Do your homework

In raising our frustration with this problem to faculty members from other departments at our university, as well as to chairs of science departments across the country, it became painfully clear that a concerted effort by an applicant to connect their expertise and interests to a specific faculty opportunity was rare. Perhaps such omissions are a result of generic, open-ended job advertisements. Or maybe the issue is that so few academic openings exist that a wider cohort is applying for any posting that appears, with the hope that the more applications submitted, the better chance for a positive response. Perhaps with so many applications to write, the candidates decide they can’t invest the time to tailor each to the opportunity at hand.

But whatever the reason, it’s important for applicants to know that you will markedly improve your chance of being invited for an interview if you help the search committee and departmental faculty members understand why an investment in you will prove to be an investment for us. You can’t think of a faculty job as existing solely in an isolated lab in a building on some campus. You are hoping to become part of a community, and we need your help in understanding what it would mean to recruit you to our program.

With relatively little extra effort on your part, a customized application package will help us recognize how your stellar work and breathtaking goals could work synergistically with existing initiatives. Help us understand why we should consider you beyond what appears on your CV. Help us understand what the fit is.

In formulating your application cover letter, invest the same care and rigor you would when submitting a grant proposal to a funding agency. Take the time to help the hiring committee understand why you’re applying. Why here? Why now? Why us? Articulate why Department X at University Y is the perfect fit for you and how joining the campus will not only fuel your own growth as an independent scientist, but also bolster or complement a given strength of the program—or extend it into an area not yet represented by the resident faculty members. Making it evident that you have reviewed the curriculum and that your background would help extend it in this or that direction is also welcome and warranted. And reach beyond the department: Propose some potential collaborations, both in research and teaching, with other programs that would serve to forge connections with other areas of the school. Yes, this requires work, but it is work well invested. It will make your application stand out, at the very least, and will also help us understand how you see yourself fitting in. It might just earn your application a second look, or land you some early advocates on the search committee as the culling inevitably begins.

Indeed, in our department, the last two searches prioritized those who made it clear why our department was right for them, and we were very fortunate to have recruited our top choices. The new hires are thriving, and everyone is happy.

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