My Finance Job Market Advice

Peter Iliev
Pennsylvania State University – Department of Finance

June 9, 2016


Finance job market advice based on my subjective job market experiences and my years as an assistant professor. Targets job candidates that attend the AFA/FMA conference and aim for a research-focused position in R1 U.S. universities.

My Finance Job Market Advice – Introduction

In the long run, success correlates with quality. Unfortunately, in the short run, selling yourself is like selling tomatoes: it is important to look perfect from all angles, even if the tomatoes taste like cardboard and go bad in a day. Hence, many of my comments will revolve around selling yourself well.

General Advice

  • The job market process is long, stressful and extremely tiring. You need the right attitude to survive it. Just remember that in between the anguish and rejections you will have many positive experiences. You will meet with many smart people that will be truly interested in you and your research. You will learn more about the profession than at any other point in time. And your future colleagues will learn that you exist. So, stay positive. It’s painful but it’s necessary.
  • The schools are looking for the complete “package”. Great letters of recommendation, creative and solid job market paper, pipeline with early pubs and R&Rs, great communication skills, ability to teach (usually evidenced at interviews/seminar), great network of co-authors (usually proxied by Ph.D. school), and the list goes on… You are unlikely to have the complete package. However, you can work on a balanced profile, and you can anticipate weaknesses and prepare on how to “neutralize” them. For example, I had an Econ Ph.D. from Brown. However, I took a bunch of finance classes at Harvard, and had a good answer on my finance credentials with occasional (probably tacky) name-droppings. Remember that if you do not sell yourself well, nobody will.
  • There will be times when you’ll believe your research is garbage and you should just quit your scam. You need to snap out of it and keep moving. There is no such thing as perfect research.
  • Interviews and seminars are scary but you will get used to them. A supportive spouse or friend can provide perspective.
  • Lower ranked schools and institutions also have very smart people. Do not underestimate them and do not act superior. A common reason why applicants fail is arrogance. You have no idea where you’ll match well and where you will be happy.
  • Do not underestimate the competitive nature of the market. There are many good students and advisers usually in ate their letters. It is safe to assume that you will place similar to the previous cohorts in your school, usually one or two tiers behind your school (unless you are in a top 5 school).
  • Do not underestimate the noise in the matching process. Good luck/bad luck explains a big part of the outcome. Hence, it is your job to minimize the noise and signal your quality. Your placement will be crucial for your long term success and often you cannot compensate for it later. Once you are on the job, people will not adjust your record for the amount of teaching, lack of good seminars and productive colleagues, lack of data-sets.
  • Having said this, the job conference is not the make-it-or-break-it event in your life. You will have other opportunities for a job. You might not have the luxury to be in a hot field.
  • Geographic constraints are costly. You are most likely looking at 1-2 offers. It is very likely that these are not in your preferred city/region. If you pre-screen aggressively, you are very likely to get zero offers. Remember that your #1 goal is to get offers, you will decide what to do later.

During the Ph.D.

  • Find an adviser (advisers) that truly supports you and that you can trust. Make sure they have placed people well before. Then trust your adviser. He/she has seen this process many times. Keep your adviser updated, especially if things are not working out the way you expected.
  • Remember that the adviser can help tremendously in getting you interviews, but has little to no impact thereafter. A supportive and well-regarded advisor is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good placement.
  • Keep a log of your ideas and revisit them periodically to see if you still like them. Once you “like” an idea, research it furiously for a week doing literature reviews, data runs, quick estimations. First, write an ideal abstract and see if it makes sense. Then, write a one-two pages and talk to your advisors/committee members to see what is their reaction. Usually, you have to repeat this many times before you settle on a good idea.
  • Do not waste time in your third year. Operate as if you are going on the market in four years.
  • “First and sloppy is better than second and great.” Or in other words, “Novel question/approach/data is better than improving on old research.” You also need to show that you are technical/up-to-speed with the latest methodology, but this is usually handled better after settling on a good idea.
My Finance Job Market Advice
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Finance Job Market Advice

Finance Job Market Advice See full PDF below.