Job Market in Social and Political Sciences

Interview with a former MWF, now with a position as Senior Post-doc Fellow in Germany (2016)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a position as Research Fellow (with subsequent lectureship) in the UK (2016)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a research position in Switzerland (2015)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track position in Austria (2015)

Interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014) – 2 interviews

 

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a position as a Senior Post-doc Fellow in Germany (2016)

What are your general impressions of trends/characteristics of the job market in your discipline?

I don’t know, honestly – as far as I know at least in the American market in political science there are certain profiles that are hired every year, but you don’t know what those are beforehand. So I fear that there are a lot of things in the job market that are changing from year to year, that are completely out of my control. My overall impression though is that there are things we control (e.g. cover letter, writing samples) and things that we cannot (i.e. what topics are “hot” that year).  But unfortunately the things we have control over in the short-term tend not to matter very much in terms of getting a job, and the things that matter a lot are “long-term” things. For example, if I knew that migration was going to be a trend topic in recent years, I would have started researching it five years ago. By the time you start, you don’t know what will be a hot topic or not.

How many positions have you held between your PhD and the Max Weber Fellowship?

No positions

How did you find out about this particular position?

There was a visiting fellow here at the ECO dep – I helped organized a monthly workshop here and we got to know each other through that. He was coming from the institution where I will work, I saw that there was a job opening and he told me I should apply. I also knew another person there at that institution, and I knew that the position would fit with my research plan.

Did you have a special strategy in the job market i.e. have you worked on networking or adjusted your publishing to a job market in a particular country?

With networking, I am not sure whether you can actually gain a lot (in the sense that you cannot attend thousands of conferences). I think that you have to have a strong personality to chase people and meet them in order for this strategy to work. I don’t know anybody that got a job talk because they went to a conference. I think that publishing is really important (but for instance, if you have zero publications coming to the MWP and the application period starts in the fall, you do not have so much time to change this). Coming from the US, the strategy is to apply everywhere – a lot of applications are very very similar (like the economists) but for me it didn’t work (maybe it’s because my profile didn’t fit or because I didn’t have enough publications). In contrast, my mentor’s strategy is to target a job that fits you perfectly in a very careful manner. I don’t know which strategy is more effective in the end, but I do know that the second strategy is less stressful. The first one requires a lot of time (even if is just send send send send, you still have to change the cover letter, shape the resume…) so with hindsight, I would have preferred to be much more selective. Of course, I saw this  from the perspective of someone who already has a job – when you don’t have a job sometimes you decide to apply to everything because you think you don’t want to regret later that you “passed over” a possible job – it’s a hard balance. It depends on how much confidence you have in your work, on how risk-taking you are. You should not apply to a job you are not interested in going to, so it also depends on how flexible you are.

What did your application include? On which parts of the application did you focus the most?

Cover letter, writing sample, recommendation letters. It was a standard application. The Selection rounds were two: online application and job talk.

How long did it take altogether from the initial application until the final offer?

I think I applied in December (very early), I was invited for the interview in January and a week later I got the offer (this different from the UK system, where they interview all the candidates on the same day) – the interviews were spread over two weeks, so as soon as they interviewed the last person I got the offer

What was the interview format?

I guess it was pretty standard for a European talk: the first half an hour was just me giving a presentation in front of the people involved in the research group and two other people. So I presented my work by combining elements of two papers. Then there was half an hour Q&A from the audience. Then I had a 45 min smaller interview (future career plans, how you see yourself here ..)

There were no unexpected questions. In my first job talk in the UK, I thought I had prepared all the possible questions (you can get a list of questions with the right answers!) I thought I was done with the interview but the very last question was: “if we were to offer you the job, would you take it?” It was phrased in a way that made me pause for a minute – are you offering me the job? I think it was a very mean question: if your answer is ‘I have to think about it’, they will not offer you to job, but if you answer ‘yes!’ , then you’ve given up all of your bargaining power.

Was there any negotiation going on?

They called me saying they wanted to offer me the job – I said thank you, but send me something in writing. In the end, I didn’t ask for anything in particular (just to start in September) and they offer quite general terms.

What was the main reason you accepted the offer?

I thought that the position really fitted with my research plan. When I got the offer, I was in contact with another institute to give a job talk that was still open. The terms of the two offers were very similar but, for personal reasons, it was easier to live in Germany than in France.

What does it entail? How much time are you expected to dedicate to research/teaching/administrative responsibilities?

They said I can teach a little bit over the summer – it would be better to have some teaching experience for the next job search, but it is mainly research. This job is for three-four years.

What is your perception of prospect for career development?

For me career development is publishing as much as I can. In a certain sense, it is very nice because they have a huge research budget – so it is not a place where I have to spend a lot of time writing grant applications – that’s a plus. What worries me a bit is that there are no political scientists. Instead there are more sociologists and behavioural economists, so if I wanted to come out of this and apply for a standard political science job, it is going to look strange. I have to think more about how I can position my research agenda, in order to combine the two things.

What would be your main tip for the job search in your discipline?

