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Posts tagged ‘applications’

Applications: Your CV and cover letter

TypingWell, it’s application season again – well, it’s application-reading season, anyway. The majority of my department, myself included, are currently serving on some sort of hiring committee. This means going through hundreds of applications. We are being very careful this year. The applicant pool is outstanding, and we don’t want to miss anyone. I am not sure how all committees are run, but the one I am on is going through a series of “cut-offs” to weed down to a set of applicants we will interview online and then fewer to bring to campus.

The first cut-off is to check that the the minimum requirements are satisfied. For instance, if the advertisement requires a Ph.D., we have to check that they all have Ph.D.s. A few people were cut out at that round.

The second cut-off was to read the cover letter and CV of each applicant and look for some set of preferred attributes. For instance, if we prefer that the applicant have taught for at least one year at the college level, but it isn’t a requirement, we might rate all the applicants on teaching experience. Then, we could have a cut-off based on that score from multiple people (we have 3 readers per packet for the first two cuts).

As I was going through the first and second cuts for the search committee I am on, I am surprised at people’s CVs. I have had a post on your CV in the past (here). This prior post is about getting your CV together for tenure. I think the same basic principles apply for getting your CV together for a job application, but I am surprised that people don’t spruce up their CVs as I would have expected. I have assembled some tips for your academic job application.

1. What are you applying for? Your CV should play up the aspects of your career that directly pertain to the position you are applying to. Does that seem obvious? Not to many of the applicants I have seen. If you are applying for a faculty job that will be research-intensive and require significant teaching, don’t discuss superfluous stuff up front. For a research-based faculty job, I want to see your research accomplishments up front. Don’t hide your publications at the end! Make it clear if you already earned some fellowships or grants. Showcase your invited talks at conferences or departments. If you are applying for a lectureship where you will be teaching and not doing research, don’t talk about your passion for research. Put your research accomplishments, but after your teaching experience and accomplishments.

2. Your CV should be well-organized.  It should be easy for people to find what they are looking for in your CV. You should use headers that distinguish different parts of your CV. The font should be clear and large enough to read. CVs can be longer, so just let it be long, if you have a lot going on with your work.

3. The cover letter and extras. In prior posts, I thought that cover letters weren’t as important, but I want to revise that. If you are applying for a position and there is no requested statements, the cover letter may be your only time to actually convey your desire and passion for the position to which you are applying. Also, almost all application systems allow you to upload extra documents. So, if an advertisement for a job does not ask for a research statement or a teaching statement, you should still provide one. If they don’t want to read it, they won’t. But, they might read it and want it. Now, if the hiring committee get a few of these and want them from all, they may come back to ask for it from all applicants. If you already have it in, you will have a leg up. If you get it in, they will likely look at it. Even if you don’t put in an extra document, you can always get your enthusiasm and excitement across in your cover letter, so use it.

On a similar note, I am also reading postdoc applications. Many of these same issues are important for cover letters, CVs, and extra documents are true for postdoc applications, too. Most importantly, putting your publications up front is essential! A postdoc position is (typically) a research only job, so you need to emphasize the research you did. Don’t hide your research accomplishments.

Anything that you have noticed that can be weird or awkward about job applications? These are my impressions from my limited view of this year’s applications, but perhaps others have advice from many other application seasons. Post or comment here. To receive an email every time I post, push the +Follow button.

Applying for Postdocs

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!

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