Three and a half rules for applying for academic posts

Three and a half rules for applying for academic posts

As Olivia Rodrigo so wisely said ‘it’s brutal out there’. But we are never so brutal as with ourselves.

  1. Apply widely and be adaptable – you can fit into more posts and get something from them than you may realise. Recognise what they are looking for.
  2. Aim high and value yourself – even if you do not get it you will get on people’s radar.
  3. Show ambition for yourself and them – it is exciting to think how you might energise a place.

Before you begin think through why you want the job, what you will do with the post and where it will take you. That last step is the most important. Every job leads somewhere. Think ahead to where you will be in a year or two if you were to take up the post, what you would have liked to have made happen in it, and put that in the your cover letter. Talk over with a more senior colleague/your PhD supervisor about what the post is asking for and how it fits with your goals. Look at the job requirements and be strict with yourself. Is there anything missing and what can you do about it? As an example: many lecture jobs ask for experience of course leadership which is hard to obtain as a PhD student. Something you can do to bridge that gap is design a course that would be taught if you get the post, lay out the curriculum, course themes and so on. You do not need to actually do it, just show that you have potential. For your research, show your publication plan and your intentions as well as what you have done. Demonstrate you recognise and can meet the demands of the post even if you might not have met them all yet.

Some specific advice about your application:

  1. Write your cover letter for the job you are applying for. When applying for a teaching position do not write an epic 4+ page cover letter detailing your interesting research and then have half a paragraph at the end about your teaching. It makes it seem like you do not really care about the job. Put that bit up front.
  2. ALSO do not write epic 4+ page cover letters. Cover letters should be 2 sides maximum. Try and hit all the requirements in the job specification. Tell your story about your take on the post, what you want to bring with it and do with it. You are a whole package, so show that. Use the language of the job specification in the letter.
  3. Structure your cover letter as a 3-step: Here is why I want the job, and why I am the best fit for it, here are a few examples of why that is the case and here is what I would do if I got the job. The cover letter should show the challenges you met and what happened as a result of the fabulous work you did. Do not rely on anything to speak for itself. For example:

“One of the big challenges in higher education is giving students feedback they value. I asked the students I was tutoring what they did with their feedback and most were not using it. I scheduled a session where we read our feedback together. I then held a session for other tutors and lecturers showing how this improved student satisfaction with their feedback”. This example shows: your ability to think about the bigger picture, to recognise a problem and address it, and show leadership in bringing your solution to others. It could be done as one of the ‘fill in’ examples I mention above. If you are a tutor you could easily do that in preparation for your job applications to show your nascent leadership skills. Then you can show how the job might allow you scale that up into something more ambitious.

Teaching qualifications are really starting to matter, both in themselves and because they help you reflect on your teaching in the way described above. So do take the Edinburgh Teaching Award or equivalent Advance HE qualification. Look at the Advance HE professional standards framework and draw on that language in your application. Again show how this helped you, where it took you. Applications should be forward looking.

Rule 3.5 They have to want you. But you also have to want them. Do not flay yourself for a job that is not for you.

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