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Job Market


The state of job markets

It is important, at the moment you start looking for a job or grant as a lecturer and/or researcher, that you know the state of the job market that you are entering. This knowledge will help you to understand where to look such jobs, what are the chances of success, how much can you expect to be paid, and eventually the academic subjects or themes on which the market in a specific discipline is currently focusing on (with respect to the latter, you may need to be strategic and adjust your application to meet your potential employer expectations and requirements). The state of job markets is fluid and depends on many structural but also continget factors, such as national investments in research, the priorities of universities and centres, and so on. Even the recent economic crisis is apt to have an impact on government spending and eventually private investments on universities. What follows is information that we hope will give you an idea of what to expect out there once you start sending applications and doing interviews. As much as possible, we provide country- and discipline-specific information.


Competition and centralisation: an overview of markets by discipline

Job markets in the four disciplines of law, history, economics and social and political sciences differ with respect to their degree of centralisation and competition in different geographical areas. By competitive market we mean markets in which employers look for the best candidate (and not necessarily the internal one). By centralised market, we mean very structured and organised markets within which special events are organised in which candidates participate and present their work to potential employers. Centralisation and competition are not necessarily correlated, although international and centralised markets tend to present the highest degree of internal competition.

Going into more detail, it is important to notice that competitiveness varies from one discipline to another: in general, moving from the most to the least competitive one can find economics, social and political sciences, history and law. To some extent, this variation is justified by the different skills requested to candidates across these disciplines. History, with the exception of areas like that of European integration, is a discipline very much focused on national contexts. Candidates must have a of knowledge national cultures, facts and language to be able to go through documents and understand them. In law, the same reasoning applies considering the specificity and knowledge of national legal systems and legislation.

With respect to centralisation, economics offer the clearest example of structured and organised market, combined with a high level of competition. The market for economists is virtually unified, comprising both the US and Europe. Historians have a centralised job market only in the US, which takes place in one city (a different one each year). In the social and political sciences there are no structured events although the market, aa we have seen, is relatively open and competitive. The web helps: positions in the social and political sciences are usually advertised internationally on the internet.

In Europe, markets seems much more organised locally and nationally. Eventually, they offer an international range of job opportunities in a specific theme of a disciplines. This is the case of historians, for example, who gather together according to their specific focus (medieval, modern, contemporary, and so on).


Positions: how many are available out there?

Concerning the number of positions available on the market, we can expect different and partly contradictory trends. Overall, it is well-known that in both the US and Europe there is an entire generation of professors that will retire in the next years: in principle, this fact will translate into more job opportunities for young researchers. At the same time, there is a chance that not all these positions will be filled immediately, especially during the current economic crisis. Some US universities are already cutting on hiring and have frozen positions (but those already opened, eventually). Duke University is one example. The University of Minnesota has also stopped hiring new faculty.

In Europe – especially continental Europe – the situation will be probably different. Concerning the replacement issue, we can expect more continuity in filling chair and research positions related to a specific discipline/subject. The issue here is how many new positions will be opened at the entry level. Things will arguably vary from one country to another, with the crisis imposing - or being used to impose - an agenda of budget restrictions. The recent legislation passed in Italy provides for a substantial reduction of the turn-over of academic staff in the next three years. The law limits the number of "ricercatori" that a university can hire for each professor who retires, especially in those universities with unbalanced budgets. In Germany, new junior professorship positions are also quite limited, not least for lack of money.

An interesting trend which you should consider and which contradicts the above-mentioned one is that more positions are being opened which are co-funded by both departments and special programs (like in gender and human rights) which increases the chances of getting a tenured position.


Themes: the changing priorities of universities

Whatever your discipline or field of expertise is, in general you should consider that universities and centres tend to hire people according to their contingent research agenda, which is often "dictated" by a broader emergence and trend of issues that capture the attention of the academic community. This is especially true, again, for those universities which are able to quckly adjust to such trends and enjoy sufficient autonomy to appoint its staff. In the US, for example, there are no “chairs” and it easier to recruit people who fit better the changing agenda. In the past, for example, globalization and then gender became crucial subjects.

