Networking – offline – to land that job

By Eric Collins

Ke Wang, PhD student and Research Assistant in the Department of Accountancy, has recently taken up a position as Assistant Professor in the University of Alberta. Here he talks about his own experience in securing his first academic post, the value of a staged approach, and networking in the digital age.

Ke Wang, PhD student and Research Assistant in the Department of Accountancy

A year of painstaking preparation, conferences, job fairs, interviews, and networking that's what it took.Then finally success! Ke Wang received a job offer for a tenure track position. This summer he joined the Department of Accounting, Operations, and Information Systems at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Why did Ke choose distant Alberta for his first academic post? "I would say we chose one another. From my side, Alberta is a leading business school, and it is a great place to work. From their side, after I travelled over for the initial conference, they were encouraging towards me. That made all the difference."

And his first impressions of Alberta?
"I was there in January. It was freezing and there was snow all over the ground. It made me feel nostalgic for Beijing," says Ke. "It was beautiful, but then just about anywhere in Canada is beautiful."

The path to academic placement will always be an individual one, but drawing on his own experience, Ke has some advice for PhDs looking for their first academic post.

Networking - start early

"Early exposure to your target market is vital," he says.

"Consider going to conferences one year before you intend to apply for a job. And when you get there, use the opportunity for networking. Put yourself around. Potential employers won't know how good your communication skills are. Let them know that you can speak English!"

At the conference there are at least three types of interaction.

"First, when you present your paper a discussant will be assigned to give comments. There will also be a Q&A session for broader interaction. That relatively formal communication can lead into the next opportunity which is mingling during tea or coffee breaks. Use that to build connections and this can lead into the final, more extended opportunity, drinks or dinner outside the conference hotel."

"Informal settings - that's often where the real business gets done."

"Some people don't see the value of this kind of socializing, and would rather go back to their hotel rooms, but the informal venue is often where the real business gets done," says Ke.

At his first conference in Alberta, Ke got two important bits of information: Firstly, that universities in Canada had vacancies for assistant professorships in accounting and secondly – more importantly – the impression that he would have a chance of a post if he applied.

"That gave me the impetus to go to the next stage."

Ke submitted a package to the Miami Rookie Camp, a job fair set up specifically for candidates and recruiters in the accountancy field. At this point he was still casting his net wide. In a blockbuster couple of days he did 14 preliminary interviews with universities from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Singapore.

"It was a lot of fun meeting so many people, both potential employers and my contemporaries. These are afterall the people who are going to be my colleagues in future academic life," says Ke.

The Job Market Paper

The Rookie Camp set Ke up with the opportunity to build on his connection with the University of Alberta. It was here that he was invited to make a campus visit, get to meet people and present a job market paper.

Ke suggests two strategies on topic selection:
"You can deal with a fundamental question in your field, and then address some outstanding issues. Or you can choose an eye-catching topic."

Ke chose the latter path. The title of his paper was: The debt market relevance of disclosure tone: Evidence from the pricing of credit default swaps.

"For the field of accountancy there are two things that are relatively new here. First I am dealing with text rather than numbers. Second, it is about debt rather than equity markets. So hopefully taken together that adds up to an eye-catching topic."

Ke would like to thank Professor Jeong-bon Kim, former Head of the Department of Accountancy, and co-advisor Dr Liandong Zhang, Associate Professor of the Department of Accountancy for their unstinting support and the positive research culture they have created. Ke found he was given lots of room to conduct independent research – and that he was encouraged to generate research topics that he found interesting.

As for the relevance of his experience, Ke concludes with the caveat:

"No one can repeat somebody else's PhD life. That's one thing that will never make a replication study!"

Still, he hopes that his approach will be of wider use, and wishes his colleagues every success in pursuing the career of their dreams.