfully defend your dissertation by the following August. Otherwise, you'll probably be wasting your time on the market; and if you do happen to find a job, your job responsibilities will probably be so time-consuming as to prevent you from ever completing your dissertation. Remember, the world is full of people who wrongly thought that by working hard, they could finish a dissertation while working full-time at a new job, and who ended up never finishing. Remember also that the last stages of a dissertation invariably take more months than the student expects;so ask your advisor for his or her prediction about when you are likely to defend. In any event, a good rule of thumb is that you should be at least 75% done with the dissertation by the end of December.

If you do plan to go on the job market, you should discuss your plans immediately with your advisor, and you should put together your vita by early October.

Looking for Job Openings

The publication Job Openings for Economists (JOE) is the most important source of information on job openings. It is available on the Internet at the site JOE. JOE is published on-line monthly except July. It includes academic, government, and private sector jobs.

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries ads for academic job openings. It is published weekly, and a copy is available in the Bureau of Business Research and in the main library. It is also available on the Internet.

For openings in the finance area all relevant information can be found on the Financial Management Association (FMA) website http://www.fma.org/ (look under the heading of placement). Note that you should be an FMA member to take advantage of this information.

Ads for private sector or government jobs can be found in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist and similar magazines, the Charleston Gazette, etc.

I strongly recommend that you obtain student memberships in the American Economic Association (AEA), the Southern Economic Association (SEA), and possibly the Eastern Economic Association (EEA) (and/or in the American Finance Association (AFA) and the Financial Management Association (FMA) if your dissertation is in the area of financial economics). This will allow you to participate in the job market activities at their conventions, which normally take place in October (FMA), November (SEA), early January (AEA, AFA), and February (EEA). It is very important to go to at least two of these, even though there is some expense involved.

While you might hear a rumor that few people ever find a job at this or that convention, the truth is that different people end up finding their new jobs from different sources, and it is impossible to predict where you will find yours.

When you find a position advertised in your field, perhaps in the JOE, ask your advisor and everyone else who is writing a recommendation for you whether that employer is appropriate for you to apply to. Then you send that employer at a minimum a cover letter of application and a copy of your vita. The cover letter should state that you are applying for a particular position at a particular rank in a particular field; should state the title of your dissertation and perhaps briefly summarize it; should state your future research and teaching interests; should identify your research and teaching experience; should state what upcoming conventions you will attend, and request an interview at a convention; and give your phone number and e-mail address (which along with your address should also be on your vita). Unless you have an office phone at which messages can be taken for you, I strongly recommend that you give your home phone number and buy an answering machine, because someone who has a hard time contacting you may give up and call another applicant instead.

Other materials to add to your application are any materials explicitly requested in the advertisement, plus materials that may not be requested but that you expect will help your case. Typical examples are (in order of importance): a research paper, (a summary of) teaching evaluations, a statement of teaching philosophy, transcripts. At least three names and addresses of individuals (usually faculty members) willing to serve as references for you should be listed on your vita. Ask their permission before listing them as your references. Discuss with them, in advance, their preferred procedures for getting reference letters typed and mailed to all the employers you are applying to. Also, discuss with the departmental secretary her preferences in this regard. Letters of recommendation (typically three) should be sent on request only, either separately by the individual references or jointly via the departmental secretary’s office.

You need to think about what courses you are willing to teach. The more flexibility you show in this regard, the more likely you are to get job interviews and job offers. On the other hand, don't tell an employer you could teach something if you actually are not willing or not qualified to do so.

You should arrange for your advisor to conduct a mock interview prior to the first convention, so you'll know what to expect and can get some feedback. During the mock interview you should also dress as you plan to for the actual interviews. Generally, male applicants wear suits and ties and female applicants business suits, but the dress code is not as strict as it is in the corporate sector.

