So, this week, at the behest of my advisor (who finally gave me the kick in the ass I urgently needed), I finally began in earnest the terrifying task of searching for an academic job.
The first phase is, of course, compiling a list of places to apply to. For computer scientists, this means searching the ACM and the CRA, plus the usual places for other disciplines: The Chronicle and Higheredjobs.com. For good measure, I also went to US News & World Report's college rankings --- not because I cared much about the rankings themselves, but because I wanted a good long list of institutions --- and did a brute-force scan through about 200 colleges and universities, searching for "faculty openings", "job opportunities", "human resources", etc. on each school's website. The brute-force scan didn't yield any leads beyond those posted on the jobs sites, but it did give me some context against which to evaluate the institutions that did post offers.
Then, tonight, as recommended by every graduate or soon-to-be-graduate in our program that I've ever talked to, I compiled my grand spreadsheet of institutions and openings. Conclusion: anxiety ahoy.
Currently, there are only a dozen-odd postings that seem like the general sort of job I'm looking for; and by "general sort" I believe I'm casting a pretty wide net (for example, I'm being fairly permissive about geography --- basically, only the Deep South is excluded). If, out of this year's national crop of Ph.D.'s, even a dozen candidates have better resumes than me, plus career objectives remotely resembling mine, then... well, I'd rather not dwell on it, though I do have backup plans.
Anyway. The amount of time and labor involved in this process is exhausting, but more exhausting than that is the simple psychological load of feeling your future career hanging in the balance.
On the other hand, this anxiety's arguably irrational, because 95% of the factors determining your future career options have already been set in stone by the time application season of your final year comes around. The only remaining X-factors are current market conditions and your skill at selling yourself. But the former's out of your control, and the latter can only help you so much (though, I suppose, it could torpedo your chances if you're grotesquely bad; but that seems unlikely for most candidates --- it's hard to accumulate a decent C.V. in the first place if you're that bad at communicating). So really, you should just work hard on your application, and accept what comes with a sort of fatalistic calm.
On the bright side, at least I've found a few openings that could be exciting, if I were to get those offers. My idea of the ideal job is unusual enough that, for the past year or so, I've almost been convinced that there wouldn't be anything even remotely resembling it. At least it's good to know that the probability of getting a decent position is greater than zero, even though it's hard to tell whether the increment's infinitesimal or substantial.