Job marketing while poor
You’re almost done with your PhD and now looking forward to being on the other side where the grass is not only greener but hopefully your bank account is a little fuller. If you’re like me then you’ve already read a lot of job market blogs, books, articles everything and you’re feeling a little anxious. Or a LOT anxious. The first time I went on the market my face fell. Literally! My skin was literally peeling off from anxiety and stress and the thought of being jobless and poor as an international graduate student. My goal in writing this is not to add to your anxiety but to hopefully share something I haven’t seen written about that might be of use to someone who is going on the market while poor. A lot of graduate students are poor but our poverty is not equal and those without a financial cushion and or primary bread winners will have to plan for the process a little differently.
My hope is that we will all get jobs and therefore I write with that happy ending in mind although it may not always be true. The job market is an unbelievably expensive process. As you prepare your job market materials, resume, cover letter, sample articles, research and teaching statements you will also need to prepare your bank account. From conversations with over 20 domestic and international friends who’ve been on the market in the last five years the most consistent advice is that you should plan to save between $2,000 and $5,000. Depending on your unique situation you may need more or less. Please do not let these numbers depress you. There are some strategies to save and cut costs.
You can think of your expected expenses as fitting into three categories, immediate, short-term, and long-term.
Immediate expenses are the costs you incur before you enter the market or just as you’re entering the market. These expenses tend to be small, inevitable and they can add up really quickly.
- Transcripts $100 or more
Almost every job that you will apply to will require you to send your official graduate school transcript and in rare cases your undergraduate transcript as well. I applied to over 30 jobs and sent official transcripts to about half of them. My graduate school budget tells me that I spent over $100 in transcript requests. YIKES! These small expenditures add up quickly.
My graduate school, Georgia State University, allowed for five free transcripts. Check if this is the case at your school. In my case by the time I went on the market I had used up my free transcripts with fellowship and other grant applications.
The average cost for an official transcript is $10, during my research for this article I only heard of one extreme case where an applicant had to pay $15 per transcript. Some schools will charge you less if you request an e-transcript. Be sure to double check that the job you’re applying for will accept an e-transcript before you order one. If you use one of the popular application sites like interfolio you might have the option to save a copy of your transcript and send it to multiple schools. Once you get an offer your job might still require the official transcript sent to them directly from your graduate school for their records.
Another way to save money is by requesting bulk transcripts. This is sometimes an option but not very often. However, it is worth checking with your graduate school. Graduate school unions or student council will in some cases offer funding for transcript requests but again this very rare and you will need to check with your Union/council.
- Application fees for job sites (inter folio, discipline job forums) about $100
The first year you go on the market you might not have to pay for access to any of the job sites databases. Most job databases charge about $100 (usually more). In most cases your graduate school will have a membership that you can take advantage of. The situation is often tricky for people who are doing their post-doc or those who’ve taken up a temporary position that does not give them access to institutional subscriptions. If you’re in this situation it does not hurt to ask your department chair or mentor for support.
- Job market materials preparation
If you’re an English or communications major you may get away with spending $0. However, if you’re not and if you are an international graduate student (including those from English speaking countries) you will most certainly need to invest some money or at least a lot of time to get your materials in top shape. If you’ve read any job market advice columns like the Professorsin you know that most people lose jobs not because they are not smart (you’re smart) but because their materials, especially the cover letter sucks. The academic job market materials are very specific and take a lot of time prepare.
- Books between $20-$50
Most people I interviewed reported that they bought at least one job market book. I did not, I was fortunate enough to borrow from friends from diverse institutions. I found the Stanford job makers guide to be the most helpful for crafting a good cover letter. I also read a lot of “How to” blogs. In hindsight, I might have benefited more from buying a good book and saved myself hours of Internet searches for free materials.
The advantage of purchasing a book is that you can use it for a long time or resell if you choose to and recover a portion of your money. A physical book is probably a better tool because you can mark it up etc.
- Workshops/consulting ($10-$50)
Most schools will offer free workshops focused on material preparations but this is not always the case. You might also find free or low cost ($10) webinars from popular websites like the Professorsin, or NFCD, etc. This is not a frivolous expense and you should most certainly budget for it either in monetary terms or time.
