This is the second post in a series on applying for faculty positions. It is written by Jeff Phillips, frequent guest blogger, who will be starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah (yay!) starting Fall 2011.
I found actually applying for faculty jobs takes a lot of time. Maybe I spent too much time and others were successful with a less time-consuming approach; if so please add your perspective in the comments.
The first step is to find which jobs to apply for. I basically completely relied on the CRA jobs website to find out about job openings. Often I found that job listings appeared on their within a day or so of the listing becoming available on the school's website.
Comically, CRA also posts the same ads in a written newsletter which I get every couple months. The print edition appears several months later, often after the deadline has passed.
Some jobs will not appear on the CRA website. Some top schools don't need to advertise, so for those you need to either look for some ambiguous statement of faculty recruiting on the school's website, or better ask someone you know at that school (or have your advisor ask).
In fact, it is very important to have an advocate within any school you hope to get hired. So, as you are seeing friends or colleagues at conferences ask them "are you hiring next/this year?" For one, it is often a great conversations starter, and two, you can start implanting the thought in their head that you would be an excellent person to hire. I've heard that the head of the hiring committee can craft the description of the job posting to aim towards a particular type of candidate, or even a single particular candidate they are aiming for. Now is the time to approach you colleagues at universities you might want to apply and subtly try to get them to build an opening designed for you!
OK, now that you have found (or even crafted) the opening you are applying for, what is left to do? You already have your research statement, your teaching statement, and letters lined up that you have been working on-and-off all summer on.
The most customizable item is the cover letter. I've been given advice that you don't even need to write a cover letter unless it is required (presumably from people who when on the committee never even looked at them). While this may often be true, I felt it was worth trying to make a point of why this university it right for you.
Some middle tier university get many applicants with somewhat comparable resumes. How can you associate yourself with that university so they think if they made you an offer you would actually come? Have you lived nearby and liked the area? Do you have family nearby? Is there a particular program that the university is strong in that would be a great fit for you.
Also what I spent the most time on, was describing who I might collaborate with, within the department. Don't spend too much time on people outside the department since they usually have no bearing in the hiring decision. But if you have a lot of similar interests with someone on the hiring committee, definitely point those out. This usually took me 45-60 minutes per application, because not only did I want to find someone, I did not want to leave someone out. Perhaps, I could have not spent this time, but I felt it made a difference.
One thing I did not do much of, but could have done, is personalize the type of classes I would teach as described in my teaching statement. If someone, especially someone with similar background to you, already teaches a class very similar to a "new" one you propose, then many people outside that area would interpret that as you duplicating that person, and they would rather hire someone who could provide more breadth to the department. Rather, what I should have done is to try to identify which types of classes were missing from the university and adapt my teaching statement accordingly.
I've had advice saying I should prepare a few classes I would develop in my statement, and then choose which one to submit based on what the need was in the department.
Finally, the most important advice is to not rush the application process. I tried to do 1-2 applications every night for about 3 weeks (I submitted a lot of applications). This had two reasons, first it took me about 1 hour per application (some customization, but sometimes because of stupid forms). Second, if you do too many in a row, you get burnt out and start cutting corners.
Treat every application as if it is your top choice. Every time I applied, I convinced myself that this was a great place for me, and got in that mind set. For a few places where I just could not convince myself of that, I ended up not applying. I figured it wasn't worth anyone's time for me to submit a half-hearted application.
One final note. Although I intended for this series to be mainly about applying for faculty jobs, most of the advice carries over for research labs. I knew I wanted to apply for faculty positions, but I also applied to some research lab positions, and as it turned out, I almost went to one instead of accepting the Utah position. It seems each lab is somewhat different, and you might be pleasantly surprised if you get a chance to visit.
Most labs have some sort of hiring every year. But you generally need to know someone (or your advisor/mentor does) to get you foot in the door. Internships are a great way to meet these people and get the proper perspective. So, again ask colleagues at labs about hiring, and go through them to apply.