The application

The application

Soon after position announcements come out, you will begin sending in your application materials. Have a system in place for tracking the status of your applications. Staying organized is key during this stage of the job search process.

Things to Do

  • Sort through the position announcements and decide to which programs you might apply. Narrowing the field allows you to focus on those institutions which best match your skills and interests. Rank current job openings according to their fit to the type of position you are seeking. Ask your mentor and several other professors to review the list and give you their impression of the work climate of each institution, the faculty, and other institutional norms. Hearing an unofficial history of the department to which you are thinking of applying can be very valuable, but also recognize that personal biases may influence faculty members’ opinions. Decide what is important to you and apply to the programs that best meet your needs.
  • Keep all of the position announcements in your field, not just those in which you are initially interested. Positions which do not interest you at first have a way of becoming more interesting later on! However, if you didn’t save all of the position announcements from the beginning, backtracking to find them can be extremely difficult. Furthermore, collecting position announcements, even from institutions where you may not have immediate interest, increases your knowledge of what and how many jobs are available, what different institutions are looking for, and how you might better present yourself to these institutions.
  • Be sure you are a qualified applicant, i.e., that you meet all of the minimum criteria for consideration as outlined in the position announcement. For example, if you are ABD (all but dissertation), you may need to inquire whether ABD applicants will be considered. If they will not, don’t apply – you’ll just waste everyone’s time. [Alternate view: If you are certain you will have your degree by the job’s start date and/or have an established final defense date, you may want to go ahead and apply. If you are in this situation, it is a good idea to have a letter from your dissertation chair stating that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, you will have defended (or be finished) by a specific date.]
  • Use a variety of resources to help you decide for which openings you are going to apply. Visit web sites and look in college guides to gather information about departments, colleges, and universities. Remember that institutional rankings often contain valuable information, so peruse U.S. News and World Report and other, more discipline-specific, rankings. As you examine institutions, decide what college and university resources you will need in addition to those contained within the department. Again, be sure to ask your professors what they know about particular programs in which you are interested.
  • Realize that you may face subtle, or not-so-subtle, pressure from your professors to apply for openings at certain institutions. Some faculty may be concerned about how your new position reflects upon them as the department that prepared you and may want you to be at more prestigious institutions. Politely resist this pressure as you search for the institutions that are the best matches for you.
  • Recognize that if you are a good candidate but don’t seem to match the criteria in the job description, some institutions may invite you to interview anyway. Be sure to describe why you think you may be a good candidate for that opening in your cover letter.
  • Check out the university’s and program’s web sites to see if the institution is a good match for you.
  • Prepare a cover letter that fully addresses the position requirements and explains why you meet these qualifications. Make sure it is well-written and is in proper business letter format. Read the position announcement several times before writing a thoughtful, reflective letter. If possible, try to personalize the letter in some meaningful way by referencing some linkage between you and any person in the institution.
  • Send all requested materials (official transcripts if requested, not photocopies; copies of publications; letters of recommendation; etc.). Before you send your application package, double-check the position description to make sure you have included all the requested materials. If additional materials will be sent separately (e.g., letters of recommendation from faculty members or your placement office), include that fact in your cover letter. Send your application materials in a timely manner to the institutions to which you are applying. Failure to meet a deadline can doom your application; be sure to keep track of the due dates stated in the position announcements. Remember that it is your responsibility, and not that of your placement office or professors, to ensure that all of your application materials arrive on time.
  • If letters of recommendation are required, be sure your references address the letter to the appropriate person. Ask your reference writers to refer to the required qualifications of the position announcement. Be sure to notify your professors of the date by which you need your letters of recommendation (and allow for a few days of leeway). Also, if your professors wish to customize their letters for each institution rather than writing one generic letter, it is helpful to give them the relevant address information in the word processing format of their choice. Understand that writing recommendations takes time – a precious commodity in higher education. Make the process as simple as possible for the people you ask to write your references. Give them the position description (highlight the due date), your vitae, and an addressed, stamped envelope to send the letter. Politely follow up with each professor shortly before the due date, and write a thank you note to each professor after his or her letters are complete.
