Tips for a Faculty Job Search

By: Christina W. Yao

I want to first congratulate you for considering academia as your potential future home. I remember the panic that set in when I decided that I wanted a faculty gig. Where do I start? Where will I end up? More importantly, what the heck is a teaching philosophy??? I was fortunate to have some great faculty and peer mentors who guided me through some of the technical parts of the process (e.g., cover letter, CV, teaching philosophy, research statement, etc.), but I found that there were many other non-tangible and hidden considerations that were important throughout my job search. I share a few of these with you here. First, let me be clear– I am in no way an expert on the faculty job search! But I have been fortunate to have been on a search committee or two, as well as witness several colleagues search for faculty jobs. So here are few things I would encourage you to think about on your faculty job search:

  • Consider the different types of faculty jobs that draw your interest. There are many options: tenure track, clinical, fixed-term, visiting positions, and teaching postdocs are just a few of the options out there. Despite what some people may say to you, tenure track is not the only thing worth pursuing and may not be the best option for you, so be open to positions as they pop up in your inbox. You also need to think about what type of institution would fit your interests. Do you want to be at a research-intensive university, or would a teaching institution fit your skills and interests more? Or are you open to different types? Having a sense of your interest in both position and institutional types will help you start to narrow down your options. Think of this like fishing. Are you fishing for one particular type of fish (clinical assistant professor) in one body of water (Research 2)? Or maybe for a fish (teaching postdoc) in any type of water (institution)? Also, it’s okay to be open to all of them and cast a wide net. Sometimes this also helps you filter fish and/or water out as you learn more about positions.


  • Know your non-negotiables. What are things that you must have in your next job? These could be anything, and I mean anything that will make you happy and productive in both your professional and personal life. For example, is it important for you to be around many people who share your cultural background? Is it important that you find community options that fit your religious and spiritual needs? On a professional level, do you need to be in an environment that encourages and allows for collaboration? Or have an office culture of closed doors so people can work quietly? For me, I knew that I needed an office culture that was collaborative in order for me to thrive. In addition, my main requirement for living in a city would be having at least one Asian grocery store and a Chinese restaurant that served good dumplings. I told you– your non-negotiable can be anything and Chinese dumplings make me both professionally and personally happy!


  • Determine how you want to represent yourself. As I mentioned before, there are so many technical aspects to a job search– things like your CV, cover letter, teaching philosophy, and research statement. You should definitely get feedback from your mentors and peers because they can catch some typos and errors that you miss after looking at them nonstop. More importantly, many of us (especially women!) tend to undersell ourselves. We try to be humble and yes, that is important– but you also need to make sure that you are accurately portraying what you can contribute to your potential new organization. Sometimes we forget to do that, so make sure you ask your friends and mentors to help you with this. And finally, your materials represent YOU—ask for advice and feedback, but always go with your instincts on the changes you decide to make.
  • Keep your spirits up. This is probably the most difficult yet important thing I am saying to you. The faculty job search can be exciting, exhilarating… and cause some major anxiety at the same time. After you send out your carefully edited materials, you have very little control over what happens next. Someone once told me that you hear back from one potential employer from every 20 applications you send out– and based on experience and anecdotal evidence, there is truth to it. You have to remember that although you think you may be the best fit based on the job description, you may not know exactly what the potential employer is really looking for. For example, I applied to some positions that stated they were broadly looking for a higher education scholar who has some kind of methodological expertise– that should be pretty much anyone, right? I did not hear from them and find out later they hired someone who specializes in policy and quantitative methods. Many of you do not know me, but I can assure you that I have never claimed to be a policy and quantitative person– so the lack of response from the employer has little to do with my value as a scholar and academic. I literally did not fit their needs, so remember that this is what often happens. In addition, a wise mentor (ahem, Dr. Kris Renn) once told me that the job applicant pool can be considered to be four buckets of applicants. Bucket One is filled with people who have no higher education experience and will likely not be considered. Bucket Two is filled with graduating doctoral students. Bucket Three is recent graduates who may be currently in postdoctoral positions or already a few years into a faculty position. And finally, Bucket Four is filled with people who are advanced and senior scholars in our field. You have to remember that as an applicant, you cannot switch buckets. That is, if you are a graduating doctoral student, you will not be in Bucket Three that has earned doctorates, which is something the employer may be looking for. So although you cannot switch buckets, you want to do everything in your power to rise to the top of your bucket.


I just wrote a lot of things related to important considerations for the faculty job search. I hope some of this was helpful. I always welcome feedback so please feel free to email me. Best of luck with your job search and I will see in you Houston for ASHE 2017!

Christina W. Yao, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a qualitative researcher who primarily studies student engagement and learning in higher education. She operationalizes her research focus through three connected topical areas: international/comparative education, teaching and learning, and graduate education. Christina is involved in several professional organizations beyond ASHE, including the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA). You can email her at


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