Philosophers, have you considered trying to get a job in a business school? In the following guest post*, Kenneth Silver, who earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Southern California and is now assistant professor in business ethics at the Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin, explains why you might want to, and how to do it.
Why and How to Get a Job in a Business School:
A Guide for Philosophers
by Kenneth Silver
If you’re a PhD student in Philosophy today, then you know how competitive the academic job market is for jobs in Philosophy departments. Let me pitch to you why you should consider trying to get a job in a business school, then lay out some steps to do this that I wish I had known.
A significant reason to try to get a job in a business school is that, with some maneuvering, it’s a goal that you might stand a decent (or at least a better) chance of achieving. Consider my experience. With a dissertation in the metaphysics of action from one of the top programs, and with eventually about five or six publications, I received almost no interviews over three years on the philosophy job market. In contrast, within business schools and management departments, I came close to getting two very nice postdocs, had three skype interviews for one three-year and two permanent positions, and had a separate flyout and subsequent job offer.
This is anecdotal, but I’ll note two points: First, you might look better for philosophy jobs than I did. I had only managed to get into good philosophy journals, not the best ones. And, in hindsight, my work was not as significant as the work of some of my peers. So, if you are publishing impactful work at the highest level as a graduate student, then pat yourself on the back, stop reading, and get back to it!
The second point to make is that you might also not look as bad for a job in a business school as you may think. Five years into my doctorate, I can promise you that I did not look like someone who could get a job in a business school. Ultimately, it was one publication in the right journal, several response articles, and going to a few conferences that got my foot in the door with my business school. The bar is not low for getting this kind of job, but it may not be quite where you think it is. Consider: few academic fields are as competitive as philosophy.
So, a job in a business school may be achievable. Moreover, the costs of such a job are low or manageable, and the benefits are high. Let’s consider these in turn.
First, moving into a business school represents few academic/philosophical sacrifices. You don’t lose access to the journals. You can still go to philosophy conferences and get paid to do it. You can still publish in philosophy journals. No one is going to stop you from regularly attending the APA or publishing a paper on the semantics of ‘ought.’ These contributions may even count towards your advancement.
Instead, I think the largest costs (or challenges) are psychological. You risk facing dual imposter syndromes: feeling like an imposter in your new department, as you are set to teach MBA students and are surrounded by social scientists, and feeling like an imposter in engaging with philosophers, wondering if they realize you’re in a business school or take you seriously as an interlocutor. But you can overcome this. (Heck, if you get a tenure-track job, you have the time to.)
It can be a little bit awkward being in a business school as a philosopher. It may be true that you never properly worked in a business. But then, many academics in business schools haven’t either. Your colleagues will work in extremely different methodologies, and their impression of philosophy may skew continental. If you’ve been trained in the analytic tradition, however, then they will come to appreciate how you think, and that you work on legitimate issues deserving attention. (Honestly, my challenge was in the other direction. The past few years exposed to fields outside of philosophy has made me incredibly proud of our field, its intrinsic interestingness, and its methodological strength. Frankly, it’s hard not to be snob.)
It can also take some work to figure out the right way to teach business students. You’ll have to do a little more pitching to show how the subject is genuinely necessary for them. In my experience, this is worth it. Some students end up loving it. And it’s an opportunity to show off what our field can offer, how it must be engaged with to address the questions that any inquisitive person has. Moreover, depending on your institution, these students might turn out to be pretty darn important to the community and economy.
About feeling like an imposter in philosophy: Most understand the reality of the job market. And just a few publications in generalist journals will help you feel like you should still be taken seriously. You will still have all your friends to see at conferences, and you will make new ones. You are sure to be welcomed by the Philosophy department at your university. After all, you’re just another philosopher (and one they don’t have to pay for). Meanwhile, you will be praised for being interdisciplinary!
The deeper challenge is about your self-perception. If you just don’t see yourself as a ‘business-y’ person, and all you want to do is hole up in an abstract corner of philosophy, well, I wouldn’t blame you. You’d hardly be in a grad program for philosophy otherwise! With the job market as it is, though, you may end up having to become a very business-y person regardless. But that’s not a bad thing. Working in a business school is an opportunity to transcend your own expectations for your work and yourself. It is convenient for me to think this, but I have come to see it as bad faith not to see yourself as capable of stepping outside of philosophy with at least one foot.
And it will only take one foot. Though pitching yourself for a business school may require a reorientation of some of your work, and maybe the development of an extra targeted project or two, it takes less than you might think. After all, ‘business ethics’ has a broad definition. Yes, it’d be good to know some ethics before trying to get a job to teach business ethics, and that is the job. But you don’t have to consider yourself an ethicist first to make the case for it.
