Job Search Best Practices

Transition to Professional Life

To offer a reliable “recipe” for a successful job search is not possible. Still, students are advised of the following:

  • Be sure that the Duke University Career Center has a complete file on you with an up-to-date CV, and up-to-date recommendation letters.
  • In the summer before you begin to look actively for a position, we recommend that you become a member of the College Music Society, and that you consult online jobs postings published by professional societies (e.g., AMS, SMT, SEM) within your academic field. The CMS publishes job listings monthly and also provides listings on-line. 
  • The Academic’s Handbook (published by Duke University Press) offers invaluable tips for the job hunt and a career in academia. 
  • Sometimes inquiries by employers reach the Graduate Office and we are asked to inform employers about our students.  Students should place a CV on file in the Graduate Office. 
  • Students should request letters of recommendation by professors at least two weeks before they are needed.
  • Vacancy notices are posted outside Room 105. You might also consider subscribing to the College Music Society's Music Vacancy List for a comprehensive listing of available positions.
  • There are attractive positions outside academia. Libraries, publishers, broadcasting stations, newspapers, and many other employers offer opportunities for Ph.D.'s.
  • Some academic institutions to which you will apply place a far greater emphasis on teaching than on research. Your application materials and some of the recommendation letters should answer questions about your teaching ability.
  • Especially critical documents in finding a job are the application letter and the resume. You are urged to show drafts of both to several of your professors. The letter should show that you are familiar with the particular institution and its faculty. To be able to adjust to the institution becomes even more important when you are on the short list and invited to an interview. Once an invitation to interview has been extended, the DGS will be pleased to help you organize a mock interview at Duke, with faculty and students present.  Many departments do this to help their students prepare for academic interviews.
  • We encourage our students to present their research in the form of formal lectures at conferences and publications, not only in the dissertation area, but in other fields as well. Consult your PhD advisor for guidance as to where and when to present your work professionally. If you plan to give a paper off-campus, give a trial version at Duke two weeks ahead, for practice and feedback.
  • Check the "Professionalization pages" on Jonathan Sterne's website for one take on procedures to follow, as well as other useful professional advice.
  • Discuss the job market, your job seeking plans and your envisioned schedule with your adviser soon after your prelims. Check back with her or him 6 months later on this.
  • Inform your committee members of your job application plans and schedule well in advance of asking them for letters. Keep them all informed when you make short and shorter lists, and so forth.
  • While attending AMS conferences, music festivals and the like, meet as many Duke alumni from our doctoral program as possible. They will be a good source of information about potential job listings.
  • Use the services offered by the Career Center, which include CV and letter writing advice, and a mock interview.
  • The Center's staff can help you enormously, though they are not specialists in your field. After seeking their advice, ask your adviser in a timely fashion for field-specific feedback on your letter, teaching statement and CV.
  • Ask others (e.g. another member of your committee) to look at a draft of your letter, teaching statement and CV.
  • Make sure your committee members have your CV and know the state of your dissertation. Share teaching evaluations with them or ask one or two of them to come and see you teaching.  Give them a copy of your job application letter.
  • Discuss the choice of your writing sample or portfolio selection with your adviser.
  • Get recommendation letters set up with Interfolio in good time. Check with your writers whether they would be willing to tweak their letters when postings arise that call for something different from the bulk of those for which you are applying.  Also check whether they would be willing to write personal letters (rather than using Interfolio) in those instances in which they have a special connection to a particular department.
  • If jobs are posted in departments that someone in our department may know through past experience or through professional relationships, ask them for their take on the position. It may help you tweak your own letter.
  • Do a mock talk for your peers and adviser. Ask specific faculty members to come as well. Schedule the event with enough time to make changes before the real thing.
  • Do a mock interview. Ask your adviser and one other committee member to do this with you, or otherwise brainstorm with them what questions you should anticipate.
  • Also do a mock interview at the Career Center.
  • Try your class out on your peers or in an undergraduate class if appropriate. Ask your adviser to come.
  • Talk with your adviser about the kinds of questions to ask during your interviewing visit.
  • Look up the faculty on the web so you are not meeting them cold. Read the department's website, also checking grad students' interests if they are listed on the web. Look at the sites of Centers and Programs related to your interests.  Check out the college/university's concert series.
  • After an interview, wait to hear back from them. Don't bug them if the date they said you'd likely hear from them passes, unless you have a really good reason to do so.
  • If they call to offer you the job, thank them and express enthusiasm on the phone but don't commit to anything. Say you'll get back to them soon.
  • Talk to your adviser about the negotiation process—about what to ask for and how to do so.