You should make your travel and hotel arrangements for the conventions well in advance. Hotel arrangements are made by filling out a form sent by the AEA, AFA, FMA, SEA, or EEA to its members. It is important to try to stay in the same hotel as the job market activities will be in (note that many scheduled interviews take place in the main convention hotel, which may not be the hotel designated as the job market center), so you can rest in your room between interviews. If you don't make your hotel arrangements early, you might get stuck in the wrong hotel.

Timing

In principle, the economics job market starts in the first week of October when the JOE comes out. Virtually all employers interviewing at either the SEA or AEA meetings list their openings in either the October or the November issue of the JOE; a few do not list until the December JOE or show up at the convention without having advertised. Since most deadlines for application are not before November 15, you could postpone your job market efforts until the last week of October and remain focused on your dissertation longer. However, there are reasons to start earlier: (1) If you are interested in pursuing openings in the finance market you need to focus on the FMA meetings, which are held in October and require applications to be submitted a few months earlier. Note that FMA membership is required to benefit from job market services. (2) If you want to improve your marketability by presenting a research paper at the SEA or FMA meetings you need to submit an abstract or complete paper by April 1 (SEA) or January 15 (FMA).

Invitations for an arranged interview at the convention will typically be received anytime between a few days after the stated application deadline and a few days before the start of the convention. For the AEA convention, the majority of interview invitations are made in the second and third weeks of December. This leaves plenty of time for researching the employers agreeing to interview you via the Internet or otherwise.

Ideal Preparation

To be prepared ideally for the academic job market, the following should pertain:

  • You have an abstract accepted for presentation at the SEA or FMA conference. (An added advantage is that in this case the department may be able to fund some of your job market expenses.)
  • At the time when most of your applications are sent you either defended your dissertation or you have a specific defense date.
  • You have taught your own course and can submit at least one set of above-average teaching evaluations.
  • You have submitted a paper for publication to a journal and have received a revision request or acceptance.
  • You have sufficiently impressed three or more faculty members so that they will write you strong letters of recommendation. Note that it is often better to receive a strong letter of recommendation from a lowly assistant professor than a lukewarm letter from an ace full professor.

Other factors that may help you in the job market are: awards or honors received, U. S. permanent residence, demonstrated proficiency in the English language and clarity of speech, a clear specialization (most employers use simple heuristics to identify a few candidates out of many applicants), any indication of quantitative aptitude.

If your dissertation is in financial economics, you may be able to operate in two job markets (economics and finance). To help your case in the finance market you should become an FMA member. In your applications you should make it clear that your are in the Division of Economics and Finance; you should have two (or at least one) members of our finance faculty on your committee and serving as references; you should have a field in monetary or international finance in addition to the financial field and you should have taken some undergraduate level finance courses during previous summers (if you are not a finance major). Note that the graduate coordinator is asked each year to nominate one student for the FMA doctoral students seminar, acceptance to which among other advantages provides a useful entry for your vita.

At the Convention

Two types of interviews are possible:those arranged in advance over the telephone in response to your letter of application, and those arranged at the convention.

When you arrive at the convention, you should quickly find out the location of any pre-arranged interviews. These will usually be in the interviewer's hotel room; you will know which hotel in advance, but when you get there you need to call the interviewer and ask the room number. (The hotel clerk will not give you this information.)

At this time there is uncertainty about how to arrange interviews at the convention. Historically there has been a job market room, containing mailboxes (including yours and other applicants' and including employers') and books of job information that would help you to arrange interviews on the spot. However, the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2002 p. 231, says there will be no on-site message exchange center this year. Hence it is not clear whether interviews can still be arranged on the spot, and if so, how.

Interviews typically last anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes (the result of most employers using either half hour or full hour “slots”). Try to schedule your interviews at least one hour apart, so you'll be fresh for each one. Show up promptly, and plan on taking notes afterward so you won't forget which employer told you which information.

Different employers have different interviewing styles. Some will greet you and then sit there waiting for you to proceed; others will control the flow of the interview. No two interviews are alike, but it would not be unusual for them to spend 10 minutes talking about their department and their needs, for you to spend 10 minutes talking about your dissertation and your teaching interests, and for 10 minutes to be devoted to you asking them questions about their department.