In contrast to suffering professionally, you will be rewarded. The pay is higher. (Well, it is in the US. The pay is the same in most of Europe.) You may be able to do some work in executive education, or even in consulting with industry, and you can get paid for that too. You will immediately be taken more seriously in some areas of public debate. Really, the sky’s the limit concerning your reach outside of academia, yet from the comfort of working within it.
So, having made a case for going this route, let me outline how to do it.
Step one is to do what you should already be doing anyway: Think about your Plan B outside of academia. This can help you land a job in a business school, both in terms of making you look better on paper as well as giving you the vocabulary for how to talk to people in business schools.
In my case, I tried and failed several summers to get internships in top consulting firms (McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc.). These firms often have onboarding summer programs targeted at non-business graduate students. I landed part-time or summer gigs with a smaller consulting firm and a commercial real estate firm. Listening to podcasts got me interested in finance, and I eventually took/passed the first exam in the CFA sequence. I also took a class on corporate governance.
None of this was enough to get a specific job, but it might have been enough for a solid alt-ac starting job. Meanwhile, it taught me a lot about business, got me excited by some of the problems there, and gave me a competency in talking about it (and some extra cash). Doing all of this did eat up time that I could have used to write one or two more philosophy papers. To be realistic, though, those papers were not going to make the difference in securing a job in a philosophy department – knowing my work at the time, they still wouldn’t have been interesting enough.
A second step is to familiarize yourself with business schools. Leverage the b school or management department at your university to take classes (or just audit) or set up a meeting with faculty members. It’s awkward, but not abnormal, and networking is not as awkward in a business school. Socialize yourself to the environment and see what it’s all about. Notice that it’s in a snazzy building, and the people have good social skills. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to convince people to let you teach a class in the business school to get some experience for your CV.
More concretely, the real work you’ll want to do towards securing a job in a business school is to consider the conferences, journals, and jobs to be on the look-out for.
The primary organization for business ethics is the Society for Business Ethics, which has an annual conference in the summer. As a matter of fact, submissions are already open for this year and due in mid-February. If you have a paper loosely connected to business ethics, or if a paper could be slightly re-written with a business-y spin, then why not go for it? Acceptance is far from guaranteed, but I promise you that it is way higher than your typical APA conference (and you won’t need an embarrassing number of different lengths of abstracts). That said, if you won’t have a paper, you’re in grad school, and if you’re still on the fence about this idea of business ethics, this conference has a truly marvelous onboarding program just for you – the Emerging Scholars program.
This program puts together a cohort of people still in grad school (or just at the end of it I think), and there’s loads of benefits. There are free meals. There’s a mentorship program where they pair you with a senior expert in the field. There’s a reception where you’re announced and introduced to everyone at the conference. There’s a special lunch with previous emerging scholars (myself included). It’s great. It only takes an abstract submission. And, even if you don’t get chosen for it, you’ll still likely get invited to give your paper as a poster at the conference. (It’s a small enough conference where this is still a serious networking opportunity.)
Apart from SBE (the Society for Business Ethics annual conference), there’s a few other organizations and their conferences to think about. The umbrella organization for business schools/management departments is the Academy of Management (AOM), and it also has an annual conference. (SBE is always planned in the same time and in the same city, so it’s possible to go to both, and many do.) In contrast to SBE, it is massive, typically taking up about four hotels in their entirety, and it is split into many different divisions based on subject area. The one that will likely matter for you is Social Issues in Management (SIM).
This conference is overwhelming, but it could also be worthwhile. The individual paper sessions can be quite small, and most people there and reviewing won’t be of the philosophical methodology, but your paper will get reviews. It’s a great window into how people in management circles will see your work and the kinds of concerns and literature that they’ll think about. SIM also has its own reception, and people are very friendly about making new contacts and offering advice. Apart from these benefits, even becoming a member of AOM and getting onto the program will signal something to business schools – that you’re in the right circles.
There are other more management-focused conferences that would also provide this kind of signal and have networking benefits. One is the annual conference for the European Academy of Management (EURAM). And another is the annual conference hosted by the Chartered Association for Business Schools (CABS). These organizations not only have large annual conferences, but they host a myriad of smaller conferences/development workshops. (These would be helpful if you’re developing a conceptual project for a more general management journal even outside of the business ethics journals. More on this below.) These organizations also have resources for students on the job market. The conferences have special sessions for PhD students, though you can also just get on the regular program. And, just as philosophy job interviews used to take place at the Eastern APA, some job interviews for business schools still occur at AOM.
