If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the academic job market is highly competitive. Over the past decade, the number of qualified candidates entering academia is steadily increasing. As a result, there are far more qualified applicants than jobs to fill. This phenomenon is true at all levels of academia, from Research Assistant, to Data Analyst, to faculty. So how can you land that job of your dreams? We put together our top 10 tips to help you make it happen:
- Tailor your cover letter. On average, every corporate job opening attracts 250 resumes and cover letters. Of those 250 resumes, only one will land the job. The same is true for academic positions. With limited time and an abundance of applicants to “weed out,” it is crucial that your cover letter directly and succinctly lets your prospective employer know why you are a good fit for this particular job. Specificity is key!
- Typos have got to go. The interview process begins long before you get that coveted face-to-face interview. A seemingly small set of typos or grammatical errors can prevent an otherwise good candidate from making it to the next step. After all, why would someone hire you for a job requiring an extreme level of attention to detail when your application materials suggest carelessness? To catch those pesky errors, spell check may not be enough. Print out your resume and cover letter and read it aloud to yourself. Send a copy to friends, family, and trusted colleagues for them to proof read too.
Prepare for the phone screening. Many employers will ask you to complete a phone screen before interviewing in person. Take this seriously and be prepared. Have a printed copy of your resume in front of you highlighted with points you want to emphasize. Keep a cheat sheet at the ready with key facts about the employer and questions you want to ask.
Read up on the lab. While it’s not expected that you will have read and memorized every journal article published by a lab, you need to be familiar with the lab’s projects and the people in the lab. Rather than asking “what is your lab currently researching?”, asking specific questions (e.g, “Has your lab’s recent focus on epigenetic change involved any work on intergeneration transmission?”) will set you apart from other candidates and reinforce the ways in which you are the best candidate for the job.
Practice, practice, practice. If you’ve impressed recruiters with your phone screening, it is time to start practicing for the interview. Find a friend, colleague, or quiet space and practice responding to frequently asked questions. One of the keys to nailing an interview is to be able to talk about your experiences in a logical, linear way that clearly demonstrates your skills.
Tell us about yourself. It seems like a no-brainer question, but “tell me a little about yourself” can actually be a tricky task if interviewees aren’t well prepared. This is an opportunity for the interviewee to kick things off on the right foot. We want to see that you can succinctly (three or four sentences) summarize where you’ve been, what you’re up to, and where you hope to go.
Be prepared to talk about your work. If you have done research before, we want to hear about it! You should be able to tell us in a few sentences about who you worked with, what your hypothesis was, and what you found all at a high level that demonstrates your ability to effectively communicate science. Being able to talk briefly about any statistical methods employed in your data analysis is an added bonus – especially if it is an analytical procedure that might be useful to the lab with which you are interviewing.
Ask thoughtful questions. While asking questions to prospective employers is one way to gain information about the job you are applying for, it is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your working style, your ability to collaborate with others, and show that you’ve done your homework. Asking questions that reflect positively on your unique personal strengths and qualities provides employers with a glimpse into how you function as an employee.
Know your references. When you reach the stage of being asked to provide references, that’s often a signal that you’re moving forward in the process. Make sure your references know about the job, and prime them to focus on specific skills and experiences you would like them to emphasize. Choose your references carefully, making sure they are the best people to speak about your background and qualifications. A well-prepared reference is better able to speak to how you are the ideal candidate for this specific job as opposed to speaking more generally about your abilities.
Check your social media. 70% of employers are checking applicants' social media accounts prior to making any decisions about hiring. That means your social media accounts must reflect the professionalism you bring to the work place Monday-Friday. In fact, 54% of employers have made the decision not to hire a candidate based off of undesirable content on social media. While it may be tempting to share what you did over the weekend on social media, you should definitely think twice before you post, as it could be the deciding factor between hiring you or an otherwise equally qualified candidate.
While the academic job market is highly competitive, it can be conquered. So bring your A-game by following these tips and land that job of your dreams. Happy job hunting!