A highly opinionated and merely anecdotally supported timeline to the philosophy job market

This isn’t what I did, and it’s not what any particular person told me to do.  Rather, it’s what, on reflection, I wish someone had told me to do.  If you’re at a really fancy place (Leiter top-5 worldwide or so), the following does’t apply to you, for reasons I don’t really have the time to go into at the moment (UPDATE: a number of people have told me that, given recent changes in the market, the above caveat may no longer apply.  Talk to your mentors.).  If you’re somewhere in the 15-50 range, however, it might help.

Additionally, this advice seems to work best for people who want a job at a research-oriented department.  Despite the huge amount of experience I have teaching and tutoring (something like 10,000 as of spring 2014), I’ve never had even the slightest luck applying for jobs at SLACs (small liberal arts colleges).  If someone from such a school would be so kind as to explain how to modify this advice to apply to their department (and others like it), I’d be most grateful.  Just put the advice in a comment, or email it to me.



Let’s suppose you want to land a position that starts in the fall of year N.  Here’s a brief overview of what you should aim to have accomplished by what dates.



  • Register with the American Philosophical Association (APA)
  • Sign up for the philosophy list-serves: philupdates and PHILOS-L
  • Create an account at www.philpapers.org



  • Do some teaching.  Be sure to get observed and to get a positive evaluation.  You will need to get a letter of recommendation from someone who knows you as a teacher eventually.  Be sure as well to get positive student evaluations.  The easiest way to do this is to be beautiful and friendly and an easy grader.  If that’s not something you can or want to do, you can still get good evaluations, but you’ll have to try harder.
  • Try sending revised versions of your best seminar papers and any other research you engage in to conferences and journals.  Get your feet wet.
  • Build (or get someone to help you build) a professional website.  Put your best papers on it.



  • Acquire two or three Areas of Specialization (AOS).  These are areas of philosophy where you plan to do cutting-edge research in the coming years, at least one of which will be the area in which you write your dissertation.  AOSs are very far from being natural kinds.  They are partitioned by branch of philosophy (e.g., ethics, epistemology, metaphysics), by time period (e.g., 19th-century philosophy), by major author (e.g., Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein), and by geography (e.g., 20th-century French philosophy).  As you consider which AOSs to acquire, you may want to look at the last couple years’ worth of jobs at www.philjobs.org, so that you are sure to specialize in a field where there are jobs.  Right now, ethics seems to be pretty hot.  Philosophy of religion is on the outs. But things change, so do your homework.  In addition, it may be worth having one AOS in a narrower field, even though there may be fewer jobs.  It’s all about supply and demand: narrower fields tend to have few openings, but there will also be fewer qualified applicants.  In addition, if your AOS is listed as an AOC (Area of Competence) in a job ad, you’ll have an advantage when applying for that job.  (UPDATE:  a nice map of interrelations among AOSes is available here.)
  • Get some experience teaching.  If possible, teach a few different courses rather than just a bunch of intro philosophy or intro ethics.  This experience will help you support claims of AOCs later on.
  • Try to become the category editor for a relevant category at www.philpapers.org.
  • Establish a rapport with someone you think would be a good dissertation advisor.  Explore the possibility of working together with him or her.
  • Establish a rapport with others whom you think would be good committee members.  Some of these people should be at your home department, but it’s good to have relationships with people outside the department as well (either in different departments at the same school or at departs at other schools).


Spring N-2:

  • Defend your dissertation prospectus.  Have a drink.  Have another.  Get to work.
  • While writing your dissertation, there will come a time when you say to yourself, “Damn it, I don’t want to read another book.  Why do people keep writing books about my topic?”  Pause for a moment to consider the irony of this complaint.  Then ask yourself whether the book in question is such that you would be able to write a positive review of it.  If it is, start getting in touch with reviews editors (not general editors) of relevant journals to ask whether they’d be interested in your submitting a review.  Some won’t, but at least one will.  They’ll probably even send you a free hardcover copy of the book.  And of course you can put the review on your CV.  Write a positive – if not glowing – review, then send it to the author saying something along the lines of, “Dear Professor X, Hi!  I’m Y.  I’m an admirer of your work and am writing a review of your book for Z.  A draft of the review is attached.  Would you mind taking a look at it and telling me whether you think I’ve missed anything?  Thanks!”  The author will be flattered that someone other than their mom read the book.  This is great, because it will allow you to show the author some of the work relevant to your dissertation, and a few months later you will ask the author to be an external member of your dissertation committee or at least to write you a letter of recommendation.  (UPDATE: a number of people have suggested removing this advice.  Ask your mentors whether they think it makes sense for you.)
  • Send (suitably revised) chapters of your dissertation to journals.  They will almost certainly be rejected the first time, but you’ll (usually) get feedback that is (occasionally) informed and (even) helpful for revision.
  • Send (suitably revised) chapters of your dissertation to conferences.  Be sure to talk to as many people as you can.  You never know when a connection will turn out to be helpful later on.
  • Send other work not from your dissertation (such as revisions of your seminar papers or history paper) to journals and conferences too!  If you are trying to establish an AOS, the easiest way is to have at least one publication in the area.
  • Start preparing your job talk by presenting it at internal colloquia and conferences.