It depends on how desperate you are. If you have two years at the EUI, I would say work on getting a high quality publication during the first year. It also depends on how you see yourself as a scholar – I am much more interested in research than teaching, and while I know that teaching is important,  I would like to be at an university where the teaching load is limited (30%). That means that for me I would need publications in top journals. As far as the things that you can control are concerned, getting a good job market paper out is important. I spent the whole summer doing job market stuff, practicing for job talks. We Americans practice  the job talk way to much, to the point that I can tell you exactly how long  my job talk is, how long you are going to spend on every slide even, and the reason you do that is because we know that we will  be interrupted. American job talks are around one hour and a half/two hours and you will be interrupted constantly so I need to be able control my time. In Europe it is different because nobody will interrupt you – when I gave my talk at my current institution it took half an hour.

It depends on how much effort you are willing to invest in it. I think that what is annoying, is when you invest time and effort over the summer and in the end the payoff is not very high: let’s say you spend three months in preparing job applications, and you do not get any interviews. So it’s a trade-off with the time you give up on research.  

There is a lot of luck involved.

It is an incredible stressful process so the tip is to maintain a good life balance.

In your opinion, what would be the don’ts

Don’t apply for jobs you are not interested in taking.

What was the most helpful element of the job market trainings at the MWP you used when applying for your present position?

I only used the writing help. The ACS staff was super helpful. I organized my own practice job talks (one with faculty, one with fellows). The fact is that every country’s job market is so different – so it is difficult to offer standard help for everybody.  

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a position as Research Fellow (with subsequent lectureship) in the UK (2016)

What are your general impressions of trends/characteristics of the job market in your discipline?

SPS, I am an area study specialist and also more on the qualitative side of things – so I don’t fall into the general SPS or political science market. So I look for specific area-related jobs, and topic-related ones. In my case that is migration and development. In general, in Germany, my country of origin, there is a big gap in terms of what is by now a good structure for post-doc fellowships and other positions: there is the institution of the junior professorship, but this is seen as a bad deal by most of the people because it has a lot teaching of obligations. It also has a review after three years (Three+three years scheme) and for most people it is incredibly stressful during these first three years before the intermediate review that often coincides with having to get your book out, wanting to publish as much as possible, having a lot of teaching and departmental obligations, no support, and no research associates. So basically you receive the title of Professor, but you get all the work and none of the support and there is no tenure track; so it means that after three or six years, if you do not spend most of your time networking to get a special deal in order to stay (which is very rare), you have to leave. This is something that it is currently being reviewed, but for now it is one of the few schemes there are. Other than that, there is also a six years post doc where you have a teaching position. However, they have become very rare, and it’s very difficult to find them – it means that basically before the point where you would be appointable to a regular professorship – for which you usually need two books or one book and the Habilitation - there is a big gap in terms of any more stable jobs. So people either go for this junior professorship or they go from project money to project money. This is one of the reasons why I looked at other job markets as well, and why I thought the UK market was pretty interesting. In the UK they recently introduced a couple of schemes that basically have this combination of fellowships that turn into a permanent position (such as the one that I got). I did not know about this before and I only came across it when I saw the ad for the job I applied for. However, I realized that it has become a thing in UK academia and it is perfect as it gives you really good job prospects when you need time to publish, so that starting a full time teaching job is not particularly a good idea, and you do not have to spend most of your fellowship time looking for other jobs.

How many positions have you held between your PhD and the Max Weber Fellowship?

One nine month’s fellowship. It was an Erasmus Mundus fellowship.

Did you have a special strategy in the job market i.e. have you worked on networking or adjusted your publishing to a job market in a particular country?

The requirements for the German job market (which I was originally aiming for) are really different from the requirements for the UK job market. In this phase of post PhD the list of publications is the most important thing, so in theory that should be the focus. A lot of publications during my PhD phase are in German, so I was quite concerned that this would not have been interesting for the UK job market. But I have learned that because everything is about the REF (research excellence framework) in the UK, the important thing is not what you have published, but what you will publish over the period until the next round of review for the REF (2020). So what you need to do in order to make yourself interesting for that job market is to make a credible point about what you will be able to publish until then and that you are a promising candidate. Therefore, it is important to show your networks, to show you know where to publish what, and that you know the value of different types of publications and that you are thinking creatively about grant applications. And these are the things I have learned during this application process. This is something particular about the English job market – I know people who have applied for other fellowships (i.e. Marie Curie) and there the most important thing is the list of publications you already have  – that is really different from the UK who instead look to the future and not at your current record of publications.

What was the main reason you applied for this particular position?

It was a perfect topical fit; and this combination of a fellowship that turns to a permanent lecture position. The position seemed written for me, in terms of topical scope.

What did your application include?

It included an online form where you had to give personal information but also some of the information you usually put in a motivation letter (I found this a little bit tricky to deal with it at the beginning – it is called supporting statement) and then I had to write a two page research plan outlining the projects I would like to do for this research area – this is because the job entails the establishment of a new interdisciplinary research area, so you had to demonstrate how you would do that. I focused on the supporting statement quite strongly and even more on the research plan. And then there were two letters of recommendation.

How many selection rounds were there?

