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I'm not yet on the tenure track, but would like to be. Over my 8 years of contract work at the faculty level, I've racked up a lot of accomplishments (research, teaching, collaborations, mentorship) and heard many kind words about what people think of my research and/or teaching and/or contributions to the community. I'm grateful to be in a close-knit, supportive field, and only hope that I give back sufficiently.

I've had a moderate amount of success in securing interviews for tenure-track positions over the last 7 years, but have not received any offers. The writers of my letters of recommendation are utterly baffled by this, and their main piece of advice year after year has been "don't worry, you'll get something!" I'm grateful for their support, but the market is tight and I understand that no one is obligated to offer me work. Still, I've begun wondering if I might be missing part of how to get there from here.

Recently a person in my circle with an academic-adjacent job suggested that I lean hard into the networking and start asking people for "informational interviews." I've heard this term on work blogs, but this is the first time I'd ever considered applying it to my own career.

All I have to go on are my own intuitions, but it sounds a bit aggressive and/or disingenuous to me. Academics have little to no time, and this would be a request for a favor and something not essential. If a distant colleague emailed me asking for an "informational interview," I'd suspect them of angling for something. I'm uneasy, because my field is not very big and I don't want to gain a reputation as the desperate one trying to sweet-talk everyone, basically. At the same time, I'm perched precariously on the edge (the clock is going to run out on my contract work, which is not indefinite), and I want to stay.

For this reason, I decided to log into a long-dormant Academia StackExchange account and request a sample of opinions. Possible secret weapon, or new leading cause of eyerolling in my colleagues?

Thanks!

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    if not the dept, can you at least mention broadly in which area you would like to be tenured? And the country, or at least the geographical area, of course
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:17
  • I guess that what yo udescribe as "informational interview" can be not very well received in Europe, but quite ok in Singapore/China (local language must be spoken, though)
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:19
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    What is the feedback you've gotten from your past 7 years of applying to positions? Do you get just a phone/video interview? Do you get invited to in-person interviews? Do you just get the "the position was filled, please try again in the future" form letter? Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:29
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    I'm struggling to understand just what an 'informational interview' actually might be. How do you understand it?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 16:30
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    @JonCuster It's a networking term from outside academia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informational_interview Other people might just call it a "conversation".
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 17:11

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Indeed I've only ever heard the term used by people who want to explore options outside of academia and who have no idea where or how to start. In academia, I think you're better of just e-mailing someone with the factual questions you have and then ask them to make some time for you and meet over coffee.

My suggestion would be to identify someone you trust and whose opinion you value. I'd go for someone a bit more junior (i.e. someone who just got tenure who is now on the tenure track) and NOT the prior generation (presumably also your letter writers?), because no matter how well their intentions, they got their jobs in a different time and a different reality.

Make sure you have an accurate overview of the current hiring landscape and your chances (you will probably be competing with 'fresh' postdocs getting onto the market and this is something you simply cannot change) - then at least you honestly know what you're up against.

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