To get a job, you have to get an interview. Who knows what will happen at that point, but securing an interview is at least partly in your own hands. Having just finished shortlisting the applicants to a postdoctoral research post I recently advertised, here are my thoughts on how to get your foot further in the door. None of this is original. It’s just fresh on my mind.
Your letter must be well written and fit for purpose
Some people seem to think the letter is just a “Hello, my name is Bob, and I am applying for this job.” I can assure you that it is so much more than that. First, I get to see if you can write. Whether you want to believe it or not, academics are professional writers. It’s a skill you will use all the time, and the letter is your best way to show me you have it. It’s not just about the grammar either. People who write well also tend to think well, organize well, and argue well.
Next, the letter shows me how good you are at research, which is obviously an important skill for our profession. What do you know about me? What do you know about where I work? What do you know about the job you are applying for? If you don’t do this simple piece of research, when there so much at stake for you, why would anyone trust you to do more?
Send a professional looking CV
Attention to detail matters. Let’s say we just completed a clinical trial. Many smart people worked hard on the project, patients took on real risks to participate, and we spent lots of somebody else’s money. Now I need you to analyse the data from that trial, and write up the results. A lot is riding on the job you do. How can I trust this to someone who can’t get the margins of their CV to line up? It’s not like your CV is something you have to write every day, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to write a nice one and update it as needed.
Demonstrate how you meet the criteria
Just about every job description has a list of criteria. If you don’t appear to meet the criteria, then I can’t put you ahead of the applicants that do. Some criteria are easy to verify, such as your degree, or prior experience. Other things aren’t as obvious, so you need to make sure that you point these out in the letter. When you are done, give the job description along with your CV and letter to a friend or mentor and see if they can match it all up. If they can’t, keep working on it.
Don’t publish in dodgy journals
I hate that academia is so focused on papers, and I could care less about impact factors - but you can’t have a CV full of papers published in the Galactic International Journal of Financial Biochemistry. It’s not always easy to know for sure that a journal is dodgy, but in some cases it is, so stay away.
Appeal to the PIs interests and values
As noted above, if you want to work with me, it’s a good idea to learn about me (just as I will try to learn about you). Many academics are now active on social media, so go check them out. We all publish papers, so go read some of them. If you learn that we share an interest that is relevant to the job, then make that clear in your application. This isn’t just vanity. I am looking to start a professional relationship with someone that might last a few decades, so your chances of getting an interview shoot up if we already share some common ground.