After the applications there were two rounds (so three in total): application, and two interviews. The first interview was for the specific research area I had applied for, where they selected 6 people from all the candidates who had applied for that – so they decided basically that if that research area happens, then who do we think are the top candidates; and then stage 2 was from among the twelve research areas that were suggested within the faculty as new research areas in the department. So first they selected their top candidates for each proposed research area, and then there was a second round at faculty level to decide which of the ones that had made it through the first round they wanted, in combination with which research area they wanted, and how many people. So the first one was topically focused on one particular research area, and the second round was more of the faculty overall deciding which candidates in which topical focus areas.

How competitive was the selection process?

I know that the one I applied for that deals with a hot topic (mass migration, humanitarianism and governance) was the one that received more than half of all the application of all twelve research areas. They invited six candidates for the first round – and then I was the only one from this pool of applications that went through to the second round. In the end twelve jobs were given across the entire university (because it is a cohort thing). What was very helpful here was that one of the interviewers from round one skyped with me after they had selected me as the candidate to go forward, and gave me advice on what to expect and what to prepare for in round two.

What was the interview format?

The first interview rather focused on my topical interests. The first question was the ‘why are you here?’ question, ‘how did you get to that place?’ and ‘what do you want to do here?’ It was rather informal (two people from the department who were most invested in the research area and the department head). They asked me to break down my general approach and research interest in two sentences (‘what are you interested in?’, ‘what do you want to do?’, ‘what’s the philosophy underlining your research profile?’). Someone told me about this before, so I was prepared for this but I had never come across this before. They also asked me about my methodology and how field work works for me (because my research is very empirical and field work-based), a bit about disciplines (where I would locate myself in disciplinary terms), the EUI was a topic, and about funding (what plans I have for applying for grant proposals). In round two, I was asked to give a five minute presentation of my project (that was six or seven people, including the research dean and the head of the department, so there was one overlap between round one and two). In that round I had expected that there wouldn’t be a lot of discussion about the specific topical focus - I thought this was only in round one, and that the next round would be much more formal, but this was not the case. I was asked, for example, how I locate myself in this research area vis-à-vis other literatures, research fields; if I organized a big conference in three years who would I invite (as keynote speaker), in which two journals am I planning to publish and why in the next couple of years – so they asked for specific names. Nobody had a clear idea of my specific area in that round, but they wanted to get a sense of whether I knew what I was doing, and could give clear answers, rather than what the specific answers were. They also asked about funding – before I went to the first interview I spoke to a friend who got a very similar fellowship, and she basically told me about why this kind of fellowships exists and what I should expect from this and she made it very clear to me that this is not a fellowship where you do your own thing, but the point instead is that you get grant money (so this is what it is expected from you). She gave me a good idea of what types of grants I could look at, and then I got assistance from the MWP on how the British grant proposal system functions, what kind of grants you can apply for, and talked to several people in UK academia about their grants proposals and grant writing strategies. Consequently this didn’t catch me by surprise as it was a conscious decision before that this would be a core part of the job and I should be prepared. This was not clear or specified in the job ad though (in the job ad it sounded like a two year fellowship where you are supposed to establish a new research area – so it was kind of implicit). In the end this didn’t play as strong a role as I was expecting. I think this was because this particular university is relatively relaxed about this, so they want to see that you can do things about that, but you do not necessarily have to have everything ready already – they want to get a sense that you have this in mind but not much more than that. But I know that in other universities this is very different. The UK system functions entirely on the basis of reward from publications, and on the idea that everything should be paid through grant money (for these fellowships the basic idea is that I get money that funds not only my field research but also my basic salary, or at least part of it – and it is increasingly becoming the way UK universities fund themselves).

How long did it take from the interview until the offer?

Two and half months. There was a long period between the first and the second interview (a month) in which I assumed I had been dropped out as they had originally said a week or ten days, but then after the second round they offered me the job two hours after the interview. There was a long period of negotiation because I was trying to convince them to let me stay at EUI for another year and that in the end it didn’t work (so I only signed the contract six weeks later because of this back and forth).

What does it entail? How much time are you expected to dedicate to research/teaching/administrative responsibilities?

My contract for now is a fellowship contract – after two years I will very likely could get a new contract as a lecturer. So far it says that the focus is research and that I may occasionally be part of some sort of teaching (on an occasional basis) and I will be involved in departmental affairs (10-20%) – teaching, administration, curriculum developments, programme. So the rest is research, at least for these first two years.

What would be your main tip for the job search in your discipline?

Find someone that has the kind of job you are applying for (for me it was the most important thing to actually have an extended conversation with someone who had a similar kind of job and who gave me a realistic idea about it, even before even applying). So I basically structured my application along these lines. I would also recommend finding a good topical fit (if you are convinced yourself, you will convince the others as well) – instead of sending out random applications: write two or three maximum and only the ones that are a really good fit (otherwise it is only a waste of time).

What would be your tips for the interview?