Summer N-1:

  • Finish a draft of your dissertation and prepare to defend it.
  • Ask your advisors for letters of recommendation, providing them both your full CV and a “brag sheet” that lists in bullet form the items from the CV you think that particular letter writer may want to mention in the letter.  Don’t make demands, but do make suggestions.  You should aim to have at least three letters, as well as one letter devoted to your teaching.  More would be good, as long as they’re (very) positive.  Bear in mind that negative letters do get written. Whatever you do, don’t get one of those.  Your Placement Director should look at all of your letters and advise as to which to send and which not to send, as well as the order in which they should be included in your dossier.


August N-1:

  • Craft your job documents by the end of the month.  You don’t want to be working on these while applying – that’s stressful enough on its own!  You’ll need a surprisingly large collection, listed below:
    • Cover Letter Template.  A cover letter should be short and sweet – at most one page unless you have strong indications that a long letter is required.  Put it on electronic letterhead, and be sure to include inside addresses and a scan of your signature.
    • Curriculum Vitae (CV).  A CV lists all of your many accomplishments as succinctly as possible.
    • Biographical Sketch.  This is a one-paragraph description of you and your research, written in the third person.
    • Dissertation Abstract, short.  You will want a one-paragraph abstract of your dissertation, which will typically be included in your CV.
    • Dissertation Abstract, long.  You will also need a longer abstract of your dissertation, approximately two double-spaced pages.
    • Statement of Research.  A research statement of your most prominent research so far, as well as laying out your plans for future projects. At most two pages single-spaced.
    • Statement of Pedagogy / Statement of Teaching Philosophy.  A pedagogy statement describes your strengths and experiences as an instructor.  At most two pages single-spaced.
    • Statement of Faith.  If you plan to apply to religious institutions, you will want a statement of faith.  Not all religious institutions require such a statement, but many do.  One or two pages single-spaced.
    • Teaching Portfolio.  A teaching portfolio is not the same thing as a teaching statement.  The portfolio lays out as succinctly as possible which courses you have already taught, includes your student and faculty evaluations, and describes any curriculum development efforts in which you’ve been involved.
    • Sample Syllabi.  A sample syllabus is not a syllabus.  It’s basically a one-paragraph course description followed by a reading list of at most two pages, sequenced into about 13 weeks with thematic headings.  You will want sample syllabi for every course in the union of your AOSs and AOCs, and perhaps for more.  Some schools will want syllabi included in the initial application; others may ask for syllabi prior to the first-round interview; still others will want (even if they don’t say so!) syllabi during the first-round interview.
    • Transcripts.  Get scans of both undergraduate and graduate transcripts, which you may be required to submit with your applications.
    • List of References.  This is a comprehensive list of all your letter-writers, including mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers.
    • Writing Samples.  Yes, samples.  You should aim to have two or three AOSs, so you will want at least one writing sample for each (between 15 and 25 pages, double spaced).  Most schools require at least one writing sample with the initial application.  Some (the more prestigious ones) want several.  In a recent year, the University of Chicago allowed (read: required) applicants to submit as many as six.  Your writing samples can be publications, money chapters from your dissertation, or even other research that you think is of the highest quality.  Revise them.  Revise them again.  Edit the revisions.  Proofread the edits.  You want your writing sample to be so tight you could bounce a quarter off its ass.
    • Research Proposals.  If you plan to apply for post-doctoral fellowships, you will need a research proposal.  It might be good to have a couple.  The most common thematic fellowships for philosophers are in bioethics, but most fellowships are interdisciplinary.  That means your research proposal should be intelligible to a non-specialist audience.  About 2 pages double-spaced.
    • Amass a small fortune.  You should expect to spend between $400 and $2000 on applications, depending on how many you send and how many you need to send via express or priority mail.  You should also expect to spend several hundred on getting to and finding a hotel at the APA.