At the moment there is a huge interest in transnational studies. Universities themselves are trying to get transnational: US universities are opening branches in China and India, for example. Other agendas may be imposed by private funding sources: again, in the US the Pentagon gives money to universities to support studies on terrorism. It is also not hard to see an increasing interest by European universities on the question of and relation between human rights, politics and security.

You need to be aware of these changing priorities, and market yourself accordingly. Be ready to adjust your personal agenda to that of the institution to which you apply.


Salaries: considering absolute and relative value

Providing information on salaries is not an easy task, as this type of information is often treated as confidential by people and institutions. What is clear is that there are substantial variations between countries, especially the U.S. and de-centralised systems (like in the U.K. or Ireland) providing universities with the autonomy to set their own salary levels. In those cases, then, salaries will vary according to, for example, the qualifications that you have (beginning with whether or not you possess a Ph.D.), the cost of life of the city/country where you are supposed to reside if appointed, and the 'richness' and reputation of the university itself (moving from the big names of research universities to colleges and centres more focused on teaching). Universities use salaries to attract the best (or second-best) candidates.

Having said that, what can you expect to earn when you are first employed? An historian employed in US universities on either the east or the west coast can make $60,000 per year. Yet, in some cities like New York this money is just sufficient to an averagely decent living. A position paying $40-45,000 in Maryland would allow for a better living. For more informaton on salaries, take a look also at our salary comparison page.

At the moment, you should also consider the impact on salaries of the economic crisis. According to press reports, Duke University (which is a private university) has re-nogatiated salaries by one third less compared to previous years.


Balancing research, teaching, administrative and fund-raising skills

Today universities expect candidates to perform well at different levels. Research skills are still crucial, but also teaching and administrative skills are becoming increasingly important. In fact, we can expect more and more teaching and lecturship positions being offered by markets. Since the 1990s the student/teacher ratio has been growing and universities are responding by hiring more lecturers (and using doctoral students, post-docs and teaching assistants for teaching purposes) at lower salaries. In Germany as such as in other places separate career tracks are being established for research and teaching. A new market is opening also for teaching on web universities, like the University of Phoenix which is doing extremely well. It is possibile that the current crisis may be used by university administrations to slash tenured positions and shift to temporary positions. This mechanism is favoured by the market, because there is by now a large pool of PhDs and researchers competing for entry positions, ready to accept also temporary and teaching-intense jobs in order to work. In this new context, age is starting to matter less: as far as one has teaching experience and some publications is ready for the job, even she/he in her/his late 30s.

However, be aware that lecturer positions may also pave the way to a more comprehensive and stable academic career upon positive evaluation of performance (usually, 3 years). In the US more and more young researchers are hired as visiting or adjunct professors, and spend 5-6 years in those positions but then get a tenured position. Also in the UK one gets a tenured position upon a positive evaluation after 3-4 years.

Overall, depeding on the position offered and the priorities of the university, you may need to stress different skills or even all of them. Especially if you are applying for a lectureship with a perspective of a permament appointment, job requirements may request you to prove not only your teaching experience but also adequate research skills, either through through publications or your 'research potential'. With respect to teaching, when offering a position an increasing number of universities (especially in the US) request candidates to submit a teaching portfolio including the candidate's approach to teaching and evaluations and critical comments of the candidate's with respect to her/his previous teaching experiences. With respect to research, you should be ready to show your 'potential' addressing, for example, the quality of your PhD as reported in reference letters by your supervisor and other examiners.

Other types of skills that you often need to stress are administrative and fund-raising skills. Basically, you may be requested to show your potential employer that you are good at organising things (such as conferences) and get money for projects and research grants. With respect to the latter, it is a good idea that you mention in your CV all the grants that you have received throughout your studies and research experiences, as this will show that you are capable of getting money from a variety of sources and therefore be less dependent on the university budget. This may also imply that you may be away for a while to do research in other universities, and eventually that your university will not have to pay you in that period.


Special Thanks to:

The Max Weber Fellows, 2008-2009

Page last updated on 17 August 2017

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