For the interview, I did mock interviews both with Laurie and with a couple of people that are familiar with the topic or the British system, or both. This was really helpful because it gave me the opportunity to test myself and to receive some feedback. One of the most important things is to smile and try to be relaxed (if you cannot answer something you can always convey that you will have something to say about this in a while: it is ok to say ‘let me think about this for a minute’ or, what I did actually, ‘I haven’t thought about that before, let’s see here’ and I felt it was really fine – I got the feedback that I seemed confident but not over-confident and it was really important for them because it gave them the idea of  a person that they would like to have as a colleague and not just a good candidate). This was a job that I was not looking for: it happened, so I treated it as an experiment (so at the beginning I said, let’s think about whether I would want it or not. When it is a long term job, it is not just about them thinking about me as a potential colleague but also the other way round – this means I can ask things, I can try and be myself, as it has to be something that works for me as well). So being yourself works for both sides, even with insecurities that are not disruptive. It is important to not put on a big show, but present yourself as you are.

What was the most helpful element of the job market trainings at the MWP you used when applying for your present position?

The mock interview – so the interview preparation. 

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a research position in Switzerland (2015)

The job market in German-speaking countries

For me it was a relatively smooth transition, as I got this job relatively quickly after getting my PhD, so I think my case is not very representative. One particular thing is that being from […], I focused on positions in German-speaking countries. One peculiarity of the German system, for example, is that in recent years a lot of money has been put into expanding PhD programs without expanding mid-level positions at the same time. That is a specificity of the German market at the moment. Lots of people get out of the PhD programmes and historically there is no tenure track in the German system.  This makes it particularly difficult in Germany. When it comes to funding, it is much better in Switzerland, as universities have more resources and the pay is better so it is very attractive to apply in Switzerland. About Austria, I cannot say very much. Another is the question of a language requirement. German as a language is ‘too big’ to have a full transition to English at the universities. In contrast to the Netherlands for example, in Germany there are still journals that publish in German only. So, for undergraduate teaching, they would look at language. If it is a long term position, they will ask you to learn German, to be able to teach in German, and this is probably different in other countries. At the same time, German-speaking academia is definitely moving in the international direction, so that you have 50%-50% classes in English and I think this move will continue. At the moment, however, the knowledge of German is still required at most of these places.

As for Switzerland, it is my impression that there is a German-speaking job market, and universities in Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lucerne and Sankt Gallen belong to that job market. The French-speaking market is in Fribourg, Lausanne and Geneva, but I do not know if they consider themselves part of a French job market or whether it is rather a double structure with a Swiss German-speaking job market. Even though there are separate organisations within the disciplines ‒ there is a German association of political sciences and a Swiss organisation of political sciences ‒ I think that PVS (Politische Vierteljahresschrift), the flagship journal in German political science would be considered also the flagship journal of German-speaking scholars in Switzerland.  I would say that, in general,  German-speaking academies have a lot in common, given their similar institutional heritage, and I think there is still a tight fit between the two countries, in terms of institutions. Also, if you look at the CVs of senior people, you will find many Germans at Swiss institutions, and also in Germany you would find people who did their PhD at Swiss institutions, so I would say it’s pretty well integrated. 

The strategy

The German-speaking university system is a Chair system. Within the department you have this small kingdom of the Chair, a professor who has his two or three assistants and then a couple of doctoral students and they form a unit. This was important for the application strategy, as I did not have to convince the department, but basically I had to convince one particular person. So, I really tried to write a letter and research proposal to show that I would fit with this particular Chair and this would have been different if I was applying for a position in a department, like an assistant professorship. Furthermore, I studied in Switzerland before and I had lots of previous contacts with people from the institution and this helped a lot in shaping the application. I knew one of the doctoral students at this Chair, from a conference, I also knew a researcher at a neighbouring Chair and I knew one of the co-authors of the Chair, and I contacted them all.

Application and interview

There were two selection rounds and from submitting to getting the offer it took around two months. Also, the call did not ask for letters of reference but only for addresses. What they did is call my referees, so they never wrote the letter. This was however specific because the professor knew both of the referees, and probably because they did not want to ask for all these letters of reference for all the candidates. All in all, there were around 60 applications; they invited 8 people for Skype interview and then 4 people to present in […]. There was one specific thing ‒ from these 4 people, the professor (the Chair) asked for a two page summary of a research article, a foundational paper in the field. The reason was that it was difficult to compare the candidates so they wanted to have one and the same point of reference. However, I think this is unique. I spent quite a bit of time polishing my two pages. I did my PhD in political science but my background was in economics so I was a bit concerned that this could be a problem. In my thinking, I thought this would be a problem of teaching, because I only had a research focus in political science. Interestingly, at the interview, my background in economics was a problem, we talked about it really a lot, but I totally miss-predicted what would be the specific part of the problem. We did not talk about teaching at all; it was much more about research. I really struggled with that in the interview, because I did not see that one coming.

First, I had a Skype interview. It was more about my background, but that is something you are used to when you switch subjects ‒ why did you do this, what is your view on political science, how did you get into it, so it was about stages of the CV. Afterwards they asked me to send my dissertation and it was my impression that they read quite a bit of it. Then I got an invitation to […], I gave a talk and then had a second interview, mainly focused on my future plans. Another concern was whether I would fit with the rest of the Chair’s team. My talk was 30 minutes long, and there were six people in the audience, then there was 30 minutes Q&A (the talk and the Q&A part were quite standard), and then I went for a coffee with the doctoral students. Then I had an interview with the Chair, which was supposed to last for 30 minutes but lasted longer than one hour. I invested a lot in the preparation of the talk, did a ‘prep talk’ etc. I think that the talk and the Q&A went very well, but then there was an interview, and I was already quite exhausted by then. The dominating issue of the interview was my background in a different discipline, but the general atmosphere of the conversation was very open and positive, more than I expected, and I was impressed by that. We also very openly talked about some concerns on both sides, which was something I was not used to discussing with more senior colleagues. It was interesting, because you are used to looking at this application process as a situation in which you are looking for a job and there are these senior people that are supposed to distribute jobs. This professor saw it much more as a two way thing, presenting the Chair to me as an attractive place.

