- Follow the instructions for job applicants, and read the further particulars. I gather that there are some careers advisors who recommend candidates should send their application direct to the principal investigator, rather than via administration, because it will get noticed. It will indeed, but it will create the impression that you are incapable of reading instructions.
- Specify how you meet the selection criteria. Our university bends over backwards to operate a fair and transparent recruitment policy. We need to be able to demonstrate that our decisions are based on the selection criteria in the job advert, and not on some idiosyncratic prejudice. The ideal applicant lists the selection criteria in the same order that they appear in the job description and briefly explains how they meet them. It makes the job of the selection panel much, much easier, and they will give you credit for being both intelligent and considerate.
- Don’t apply if you don’t meet the essential selection criteria. So, if the job requires you to drive, then don’t apply if you don’t have a driving licence (or a chauffeur). When I was young and naïve, I assumed people wouldn’t apply for a job if they didn’t meet the criteria, and ended up appointing a non-driver to a job that involved travelling to remote locations with heavy equipment. It is not a mistake I’ll make again.
- Don’t assume anything is obvious. To continue with the example above, if the job involves driving and you don’t mention that you can drive, the person evaluating your application won’t know whether you’ve forgotten to tell them, or if you are avoiding mentioning this because you can’t drive. Either way, it’s bad news for your application, and in the current market, it’ll go on the ‘no’ pile.
- Don’t send a standard application that is appropriate for any job. It’s key to include a cover letter or personal statement that indicates that you have read the further particulars for this specific post. Use Google to find out more about the post/employer. On the other hand, the employer really doesn’t want or need to be told about the subject matter of the research - once I had the equivalent of a short undergraduate essay, complete with references, included in an application, and though it demonstrated keeness, it was complete overkill.
- Read through your application before you submit it. I’ve had applicants who describe how enthusiastic they are about the prospect of working, not in my institution, but in another university. I’ve had applications where entire paragraphs were duplicated. A melange of fonts changing mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence, creates a poor impression.
- Run the cover letter/personal statement through a spell checker, and check the English. Anyone working for me will be sending letters and information sheets out to the general public on my behalf. It creates a bad impression if there are errors, and so you’ve a very high chance of getting on the ‘no’ pile if you make mistakes on an important document like a job application.
- Be honest. If there’s something unusual about your application, explain it. I have, for instance, shortlisted a person who’d had a prolonged period of sick leave, but who gave a clear and honest explanation of the situation and was able to offer reassurance about ability to do the job.
- Be concise, but not too concise. The cover letter/personal statement should cover all the selection criteria, but avoid wordiness. One to two single-spaced pages is about right.