Searching for academic jobs can sometimes be a slow and painful process.

But everyday I spot good news on Twitter about how someone has landed their dream job.

  • What are they doing right?
  • What are the critical success factors that make one applicant successful over the other?

Dr Peter Matthews (@urbaneprofessor) shares useful insight into what to consider when applying for academic jobs, especially in the UK.

He writes:

My top do’s and don’ts for applying academic jobs in the UK

… particularly an academic job, which will help you get an interview; Or things that have leapt out at me having shortlisted for two jobs recently.


You may also like to read:

How to ace your job interview presentations – Katy (Researcher Coach)

How to get employed after your PhD – Jennifer Polk (From PhD to Life)


How applicants get shortlisted for academic jobs

There’s no dark art of shortlisting in the UK.

Thanks to a mix of law and HR practice in the UK it has to be a tick-box exercise for transparency and legal accountability down the line.

This can be bad, but it is designed to reduce bias in the system and make it rigorous.

So, as a shortlister, you get a set of essential and desirable criteria.

You look at the application and judge whether the candidate has these criteria.

Usually it’s:

0 = not met criteria

1= partially met

2 = met

3 = exceeded

At the shortlisting meeting, you basically remove all the candidates who have 0’s or 1’s for the essential criteria.

You then look at how long you’ve got for the interviews and then shortlist the highest scoring candidates for interview.

A committee will try their best to interview all the candidates that meet the essential criteria, resources (time) permitting.

Soooooooo, biggest mistake: hiding that you meet the criteria in a cluttered CV or lengthy covering letter.

It is unbelievably frustrating when someone doesn’t put in enough detail and you know they could score 2, but your only choice is to score 1 (or even 0).

Recommendations for your next academic job application

#1 Create your own assessment grid

I’d recommend making your own assessment grid: a table with the criteria, and then quickly go through your application and see if you can score yourself against them.

Even better, get a friend or relative to do it, as they don’t know you as well.

#2 Proofread your application

This is the easiest way to score 1 on the “Communication and Presentation skills” criteria.

If you can’t present your application properly, you don’t meet the criteria.

#3 Clarify the essential criteria

If a PhD is listed as an essential criteria, and you’re nearing completion, contact the named person in the advert before starting to apply.

You might be knocked out at stage 1 and have wasted a lot of time.

#4 Tailor your covering letter to the post

We know you’re applying for lots of jobs, but PLEASE take the time to tailor your covering letter to the post.

It is actually quite insulting to read a covering letter with another university’s name in it, or that is clearly for a different job.

A good way to structure a covering letter is to actually follow the job description – this makes it very easy for the shortlister.

Make sure you include brief examples of how you meet the criteria too.

#5 Outline your publication plans

If you’re just out of your PhD, we know you love it and it is your life, but please make sure you outline your publication plans and have an idea as to what to do next which is not just more of the same.

This will probably be one of the key criteria.

#6 Don’t ignore the “soft skills”

Don’t ignore “soft” skills like working in teams, or being conscientious because you presume your CV demonstrates them.

You need to be explicit about how you’ve demonstrated this skill.

For example, what teams have you been involved with or led?

And that’s about it.

If you can score yourself 2s through the essential criteria, you should find yourself in front of the interview panel.

And, yes, I do know job criteria can be “mixed”, but most of us have had half-decent training on writing them.

BEST OF LUCK to you in your job applications 👊👍


Dr. Peter Matthews is  a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling.

He blogs about urban policy, cycling and other ephemera in a semi-professional manner on his website, Urban Policy & Practice.

You can also follow him on Twitter.


Feature Photo by Rahul Shah.