Conducting the International Job Search

Brian Taylor

May 18, 2011

With the faculty job market as tight as it is in the United States, more academics are looking for options beyond their own country. In many fields, especially the humanities, the reality is that you can increase your chances of landing a position if you are willing to consider a long-distance move.

And with the academic market in many fields winding down for the year in North America, now is a good time to point out that it is just warming up in other parts of the world.

You will find much variation in the hiring process, even within the English-speaking world. So as someone who has held academic positions on three continents, I offer some tips worth bearing in mind if you are applying beyond your own region.

Attend conferences outside your country. In the sciences, international collaboration is common, and research laboratories often have money to help students defray the costs of going to an overseas conference. In the ever-cash-strapped humanities, however, many American graduate students can barely scrape together the money to get to the annual convention of the Modern Language Association on their home turf, let alone a conference on a different continent.

But that is no reason to rule out a foreign trip. Many international conferences, particularly in Europe, offer some financial aid to graduate students or junior scholars.

Cultivate international contacts. Searching for jobs internationally can mean seeking out mentors—people who can write letters of recommendation—from different countries. Demonstrating that you have that kind of broad network of colleagues can help your international applications. And just as with domestic connections, your professional contacts overseas can also give you a heads-up on vacancies in their departments.

Know where to look for positions. Jobs in Britain, Hong Kong, and Singapore can appear at any time but are advertised predominantly from February to June. For Australia and South Africa (where the academic year is the calendar year), most job ads appear from June to November. So if you're planning to conduct a search that is truly unrestricted geographically, there is no off-season.

Make yourself familiar with the Web sites that advertise jobs, such as and In Australia and South Africa, academic jobs are often advertised on general employment Web sites, so check South Africa's Careerjet and Australia's Careerone.

Familiarize yourself with the job titles. In Britain and much of the Commonwealth, the closest equivalent to "assistant professor" is "lecturer." There is no tenure track, however, because positions are effectively tenured from day one. The British promotion track goes from lecturer to senior lecturer, reader, and finally professor.

Learn to use local terms in your cover letter. The doctoral dissertation, as it's known in North America, is called a thesis in Australia and Britain. Learn how the curriculum works in the universities where you are applying. There is no point talking about students "majoring" or "minoring" in your field if you are applying to a system where students take only one subject for their entire degree.

If you are American, don't use U.S.-centric terms like A.B.D. That lingo means nothing in education systems where everyone is "all but dissertation" from the first day of the Ph.D. program. Don't use numeric codes to describe the courses you've taught, and don't refer to your teaching experience in terms of "credit hours." Likewise, for those applying to jobs in North America from outside, be prepared to teach much more broadly than you may have in the past. Remember, you want members of the hiring department to feel that you will be a good fit, and that starts with speaking their language in your application.

Focus on the specific hiring criteria. Jobs ads in Britain or Australia often list the selection criteria. Be direct. Even if you have the requisite skills or experience, don't expect the human-resources department to go looking through your CV to find that out.

In many cases, human-resources departments screen the applications first, and only those meeting the criteria as advertised will be passed on to the department's search committee. In your cover letter, list how you fulfill all of the criteria.

Even little things count. On your CV, don't include personal details like your date of birth or marital status, unless you're applying to a country where that is customary. Look online for CV's of scholars in your field in the country you're considering. Their formatting should give you some clues about the standards.

When uploading documents, make sure your CV and cover letter are formatted for the right size of paper. You don't want your document cut off when it is printed out at the other end. Make sure the last line of your address is the country, and include the international dialing code with your phone number on your CV.

Do your homework. Hiring a long-distance candidate can be more of a challenge for a department, but those committed to hiring the best will always try to consider international applicants. That said, the idea of selling yourself as someone who will fit in well is doubly important when applying internationally. Educate yourself not just about the country, but also about the specific region in which the university is located. That may seem obvious, but I've encountered applicants who clearly had no clue about how higher education operated in the places they claimed to want to work.

Reading higher-educations publications from your target country is a good way of knowing what the current issues are for universities. Some good ones are Britain's Times Higher Education and Australia's Campus Review. As you read, take note of things like assessment schemes (such as the Research Excellence Framework, in Britain), and be able to talk about how you can contribute.

A globalized job search will be a lot more work than one restricted to your home country. But it can be very rewarding to experience academic life abroad. Depending on your field, access to research materials and colleagues from other theoretical backgrounds can enhance your research. Your experience can be turned into a useful asset in career-building, too. Teaching experience overseas can make you marketable to departments looking to build study-abroad programs or raise their enrollments of international students.

Having seen how universities work in different countries, I have gained a broader understanding of higher education, curricular approaches, and the purpose of the various forms of humanities degrees. As anyone who has presented a conference paper in different venues will tell you, audience responses and academic cultures can vary a great deal. A European colleague explained one difference to me: Americans learn by asking questions, while students in his country stay quiet until they are confident enough in their knowledge to make a statement, at which point they can be brutally blunt.

Such differences are cultural, existing not just at the student level. Having presented your work before a range of audiences is crucial before giving a job talk in a foreign country, so that you won't be taken by surprise.

Academics in many fields have more opportunities to move abroad than people in other professions do. Unlike medical practitioners or lawyers, we don't need to be recertified to work in different places. Your skills are as portable as you want to make them.

Katrina Gulliver is a Ph.D. in history and a research fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians University, in Munich. She has held faculty and administrative positions in Europe, Singapore, and Australia.