Apart from these management conferences, there are a few conferences that are especially targeted at or helpful for philosophers. One prime example is the Zicklin workshop at Wharton. This is run out of their Legal Studies & Business Ethics department, one of the only departments focused largely on business ethics, and it’s a series of full paper workshops that occur throughout the year. Look for the call before the school year annually. Another annual workshop focused on normative business ethics is Business Ethics in the 6ix, which is run out of the Ted Rodgers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. A third strong typically annual event to have on your radar is the Workshop on Teaching Professional Ethics run by the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME) in the McDonagh School of Business. Each of these conferences are extremely good opportunities to meet business ethicists, and they are hosted by institutions or groups that are particularly active in or known to the business ethics community.
There are other conferences worth considering more within philosophy that could look good and help you develop projects for business ethics. There is an annual meeting run out of Oxford on philosophy and management, the annual meeting for the International Social Ontology Society (ISOS), the annual PPE Society meeting, and others I’m sure.
To get a job in a business school, it would help to target journals that business schools care about. In Philosophy, we have our own journal ranking (fraught as it may be), and the social sciences are even more all-in on rankings. (As a note, impact factor matters a lot more to other fields that we are used to thinking about it, and management journals often cite more than we would be used to.) As far as I know, the most important journal ranking is the Chartered Association of Business Schools (ABS) ranking (here’s the 2018 guide). At least, this is the one my business school talks about. Also relevant is the Financial Times research ranking (the FT 50).
If you’re thinking about going from Philosophy to a Business School, the most relevant journals for you are the Journal of Business Ethics and Business Ethics Quarterly. The latter is the flagship journal of the Society for Business Ethics, so it’s quite prestigious and high-ranking on the ABS ranking, but the former is the only one of the two on the FT50 ranking. It is a problem that there are so few journals directly on business ethics that will count for business schools because of their spot on the rankings. Journal of Institutional Economics is also well-ranked, if your work in business ethics has the right emphasis. Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility might publish philosophical contributions and is on the ranking, but it is not ranked as highly.
There are many other great journals and might take work in business ethics, but that will not mean as much to business schools because they are not on the rankings. It is rare but possible that Ethics or Philosophy & Public Affairs or Philosophy and Phenomenological Research will publish work on business ethics if broadened out or focused appropriately. Additionally, Philosophy & Economics, Public Affairs Quarterly, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Journal of Social Ontology, and several others are great philosophy venues that might be more inclined to take work in business ethics. (Most generalist journals might if pitched correctly.)
There are a few other journals even more focused on business ethics that are unfortunately not on the ABS ranking (at least not in the 2018 ranking), but that it may still be beneficial to publish in, including the Journal of Management and Business Ethics Journal Review. Publishing in these journals signals to philosophy jobs a likely ability to teach business ethics courses, and it also give you greater engagement with the business ethics community. BEJR in particular is a great place to engage with business ethicists. Unlike Analysis or Thought, it encourages short, direct responses to recent business ethics publications, and it is widely known/read by the business ethics community.
Many of these journals frankly ought to count towards jobs in business schools. You wouldn’t believe the tangential journals in psychology and sociology that are on the rankings, and so where getting a publication would give you a huge leg up on a job in a business school. It is why the majority of business ethics jobs are taken by social scientists. My long-term plan is to try to get the rankings to include more of our journals. But this will take some time.
Just in case you think there must be a way to get publications from ranked journals without being restricted to just a few, I have advice and warnings. The advice is to target journals that explicitly say that they accept theoretical/conceptual contributions or encourage interdisciplinary work. Academy of Management Review is probably the best journal among all the management journals that might accept this kind of work. Organizational Science, British Journal of Management, or Journal of Management are also phenomenal places to publish. And Harvard Business Review or California Management Review are impressive venues that publish more public-facing work. And you do have a leg-up as a philosopher in a sense. Management journals are competitive, but few are as competitive as the best philosophy journals. Moreover, management journals often desk reject a high proportion of their submissions, but I think philosophers are trained to write in a way (clearly) that makes it more likely to get our submissions past the editor’s desk.
Given the likely reader of this piece, my warning about going for other management journals should take precedence. Your editors/reviewers are almost certainly not going to have a background in analytic philosophy. So, publishing in these journals requires not only mastering the differences in conventions between fields and utilizing different literature taken to be significant by management scholars, but it involves writing in a way to satisfy concerns not likely to occur to you given your training. Doing this can be extremely frustrating. (Trust me.) Moreover, numerous R&R cycles are more common, so it is a process that can take years. If you have the time and the ambition, I think you should try to publish in these journals, because doing so is the only way that more philosophers will get to review for and serve as editors for these journals. But if you are still a graduate student, my earnest advice is to stick to JBE, BEQ, JOIE, BEER, BEJR.
