ECH Careers: Making an application

1 October 2014

Bear in mind that even for temporary posts there are often 100+ applications.Try to imagine what it would be like to be on a selection panel and confronted with such a big pool of applicants.Think about how you would wish applicants to behave. Most people on recruitment panels prefer candidates to do the following:

1)  Send exactly what is specified, no less but also no more. Do not send attachments of articles, chapters of your thesis, additional letters of recommendation, course outlines, copies of student evaluations or any other extra materials, unless or until they are requested. The panel will not read them, because it would be unfair to all the other candidates to do so. And part of what the panel will be assessing from the application materials is your ability – and your willingness – to follow specific instructions to the letter.

2)  Check your application very carefully for any errors of grammar, spelling, punctuation, typing or layout. This should go without saying, but experience tells us that it does not. The abilities to write well and present material clearly are still highly prized by historians, and rightly so. An application that is full of mistakes and/or messily presented will deter your readers before they have even absorbed the information about your achievements. Even people who know this perfectly well still send in forms with mistakes. CHECK AGAIN. Have someone else read it through for you. CHECK, yes, one last time.

3)  If there’s an application form, fill it out intelligently, even if it’s not a good form. Many of these forms are not very well designed, often because they are generic HR forms covering a range of jobs, which ask questions that are not necessarily appropriate for academic posts. Give the information requested, because you need to show that you are taking the process seriously, but take into account what a committee of academics will want to know, i.e. you could probably omit the fact that you worked in Tesco’s ten years ago, but you might want to include your stint at the local library.  Don’t repeat information, even if different questions seem to be asking the same thing:  make a judgement about where to include which items.

4)  Tailor your application to the post and try to persuade your referees to do the same by sending them your letter of application along with a summary of the job specification. Generic applications stand out a mile and are not worth making. It’s time-consuming and can seem pointless after a run of rejections, but if you want to get the job, even a short-term temporary teaching post, you will have to ensure your application is specific to that role.

5)  Be circumspect about making enquiries before you apply.  Most advertisements specify someone you can contact to ask questions. Bear in mind that these people are likely to be very busy. Some applicants think that they can secure an advantage by asking questions in advance, but this is rarely the case. Make sure that the answer to your question is not already available in the application materials or on the university’s website. If you spot inconsistencies in the application materials (which are not uncommon) and are left unsure what to do, you should certainly write to enquire, but be careful about your tone – don’t make it sound like a complaint. Never just email your CV and ask if it’s worth applying – no-one can possibly answer this, because that would be pre-empting the judgement of the whole selection committee. Keep any enquiry short and avoid follow-up questions unless they are really necessary.

6)  Be prepared for the next stage. If an interview date is specified, keep it clear until you hear whether or not you have been shortlisted. It is hardly ever possible to change an interview date, because panels want to assess all candidates together and in any case it is usually impossible to reconvene the panel because everyone has other commitments.

7)  If you don’t get shortlisted, don’t ask for feedback.You are unlikely to be told anything other than that it was a highly competitive field with many strong applications.The time to ask for feedback is after the interview. Review your application materials carefully to ensure that they are as well presented as possible, but apart from that you just have to accept it and move on to the next application.

8)  If you are offered the post, you will be expected to decide within a short space of time, usually only a few days, whether you want to accept it. If you are shortlisted, start finding out then whatever you need to know to enable you to come to a quick decision.