September-December N-1:

  • Apply for every appropriate job you can find.  Even if the AOS doesn’t quite match your profile, it’s worth submitting an application.  After all, you don’t know whether all members of the search committee are committed to the AOS.  Think of each application as a lottery ticket: the more you buy, the better your chances.
  • Defend your dissertation, but don’t deposit it until the spring semester.
  • Participate in at least one mock interview.  Before the interview, practice your “spiel.”  A lot.  As in: obsessively.  The spiel should explain what the problem is that your dissertation addresses, then segue quickly into a discussion of how your dissertation addresses it.  It’ll be the first thing you say after “Hello” during your interviews.  It may well be the most important thing you say in your whole career.


October N-1:


December N-1:

  • Attend the APA Eastern Division conference for interviews.  You should be contacted for interviews by departments in early December, though late November and late (even very late) December are genuine possibilities.  In addition, quite a few schools now conduct their first-round interviews over the phone, via Skype, or simply by asking for more documents (especially writing samples).  Don’t worry if that happens; in fact, it’s probably better than interviewing.
  • It’s appropriate to ask who will be conducting your interviews (usually a committee of three people).  Once you know who they are, create departmental profile in which you note what you might say to each member of the department, and especially what you might say to the members of the search committee.  Include images of the relevant people, so that when you meet them for the first time, you already know who they are.  This will allow you to address them by name more easily.
  • Try not to despair.  Get out of your house as often as you can.  Talk to people.  Talk about not-philosophy.  Drink, but not too much.  Sleep plenty.  Go easy on yourself, if you can manage it.
  • Print out copies of all of your job documents, especially your CV and sample syllabi.  You’ll want to have these readily available at the APA.
  • Go to the APA.  Be sure to arrive a bit early, since weather is often awful and delays may occur.  Don’t bother going to talks unless someone from a relevant school is giving the talk.  Take it easy.  Be sure to stop into the placement office and drop your CV in the bin.  A few schools actually set up interviews on-site.  Who knows, you might land an unexpected interview!  (Yes, this does actually happen, though rarely.  I had one such interview in December 2010.)


January N:

  • Send brief thank-you notes to everyone who interviewed you.  Unless asked to say something substantive, don’t. Sample thank-you note: “Dear [first name] (if I may), Thank you for the opportunity to interview for the position in [AOS] at [School].  I enjoyed our conversation.  Should you have any questions or concerns about my application, please do not hesitate to contact me.  All the best, [me]”
  • Try not to be too antsy while waiting to see whether you’ll be invited for a job talk.  Keep in mind that typically 12-15 candidates receive first-round interviews, and only 3-4 get job talks.  Assuming even odds, you therefore have 20-25% odds of getting a talk at each institution.  That said, a number of schools have ceased doing job talks at all and simply go directly from first-round interviews to job offers.
  • Make sure your job talk is totally prepared.  It should be something you can deliver in about 45 minutes.  (At UK schools, more like 25 minutes.)  Don’t read from a script if you can help it.  Do a mock job talk.  Figure out what questions you’re most likely to get during the Q&A and what to say in response to them.


January-March N:

  • Do your job talks and other campus visits.  Blow them out of the water.  Pray, if you believe in that sort of thing.  Sacrifice animals or virgins or virgin animals, if you believe in that sort of thing.
  • Write short thank-you notes to everyone you met on your campus visits.  Again, don’t go into too much detail unless you have an indication that it wouldn’t be viewed in a negative light.


Spring-Summer N:

  • If necessary, continue applying to positions as they are advertised.  Most will be fixed-term – either post-docs or visiting assistant professorships – but they’ll tide you over until you can find more suitable, permanent employment.
  • Deposit your dissertation.

(UPDATE: thanks to all those who’ve made helpful suggestions, including Hilde Lindeman, Lynne Tirrell, David Chalmers, Ramona Ilea, Errol Lord, and Jack Woods.)

5 thoughts on “A highly opinionated and merely anecdotally supported timeline to the philosophy job market

  1. You know, now that I *have* a job, I just realized I never took the time to thank you for this resource. I am not even a little bit exaggerating when I say that most schools (and my doctoral-granting university was way, way (!) better than average on this score) could do much worse than to just print this and hand it to all incoming graduate students the moment you start, say, your second year.

  2. This is silly. There’s no magic formula to getting an academic job. The author is trying to convince us to take his advice based on all sorts of things he DIDN’T do. As a philosopher I would have thought he would have been a bit smarter about the problematics of counterfactuals.

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