- Editing ($50-$100)
Every applicant’s and search committee nightmare is the cover letter with the WRONG school name. Typos and bad grammar are equally scary. I have found that when I am under a lot of stress I think, write and talk in multiple languages within the same sentence. If you’re like me then you might want to invest in editing services. You’re smart, this is not the issue, stress is the issue. When we are stressed we make a lot mistakes and sometimes we need help. The skills to sell oneself does not come naturally to most people and therefore you might benefit from an extra set of eyes. It is a lot easier for someone other than you to articulate all of your achievements. Although I have lived in the United States and done all my higher education here I still find it very hard to write about my achievements because I come from a culture that does not encourage self-promotion. I have found it very beneficial to have friends or a paid editor assist me in rephrasing my accomplishments for job applications.
One way to cut out this expense is to visit your career center on campus which likely offers the service for free or send materials to your writing group if you have one. Most of us go on the job market the same time as our friends and as a result the writing group option might not be a good idea. If you’re away from campus you may also have a difficult time accessing the career center
- Postage ($20)
The good news is that most applications can be sent electronically. The not so good news is that this is not always the case. Read the job calls carefully to ascertain if you need to make a trip to the post office. More good news is that most graduate programs will post the materials on your behalf. Double check with your departments administrative assistant of this is the case a semester or two before you are due to go on the job market. If this is the case you will need to prepare your materials ahead of schedule because it is often the case that there is just one administrative assistant and multiple students going on the market. If you send in your materials late you may eventually have to send them by yourself using the post. Depending on how far in advance you prepare your materials you could probably get away with using the cheaper regular post option. The downside is that cheaper options don’t often come with tracking numbers. I have not personally experienced lost mail or spoken to anyone who did but most people preferred paying a little extra for their peace of mind.
The good news is that your hard work has paid off and you have job interviews. If you plan ahead for the expenses you will have fun (maybe) with this part of the application process. Interviews tend to occur in three stages, conference, phone/skype and campus interviews. Of course depending on your field, you may only have one or two rounds. My research suggests that it is often better to over prepare than to be surprised by unexpected and out of budget expenses
- Clothing ($100-$200)
Most graduate students spend the five years of their graduate program wearing jeans and t-shirts. Unless if you’re teaching then you may not have invested in a couple of nice suits. Most people I spoke to reported that until they entered the job market stage of their program they had not really invested in proper professional outfits. Your attire is important because first impressions matter and you want to present yourself as a colleague and not a graduate student. Departments are not looking to hire graduate students. As a black African woman with natural hair (in some cases braids) I am a lot more conscious about my appearance than other people. Getting my hair done for interviews was an additional expense that I had not adequately budgeted for. Getting your hair braided can cost anywhere between $150-$300 depending on your location. The benefit of getting braids is that they can last you through the interview season.
Having gone to graduate school in the South I did not own very warm winter coats and had to buy two when I went on the market and was invited to campus interviews up North. Thrift stores are good money saving options but I quickly learned that thrift stores in Atlanta did not often carry warm enough coats for Midwest or East coast winters. You do not want to be too cold or too warm during an interview.
It is also important to invest in a nice comfortable pair of professional walking shoes. There tends to be a lot of walking during campus interviews. During one interview, I spent about 6 hours on my feet.
If you’re expecting a baby or plan to be pregnant when you go on the market also keep a healthy clothing budget. A friend shared with me a horror story of going on an interview and realizing that overnight she had outgrown her clothes (yikes). Her advice for expecting women on the market is to buy an extra outfit that is slightly bigger than your current size, just in case.
During graduate school, it might be a good or great financial decision to forgo your phone plan. Once you enter the job market phase you will need to reconsider this decision. A phone plan can be expensive but there is really no way around having a working phone if you want to hear back from future employers. It has been my experience (albeit limited) that good news tends to come via a phone call and bad news is almost always via email. You also want to have good internet access in case your application is missing some key materials or the search committee requires additional information. The worst-case scenario would be for you to lose a job because you did not respond to a small request on time.
The job application process is a full-time endeavor. Good internet access will allow you to search and apply for jobs more frequently and expediently.
- Conferences ($800)
Depending on your field the first round of interviews will likely take place at a conference. You will need to budget for airfare, hotel & meals. The best-case scenario is to plan to present a paper at the conference and use your allocated conference travel funds for the trip. At Georgia State, every student received a small allowance for conference travel. If you are paying out of pocket purchase your airfare/bus ticket and make your lodging bookings in advance. Planning ahead will always save you money and reduce stress. If you book in advance you might even be able to use accumulated miles to purchase your airfare by taking advantage of lower rates.
- Campus visits ($1,000-$3,000)
Smile. Breath. You’ve made this far. Campus interviews are a big deal. You should be happy and advance planning will reduce additional stress. From my small research pool the average applicant had three campus interviews. There is a lot of diversity in the total number of interviews ranging from one invitation to six for people who went on the market between 2014 and 2017 in various fields.
- Airfare & local transport
It is becoming more common that schools will ask you to purchase your airfare ticket then reimburse you. Interviews with colleagues who went on the market more than five years ago inform that this is a fairly new practice. Among those who went on the market in the last two years they paid out of pocket for at least half of their campus interviews. There was no pattern suggesting a difference between liberal arts, state or Ivy League schools in asking interviewees to purchase their own flights. The first time I went on the market two out of three schools that invited me paid for my airfare and local transportation from the airport to their school. One school asked me to pay for all my travel and reimbursed me for everything including my taxi fare from my home to the airport (about $600).
The second time I went the market a year later the situation had changed. I had five campus interviews and only one school paid for my expenses in advance. Thankfully I had a good paying post-doc at Gettysburg College so I was able to budget for my travels but the process was certainly financially straining. At the time, I was living in a small town with no public transport, the airport was two hours away and local shuttles charged $180 (cash) round trip to the airport. I spent $720 just on local transportation. In my case asking friends for a two-hour ride to the airport and back was not really an option.
My interviews were spread all over the United States and thus the cost of airfare ranged from a low of $400 to a high of $800. In total, I spent about $2,400 on airfare. I also spent an average of $50 on meals during each trip for an estimated total of $200.
There is no way out of paying for travel if you want to interview but I have been thinking of strategies to make the process a lot less burdensome.
- If you have an airline credit card that gives you miles use that to purchase your ticket. I would not advise using your miles as you may not get reimbursed for those.
- Do not purchase your tickets too far in advance unless you’re certain that you will be going for the interview. If you buy your ticket too far in advance using a credit card you may end up paying interest on the purchase. Some schools also take a long time to reimburse. The longest I waited for a reimbursement check was two months but one interviewee reported that they had to wait four months for their check. Credit card interest is no fun. If you purchase the ticket too far in advance and end up not going for the interview some schools will not reimburse you and in most cases, neither will the airline.
- You’ve got an offer
Breath. Smile the hard part is over (for now). Once you get the offer you can relax but there still financial considerations to make. The good news is that most of your expenses will be reimbursed as part of your job offer. You may need to negotiate some expenses such as relocation and rental deposits. I have not heard of cases in wherein they give you a check in advance of your move although this is possible.
- Housing hunting
Looking for a new home is expensive and tiresome. As a graduate student, you were probably not as picky about the type of dwelling you lived in as long as it was cheap. As a professional you might have different considerations that possibly complicate the process. You should budget for traveling to your new location. On average individuals spent $800.
- Housing deposit and other fees
Most landlords who rent to students may not require deposits. Laws differ from state to state. The most expensive states require first & last month rent, security deposit and a broker’s fee. You might be able to negotiate one of the fees but keep these costs in mind as you plan your move. If you rent an apartment for $1,200 a month budget for $2,200-$4,800 before your move in date.
As a graduate student, you probably do not own a lot of furniture. This will potentially reduce the overall cost of your move. The majority of people interviewed spent between $1,500 and $3,500 in relocation fees
- Starting your job
Some schools will give you a salary starting in July. This is wonderful. Others might not give you a salary until September. Take note of these dates and plan accordingly. You so not want to go to class hungry on your first wonderful job.