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I am a postdoc in (applied) math. I have completed one year and have two years left on my contract. I want to stay in academia, so I'm trying to decide whether to apply for tenure track jobs this year. There is one department I am particularly interested in, and it is my understanding that they will be hiring both cycles (although who can be sure?). It seems there are two possibilities:

  1. Apply this year (and next year if rejected)
  2. Apply next year

Obviously my CV will be longer next year, but presumably applications are also judged with some regards to where you are in your career.

What are situations in which applying next year is preferable to applying this year? And does the choice depend much on whether or not the department would reconsider an unsuccessful application the next year (i.e. if I have to apply in just one cycle)?


I know there are a number of questions/answers about when to apply for tenure track jobs, with the overall goal being to land a job somewhere. However, the answers don't seem particularly relevant to the situation of trying to get one a specific job.

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  • Oof. One particular job would be tough. (I'm thinking about math, in the U.S.) Aug 30, 2023 at 1:24
  • I am in the exactly same situation as you now, and my Ph.D advisor suggested me to give it a try this year. Wish both of us good luck !
    – Fei Cao
    Nov 24, 2023 at 1:07

3 Answers 3

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You should apply both this year and next year. So many reasons:

  1. The university might decide on not opening the second faculty line. This might happen up to the day before the expected announcement.
  2. You have some control over your CV, but no control over the CVs of your competition. Dr. Superstar might not apply on the 1st year but then apply on the 2nd year.
  3. Luck. Your stars might align on the first year, e.g. they want someone like you, a candidate better than you misses the deadline, your specialty is high on their list this year, but not next year if they hire someone in the area this year (from @John Custer, comments), etc.
  4. You need all of the practice you can get. If you get to the interview stage, even if you don't get the job you'll get valuable experience. There's nothing like a real interview to help you self-assess.
  5. A job now is worth 2 jobs "maybe later."
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    6. Your specialty is high on their list this year, and won't be next year if they hire someone in it this year.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 29, 2023 at 14:04
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    Nobody knows what goes on the mind of the search committee. I just think that the other factors have much more weight.
    – Cheery
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:13
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    I'd add that, while your CV might be "richer" next year, so will be the expectations. They will understand you are a recent candidate and will look for "potential".
    – Buffy
    Aug 29, 2023 at 16:19
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    @overfull hbox The uncertainty/randomness/noise inherent in the hiring process is orders of magnitude larger than whatever negative effect (IF there is any such negative effect...) you might incur in the second year (IF there is a second year...) due to an unsuccessful application in the first year. I'd say getting two opportunities to roll the dice is better than restricting yourself to only one opportunity because you were concerned about a particular scenario where maybe possibly your first dice roll might perhaps negatively influence your potential second roll. Aug 29, 2023 at 16:30
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    @overfullhbox I'm not in math, and obviously each university is different, but I know in my dept, each hiring committee is different. I've never been on one, so I have no idea if they compare this year's applicants to last year's, but there's a non-zero chance next year's committee even realizes you applied last year if you don't make it onto a short list. Aug 30, 2023 at 1:37
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Since you seem concerned about whether applying the first year will affect the second, I thought I would write an answer addressing that directly: I really don't think you should worry about this. I mean, I can't completely rule it out, but I think any danger is far outweighed by the advantages. Certainly, you wouldn't be rejected the second time purely based on the first time; no one would be keeping track, and as people have noted, there's no guarantee that the committee is the same people (usually there will be some overlap, but not exactly the same composition). It is at least as likely that you'd make a negative impression by not applying since it could be taken as a sign you're not interested in the job.

I think a general theme around the job market is that applicants worry too much about getting rejected over technicalities (since this definitely can happen at some other stages of life). That's not how hiring committees think. They want to hire the best person for the job (in their own opinion of course, which is a big caveat), and if they think that you are that person, they aren't going to worry about technicalities.

So, if you want to be hired for a given job, apply for it. Don't make it any more complicated than that.

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  • Fully agreed, still, I am reminded of an applicant who went out of his way to make a bad impression (he himself clearly believing he was sparkling and charming us all) and lo and behold, he applied the year after, resulting in a collective groan.
    – Deipatrous
    Aug 30, 2023 at 15:28
  • @Deipatrous I mean, if you make a terrible impression in person, no amount of strategy about timing is going to help; unless he had gotten a personality transplant in the meantime, waiting a year wouldn’t have helped. Aug 31, 2023 at 16:04
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Choosing a person that fits a position is always a combination of two things: the applicant and the position open. The selection comitee is not only "ranking" the applicants, it is also judging how good they will fit in the required position.

Although you are almost the same now and in one year from now, the position may be more adapt to you now than in one year.

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