Academic Jobs in the United States:
Where they are and how to land one

The average job hunter in the United States has a daunting task ahead. The unemployment rate has eased slightly over the past few months, but still stood at 9.1% as of July this year. And while the US is home to seven of the top 10 universities in the world, that fact is cold comfort to the growing number of academics considering the prospect of finding careers outside academia after years of dedicated study. All that said, there are still bright spots to be found in the US academic jobs market. To find out more about the options that are available, we surveyed job openings and hiring managers from across the country.

Are US universities hiring academic staff at the moment?

The first question is, how many academic jobs are currently available in the US at the moment? “The state of hiring at US universities is very individualistic,” explains the University of Michigan’s Rick Fitzgerald. “What is happening at one is not happening at all.” This particular university is a case in point, as while hiring might be slow across much of the country, Michigan is currently in the process of hiring 100 junior faculty members for interdisciplinary teaching and research. Fitzgerald adds that the University is hiring another 50 faculty members in order to help keep student-faculty ratio at acceptable levels. Of course, job prospects are dependent on student demand for university courses, which means hiring in some academic areas is stronger than in others. One such example comes from The American Sociological Association, which tracked a 32% increase in assistant and open rank faculty positions advertised last year over 2009 totals, while the number of advertising departments also increased by 31%. More recently, the quarterly Higher Education Employment Report from found that in the second quarter of 2011, the number of jobs in academia was 2.9% higher than a year ago, which translates to an increase of around 48,800 jobs. The number of job postings to this jobs board was also up, growing 25.2% over Q2 2010. That said, the report also notes that this increase in postings has been for part-time rather than full-time positions, and that the percentage of job postings for faculty positions was down slightly, from 29.9% in Q2 2010 to 28.3% in Q2 2011.

What are US universities looking for in employees?

So what do academic job seekers need to do to get ahead in this admittedly competitive market? To begin with, applicants will need to satisfy the minimumcriteria for a university position, and there is some variation even at this basic level. At the University of Phoenix, for example, the minimum criteria for staff are a Master’s or Doctoral degree from a regionally accredited US institution – or international equivalent – in the subject you’d like to teach, along with work experience related to that subject. This combination of qualifications and experience is common across most US universities, however there are a small number of faculty positions available that do not require a Master’s degree. A recent job listing from the University of New Mexico lists a Bachelor’s degree and three years’ teaching experience as its minimum qualifications, and Utah Valley University is also looking for this same combination of qualifications and experience for one of its current openings.

What are US academic salaries like?

US academic salaries vary widely depending on the institution and the particular level at which each faculty member is employed. At the University of Michigan, for example, minimum pay is governed by a collective bargaining agreement with the Lecturers’ Employee Organisation (LEO) union. This sets minimum full-time salary rates for 2011 at between US$26,000 and $35,000 per year, depending on the lecturer’s level and the campus where they teach. By comparison, The University of California Santa Barbara has a slightly higher salary range for its lecturers, starting at around $49,000 for a continuing lecturer and $67,000 for a senior lecturer. According to a recent study published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, average annual pay for faculty at Doctoral institutions in the US ranges from $74,242 to $126,107, however that range changes according to the academic level of the institution, dropping to between $49,449 and $71,370 for faculty teaching at two-year institutions without academic ranks.

Tips for Applications

In the challenging US jobs market, the biggest question for academic job seekers is: What will make my application stand out against all the others sent to a university’s HR department? Here are a few essentials to keep in mind:
  • Research the university you’re applying at, and tweak your resume and other application documents to fit its particular criteria. Sending out the same set of documents to every university means your application is more likely to be ignored.
  • Have someone check through your application for errors and to ensure you’ve included all the documents the university requires.
  • Even if you tick all the boxes in terms of qualifications, remember that the universities you’re applying at are looking for teaching skills as well as knowledge, so make sure your application makes the most of any teaching experience you might have.