Many thanks for inviting me to contribute to the Philosophers' Cocoon. I love this blog and have been a long-time lurker and commenter. For my first blogpost here, I'd like to offer some reflections on whether the enormous amounts of job market advice for academics do any instrumental good. The material out there is vast. Major (academic) news sites such as the Chronicle and The Guardian have their own sections specifically devoted to advice for academic jobseekers. Academic job market consultants like Karen Kelsky from The Professor is in provide free advice as well as paid consulting services.
Let's stipulate for argument's sake that the advice is often sound. Is it good for our profession, or for the population of early career philosophers in general, that such advice is widely available?
However, there is a sense in which I think it is a good thing that this advice is now widely available on the Internet. Not all grad schools prepare their students on how to go on the market.
If one has bad luck and has an advisor or program that offers no advice whatever, or unhelpful advice along the lines of "Just be yourself" (in a job interview) that can mean the difference between landing a tenure track job early or ending up in an interminable string of temporary positions. So the wide availability of job seeker advice levels the playing field and neutralizes the effects of an unhelpful grad program. As a research facilitator/mentor at Oxford put it "It's almost impossible for a weak candidate to land a job or get a grant because of their great grant writing/cover letter skills, but I've frequently seen the reverse: a strong candidate, a great project, failing to get funding because it does not abide by the tacit standards to which such documents need to adhere".
Related to the previous point, canditates who write good cover materials and who interview competently are easier to assess by search committees. It is quite daunting to wade through hundreds of documents, which are laden with redundant verbiage one has to filter out (e.g., "I believe this position would be great for my career!") - and it makes the process somewhat stochastic.
But there is also a cost to career advice. The wide availability of career advice might make it easier to blame the victims of a bad situation. Compare this to the reactions to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean in, which offers career advice for professional women. The book is not as horrible as it's generally made out to be. Sandberg recognizes that there is systematic sexism in professional life and that women face issues such as greater care responsibilities. However, by emphasizing what women can do to improve their position in the workplace, the burden of failure is shifted to some extent onto the women who, for whatever reason, fail to lean in. Similarly, if we emphasize the importance of a top-ranked grad program as key to success, it seems easier to blame those who, for whatever reason, did not apply to or get in such a program. Or people who do not publish in the top journals. Or people who adjunct for a long period of time.
I saw this problem of potential victim-blaming after my series of interviews with postacademic, highly successful philosophers working in industry, self-employed and the public sector. While this series was meant to give a sense of what was possible for philosophers outside of academia, and to empower people stuck in less than desirable positions to try something new, I got several e-mails from people in precisely those situations (adjuncts, grad students who had doubts about academia) who were asking me whether it's possible for everyone to make the jump, or maybe just people who fit the profile of my respondents. Moreover, I got several quite agressive e-mails of people who said this wasn't for everyone and that I was wasting research time and money (I do this in my spare time, but well, you get the picture). At first I was puzzled by these e-mails, but I now think the writers felt targeted (perhaps by other readers of these blogposts): Hey, did you see that series on philosophers who make six-figure salaries in industry, then why are you still adjuncting? Why don't you try such a brilliant postacademic career? This was not my intention, but I see now how it is an unintended byproduct.
Second, job market advice is pragmatic: it tells people what to do to maximize their chances for a tenure track position, for instance. But in this way, it makes explicit implicit biases and norms, about what kinds of publications count (top journals, etc), what a good education looks like (a top program), etc. To offer just one example, here it is suggested that one should preferably have external reviewers for one's tenure file who are white males from elite institutions. The author acknowledges it's not fair, even sexist, racist and outrageous, but since it's YOUR tenure file that's on the line, better to play safe. I have no idea how much this making explicit of implicit norms and biases makes such biases worse. But to the extent they do, it is not good for the profession to have such biases be perpetuated.