Plan B — Knowing Your Options

Your academic job search may not have worked out exactly as you had hoped.  If you have not accepted a job offer, you may be considering what to do next.  Your decisions may depend on a number of factors, for example an assessment of the job market and your credentials, or the job search decisions of a partner.  The appropriate next steps for you will also depend in part on knowing your limits and boundaries as a job seeker.  In very general terms your decision may come down to going on the market again next year, or considering your career options.  There are several important issues to consider as you weigh your choices.

Going on the Market Next Year

In many disciplines going on the market a second (or even third or fourth) year is not uncommon, so this could very well be a good option for you.  In fact, you may be an even stronger candidate (and certainly a more experienced job seeker) if you go through the process a second time.  But as with any good decision, the decision to go on the market again should be a reasoned and informed choice.  Seeking a temporary position may give you the flexibility to pursue an academic job next year, but that year shouldn’t simply be a “holding pattern.”  Consider what you will be doing in the next year, and how that will impact your candidacy.  What are your areas of weakness, and how can a temporary position help you increase your marketability?  Is a year of teaching a possibility, and will that enhance your candidacy?  Are post-docs available in your field, and what value may they add?  Staying engaged as a scholar, especially in ways that will solidify your credentials, becomes of primary importance as you consider whether another year on the job market may yield positive results.

Keep in mind that temporary roles — a lecturer position or a post-doc research role — can be useful as you transition to a permanent position.  But it can also be easy to find yourself stuck in a series of temporary positions if you are not able to find more permanent work.  At some point, continuing on in temporary roles may yield diminishing returns for your career development.  This is simply something to consider as you weigh your options.

Re-considering Career Options

The decision to pursue (and even explore) options beyond the tenure track brings its own set of issues.  There can certainly be some positive job search aspects to this decision.  Pursuing a different career path may open up more job possibilities than are available in your academic discipline; exploring non-academic jobs may ease the relocation to a specific part of the country.  However, most any career transition comes with challenges that should be considered clearly as you weigh your options.

Finding a job outside the tenure-track may require some re-tooling on your part.  If most of your experiences have been inside the academy, at the very least you will need to re-think how your skills translate to nonacademic careers.  You may even need to identify ways to build up other skill sets that haven’t been a part of your academic training.

Taking this Plan B may also require you to build experiences on the way to your ultimate goal.  Internships, part-time or volunteer work, or perhaps freelancing can be ways to develop your credentials, demonstrate commitment to the work, and build contacts that can be such an important part of job searching.  You have spent years as a graduate student building toward an academic career.  While a transition to a non-tenure track career may not take years, it does require some forethought to put the appropriate building blocks in place.

Finally, you may also need to come to terms with what it means to you to explore options other than the tenure track.  If you’ve always considered yourself an academic, how will it feel to be perceived (by self or others) as giving that up?  How will you build a career identity different from that of an academic?

If your academic job search is winding down without a solid offer, what is your Plan B?  I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences with others in the comments below.

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds on Flickr.

2 Responses to Plan B — Knowing Your Options

  1. Tom Lehker says:

    Just fyi, there has been quite a bit written lately in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the academic job market, and implications for students/job seekers, including the topic of developing a plan b. One of the Chronicle’s current advice columns touches on this subject. Check it out at:

  2. I have found that too many individuals (myself included) are depending solely on the internet for their job search and subsequent applications for their chosen field. As I finally abandoned the internet in favor of hitting the streets, going business-to-business, with my face in business owners and HR department heads faces, I surprisingly wound-up with a couple of good offers.

    It seems that hiring managers simply have too many online applications to weed through. They further appreciate the direct contact and seemed to like the fact that I was not hiding behind a computer screen to apply for their jobs.

    This may be a bit old fashioned, but considering the few jobs out there and the over-burdened HR departments job in sorting out all the potential candidates for a job opening, it seems to make sense.

    While I have not actually accepted an offer yet, I feel my confidence level improve dramatically as I have some positive response to some of my hard job search efforts rather than an empty email box.


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