Placement (Brad Canon, Don Gross, and Ellen Riggle)

The Job Market

As we begin another year of job placement activities, we can start by examining Professor Canon’s opening paragraph in last year’s document.

"You probably already know this, but we'll reiterate it here in case you don't. The job market is tough; there are no guarantees. We will try our best to place you, but many persons who obtain Ph.D.s in political science (along with most other disciplines) do not get academic positions. There are occasional predictions that the market will loosen when all the faculty who were hired in the great expansion of the 1960s retire over the next 10 or 15 years, but there is no evidence of this yet. Prospects for academic employment are particularly bleak in normative theory and comparative government. The best prospects are in public administration, public policy and judicial process. Our graduate program requires you to prepare in two subfields and you enhance your job prospects by taking this seriously."

While Brad’s comments have much merit and a soft job market is likely to continue to be the norm, a recent article in PS allows one to obtain a greater understanding of the market that our students are likely to face this year and the foreseeable future. In 1996, only 65% of those seeking placement were successful, the lowest overall percentage in the last decade, when the average success rate was 70%. Also, 46% of those seeking employment in 1996 were repeaters, individuals who were unsuccessful in earlier attempts to obtain employment (the average in the previous decade was 35%).. Behind such bleak figures, however, there is information that can help one increase one’s chances of obtaining employment.

Point number one: As faculty have told graduate students for years; complete your dissertation. The success rate for individuals who have completed their Ph.D. is 77% while it is only 49% for ABD’s. If one only considers U.S. citizens, the success rate for those who have completed their Ph.D. jumps to 81%.

Point number two: Placement success rates differ a great deal by field of specialization. 1996 placement success rates are as follows (with the number of people placed in parentheses): American government – 70% (197); Public Policy – 94% (29); Comparative Politics – 57% (149); International Relations – 64% (128); Public Administration – 80% (24); Political Theory – 60% (79); and Methodology – 40% (5, probably an unreliable figure).

Point number three: Race and gender do not seem to make much of a difference in success rates

when the Ph.D. is completed. Overall success rates are higher for females than for males (70% versus 64%) and higher for minorities ( 77%, 74%, and 83% for African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans respectively). However, with the exception of a 90% success rate for Asian Americans who complete their Ph.D., success rates for men, women, African-Americans, and Latinos are all 81% for those who complete their Ph.D.

When we advertise positions, we draw from 50 to 150 applicants. We expect that most other schools have a similar experience. Some applicants are easily culled out (e.g., the theorist writing on Plato and the law who applies for a judicial behavior position), but that still leaves a lot eligible.

Kentucky's political science department has a very good placement record. Most of our Ph. D.s who are geographically mobile have academic positions. But we've had some in temporary positions. Those who aren't mobile have had mixed luck in finding a teaching position in Central Kentucky. We have placed some graduates in flagship state universities, e.g., Arkansas and Tennessee, but most go to reputable non-flagship state schools, e.g., Western Kentucky, John Jay College, Miami University, Indiana State, and Southeastern Missouri. A few go to liberal arts colleges, e.g., John Carroll or Ouachita Baptist college.

Most graduate students' goal is an academic placement, but a few may want (or end up in) another type of position such as think tanks or government agency planning positions.

Things To Do Before Your "Market" Year

The Placement Director distributes a memo regarding placement policies early each academic year. It is "must" reading if you are "on the market" that year. You should read it even if your "market" year is a year or two away. You should think early about placement. Attend some "job" talks by candidates interviewing for a position at UK -- see how it's done (or shouldn't be done, in some cases) and attend the practice talks of your peers as they prepare for interviews. Soon, you'll be giving a job talk somewhere else. Even before you are seeking a position, look at the monthly APSA Placement Newsletter and find out what kind of positions are being advertised and what qualifications are sought in a candidate.

Go to some professional conferences even if you aren't giving a paper. See how conference papers are presented. Interact there with graduate students from other programs or junior faculty members at other places. You can pick up some insights about what the market for your particular skills is like, hear of prospective openings a year or two ahead, and find out "what's hot and what's not" in research in your field. You may even get some paper or dissertation ideas. You should present at least one conference paper yourself before you go on the market. This will enhance your CV and give you professional speaking experience before an audience of strangers.

The Placement Process

Institutions almost always hire for positions that start the following August or September. Placement activity kicks off in the preceding fall. The main source of information about openings is the APSA Placement Newsletter which arrives in the first or second week of each month. The Chronicle of Higher Education lists a few openings each week and some appear on H-Net on the Web (see http://h-net.msu.edu/jobs for instructions) or on flyers mailed to the chair. The Newsletter and the fliers are given to the Placement Secretary and kept in a file. Early ads may have deadlines of September 15th or 30th, so you should be ready as you begin your "market" year. Ads for openings most frequently appear during the late fall and early spring semesters. The high season for interviewing is January through April. There are some fall interviews, however, and late openings sometimes lead to early summer interviews.

