The strategies for landing an academic job are somewhat similar to your standard job search with a few exceptions. This article will discuss those differences!
First, we want to warn you about the difficulty of landing a tenure track faculty position. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, from 1993 to 1994, 56.2 percent of faculty members had tenure. In 2018-2019 that percentage has decreased to 45.1 percent and continues to decline. Some institutions are even removing tenure systems and protections from their institutions. Higher education will also see a decrease in enrollment in 2026 because of the declining birth rates. This decline can impact the need to hire new faculty and staff.
Second, before starting your academic job search, it is important to understand the different faculty/instructor roles at an institution.
An adjunct professor is a part-time instructor at a university. They may teach one or several courses. They do not receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement, etc., from the university. They may have a Ph.D. or a master's degree. However, adjuncts with Ph. D.s are usually compensated at a higher rate per course hour. Some adjuncts may teach at multiple universities. According to a recent survey by Inside Higher Education, adjuncts make less than $3,500 per course and earn less than $25,000 a year, which is below poverty for a family of four. It is strongly recommended that adjunct faculty members have another job (full-time or part-time) to supplement their income.
The university hires full-time Lecturers or Instructors solely to teach. They may have a master's degree or a Ph.D. However, instructors that typically have a Ph.D. are hired at a higher salary. A lecturer will typically teach three or four courses per semester and have no research or service responsibilities. Instructors may make about $50,000 to about $75,000, depending on the institution.
Clinic Professors or Professors of Practice
Applies to a distinguished practitioner who, through teaching, shares their knowledge and experience in the profession. The teaching, supervising, and mentoring provided by clinical faculty are directly related to the practicum of the students’ programs.
Assistant Professors are the beginning level of their career. This position is usually a professor's first step to tenure. Assistant professors may earn about $60,000 to $100,000, depending on the university.
Associate Professors is a mid-level professional. They tend to have generated a significant amount of research and scholarship. Associate professors may earn about $70,000 to $120,000, depending on the university.
Full Professor Full Professor is the highest rank a professor may achieve; it is a senior-level professor. They often take on leadership roles in the department and may be involved in important departmental and extra-departmental administrative tasks. Full-time professors may earn about $91,000 to about $200,000, depending on the university.
Job Search Tips
Read below for details on what materials to prepare before your job search, general job search guidance, networking, research experience (for those faculty roles requiring research), understanding the academic institution and the academic interview.
Job Search Materials
Teaching statements are usually required for all faculty and instructor positions. Teaching statements are reflective essays about your teaching beliefs and practices. They may also serve as a writing sample for search committees.
The following areas can be included in your teaching statement:
Courses you developed or were a teaching assistant for
Courses in which you are qualified to teach (specify if they are graduate or undergraduate level courses)
Ideas on how you may develop or structure a future course at their institution
Experience advising and mentoring students
Feedback provided by student evaluations
Discuss how your teaching facilitates student learning
Ways that you create an inclusive learning environment
Additional information on crafting a stellar teaching statement can be found here:
The purpose of a research statement is to inform the search committee of the evolution of your research, highlight your research accomplishments and show them the direction of your future research. In other words, it should highlight your past research, present research and future research.
The following areas can be used within your research statement:
How you became interested in your field of research
The specific skill sets you to utilize within your research
Your previous research studies and what specific problems they address/solve
The future direction of your research
Additional information on crafting a stellar research statement can be found here:
Some universities require a diversity statement. The purpose of a diversity statement is to identify if you have the professional skills, experience and willingness to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campus. Golash-Boza (2016) gives eight tips on writing a stellar diversity statement that will stand out to search committees:
Do not throw away a diversity statement (if a search committee is asking for it...it matters)
Tell your story
Focus on commonly accepted understanding of diversity and equity
Avoid false parallels (do not claim that you understand everyone's experience)
Write about specific things you have done to help students from underrepresented backgrounds succeed
Highlight any programs for underrepresented students you’ve participated in
Write about your commitment to working toward achieving equity and enhancing diversity
Modify your statement based on where you are sending it (know the university you are applying to!)
For academic positions, a curriculum vitae (CV) is required!
The primary differences between a resume and a CV are length, purpose and content. While both are used in job applications, a resume and a CV are not always interchangeable.
A Curriculum Vitae (CV) means “life story” and provides a summary of one’s experience and skills. Typically, CVs for entry-level candidates are longer than resumes (at least two or three pages). CVs for mid-level candidates who have amassed numerous publications tend to run much longer.