When you talk about your dissertation (assuming they want you to), remember you are probably talking to a faculty member whose area of specialty is not the same as yours. So you'll need to explain yourself clearly and not assume the person knows a lot about your field. Make sure you don't sound like you are giving a memorized speech about your dissertation. And, be prepared to talk longer or to cut yourself short depending on whether the interviewer looks like he or she wants to hear more about your dissertation or not.

You should come prepared with questions you want to ask. Ideally, these are the questions remaining after you have surfed the employer’s website in advance and have listened carefully to the employer’s spiel about their department. Asking informed questions serves two purposes: It helps you obtain useful information, and it proves to them that you are sincerely interested in the possibility of getting a job with them. Possible questions include: How many contact hours per week is the teaching load?How large is the department? What would they have you teach?What degree of emphasis do they place on research?What computer facilities and software do they have?What are their town and campus like? Your final question as you are saying goodbye should be: When will they let you know if they have a further interest in you?

Campus Visits

In the weeks (or, sometimes, months) after the initial convention interview, a school may call you to invite you for a campus visit on a mutually agreeable day. You should find out such things as who buys the plane ticket (probably you, pending reimbursement), how does reimbursement work, will they meet you at the airport, etc. Also ask them if you will be expected to give a seminar on your dissertation (which you should have practiced in advance at WVU). They might say that instead of a dissertation seminar, you'll need to teach a class of their undergraduates; if so, find out the topic and the length of the class. If you must give a dissertation seminar, find out who will be in the audience (just economics faculty, faculty from other disciplines as well, undergraduate students, etc.), and find out how long the seminar will be. (In preparing your seminar, build in lots of flexibility, so if they told you you'll have 90 minutes but they only give you 50 minutes--or vice versa--you'll still be okay.)

Typically you would arrive in their town on, for example, a Thursday afternoon or evening, and they would meet you at the airport, take you to dinner, and take you to your hotel. Then Friday they would have a full day scheduled for you, consisting of meeting various faculty and the dean, giving your seminar or class presentation, etc. Then you would probably fly home Saturday. You should not hesitate to request time with a real estate agent. This shows the prospective employer that you are sincerely interested, and familiarizes you with the local housing market.

Offers

Most employers invite no more than three candidates to campus. This means that, once invited for the campus visit, your chances of getting an offer are quite high if you don’t screw up. (Odds are that at least one candidate screws up and that another receives a better offer.) Bargaining possibilities are minimal in the market for new assistant professors. If you have an additional offer from a comparable institution, mentioning this may get you a few thousand extra. If you have no comparable additional offer, the most you can do is to bargain about your specific teaching load in the first few years, summer support, travel expenses, computer, software, and data. Often the chairperson of the hiring department has some discretion about these issues and need not beg the dean to grant your request.

The Aftermath

Once you accept an offer, celebrate but don’t relax: even if you finish your dissertation in time it is important to “hit the ground running” if you want to earn tenure…


APPENDIX:

EXAMPLES OF QUESTIONS YOU MAY BE ASKED AT A JOB INTERVIEW

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Tell us about your dissertation.
  • What is the main thing we learn from your dissertation?
  • Which is more important--theoretical or empirical research?
  • What is the most sophisticated econometrics in your dissertation?
  • When will you be done with your dissertation? When does your advisor think you'll be done?
  • Do you have any papers under review, or published, by journals? If not, why not?
  • Do you want to publish? Why?
  • Where do you expect to publish in the future?
  • What is your research agenda for the future?
  • What is your two-year plan? What is your five-year plan?
  • What kind of a split between teaching time and research time are you looking for?
  • Which is more important--teaching or research?
  • What would you like to teach? What are you prepared to teach?
  • Could you teach a course in ? What book would you use?How would you teach it?
  • What are your biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
  • What kind of a school, and what kind of a town, are you looking for?