  • You may want to ask your mentor to telephone colleagues at the institution to which you want to apply (in advance of your completing the application process). Departments may advertise open rank when they really are looking for an experienced professor. A quick phone call can give you more information about the position and save you time and energy. Of course you also can call the institution yourself. If nothing else, it will help the search chair remember you later when your application arrives.
  • Call or e-mail the search committee chair if you are unclear about what is needed. Be a little cautious – some chairs may not wish to have their time taken up with unnecessary questions – but in general don’t be afraid to call and ask questions. If you are uncertain about an aspect of a position description or if you have questions about an opening, get in touch with the contact person listed in the position announcement. He or she will be able to give you valuable information that could decide whether or not you apply for that particular opening.
  • Let your professors know the institutions to which you have applied, especially if they wrote generic letters of recommendation for your placement file. Your professors will be highly interested in the places to which you applied and may be a valuable support network later on in the process.
  • Begin collecting salary information for the institutions to which you apply. Both The Chronicle and Academe (published by the American Association of University Professors) gather useful information about faculty salaries. It also may be possible to get information on faculty salaries from the libraries of the institutions to which you applied, especially for those colleges or universities that are public. Compare salary information with the cost of living for that area to get a more accurate idea of your living expenses. If salary will influence whether or not you apply for a particular position, gather this information before you send out your application. Try and get information related to the department and/or college, instead of just the institution; the more specific your information, the more useful it will be to you later.
  • Begin to prepare for two presentations: a research presentation to faculty, and a teaching presentation to a graduate class of students. If possible, practice your presentation in front of your colleagues and professors to solicit their feedback on needed improvements. Many professors will be more than glad to sit in on a practice session and act as if they were the search committee at another institution. Take their suggestions and criticisms to heart, revise as necessary, and repeat your presentation if possible. While this may be nerve-wracking for you, it is better to work out the kinks of your presentation now with a friendly audience than later when a potential job is on the line. Prepare your presentations early! You may be invited for an interview soon after you submit your application.
  • Begin thinking about what you will need as a new faculty member. Consider items such as a new computer, a research assistant, travel or conference money, moving expenses, research startup money, expenses for a return visit to find housing, money for professional memberships or subscriptions, a parking subsidy, etc. Be as explicit and specific as possible.
  • Get your interview clothes in order. If you are uncertain whether a particular outfit is appropriate for a campus interview, ask your professors. Conservative and professional are always good default positions when it comes to interview attire.
  • Be sure that all contact information is on your vitae, including a fax number and your e-mail address. If you don’t check your e-mail regularly, get in the habit of doing so.
  • Sometimes you will have additional things pop up after you have submitted your application (e.g., a presentation proposal or article submission gets accepted, you win an award). Inform the search committee of these with a letter and ask that the letter be added to your application file.           
  • Keep watching for position announcements throughout the months to come. Positions may be announced late into the spring and, until you have a job, any opening is a possibility.
  • Be patient; it may be a very long time after you apply before you hear from anyone.

Things to Avoid

  • Don’t send form letters. Every cover letter and letter of reference should be unique to the position for which you are applying. This takes extra time but is well worth it. Search committees can spot a form letter a mile away. Take the time to tailor your application materials to the positions advertised by the institutions at which you’d like to be. Spending a lot of time on a few applications is a more effective use of your time than spending only a little time on many. The key is to let each department know that you are interested in its position and that you have something to offer the program.
  • Don’t apply to every institution under the sun. Be selective – identify important criteria and try to find appropriate matches. Do not apply to an institution because you think that the process will be a good experience. If you are not seriously considering the job – don’t apply for it.
  • Send any materials that you think will help the search committee better understand your candidacy. For example, if you are an excellent teacher and have the evaluations to show it, send them in even if the institution did not ask for them. [Alternate view: Don’t send unnecessary materials. Only send what was requested.]
  • Don’t include the address of your personal web site in your application materials. Professional web sites (e.g., ones created for your job search or in your professional capacity) are okay.