Sections within a CV may include education, certifications/licensures, research experience, teaching experience, conferences, presentations, publications, awards and honors, grants received and professional affiliations and memberships.
Do NOT apply to an academic position without a cover letter. The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself, inform the search committee why you are interested in the position, and make the case why you are a fit for the position. Reyes (2020) offers some good advice on writing a successful cover letter for the academic job market.
Don't assume knowledge on part of the reader. You should walk your reader through the narrative you want to tell of who you are as a scholar.
Tailor your letter. Tailoring your letter means tailoring it to the job posting, remembering to be as explicit as you can about how you fit the listed requirements and meet the culture of the institution.
Write as a potential colleague rather than as a graduate student. Focus on your arguments and contributions of your research rather than just indicating the results.
Write fact-based statements that highlight your accomplishments including your publications, awards, fellowships, teachings and grants. Provide concrete evidence or data that supports your experience/achievements. Don't over exaggerate your experience.
Be clear and concise. Don't use excessive detail when making a point.
Avoid using jargon and cliche phrases.
Navigating the Academic Job Search
Talk to newly hired faculty members because they have recently successfully completed their job search and may have some tips on landing a faculty position.
Talk to faculty members at your university who have recently served on a search committee. They may have advice on what they looked for in an ideal candidate.
Keep a job log with detailed notes to keep track of the position you have applied for.
Make sure to have three STRONG references for your application who can speak to your academic experience. Sometimes these references will be asked to submit letters of reference before you can complete your job application.
Attended and present at national and international conferences to build up your reputation and credibility as a scholar. Before attending, make a list of individuals (e.g. faculty members within your target institution) you would like to meet and contact them before the conference to see if they would be open to meeting with you sometime during the conference.
Make sure to follow up with individuals you met at the conference to continue to cultivate that relationship (remember that 80 percent of jobs are found through networking).
Reach out to faculty members at other universities who conduct research and teach in the disciplines you are interested in. It is a good way to learn more about your field but also could lead to future collaboration. You can also ask if you can be a guest lecturer in their course (which looks really good on your CV).
Join professional organizations and attend their meetings. Search committees want to hire candidates that are actively engaged in their fields.
Search committees look for peer-reviewed or refereed journal articles since they are the gold standard of research. Some institutions will also weigh higher ranking journals over others so it is important to know the impact factor of your publications.
Make sure to have a few publications where you are the primary author before you apply to research positions (such as full-time faculty positions). In some fields, co-author journal articles only count for half of solo author articles.
You may also want to have some publications in press (before you apply), so if you land a faculty position, those may count towards your tenure when they are published. This will depend on the institution and their tenure guidelines.
Peer-reviewed conference proceedings and publications do count, but they are weighted lower than primary author journal publications by search committees (and when applying for tenure).
Prepare a research elevator pitch, which should briefly describe your research topic, problem/issue/or question your research answers, why your research is important (also known as the "so what question") and how it connects to the broader academic literature. You want to identify a research agenda that goes beyond just your dissertation.
Try to have some teaching experience before you apply to a faculty position. This can include being a teaching assistant and adjunct professor.
Reach out to faculty members to see if you can guest present in some of their courses (this could include professors you met at conferences). Guest lecturers outside of your home institution are valued more by search committees since it shows the breadth of your teaching experience.
Facilitating workshops can also add to your experience; however, the classroom experience is typically valued more by search committees.
Try to teach courses online and in person. Sometimes job applications require experience in both.
Academic and student advising are also valuable experiences since it shows you can coach students one-on-one. However, as mentioned above, the classroom experience is the gold standard when it comes to teaching experience.
Know Where You Are Applying
Research the university. One big turn-off to search committees is generic cover letters, teaching statements, diversity statements and research statements. Tailor it to each institution to which you apply. They want to know that you really want to work there.
Look up the faculty at the institution and their research and teaching interests. These faculty members may be your future colleagues.
Understand the courses that you may be teaching. Often the job application will require you to identify the courses in which you feel you are qualified to teach (you will have to also provide evidence of why you are qualified to teach these courses).
The Academic Interview
Review the position description and information about the university.
Research the search committee by looking them up on the university website, academic websites, LinkedIn and other sites like ResearchGate.
Practice some common interview questions and participate in a mock interview (bonus: conduct the mock interview with one of your faculty members that recently served on a search committee).
There will probably be multiple rounds of interviews before they will bring you on-campus.
If brought on campus, prepared for a long day of interviews and multiple presentations. The search committee will send you an agenda in advance.
Other resources that we recommend for the academic job search are: