Some suggestions to help prepare you for the job market:
By Kevin T. Hall
Whether you are in the beginning, middle, or nearing the end of your degree, the big question that looms over every student is: what do I do after graduation? It can be very intimidating, stressful, and even cause anxiety. The key goal, of course, is to not just graduate (though that is a great accomplishment), but also to find a job using your hard earned degree.
It is important to know that it can be a difficult process to find a job due to stiff competition, especially in the field of history (and in humanities in general). Graduates do not often have the luxury to choose what job they want. Rather, they must apply for hundreds of positions and hope for an interview. It is not unheard of that there are 1,000 applications for a single postdoctoral position. As you can imagine, receiving an interview can be quite the luxury. However, no matter how many rejection letters you receive, keep applying for positions, tweaking your applications, practice interviewing, and talking to your professors about their experiences and if they have any suggestions. It is also key to try to stay positive, motivated, and determined.
If your goal is for a position in academia, it is very important to gain teaching experience (by being a teaching assistant and an adjunct), publish with peer-reviewed journals (as well as trying to publish your dissertation), present at national conferences, join professional organizations in your respective fields, and continue to expand your professional network. Exhausting but worth it.
It is important early in your studies to set goals for your career ambitions and what steps will assist you down the road. For me, I decided during my undergraduate degree that I wanted to become a professor of German history—a goal I still have and am working towards. My first step was fluency in German, which led me to study abroad. This was an amazing experience and greatly impacted my personal and professional life. I highly recommend study abroad, as it forces you out of your comfort zone as well as experiencing new cultures and ways of thinking. All of which will positively impact your future, regardless of career ambitions. I was fortunate to be able to study abroad for a second time as part of CMU’s doctoral history program and allowed me to conduct a large amount of my dissertation research. Not found in many doctoral programs, this a unique opportunity.
The importance of getting to know your professors, for example by visiting them during their office hours, cannot be overstated. For me, this was key throughout my academic studies. Their support greatly assisted me in gaining further insight into specific topics, obtaining internships, gaining grants and scholarships, and expanding my professional network. Letters of recommendation are very important when applying for internships, grants, and eventually for jobs, and you should remember to ask for these well in advance (and make sure these remain current). The widely used “Interfolio” is very helpful for requesting electronic letters of recommendation as well as submitting documents for academic positions. It is also helpful to have a professor who knows your work well to look over your application documents, especially the cover letter. They have a watchful eye to make sure you’re on the right track.
Attending conferences, and presenting your research, alongside publishing can help significantly when you later apply for positions. This expands your professional network and also markets you and your work and capabilities as a researcher. Connections from conferences, workshops, and publications have the potential to result in a future jobs and interviews. Obviously, there are numerous factors that will come into play; however, it is an important first step. While seminar papers are not ready to submit to journals right away, make the effort and spend the extra time improving them based on your professors’ feedback. While writing book reviews is a great way for graduate students to begin publishing, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals will be much more helpful when applying for jobs.
Do not hesitate in applying for prestigious grants, internships, and eventually for highly desired jobs. You never know what could happen!
Kevin T. Hall is a recently graduated PhD from the Central Michigan University Department of History. He received his doctorate in 2018 under the supervision of Dr. Eric Johnson. He has now moved to Hawaii to work for the DPAA. His book: Terror Flyers: The Lynching of American Airmen in Nazi Germany is forthcoming with Indiana University Press.