Not that Kind of Job Applicant: Tales of Self-Discovery in the Job Application Process
With your application documents prepared, it is now time to start applying for your first faculty position. These are some of the resources and strategies we used to find and select job postings. Our cohort includes individuals with and without K awards who all secured tenure track faculty positions. As always, n=me and a few of my friends.
Decide what your search parameters are: The number of positions available is overwhelming. Narrow down the search by defining your scientific, academic, and personal parameters. Here are some questions we considered:
Scientific: What kind of scientist are you? What is your technical expertise? Your scientific expertise? What specialized equipment or facilities do you need to complete your experiments? What kind of collaborators do you need? Do you want to be in a clinical or basic science department?
Academic: Do you want to teach? How much teaching is acceptable? Is tenure important to you? Would you like to be part of a medical school (less teaching) or arts and sciences (more teaching)?
Personal: Will you be happy living in a small town/big city/state/part of the country? Will your partner/family? After bouncing around for a number of years, my spouse was adamant about not living in certain places. Fellow applicants refused to live in cities that were less safe or had weaker school systems even if they housed an academic leader of biomedical research.
Finding positions: Now that you have identified what you are looking for in a position, it is time to screen through job positing. We found positions through the internet and our network.
Job boards: Nature Jobs, HigherEd Jobs, AAAS Careers are popular websites for faculty position postings. I highly recommend signing up for weekly alerts with fairly broad categories to capture all potential positions. Departments also post positions on their institutional websites, so if you really want to be at a particular institution, check out their academic job postings site. Pro tip: stick to the jobs posted on the institutional academic careers (or equivalent) website. Departmental websites are notoriously slow for updating completed searches. Several of us applied to positions that had been filled years ago and were simply not updated on the departmental website. Generic job websites, like Indeed, worked well for us too.
Your network: Ask your mentors or department chair if anyone in their network is looking for a faculty member like you. I have heard of departments where chairs like to know there is a promising candidate before they post a job. Use your own network of collaborators and colleagues to ask about potential positions. Some in our group emailed chairs directly to ask about potential positions, and one person was even successful in securing such a position.
The fake search: Institutions have to make their faculty job search public and post it for a number of days, even if they have a strong candidate in mind. These searches seem to be incredibly specific and have a very short application window. If you spot a potentially fake search, and you are a perfect fit, apply anyway. You might have the opportunity to visit the institution, present your science, and meet some new colleagues. There are even rumors of the preferred candidates failing in the interview process, and the runner-up securing their dream faculty position.
Application strategies: Our cohort was split between two job application strategies. We all ended up with positions, so both strategies can work. Most of us had one offer (you only need one!), although there were a couple outliers with two or three.
The numbers game: The minority of us applied to every position for which we were a reasonable fit. We submitted 30-50 applications each, and I am sure more than one search committee was puzzled by someone studying Terrible Disease applying to their Organ Development Center. However, having now written faculty position descriptions and sat on search committees, I can confidently tell you, search committees don’t really know what they’re looking for until they see it. For example, there were several positions that I applied for where I was the perfect fit, but I did not secure an interview. When I looked to see who they hired, thinking it would be a stronger version of me, I was surprised to see someone completely different. Sometimes it’s about the fit and potential, rather than a job description that was written six months ago.
Selective applications: Others in our group applied to a very limited number of institutions, somewhere in the 5-10 range. Their strategy was to either apply to positions where they were the perfect fit or to email department chairs and ask if they were looking for someone just like them. With fewer applications, these applicants spent more time tailoring their applications to the job description. Overall, this group had less offers, but you only need one!
Now that you have defined yourself and your needs, and identified some positions, start applying. The job search process is a long one. In subsequent posts, I will cover what happens to your application after you hit “submit.” Stay tuned for more tales!
Still have questions? More confused than when you started? Need to vent about the process? Feel free to send some electrons my way in the comments, via Twitter @PipetteProtag, or through traditional electronic mail firstname.lastname@example.org