I sent my first couple "real world" job applications this week. I have to say, it felt great. I'm not nervous, I'm not worried about whether anyone's going to call (right now, anyway), and I'm pretty positive about my chances of landing some kind of job in the near future.
Aside from the general fact that, well, I realize that I'm more excited about the possibility of getting any of these jobs than I ever was about working at Tiny College in Small Town, USA ... there are a couple of reasons why I think I'm excited and positive about this job search, while I was stressed and overwhelmed with the academic job search. They're interesting observations about the academic job market, I think, so I thought I'd post them here.
(1) Jobs are continually coming out. The academic job market, at least in my discipline, takes place from August through April, with basically all applications for tenure-track jobs being due by early March. This means that you spend hours and hours every week putting together job applications for six months ... and then if you don't get a job, you have to sit and wait another six months to even apply for anything else, all the while scrounging around for a teaching assignment or some type of paid work so you can pay your bills. But you're basically in a holding pattern, unable to do anything to better your situation until the next fall rolls around.
In contrast ... if I don't get any of the jobs I applied to this week, or will apply to next week ... well, there are new jobs coming out every week. Realistically, I could find something to apply for every day for the next few years. Sure, it might not be a job I'd really want ... but at least I wouldn't be put into a position where there was literally nothing I could do to try to find a new job for months and months.
It seems like that's a recipe for ... well, something. Learned helplessness? Depression?
(2) Rather than looking for my career right now, I'm looking for a job. When you go for a tenure track job, you're aware that you're looking for the place that you're going to spend the rest of your life. Sure, there are some people who switch jobs a few years into their professorship, but the general assumption is that you'll stick with your job until you retire.
That might be great for some people, but that idea always freaked me out, personally. I am much happier with this job search, knowing that even if I don't wind up in my ultimate career job, I will (a) likely be in a city and not a small town, so there will be a lot of networking opportunities, and (b) I won't be tied to the academic market season if I do decide to look for something else ... I can look anytime.
There are other reasons why this process appeals to me, personally - not the least among those that I think I'd be happy in a wide range of jobs as well as a faculty position. But those two observations about the academic v. nonacademic job markets really struck me as interesting in the past few days. I like keeping my options open for the future ... and while anything is certainly possible, the academic job market does narrow your options significantly