If possible, go to conventions during your market year. The APSA has a placement service where a goodly number of positions (some pending funding) are advertised in file books. Leave notes and a copy of your CV in the boxes of those that interest you. You will likely get some preliminary interviews there. For some small colleges, this may be sufficient contact to hire you later. There are no on-site interviews for some file book listings, but you should copy those of interest and apply later. A few listings may not appear in the APSA Newsletter. The SPSA meeting is right before the high season, but usually it has only a few new openings posted. It is good place to have pre-arranged preliminary or final interviews or to meet faculty from a school where you are already being considered. The ISA and the Midwest meetings occur in the spring. By this time many positions are filled or schools have culled "short lists" from the total number of applicants. But they have placement services which are useful for finding out about and making contacts regarding late job openings or temporary positions.

One year or other short term positions pop up late in the season and in the summer. Sometimes they appear in the APSA Newsletter, but many are advertised by e-mail or in flyers, or even by word of mouth. Often they are filled after short telephone interviews.

Many hiring institutions want you to have the Ph. D. completed when you arrive. It follows that a major factor affecting consideration of your application is how far along your dissertation is. Even if doctorate in hand isn't a requirement, we STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you complete it before leaving -- it will make you more competitive and it will certainly make your life as a beginning faculty member a lot easier. Thus the placement cycle is an important consideration in scheduling your qualifying exams. We STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you take qualifyings in February of the year preceding your "market" year (e.g., spring, 1998, to start a position in the fall of 1999). This will give you time to get a prospectus done later that spring and be well into your dissertation when the interview season is in full swing.

For placement purposes, as well as others, it's IMPORTANT that you complete and defend your dissertation prospectus as soon as possible after passing qualifying exams. The department's policy is that Placement Files will NOT be sent out UNTIL the prospectus is successfully defended. Prospectuses defended after September may cause you to miss early application deadlines. If you take qualifyings in the fall, it could be December or January or later before you defend and your file is going out to hiring institutions. You could miss out on a good proportion of the year's academic vacancies. If you take qualifyings "off cycle" or do a dissertation that will require more than a year's time, you should delay your "market" year if you can.

You should talk to the Placement Director after defending your prospectus. Indicate what your goals are, what kinds of positions you are or are not interested in, etc.

The Placement File

The contents of the Placement File are important -- it is your introduction to potential employers. Your file will include your vitae, a research statement, a brief teaching portfolio and course evaluations, transcripts, writing sample(s) and letters of recommendation. The Placement Memo discusses more detail about what goes into the file and won't be repeated here, but you should take considerable care when doing your part. The items put in the file are your introduction to hiring institutions that are sifting through many other placement files as well. Misspellings, poor grammar, format sloppiness, etc., can be held against you.

Your curriculum vita needs to be done right; run a draft by or otherwise consult with the Placement Director (as well as your major professor) before doing a final version. Sometimes, two CVs are useful -- one for research universities and one for teaching institutions. Update the CV as events warrant. Your dissertation abstract needs to be informative -- be as specific as possible. At least three faculty members should write reasonably detailed letters of recommendation. A file of sample vitas is available in the Graduate office to use as guides.

There is a form to notify the Placement Director about each position you want to apply for. The file will not be sent out without his or her authorization. Normally the request is approved, but there can be occasions when your file should not be sent out (e.g., when you obviously do not fit the position, when another UK candidate is better suited to the position, when your progress or performance is too weak for you to be considered seriously at a major university).

You should receive a form letter acknowledgement that your file has been received, but a few schools will not give you this courtesy. Some schools will let you know either way when they put candidates on a "short list", but most do not. Most schools send out form letters when the position is filled, but some are in no hurry to do this and a few never do it.

We also strongly urge you to write a personal letter to the institution expressing interest in the position. This is usually a boilerplate letter, although you should change it as events dictate (e.g., "I've now completed five chapters") Show a draft of this letter to the Placement Director before writing the first one. A file of sample letters is available in the Graduate office.

Being on the market is often frustrating. You'll go for weeks, perhaps months, without hearing anything. Or you'll hear that you're on a short list at Pestville State and never hear anything more. After a while, you'll wonder if you should hone your burger flipping skills and apply at McDonalds or maybe call Mom to see if your old bedroom is still empty.