I got an offer after two weeks, and there was not much scope for negotiation. The only thing that was negotiated is that I can stay at the present position until the end of academic year. There was no scope for negotiation over the salary. What could theoretically be negotiated is the content of the teaching, since there is some flexibility. It was interesting that they told me that they did not want me to respond right away but to think about it for two days and get back to them. After two days, I accepted their offer.

The position

The teaching requirement is one seminar per semester, and when it comes to research I can pursue my own research agenda, but in general the position is very closely attached to the Chair.

Tips

For people with partly different disciplinary backgrounds (such as the one I had), I would think of how to turn that into a strength rather than a weakness, not just with a focus on teaching, but also in research. As an economist on the political science market there is an assumption that you have technical skills, which would probably not work quite as nicely the other way round. I significantly benefited from the mock job talk here and I would suggest this to everyone. I also benefited talking to the people within the department before the interview. What helped is that, given that I got my PhD from a purely research institution, the teaching certificate I got through the MWP gave me credibility for the teaching.

Also, if you are aiming at a long term position in a German system, it is good to have a foot in the door and have a network there. At the same time, there is a huge risk to being just  in the German system. Therefore, the best is if you can balance your national and international systems.

 

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a tenure-track in Austria (2015)

On trends in the job market

The academic market is tough at the moment. First, all around Europe there are budget cuts in the sector of higher education (including jobs opening and research funding) for the social sciences and the humanities, as a consequence of the crisis and austerity politics. In Germany and Austria there are very few political science jobs advertised. It is getting tougher and tougher because there are ever fewer positions but more graduates.

Second, the profession itself is in transition. The criteria, the qualifications needed, are much higher, you need be well-published, have teaching experience, and sometimes even coaching and supervision of BA theses, not to mention involvement in funding applications (or even having acquired funds). All this was not needed in the past, you just needed to have a good PhD and the potential to publish your thesis as a book or articles. We can talk of a high degree of professionalization in the academy. What a “good PhD” means has changed in recent decade; you need a certain standard of methodological expertise. In Vienna, there has been, since 2007, a department of methods in the Social Sciences, which trains graduate students to conduct research at the highest level. This did not exist when I studied, for example; we had to go to Summer Schools abroad if we wanted to learn methods. In Salzburg, students learn the techniques of scientific writing as early as the first BA semester and then take lectures and applied seminars in quantitative and qualitative methods of the social sciences in the third BA semester. Aspiring to methodological rigor, sound and transparent research design is certainly a good development in the profession. Methodological expertise and teaching have also become a necessity in order to be “competitive” and get jobs. In the social sciences there is also a trend to open positions that are focused on methodological skills. Still, this focus on methods in continental Europe is not as strong as in the UK, where most recent positions recently advertised are with method labels like “quantitative politics”, (as opposed to substantive labels, such as international relations). Mixed methodology is also an increasing trend, and you need to be able to combine different techniques, such as interviews, surveys, and experiments.

In general I think it is a difficult period for the academic job market as there is lower supply, and higher demand. But for this reason hiring is forced to become more and more transparent – and in some respects also more meritocratic and gender equal. There is a trend away from nepotism and towards openness to outsiders, including foreigners: there are academics holding professorships in Austrian Universities that are non-Austrians. In the past non-Austrians were mainly from Germany but now there are Italians, Greeks, Canadians and Swiss, among others.

On the job search

I had a preference for one country alone, which was difficult because there were very few calls. But it was also good because I was very focused and did not submit many applications. I reflected a lot on the few applications I submitted, however, and spent time thinking of what I could contribute to the department etc. I think having fewer countries and targeting is a good strategy. Of course, it depends, if you are single and/or mobile, you can apply everywhere but then because of lack of time you end up just changing the name of the university in the cover letter without giving it a thought; because you cannot apply to 50 places and spend a lot of time on applications, having a very good application each time. Note that at the same time you need to submit your papers to journals, go to conferences, review articles, teach…

The MWP is ideal because you can focus on research and training to learn new things, see your research from different perspectives through interdisciplinary events and take a step back – get more answers to the “so what” questions from colleagues in economics, history and law, improve presentation skills, etc. Speaking of which, one thing that was very helpful in the MWP was the mock interview. At the mock interview, they asked me “why do you want to go to this country?” This was a very important question and I had not thought about this before the mock interview. There is something about the commitment to the place: if you apply to places all over the world, you are perceived as someone who might leave as fast as you can. The truth is that jobs are no longer forever but departments that open positions do not want to have someone for 6 months, they want to have someone who will be part of a team so they can grow together, and not to have someone who will leave soon. When you have a smaller sample of countries on your wish list, you can argue more about your commitment to the location. The language is also important, as you show whether you can integrate in the country. Can you live there? Can you imagine being happy there? Do you like the place? In the past people were not as mobile so you could never imagine that someone recently appointed to a tenure track position would leave for another place; this can happen now but then they have to re-open the position, and start all over again. So committees want someone who can help cover the department’s basic teaching and supervision needs, who contributes with a strong publication record AND stays at least for couple of years…So you need to know why you chose the city as well, not just the university.

