The Ultimate Article: Applying for an Academic Job

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With such a wide range of articles and topics available on's Career Development site, it can be easy to forget the reason why many people come here: to find a new academic job. So this article goes back to basics and looks at how to apply for an academic job.

Finding vacancies

Obviously, it goes without saying that is the most important place to find lecturing job adverts! There are other alternatives, such as the Guardian or the Times Higher, but is considered by many to be easier to use and carries more adverts from a wider range of institutions. You may find lectureship positions advertised in local papers too, but for sheer numbers, the national and online media are more obvious choices. Jobs are also advertised on websites and magazines relevant solely to your own field. Your PhD supervisor, colleagues and friends in academia will all be invaluable in passing on job information via word of mouth. This is an important way of finding out which institutions are hiring. Word of mouth is especially useful for discovering departments that are looking for temporary members of staff.

Understanding the advert

Some academic job titles are very specific so you know exactly what they are looking for, but in other cases they can seem very broad. You may see an advert for Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in History for example. Only by reading on in the body of the text can you see which area of specialism is required and even then the description can be unfocussed. In these cases it is important to find out from a member of the department whether they would be willing to consider someone with your area of expertise. The job level and salary bands are often not fixed due to the fact that they are willing to hire at either lecturer or senior lecturer level, depending on the experience of the successful candidate.

Informal contact

Some adverts (although, it seems, fewer and fewer) include the phone number or email address of what is called an ‘informal contact'. This will almost always be a member of the academic staff in the department where the job is available, usually someone with responsibility for hiring. You can contact them and ask for more details about the job. Although you should prepare some constructive questions, you need to recognise they are probably very busy, so don't take up too much of their time.

Using the informal contact is well worth doing. If you impress this person with your enthusiasm, you may find you stick in his or her mind when shortlisting happens.

Job description

The most essential information can be found, not in the body of the advert itself, but in the accompanying job description. This is usually available at the click of a mouse if you are accessing a job online, or it can be requested by post or telephone if you have seen the advert in a newspaper or print publication.

If you know how to interpret the job description, it will basically tell you how to write your application. It will list the duties and skills required of the new member of staff. You should address each one of these points somewhere in your application, either in your covering letter, your personal statement or your CV. If you can prove that you can match (if not exceed) every one of their requirements, and you do so clearly and consistently, you will be well on the way to being interviewed for the position.

Added extras

One of the advantages of checking out adverts online on sites such as is that you can instantly see more information about the job you want to apply for or the institution where you hope to work. This is not available in paper resources where advertising space is at a premium and the only information you get is a brief description of the post itself and contact details. In some online adverts you can see information about the employer through the medium of video, and you can see employees describing what it is like to work there, something which is especially useful if you are applying for a job in a location that you are not familiar with.

Putting in an application

The application form is the place where you have the opportunity of listing your education and job history. Do not simply write ‘see attached CV'. This will give the impression that you have not spent much time preparing your application or that you are sending off a number of generic applications. This is the opposite to the impression you want to give: you want to make the employer feel that you are really keen to work for them specifically, not just desperate to get any job at all, never mind whether the latter is true or not!

Even if you have had to fill in a massive application form, always include a covering letter and CV as well. CVs for jobs in the commercial sector are supposed to be two pages or less. As an academic you can get away with something slightly longer as it will take more room to list your teaching and publication record, but try not to exceed four pages. For a covering letter, try to find a person's name to address it to rather than ‘dear sir/madam'. If no one is listed in your application pack then address it to the head of department to which you are applying.

Use the covering letter to write a summary of your most recent research/teaching experience and why you will be good for the job. Some of this may duplicate material on the application form, but that doesn't matter. You should also mention in the covering letter if someone has recommended you to apply, or if you know someone in the department whom you hope to work with. This sort of informal networking can supplement your more formal CV and application form.

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