So this is my second year on the tenure-track job market (I currently have a soft-money position at an R1 school but would like to get back into a traditional psychology department with tenure track). Last year I went on three interviews and got one offer (which I turned down for various reasons) and two rejections. This year I also went on three interviews, all at R1 schools, and got no offers. At two of the three it seems like I was the "runner up" with the third one just saying they offered it someone else. I realize that I am doing well by getting interviews in the first place, but I'm starting to feel like I'm somehow blowing it on the interviews since I can't seem to land a job offer. All the post-rejection feedback I've gotten has been nice, albeit formulaic ("you were a fantastic candidate, it came down to you and another candidate, ultimately it was a matter of fit, etc etc). At what point would you start to think that maybe you are doing something "wrong" on interviews, or would you chalk it up to the system being so inundated with quality candidates and believe that it truly is a fit issue?
Date: 19 Mar 2014 20:16
Number of posts: 7
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If you're making it to the final cut, then it could just be a matter of your competition.
Have you taken a look to see who ended up at the positions you applied for in the past? This can be extraordinarily informative. By doing this from my past job search, I learned that many people who ultimately landed positions I wanted were not fresh out of grad school or post-doctorate/soft-money positions. Many of them were tenure-track faculty with solid research programs who were making career moves. If you're up against someone coming from a solid college or university who has a steady research line, potential grants, and experience in a full faculty role - that can be really tough to beat.
Thanks for the advice. I have looked in the past, and I know that for the job I wanted most this year that I was the runner-up at, the person who got it was 5 years into a tenure-track job at another university. I'm three years into a soft-money position post-grad school, but have plenty of grant-funding, but I guess having tenure-track experience is preferable when applying to tenure-track jobs? The competition is definitely fierce—I just don't know how you ever rise to the top. Do I just wait until I'm 5-6 years out to apply for assistant professor jobs? It's really hard to not let this process get you down. I'm trying not to take it personally, but in some ways that might be easier because at least that is something I could control.
It really sucks not to be chosen, but if you are losing out to faculty it is likely really "not you, it's them". I had the same issue last year and to some extent this year, losing jobs to very successful professors and in one case even a long tenured faculty member (I landed a dream job this year, but got turned down by 5 other really good places). In such cases you are really fighting an uphill battle and it's likely that no matter how well you do, you are going to lose if they want someone with more experience. Remember, even the super-super-stars who get 4 or 5 offers at top notch R1's rarely get offered every job they interview at. This really is a numbers game and fit matters a lot—you may be awesome for 40% of the department, but 60% really wants something else. The interviews you are getting are a really good sign, I would just keep plugging away.
On a side note, if you really are worried you are doing something wrong, see if you can talk to friends, advisors, or friends of friends who might know people at these schools so you can get a sense if there was anything that stood out.
Thanks everyone. I really don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong, it's just so frustrating to feel like you get so close and then just miss out. I'm almost four years out of my degree program, am PI on an NIH grant, and still find that I can't compete with some of the competition, which is more than a little frightening. I am very fortunate to have a soft money job that I can stay in as long as I want (or can continue to fund myself), but I will plan on going on the market again next year for the third time. Maybe third time's a charm? It's just such an exhausting process, so I appreciate being able to come here and vent and get good advice from you all.
p.s. congrats on landing the dream job!!!!
I agree with the other posters and would add this: The recession took a serious toll. In 2008 and 2009, when I was applying, well over half of the searches were cancelled. And each year since was better in terms of the number of jobs, but definitely not great. That is one reason the market is so flooded. I myself am in a TT position and went on the job market to try and find a better position. I have several publications, outstanding teaching evals, grants, etc. I got two interviews and no offer. Like you, I immediately wondered what could have gone wrong. I truly believe that the answer is that nothing went wrong. It can simply come down to which area of research is more interesting to the search committee. But yes. It seriously sucks.
Venting is critical, so do it. Don't let this job search marathon from hell erode your self efficacy. Join the other runners up in a vent or two, and start again next year.
I actually did something that turned out to be useful after a round of interviews and no offers. I emailed every faculty member I had met with at those institutions who I thought I hit it off with during the interview and asked them: " I was just wondering if you would do me the favor of letting me know if you have any suggestions for me as I prepare to enter the job market again next year. If you have any feedback that would help me to improve my job talk or other parts of my application, I would greatly appreciate it." Everyone I emailed replied, and said something nice like "It as a close decision, we really liked your application, etc etc". However, one person actually took the time to provide honest feedback and told me in great detail what I could do to improve my application, and pointed out the major weaknesses in my job talk. Happy ending, I now have a tenure-track position at an R1, so I guess it doesn't hurt to ask for critical feedback from the people who interviewed you.