The Interview

We hope and you hope that you will receive a phone call inviting you to interview for a position at Nostalgia State's Mudville Campus or where ever. There may be some preliminary warning such as an earlier call asking you for further information or one to a faculty member asking more about you. But the interview call may come unexpectedly right in the middle of a bad hair day. Give some thought beforehand to what you will say and what questions you will ask. Ask particularly about the interview schedule: what kind of presentation(s) will you be making? with whom will you be meeting? will you meet all the faculty or just the search committee? will you be going to dinner or a party with the faculty? and so on. Schedules sometimes change, of course, but you want to know pretty much what to expect. Schools inviting you to an interview will reimburse you for expenses. Spouses don't normally accompany a candidate, but if yours does, you have to pick up the tab.

Most schools expect you to give a research presentation concerning your dissertation. At many schools, this "job talk" is the most important criterion on which you are judged. You should definitely give a dry run job talk colloquium at UK, preferably in the fall. Do two if the first one doesn't go so well. While faculty and graduate students in your field should certainly attend, get those not in your field to come also. A job talk is more successful when the presentation impresses those outside the candidate's field. You need to tell the audience precisely what your research question (or hypothesis) is, why it is important to answer it, what strategy you are using to answer it, and, if you are far enough along, what your findings are. You will have to do this in 30 or 40 minutes. Usually questions follow, sometimes difficult ones. You need to anticipate them and have answers ready.

Sometimes schools, especially small liberal arts colleges, want you to teach a class instead of or in addition to the job talk. The topic is usually negotiable. Practice for it also.

Your hosts at a job interview will also ask questions such as: What research plans do you have after you complete the dissertation? How will you teach certain courses (i.e., substantive emphases, texts, teaching technology, types of tests, teaching styles, etc.)? What courses would you like to eventually teach or develop? You should have developed thoughts along these lines during your graduate career, but you need to anticipate such questions specifically before your interview.

Before the interview, find out all you can about the school and department. Look at the school's bulletin. Ask the department to send you whatever material it has about the program. If you can, talk with people who have some familiarity with the school or department. When there, be observant, ask questions and try to find out things like whether the administration is filled with dunderheads, are the political science faculty happy campers (why or why not?), does the school use an old UNIVAC computer or something better, how much money is in the school (or state) treasury and will it go for faculty raises or a new football stadium, and is there any entertainment in town beyond the video store. You may have to work there even if the answers are not all to your liking, but it's useful to know what you're getting into and your curiousity tells your hosts that you are interested.

Talk with the chair about such matters as teaching load and schedule, the tenure timeline and expectations, salary and benefits (including the retirement program), what if anything happens if you arrive without Ph.D. in hand, research opportunities and support, computer or other equipment, and any special needs you have. Some of these things are negotiable, some are not. But make sure you have a clear understanding of what policies or arrangements cover these questions or, if the chair has to consult with the dean, etc., that he or she will make them clear when an offer is made.

Most chairs will indicate about when the hiring decision will be made, but don't take this as gospel. Various things may delay it (including an offer to another candidate, but keeping you in reserve if the first offer is declined). Not contacting you is discourteous, but it sometimes happens. If two or three weeks after the indicated time pass with no word (or if you have another offer or likely offer), call the chair and ask about your status. As your interview ends, you may hear from the faculty or even the chair that you are the leading candidate, that an offer is all but certain, etc. Discount such talk. It may be true, but they could just be more enthusiastic than prudent. That is, you impressed them but they're impressed with other candidates (who perhaps have not yet interviewed); you could end up close, but no cigar.

The APSA guide to ethics is that you should have a minimum of two weeks to respond to an offer. Most schools adhere to this, although by summer a school may want a more immediate reply. If you have another interview scheduled or are waiting on the outcome of one, you may have to negotiate for a longer period. It is extremely unethical on your part to renege on an acceptance once made (even orally), although sometimes people ask to get out of a temporary position so they can take a tenure track one. Thus you may have to consider whether the bird in hand is worth a better one in the bush. Get advice from your major professor and the Placement Director among others before you decide.

Likewise, if you have two offers in hand or have one with another interview scheduled or offer anticipated, you may want or have to do some negotiating about salaries, etc. Strategies vary depending upon circumstances. Get advice on this also.

Further Reading

For an in-depth view of the placement and interview process, read Deborah and Scott Furlong's, "Netting the Big One: Things Candidates (and Departments) Ought to Know," and Nikolias Zarahariadis's "Garbage Cans and the Hiring Process" in the March, 1994, issue of PS, and Theodore Anagnoson's "Netting the Big One ... From the Hiring Department's Perspective" in the September, 1994, PS. Going beyond political science, you might browse through On the Market: Surviving the Academic Job Search, edited by Christina Boufis and Victoria Olsen, which contains 40 essays on the job search experience.

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