Academic Job Applications “Do’s” and “Don’ts”

Today’s post comes from Dr Sue Currell, Chair of BAAS and Reader in American Literature at the University of Sussex. Sue has had extensive experience on either side of the job application process and outlines here some of her key “Do’s and Don’ts” when applying for academic jobs:

Do

  • Read the job specification closely: you need to shape your statement accordingly – is it a temporary teaching post or research position? The emphasis that you place on these elements will depend on the level of the post. If it’s a permanent research position you should highlight your research interests clearly right at the start. Remove any jargon.
  • Structure your statement in response to both the job and person specifications – “I have X experience and would therefore be good at Y as listed in the job spec.”
  • Research the Department well: find out about current faculty (to see how you might complement current work or fill a gap); look at current teaching (so you can show how you might complement current modules, teach core modules, or fill a gap in what is offered).
  • Make suggestions of possible modules you could develop and where they might fit into the curriculum – “My research area in X would enable me to offer a new module in that area, something you don’t currently offer, equally I could teach Y and Z and add to your curriculum and course offerings in the following way.”
  • Keep your statement concise and focused and always relevant to the job.
  • Make sure you stick to the word limit if there is one – otherwise, don’t go over two pages (unless it’s for a more senior position). Spend no more than two paragraphs on your latest research project (probably your PhD) and give an indication of your plans for future research to give a sense of where you are heading next and how your interests are evolving.
  • Highlight publications, area of expertise/research, teaching experience, accolades and awards. Panellists will be looking for key elements and, due to the sheer number of applications, may not have the time to pick these out from too much obtuse detail. Using sub-headings can help make your key achievements as clear as possible
  • Draw attention to any funding or teaching awards that you’ve had.
  • Briefly explain gaps in your career and career shifts or situations that impacted on your productivity (i.e. that you had a year or two raising a child, for example).
  • Include any public outreach or media work that relates to your research and teaching
  • Remember that the statement goes to all of the job panellists – the covering letter should merely highlight key aspects of the statement.
  • Address your letter properly (i.e. use the correct titles such as Professor – it shows that you’ve researched the people for one thing).
  • Discuss and share your application with referees, colleagues and friends.
  • Stay positive. Writing an application is a great way of seeing how far you’ve come in your career and thinking about what you want to do next. Most people do not succeed at first try. You may have made a good impression that will help you in the future, even if you don’t get asked to an interview.

Don’t

  • Send lots of extra materials, course outlines, teaching appraisals, writing samples UNLESS asked for. You’ll have a chance to send these at a later date if you are going to be interviewed.
  • Give too much detail of potential modules as they will be looking for someone who can tailor their interests with the interests of the department – so you need to really be sure what they are.
  • Begin by saying that this is the ideal job for you or that you want this job because it will be good for your career or you want to move to the area – instead, try to explain what intellectual and practical advantages you will bring if the Department hires you and explain how your experience tallies with the job description.
  • Include work experience not relevant to the post (unless it explains a gap in the CV).
  • Apply if you do not have a PhD and the job specification states explicitly that you MUST have a PhD or have had your viva before the closing date.
  • Don’t include a chapter by chapter breakdown of your thesis – clarity and brevity is key.
  • Make stuff up: i.e. don’t say that a book is due out next year when you haven’t actually had a contract yet, or that an article is going to be in a particular journal that is actually in the planning stage. Don’t exaggerate your teaching experience or your current position. Focus on what you have done in more detail instead.
  • Lose hope. Rejections are not personal or a sign that you don’t have what it takes: often a Department has a particular person specification or research field that dominates discussion.

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About Sue Currell

Sue Currell is a Reader in American Literature at the University of Sussex and the Chair of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS). Sue specialises in 1920s and 1930s America but in the past she has published on a wide breadth of topics that include eugenics in thought and culture, modern leisure, print culture and the jazz age. Over the course of her career she has been awarded several fellowships and grants from The Leverhulme Trust, The Fulbright Commission, the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Maryland. She can be found at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/26701
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