This third post on philosophers who were on the job market for a long time has an anonymous contribution. For more background on the aims of this series, and how to tell your story, see here.
I got my Ph.D in 2003, from a decent place, with a new wife who was working part-time at a bakery and my first baby under a year old. I did full job searches in '03 and '04 which eventually yielded one-year positions in wildly different parts of the US from where I'd ever lived before. I was hired on my 134th and 112th applications these cycles. I applied all over the US, and a few non-US jobs. I applied to anything I was vaguely plausible for. I went to the APA and found it immensely stressful. My whole life plan was literally on the line. I remember thinking that the defense had been far less stressful than my APA interviews. I had several interviews each year but managed to bobble them and got hired at places that hadn't interviewed at the APA.
In '05 I did another national job search and went to the APA, and wound up getting a tenure track job based on my 99th application that cycle, from an APA interview that I didn't mess up, and it was in a state I'd lived in before. None of the 3 times I was hired were for my specialties. The town we moved to had a bad reputation among academics and had problems retaining academics. But we were tired of moving our family across the country every year or so, and living in crappy apartments. For the first time ever, our family income was above the national median, whereas before we'd just edged over the poverty line some years and not others. We put down roots in the community. We bought a house. We became involved with a congregation and with local organization in ways we never had during one-years.
But the dean that hired me retired, and the new one wanted to eliminate our department and had never wanted my position created in the first place. I struggled with publication. I spent too much time teaching which I liked and was good at, and not enough on publication and committee work. The politics was brutal. I didn't play it right either. Oh and by this time I was clinically depressed too, although I'm not sure I realized it yet.
I didn't pass my 3 year review, and my contract wasn't renewed. The state eventually ruled that I was downsized rather than fired, because there was never any attempt to refill the position, but I was devastated. It was ugly, and every one had a different take on what went wrong and how much was my fault or not. In retrospect my grad school had done a great job of teaching me philosophy and preparing me to teach and to write quality papers. But they had worked hard to hide academic politics from the grad students and I wasn't really prepared for it, nor did I know much about how to go about trying to get a finished paper published, or how to shine in job interviews (this last they actually started explicitly teaching grad students the year after I finished my diss).
I applied for 6 or 7 jobs in 08 as soon as I learned I'd failed my 3 year review, but since I was 5 years out at this point my Ph.D department no longer helped with my applications, and my old letters of rec were out of date. My colleagues at my one years had little to say about me good or bad, and my one ally at my tenure track job left the same year I did, so my new letters of rec were weak. I did a fuller national application in 09, maybe 40 jobs, but frankly my confidence was broken, my letters of rec weak, and instead of a promising scholar, I already looked like a failed one. No nibbles. Oh, and the housing market had collapsed and we were told it would be a decade at least before we could sell our house for what we owed on it. And indeed, our most recent tax assessment on it, isn't back up to our balance yet. I'd started retraining to get high school teaching certification shortly after learning I'd failed my review, and was taking classes in ed at a nearby college while I was teaching my lame duck year before my contract expired. I did my field experience and student teaching. I fought with my University about unemployment benefits and won. That year when my wife and I were both unemployed with 2 kids and no prospects we exhausted all our savings and hope. But in early 2010 my wife landed a full-time dream job, in the non-profit sector (as I was finishing my high school student teaching and before that year's high school hiring cycle). It was nearby and perfect for her, if a bit underwhelming in compensation. So I switched over to being the housewife and gave up on my career.
I applied to an academic job or two in 2011, 2014, and 2015, at community colleges and other colleges near our home. Part-time things. There weren't many in a 40 mile radius, and the few positions that came open were pretty much longshots. It was more, hey you guys need a philosophy or religion adjunct this year? Nope? The one you've always had is still doing fine? OK, keep me in mind if you ever do, here let me keep my application current. Rather than the kind of applications I'd done for full-time jobs when I did big national searches. I've applied to a handful of non-academic jobs too, especially this year, but well … my Ph.D. is a pretty big deterrent, as is my newly apparent minority status. I was unemployed in 2009-2010, but then I basically dropped far enough out not to even be seeking employment anymore, and I think now in 2015 I'm back to seeking and failing, and therefore unemployed, rather than not-even-seeking and therefore not even getting as far as being unemployed. I don't expect to ever have an academic job again, but I guess I still half-heartedly try occasionally, and I still write philosophy occasionally. Lack of good access to an academic library makes that tricky though.
I'm not really sure what the moral of my story is for early career philosophers. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't? Getting the tenure track job isn't the end of the story? Writing a great paper is only half the battle? Be sure to be lucky in academic politics? Practice your job interviews and research the details of each school you interview for well beforehand? Don't be seduced by suddenly no longer living below the poverty line? I don't know. I guess all I can say is that's my story and good luck.