10 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make in an Academic Job Search

For better or for worse, I’m a Professor of Human Resource Management, which means I know a thing or two about how to be successful in a job search. In fact, this is one of my areas of research. I’ve written a lot on recruitment and selection in general, but, perhaps even more importantly, I’ve been successful in most job interviews at which I’ve been an applicant. So I’ve decided to collate this insight and share it with you, dear reader. These are 10 mistakes you don’t want to make in an academic job search. They are presented in no particular order of importance.

10. The Embellished CV. The truth can be broken, and it can be bent. You want to avoid both. Received minor revisions on your latest paper? You might be tempted to list it as “forthcoming,” but don’t do it. In the event that you are offered the job and the paper is rejected, you can be terminated by your employer for such a transgression. Stick to the truth, no matter what.

9. Failure to follow up. I always write members of the panel within 24 hours of the interview. This little gesture gives you an opportunity to thank the search committee for their time and to clarify any questions they may have posed, but you were unable to fully answer at the time. It’s good practice.

8. Don’t get drunk. Seriously, I’ve seen this before, and it’s not pretty. It’s okay to have a glass of wine if offered over dinner, but only one! Nothing says “Don’t hire me!” like a drunkard.

7. Letting your guard down. People often assume, mistakenly, that they are only being interviewed during the interview itself. This is absolutely wrong. You are being interviewed all the time. Chatting with students in the hallway? That’s part of the interview. Eating lunch or dinner with faculty? That’s part of the interview. Invited to a campus tour? That’s part of the interview.

“You are being interviewed all the time.”

6. Arrogance breeds contempt. You will often be asked to present to faculty as part of your job interview. Search committee members will pay particularly close attention to how you answer questions from the audience after your talk. If you are dismissive, arrogant, or impatient, you’re unlikely to get the final nod. Be kind, accept criticism graciously, and openly admit any mistakes.

5. Dressing like a grad student. I mean no offense to grad students, but I was a grad student once, so I know how they typically dress. When I was a PhD student going to my first academic job interview, I wanted to wear a hoodie. Luckily, my wife talked some sense into me and I wore a suit and tie.

4. Who’s the decision-maker? Not all panel members have an equal voice. There will be more junior and senior panellists. There may be a Head of Department, Dean, Provost, or even a Deputy Vice Chancellor sitting on the committee. Know who the key decision-maker is and make sure you say exactly what that person wants to hear.

3. Unrealistic expectations. If you’re weak at research, don’t bother applying to a research-intensive university. Equally, if you’re no good at teaching, it’s best not to waste your time applying to a teaching-focused university. If you have just a handful of publications and a few small grants, don’t go for a full professor position. You’re not going to get it.

2. Search committees can smell desperation. Let’s face it. We’re all desperate for an academic job. There are very few opportunities that fit our level and skill and, when they do come along, they’re like pure gold. But you can’t let the panel smell that desperation. It makes you look, well, desperate. Play it cool. Make it clear that you’re an excellent fit for the job, and that they would benefit from having you on board. Remember that you are interviewing them, too.

1. Beware the generic cover letter. No one on a search committee wants to read a cover letter indicating how much the applicant wants to work at “your university” because we know you sent the same damn letter to 100 other universities. Even worse, we don’t want to read a letter that specifies the wrong university, which tells us that you’re careless. Make sure you tailor your cover letter to the institution at which you are applying.

There you have it, my friends. If you steer clear of these “rookie” job search mistakes, you’ll be a full professor in no time.

Professor Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.

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