My position was openly advertised internationally, in the ECPR bulletin. I was interested both in the country and the department – for many reasons this is the best department of political science in the country. It is small but very well published, dynamic and active, very international, and gender balanced. In terms of strategy, I did not know that the position would open. I had applied there before and maybe that also mattered, even though it was for a different position. Previously, I applied just after my PhD, but I was too junior for this position. For this application, I had some material that I optimized, I studied their website a lot, checking what they are doing, thinking what could I offer that was not there yet, the cooperative project I could engage in with colleagues...I think this is the best thing you can do, to study the department and the teaching curriculum.

In terms of application materials, I had to submit a cover letter and my CV (I had to adjust the CV to a special format), 2 pieces of published work and also degree certificates. I also sent them my teaching evaluations, even though they did not ask for them. My cover letter was 6 pages long: an introduction and then research achievements and publications; then a review of what I had taught and then some information on knowledge transfer and management – which was required. In many parts of the world academia is insulated from the public sphere but this is now changing. Knowledge management also has to do with teaching, basically how you disseminate your knowledge, how you give it to others. But what is increasingly gaining in importance is how to talk to people that are not from your own field, or how to transfer the knowledge you generate through research back to society, to the tax payers that fund it, through blogging, traditional media, political education seminars. This is another important new trend, the desire of academic employers to get people who could consult for practitioners (e.g. regional parliament) or talk to the media and give informed opinions about current developments. You need to get out of your comfort zone (academic conferences) and be able to discuss your research with different audiences. The MWP helps a lot in this regard – because you often need to make your project comprehensible to people that speak a “different disciplinary language”.

The last part of the letter included future plans and potential contributions to the department of political science. I talked about research, teaching, my international background, my engagement in international research networks – US, Europe. This is important for a small, relatively young university ‒ in a very renowned, yet small city ‒ that is striving for excellence in teaching and research at the highest international standards. Also, what is very important for the place is that we get together with input on how things work in other places, best practices. I think something that also played a role was that I had experience both abroad but also in the country, so I also knew the national system of higher education – which matters as well.

At the interview

They got back to me about a month after I sent the application, inviting me for an interview. Once they told me that I was shortlisted, I had three weeks before the interview to prepare. There were around 65 applications and they invited 5 candidates for the interview. The hearings were public, the entire department and student representatives, were there; it was open. It was all in English, even though I expected it to be in German, and lasted for about an hour. I had to present a paper, American-style, that is a “job market paper”; and then I got both research-related and other types of questions. There was a moment when I really liked it, as I got very good comments, they were telling me things that were relevant for my work. There were lots of question on research. It felt like being at a very good workshop, a very sophisticated level of discussion. Then they asked me what I would be willing to teach. I had looked at the curriculum before, so I had already thought of what courses I would like to offer. I had checked what people are doing and did not propose to offer a course on those topics but rather on other, related topics that interest me but were not there on their teaching curriculum. In sum, it is very important to think ‒ what can you contribute that is not there! Then there was a question from the student representative – “when I choose courses, why should I choose yours?” That was an interesting question. I laughed, and told ‒ the truth ‒ that I really like teaching so I would transmit my enthusiasm and passion. I was not at all prepared for this question but responded spontaneously, and I think it was ok. They also wanted to hear about my expectations in terms of teaching, since many things would be different to the other universities where I had been employed before.

They also asked about my plans. They told me this is tenure track, you will be evaluated, and they asked whether I would be capable of meeting the tenure conditions in terms of research goals and publications. I don't have any doubts I will, so this this is what I said – I talked about the projects in the pipeline. Then they also asked about my funding plans. I had already written something in my application and explained which schemes I was planning to apply for. However, they were not very insistent on that, like they might be in the UK. They also asked about admin staff. Finally, they asked me whether I have other offers, and I told them – the truth ‒ that I had only applied for this job (but I also had a fellowship for the upcoming year). All in all, there was a very good atmosphere at the interview, I really enjoyed it. If you’ve already done the mock interview, you have thought some answers through and have developed your ideas on certain topics. One thing I found particularly useful – being able to describe your research plan and objectives in a two sentence version, a paragraph version and a 10 minute version – that was a golden piece of advice given by the mock interviewers. Then, depending on the context, you present the version that fits best.

After the interview

They got in contact one week after the interview. They wanted informally to check whether I was really interested in taking the position. If I said ‘no’, they would call the next-ranked candidate. They asked me to start in three months and that was tough because of the time I needed for relocation from one country to another, plus my pre-existing teaching and research commitments. We talked, so I managed to combine it with my other position. In Austria you cannot negotiate some aspects (e.g. salary) because of collective agreements, but you can at least ask for flexibility regarding the starting date and the transition process. The department was very willing to accommodate my needs and we found a nice solution for the transition with teaching and my other commitments. 

