Although the Fall is traditional application season, applying for postdocs can occur at any time. Unlike other jobs in academia that have start dates that coincide with semesters, postdoc start dates start when the money and the person coincide. You still have to apply for postdocs.
In my experience from the application side and the hiring side, are that hiring postdocs are extremely flexible and somewhat informal. When I was looking for a postdoc, my husband already had a postdoc offer at FancyIvyLeagueUniversity. We didn’t want to be apart, and were both graduating with our Ph.D.s at the same time. So, I had a targeted place to go for my postdoc. I saw a FancyBigShotProfessor from FancyIvyLeagueUniversity at a conference, and I went up to him and told him that I needed a postdoc at his university. He invited me to give a talk at his group meeting. FancyIvyLeagueUniversity was across the country from UniversityofState where I was getting my Ph.D., so I bought a plane ticket and went up and down the coast giving the talk at a number of places set up by graduate student friends. By the time I gave the talk at FILU, I was very prepared. FancyBigShotProfessor invited two other FancyBigShotProfessors to my talk, and they offered me a position doing a joint project with them. I feel like this was all very fortuitous and lucky. Or was it shameless self-promotion and crazy networking at a conference?
From the other side, as a professor hiring postdoc, I am trying to figure out what I think about when hiring. First, I very carefully read the letters from the recommenders. I often even call the recommenders on the phone and ask very specific questions about what I need from a postdoc at that time. Next, if the application looks good, and the letters and recommenders gave me what I need to know, I will bring the person for an interview. In the interview, the person will give talk on their research. Can he/she communicate science to a general audience? He/she will meet with me and other faculty members in the group close to my own research. Most importantly, the candidate will meet and possible have a meal with the members of the lab. This is a crucial part of the interview. I need to know if this person will get along with other people in the lab. Can he/she be a mentor to the younger members of the lab?
So, the basic application for a postdoc can be anything from virtually nothing, as in my case when I applied, to a true full-fledged application process, like how I hire postdocs. The full-fledged application involves your complete CV, a cover letter (can be an email), and 2-3 letters of recommendation from people who know your research well from your Ph.D. Some people just ask for the recommenders’ information, so the PI can call or ask for the letters via email.
Do you have advise or information on your postdoc application experience? If so, post, or write a comment!