For business school jobs, the best place to look is the jobs listserv from AOM. There are also announcements for members of SBE on their website, but the AOM listserv may also list opportunities that are not first and foremost for business ethics, such as general management jobs, where you might be able to sell yourself for it. And, by the way, the cost of these extra applications is much lower – you often just need the cover letter and CV. (That’s right, no ten document requests from departments supposedly sympathetic about the struggles of the job market.)
For jobs at European universities, there may be different listservs that are helpful. Jobs.ac.uk has postings for management and business ethics positions. Because these jobs are often less advertised, and often come up on a rolling basis, there may be far fewer applicants.
If you need more time to set yourself up to apply for some of these jobs, but you’re already on the market or about to be, some advice I have is to go for postdocs in or near the area. Wharton and Georgetown regularly have postdoc positions come up, and they would like to see philosophers willing to move into business schools. Other visiting positions in business schools may be advertised in the coming months on the right listservs. Even teaching a one-off course in a business school might give you some credibility for future years on the market. Other relevant postdocs that might take a business ethicist with the right focus include the fellowship associated with the Brown Political Theory Project or the Chapel Hill PPE program.
Some of these postdocs will already be on the radar of anybody on the market really, but the broader point is that much of what might help make you look good for teaching business ethics could also help you for jobs in adjacent subfields. If you secure them, it could give you more time to put yourself in a position to get a job in a business school, or you might find yourself making valuable applied contributions permanently from a philosophy department after all.
I think there should be more philosophers in business schools, and at times it feels like an accident of history or sociology that more philosophers haven’t found their way to them. Ethics in business is so important and finally being taken seriously in the corporate sphere. This involves necessary and hard conversations, conversations that I think can be especially well-led by philosophers.
We have a great community of normative business ethicists, but there is a lot of room for entrepreneurial new voices and avenues in the field that would fit well in a business school. The path may be easiest if you are an ethicist, or political or legal philosopher, but there is so much fascinating work to be done by epistemologists turned business ethicist, or by a philosopher of language or metaethicist. And this is work few currently working in business ethics would be able to do. So, in a very real sense, if you feel too far away to make this transition, let me say directly that you are the person that we especially need.
 If you are an undergraduate reading this piece who loves philosophy but might want a business school as a possible eventual job alternative, here’s some additional advice: First, you could think about the PhD program at Wharton in their department focused primarily on business ethics. (See advice here.) They have successfully graduated and found placement for many strong applicants. Though that program can be great, I think it could also be a great idea to pursue your other philosophical interests at any top program that can hone your philosophical skills and give you strength in some core area that can be brought to bear on issues in business. One challenge you would face is that the prestige and attention often surrounds the core work in philosophy, but emphasis has been placed on good applied work lately.
 However, whether these count and how much will depend on your institution, and so you’d need to pay attention to who controls your advancement and what they care about. Some universities will only care about management journals and the journals on particular rankings. More on the rankings below.
 I will acknowledge that there may be good reasons to have serious moral reservations about working for some of these firms. We could have that debate, but I think you would still be justified in working for them for several years to learn about business and built a career path, especially coming from a more precarious background like Philosophy.
 If you are in a business school and I’m leaving anything out, please comment with any additional helpful info.
 Since I didn’t figure this out for years – philosophers doing business ethics would almost entirely be categorized as normative business ethics. We are trying to say which things in business ought not be done and why, after all. This is in contrast to ‘descriptive business ethics,’ which would typically be what social scientists do applying qualitative methodologies (running studies and reporting the results).
 I have more thoughts on the focuses of these journals, their styles, and issues around navigating them as a philosopher, and I’m happy to tell you all about it at the SBE receptions.
 To build a pipeline of philosophers into business schools, I think we need to get our journals on their rankings and get an editorial foothold in some of the journals already on the rankings. But this is a challenge that you can join me in working on once you have landed the permanent business school job.
 Note in contrast that the US business school job cycle may start even earlier than the philosophy job market, since there are some interviews at the annual AOM conference in August. At least, I think this is the case. As some qualifications, I am remembering how I thought it was a few years ago, and this was only my impression talking to people, since I myself never had an interview at the AOM annual meeting.
top image: “Wisdom of the Owl” coin