New position 

I will be teaching four courses per year, two per semester (BA and MA). I will be teaching the introductory courses in German and other courses in English.

Tips for job search 

If you have a strong preference for one country, try to have contact with the faculties that you would like to join. Check if they have local workshops or national conferences and go. You can also send them your work. You have to be present, they need to know who they are and you should know what they do and engage with their work. It is not only about your research, ask yourself ‒ are you a colleague they would like to have? Are you constructive in your critique? Do not be over-pretentious or arrogant; be aware that even if you come from a good place, they are good too. Of course, they are not only choosing you but you are also choosing a nice workplace – so the more you get to know about the faculty before and during the visit, the better for you. And the better you feel during the interview, the more likely it is you will get the job.

 

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in the UK (2014)

The itinerary

With five other candidates, a total of six competing for two positions, I was invited for dinner the night before the presentation where we met with members of faculty that were not directly involved in the selection process/interview panel. The following day I was asked to present on how I 'could contribute to research and teaching at […]' for 20 minutes (I used 18 on research and 2 on teaching) plus 10 minutes of Q&A from department staff. Lunch was served again to all 6 candidates together as we mingled and chatted among ourselves, with the departmental staff and GTAs. The interview panel was in the afternoon, it lasted 30 minutes and along with the Dean of the Department, the rest were from the politics department, the director of teaching, the director of research, and two professors which expertise in my discipline. 

Meeting the other candidates 

Despite the obvious awkwardness when dining and lunching with other candidates competing for the post, as there is a sense of competition for faculty attention and smart-talk, there are interesting ways of turning the process into your own advantage.

First I was advised by a friend and colleague to approach these moments as 'networking opportunities'. That is, to get to know better the faculty and other candidates and to gather useful information, not so much to compete but to learn. This turned out to be very useful. Talking to other candidates gave me some good ideas of who they were and how to differentiate myself and my research from theirs more starkly during the interview process. I also learned some of the prepared answers of other candidates, which I thought were very good, and tried to use and integrate their insights into my answers as well (namely, one of the candidates response to the 'policy impact' question was to influence policymakers not just with formal briefs and conferences, but also informal lunches and closed-doors events. I thought it was a great idea!). 

Mingling with faculty is a good chance to collect, but also pass, informal information about the university and oneself. Build empathy. There were for instance a number of faculty from a certain non-European country, I told them my wife was from that same country which became a big conversation starter, there were a number of military folks, I told them my wife's father has had a long career in the military, connected with members of faculty which I knew had been to similar universities as I did. When I approached them, they wanted to be updated on what was going on in these universities, and so on…

Talking to students

In between the presentation and lunch, I had two hours of spare time. I took this opportunity to walk around the campus and to talk to students. I was genuinely interested to know what they thought of the place but also made sure everyone in the faculty knew that I had 'gone the extra mile' to talk to students. Faculty seemed rather impressed and pleased, and it seems that no other candidate bothered doing the same. 

At the presentation 

 I went slightly over time in my presentation, which lasted 21 minutes. I had timed it for 19 and in numerous previous trials I never went over 20. Not sure why I went over, this said likely no one cut me short (when I got to 20 minutes I premised with: "and now I conclude …."). I received a number of questions, which I don't recall very well. In broad terms these were: Where do you see yourself fitting in the department and with whom would you collaborate? Can you clarify this or that aspect of your research? What are the broader implications of your research? The room went silent for the last question, and one of the scholars – one of the friendliest ones ? asked a second question. I thought (a) 'she is nice and wants to save my day', (b) 'she is really interested in my work, great!', (c) 'oh no! people are not interested in my work, (d)  maybe I did not do a good job presenting my research'. Maybe they were all my paranoia, fact is that I left the room hoping nobody noticed I went 1 minute over in my presentation and fearing people did not engage with my work. One faculty member, which was a former Max Weber Fellow in 2008/09, who I had contacted in advance to get information about the position, approached me to say the presentation was actually very good, but that I should had been a bit more specific in my answers. This was an advice that was useful as I got to my interview panel.

At the interview

Everybody seemed quite happy with my presentation, mentioning that they enjoyed it, which, given my earlier paranoia, was a relief. The questions I received were the following. The Dean of the School asked: Why you applied here? Head of Research: You mentioned in your presentation your methodology is mostly qualitative, would you work across methodologies? With whom in the department would you work? What research grant applications do you have in mind? Professor from my Discipline 1: Can you tell me more about this theory you use in your research? Professor from my Discipline 2: How important is your topic for policymakers, compared to other priorities for policymakers? Why should we care? Head of Department: Are you willing to take on administrative roles? Would you be interested in contributing to internationalizing the university? Head of Teaching: Can you tell me what would students get out from this course you propose? (To which I gave a very general answer, mostly around my teaching philosophy, hence he came back with a second question) More specifically though what would students get out of this course? I made sure to be specific this time…Dean: Any questions from you? At that point I completely blanked out, I didn't remember if I had prepared one, I blabbered something about relocating with family and then I suddenly remembered a colleague’s question about PhD supervision and asked something along those lines.

