Job Search Best Practices

Transition to Professional Life

There is no single criterion that ensures success in a job search.  A bulleted list of best practices follows below, but let’s start with general advice. 

A hiring institution is not only introducing or shoring up a research area in the department – it is also hiring a new colleague.  If you are fortunate to be invited for an in-person interview, the hiring department is already impressed with your research.  The reason for the interview is to get a sense of what it would be like to have you around as a colleague, teacher, program advocate, and mentor for undergraduate and graduate students.  Departments are almost always seeking fresh approaches and possibly new research initiatives with every new hire, but they also need someone who can smoothly (and contentedly) operate within established programs and curricula, at least at first.  They are looking for a colleague who can make a persuasive case for new ideas, who inspires sympathy and collaboration, and who possesses the energy and organizational skills to lead new initiatives. 

These are qualities you can cultivate from Day One in the Duke Music Ph.D. program.  Indeed, this is something we often address in our recommendation letters.  To be sure, we overwhelmingly emphasize your talents as a scholar or artist, but if we can also speak about your presence in the graduate program – how constructive, organized, collegial, and consistent (this is hugely important!) you were during your studies – it is not only a pleasure to describe in a letter, but it can also strengthen your case. 

This doesn’t mean that you never faced (or even succumbed to) challenges, either personal or academic, but your capacity to establish or regain a positive trajectory is an admirable attribute that will serve you well in professional life.

  • Throughout your academic career at Duke, you will have many opportunities to explore Professional Development Programs offered by the Graduate School, the Provost's Office and other units on campus. Information about these programs is continually updated and available at
  • 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 provides listings on-line. The Composition and Theory Jobs Wiki (no updates since the pandemic, but likely to start up again) is one of many listings composers will want to be aware of. Similar online forums exist for musicology and ethnomusicology.
  • The Academic’s Handbook (published by Duke University Press, 4th edition, 2020) offers valuable 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.
  • There are attractive positions outside academia. Libraries, publishers, broadcasting stations, journals, music presenters, and others may offer opportunities for Ph.D.'s.
  • We encourage you to present your research in formal lectures at conferences or through publication, not only in the dissertation area, but in other fields as well. Consult your adviser 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 beforehand for practice and feedback. One opportunity to give a paper on-campus is to schedule a presentation at the Faculty-Student Colloquia Series in the Music Department.
  • It is part of a faculty member’s job to advocate for you through letters of recommendation, but please give the faculty adequate notice in advance of the deadline for letters.  Two weeks is an absolute minimum.  Three is better.
  • Services such as Interfolio can help you maintain recommendation letters for job applications.  In recent years, hiring institutions have been soliciting letters from your referees directly, thus faculty members are now in the habit of maintaining a recommendation letter for you.  Nonetheless, they still need to time tweak the letter for each application.  Please give them adequate advance notice.
  • Speaking of tweaks, make sure your referees understand the nature of the position you are seeking.  The letter may need to emphasize one aspect of your work over another (e.g., teaching, research, performance, or administration). 
  • Keep your referees up to date on your professional activities so they can incorporate these into their letters.  If you are using Interfolio, ask your referees to update their letters periodically (no more than once each year).
  • Your cover letter and CV constitute the hiring institution’s first encounter with you.  Share drafts of your letter and CV with your adviser and possibly your Doctoral Committee.  Your cover letter should show that you are familiar with the hiring institution’s programs and faculty.  Note that you are not permitted to use Duke letterhead on your cover letter or CV.
  • If you are asked to send writing samples, scores, or recordings, consult your adviser about selections.
  • Be ready with proposals and syllabi for courses you would like to teach, a teaching and mentoring statement, and a statement about your research interests.  The hiring institution will almost certainly ask for such documents if you make the short list.
  • If you make a short list for a faculty search, make sure we know about it.  Often one of us will know a colleague at the hiring institution.  It is routine for us to send a personal email or make a phone call to put in a good word for you. 
  • If you are invited for a campus interview, let us know! We can set up a mock interview or job talk here at Duke.  Faculty and current students will be there to offer advice and encouragement.   
  • Consult your adviser about appropriate questions you should ask at the interview.  Make sure you are familiar with research interests of the current faculty.
  • After an interview, send a thank you note to the search committee chair and department chair.  Afterwards, wait to hear back from them. It doesn’t help to inquire about the position if the date they said you'd likely hear from them passes, unless you have a good reason to do so (e.g., a job offer from another institution).
  • If you are offered the position, thank them and express enthusiasm on the phone, but don't commit to anything. Say you'll get back to them soon.  They will likely give you a deadline for a response.
  • Talk to your adviser about the negotiation process (salary, research funds, publication subvention, teaching load, tenure clock, leaves, etc.).  You may not have much leverage, but you can at least be well-informed.
  • Check the "Professionalization pages" on Jonathan Sterne's website for one perspective on procedures to follow, as well as other useful advice.
  • Discuss the job market, your job seeking plans and your envisioned schedule with your adviser soon after your prelims. Keep your adviser posted every six months or so.
  • 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. Graduate students are not permitted to use Duke University Department of Music letterhead.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If jobs are posted in departments that someone in our department may know through past experience or through professional relationships, ask them for their perspective on the position. It may help you tweak your cover letter. They may be willing to call or email colleagues in the hiring department.
  • Try your class out on your peers or in an undergraduate class if appropriate. Ask your adviser to observe.