Now that the first job advertisement of this year's North American academic job market is already posted (!), I figured it might be a good time to turn our Job Market Boot Camp to an issue that, in my experience--and if online messageboards are any indication--is among the most difficult aspects of the job market: handling its emotional ups and downs effectively.
I suspect that if you have been on the job market before, you probably know what I am talking about: soaring hopes, dashed hopes, good interviews, disastrous interviews...and a whole lot of worry and self-doubt. It can be really tough, particularly the longer you've been on the market or if you're in a really tenuous employment situation. Handling these emotional vicissitudes effectively is, in my experience, important not only for one's own peace of mind, and for the sake of one's loved ones: it is also important for one's performance as a candidate. For, make no bones about it, the job market is a gauntlet. You need to be your best--in interviews, on-campus visits, etc.--and chances are you will tend to perform better the less you are wracked with emotional upheaval.
The most obvious--and unfortunate--thing to say is that there is no proverbial "silver bullet" for maintaining a good emotional outlook on the market. I was on the market for several years, and each year was tough. Although, as I will explain below, I found a few things helped a lot, the simple fact is it was still hard. We are not robots. Our emotions are real, and sometimes, no matter what we do, they run away from us a bit. Further, given that we are all different--we all have our own emotional strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies--what works for one person (i.e. me) may not work for everyone. That being said, I found some things that really helped me maintain emotional equilibrium--and so I will simply share some of these tips, and then invite people to share and discuss their own tips and experiences.
Tip #1: Stay away from the job wiki.
If you're a human being (and I hope you are!;), chances are that your emotions respond to your environment. I know, I know. You want to check the wiki. You want to know which jobs have arranged first-round interviews, whether on-campus visits have been scheduled, and so on. But here, in my experience, is all visiting the wiki is good for: daily frustration. Every "sting" you experience on the wiki adds up over time. If you visit it, chances are you are in for daily disappointment--disappointment as you see those jobs you so desperately wanted go to other people: disappointment which becomes dispiriting. Yet the last thing you need while you're on the market are more reasons to be dispirited or angry. A couple of years ago, my wife made me promise to never visit the wiki again. Because she's my wife, I made the promise, and I kept it--and I can say in no uncertain terms that it was one of very best decisions I made. My last two years on the market, I made myself focus on things that are under my control--and my wife said it made an enormous difference. I was less worried, less frustrated, and more able to "roll with the punches." It's not easy to stay away from the wiki, but, in my experience, it's worth it.
Indeed, I want to suggest that, instead of going online to check on jobs and the like, you should focus 100% of your work-day attention on doing things that improve your chances as a candidate. First among them is being in a good frame of mind. Being in a good frame of mind will not only help you in interviews (as, in my experience, every ounce of worry or self-doubt shows through!). You also need to be in a good frame of mind to continue being a good teacher, researcher, and colleague while you're on the market, so that you can improve your file for next year. For trust you me: just because you have already sent your materials out, this is not the time to stand back and just wait. You need to keep writing papers, sending them to journals, improve your teaching, and so on. For you might just not receive any interviews, or any fly-outs, and even if you do get fly-outs, you might not get hired. Which means that, even though you are on the market right now, while your applications are out there you need to already be focusing on improving your file for next year. And to do that you need to remain an effective teacher, researcher, and colleague--which requires you to keep your spirits up, not be demoralized or distracted.
Tip #2: Be kind to yourself and your loved ones--have an escape
I've written on this site before about how I try to partition my life. I never work in the evenings (though I do blog sometimes), and I never work on weekends. I do this because I learned several years ago that while I can engage in several hours of concentrated work per weekday, I really need the evenings and weekends to recoup. If I try to work all the time, I'm less effective on the whole. I also got married and figured I owe it to my wife to be a husband, not just a philosopher.
Now, my wife tells me that not everyone is a "partitioner" like this--but, for all that, it is often said that we all "need an escape." I know I did. However brutal the job-market was, and however much effort I put into it during the day, I made a point to cook and take walks with my wife in the evening. Yes, sometimes things would turn to the job market--but for the most part we were just there for each other. And it was a God-send. It really helped just to have that little escape: that little evening walk. It was the highlight of my days, and rescued me, if only for a time, from the daily worries of the job market.
I recognize, of course, that not everyone has loved-ones close by. If you do, be good to them: and try not to focus on the job market all the time. The job market is hard on them too (probably harder than you know). Appreciate them, and the fact that there is more to this world that the job market. Realize that they are a real, live human being, and be sensitive to their wants and needs. It's what they deserve, and truth be told, you'll be better off too. For it will help you keep perspective: namely, that there are other important things in this world than the market. If you don't have loved-ones close by, I suggest you call them, or Skype with them--or do something for fun on the evenings or weekends. Be good to yourself, as hard as it might be. Trust me: find an escape, give yourself and your loved ones non-job-market related time and attention they deserve. It will be better for you, and you will be better to them.
Tip #3: Be prepared.
Shoot, this post has already gotten long-winded! Maybe I'll wrap it up, since I only have a few tips on this subject anyway:), and leave it to you to share and discuss tips. I'll try to finish up with a good one...
Now that I've said how important it is to be good to yourself and have an escape, I want to focus on what you do during your workday--during the time you have to prepare for things: prepare your dossier materials, prepare for interviews, and so on. My advice here is: prepare more. What do I mean? There's a saying in sports that you should "leave everything on the field", never giving effort that is any less than your best. There's a similar saying in baseball that, as a pitcher, if you're going to get beat, get beat on your best pitch. These sayings resonated with my last few years on the market--years where I fared better, both in terms of results and in terms of emotional maintenance. Some of us "over-prepare" for everything. Others of us do not. Indeed, many of us like to avoid things that make us uncomfortable. I, for one, despised practicing for interviews. They made me super-uncomfortable, and took a great deal of mental and emotional effort (every bad practice interview, after all, is a source of frustration). Yet, the past few years, when my wife asked me, "Do you want to practice tonight?", or practice questions on a walk or in the shower, I made myself say yes just about every time. And for one simple reason: I wanted to be able to say to myself, whatever happened in the interview or on-campus visit, that I truly gave it my best--that there wasn't "more I could have done" to better prepare myself. I did the same with my dossier materials. I wasn't sure whether it would be a good idea to use a job-market consultant--and I didn't really "have the money to spare for one"--but I did it anyway. And, I think, you might be surprised just how much this alone--being really, really well-prepared for things--helps. Did I have some bad interviews? You betcha. But, unlike in past years, where I could sit and blame myself for not preparing better (which is no good emotionally), this time around I could say to myself, "You know, I really prepared. It sucks it didn't go better. But I couldn't have realistically prepared better. That's just the way things shaked out." Being able to say this to myself didn't take all of the sting out of disastrous interviews, but I can tell you this: it did a heck of a lot to mitigate the sting, and additionally, made such interviews happen less often, both of which are emotionally beneficial.
I hope you all found this post helpful, look forward to hearing your thoughts and time, and, given that the job market seems to be starting early, I wish you all the best of fortune!