After the interview

I had heard that standard practice was to inform the successful candidate on the same evening. I did not hear from them that evening and feared I did not get the job. Some colleagues said it’s a 50/50 chance of hearing either the same day or the next. I received an e-mail at noon the following day with the offer. 

On salary negotiations

I have been able to negotiate my salary upwards. Talking to people and discussing the matter with the Dean of the School, I noticed that universities in the UK are quite sensitive to negotiating not so much based on previous teaching and research experience (which they assume any lecturer would have), but when claiming that the salary offered is not competitive or a substantial improvement on current earnings. In fact, having done some calculations with what I am earning as a MWF, calculating family allowance, tax exemption, and that the cost of living in Italy is lower than in the UK, I was able to make a compelling case for negotiating a higher salary from the one they originally proposed (which net of tax and UK cost of living was in fact not that much different from the MW bursary).

 

From an interview with a former MWF, now with a lectureship in UK (2014)

On the UK academic market

"The UK academic market is probably the biggest in Europe, in terms of jobs, and there could be a stronger emphasis on publications. Even if you come from a prestigious institution, such as the LSE, Oxford or the EUI, I think. My impression from the application processes and interviews I have been through is that I think publications are quite important, precisely because all universities are evaluated in terms of their publications, due to the Research Excellence Framework. Even if you have a PhD from a good place, I don’t think it is enough if you have got zero publications. Try to get at least one or two publications before finishing the PhD. This is something that really signals that you are a good candidate, since that’s the way they are evaluated and how they get their money. This I would emphasize. At the same time, the market is more competitive, for a number of reasons. There are a lot more PhDs than before, a lot more people coming into the market, and the number of jobs hasn’t really expanded proportionately, so it is more competitive. There are many people who are hiring at the moment and who would not have gotten their own job if the same criteria had applied. The market is definitely getting more competitive."

On the application process

''I applied for a similar job at the same department when I was at the EUI, but I wasn’t invited for an interview. I don’t know if my name stayed somewhere on the shelf. I also did not know anyone directly. I knew somebody in another department and I sent an e-mail to sound them out, to ask if it was a really open position. Sometimes it happens that jobs are advertised but not really open because they have someone in mind. What I tried to focus on specifically was to tailor my application. I looked at who is in the department, how my research could fit to what they are doing. I taught quite a bit during my PhD, so I emphasized that because many people from British Universities do not teach that much. I tried to emphasize that I have experience in teaching. I really tried to emphasize I have a number of publications they could put in their REF application. I also had a book contract and a number of articles forthcoming. So these were the three things I emphasized. So, how your research fits to the department, teaching experience and what you can contribute to the department."

On experience at the job interview

"I did not how many candidates were there. I saw this position advertised at quite a number of places. I think that when I was invited I think there were quite a lot of people interviewed, 7 people for two positions. I did not know how many applications they got. In my department, only senior people are involved in the appointment process. I did not feel asking too many questions about other applicants. Deadline was in the middle of Winter holidays, 3rd of January. I got a reply pretty late, mid-February, and the interview was at the end of February. First, I gave 20 minutes lecture for the whole department, I presented my research. I took like three themes within my research and explained how they fit with the department. I did not talk about teaching. Then 30 minutes interview, only interview panel, about teaching and teaching experience. It was also a check whether you will be a good colleague. For this job, you are suppose at least at the later stage to take part at the department, to do some administrative work. It is therefore very important to show that you are ready to be a good colleague, that you are ready to do things that are not really that great to do." 

"There were also some unexpected questions, about research applications, asking 'What kind of research money do you plan to bring to this department?'. It is important to try to show that you have investigated what are the big research funding bodies in your country and to say that within three years you plan to apply for these kind of grants, this kind of research body. I was a little bit taken aback, maybe, I had a vague idea of all these trusts, The Leverhulme Trust, ESRC etc. It is important to have an idea what is out there to bring in to the department, that really matters for the department. Research money is a big indicator for British universities, also elsewhere. Additionally, there is the whole idea of impact. You need to have an impact in terms of policymaking, talking to journalists etc. Even if you do not plan to do it, you need to have a pitch ready on how your research can make a contribution to the wider public. This has become very important. This contributes to about 20% of research money that universities get, so it is important to show that you have something ready – like my research is valuable because I can contribute to this kind of policy, this kind of debate etc. This is not specific only for UK, there is a focus on impact in other countries too. Wherever you apply, it is important to have a little speech, two sentences, to explain why your research matters."

After the interview

"In the UK, things go fast. I got an offer the same day of the interview. I took the flight back home, when I arrived, I had an e-mail, offering me the job. I negotiated the salary a little bit, at the same time, I got another offer, job I applied while I was at the MWP, I did not get it, but then the person who got it left, so I was probably shortlisted. It was one year later that they contacted me. So, I ended up having two job offers at the same time when I used to negotiate my salary a bit. However, the room for manoeuvre is not big, the US is different, since universities have much more leeway. In the UK, it is different, you can go up salary scale a bit. Negotiations took about 2 or 3 weeks, as I did not get reply right away. I accepted the job within 2 or 3 weeks, after the exchange of e-mails." 

 

Page last updated on 18 August 2017

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