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I occasionally receive "cold-call" applications from graduate or postdoctoral candidates interested in working in my research group. Most of the time, they are of no interest—it's just a "form letter"-type application. However, once in a while, I get an application from someone who I would consider giving an interview to—if I actually had an open position.

What I want to do is to let people know that I am interested in such candidates, even though I don't have an open job for them. Is there a way to express this interest, and to encourage them to apply again when a new position becomes available. Is there a good way to do this—most of the time, such emails sound very trite, and that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

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Send good emails, "aeismail" anagrams to "A1 emails" :) –  Bravo Apr 29 '12 at 5:06
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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Being in the situation of looking for postdoctoral positions, I can at least give you my feelings of how I would understand that the person I contacted is interested, but cannot provide a position right now:

  • First of all, replying is already a good sign of interest. There are many persons who don't even take the time to answer to an official application for an open position (apart from the standard acknowledgement email), and you have to consider that you don't get the job if you don't hear from them. So, if you take the time to answer, that shows that you have at least a bit of interest

  • Then, if you provide a "personalized" answer, that shows that you took the time to read some of the applicant's papers, then it's clear that you are interested, and even if you can't provide a position, you might be interested in a collaboration.

  • The ideal would be if you can invite the applicant to give a talk, even though it's clear that there is no job following It would be a good opportunity for the applicant to talk about his work, to get some practice, meet new people, and that can also give you the opportunity to talk about creating a project together.

Basically, when one contacts a professor even though there are no official open positions, there are no really high expectations. But knowing that the professor is interested, but has no funding, is great, because it also opens the possibility to apply for a position in one year or two, when some funding is available. In order to show your interest, you can consider it as offering a potential collaboration: you can't provide money, but you would be glad to work with the applicant.

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This answer is about faculty candidates, not graduate student or postdoc candidates. (I misunderstood the original question.)

First, be honest with the candidate, both about your interest and about your ability to hire. Yes, we are very interested. No, we don't have any regular faculty slots this year. Yes, we would love to fly you out, have you give a talk, meet with some of our faculty and students, maybe have a chat with the dean, and see where things go from there. Make no promises you can't actually keep.

Second, a lack of open slots does not mean it is impossible to hire. Your college or campus may have finds set aside for "excellence" hires, or for cross-departmental research initiatives (like "clean water" or "computational science"), or for dual-career families. Some other overlapping department may be willing to give you half a slot for a joint appointment. Another faculty member in your department or college may have just unexpectedly retired, resigned, moved to administration, failed to get tenure, or died. Your dean may be impressed enough (or encouraged enough by other senior faculty) to give you an extra slot just for that person next year.

Creating a slot takes a lot of legwork and a lot of political capital—you may burn a future slot even if the candidate doesn't come. So they'd better really be special, and you'd better know that they'll come if a position is actually offered.

Yes, I have seen this work.

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Thanks for the response, but I should have articulated that this was for graduate or postdoctoral positions. So I'm not forced to create a faculty slot—I just need to find some new project funding. I've edited the question accordingly. –  aeismail Apr 28 '12 at 15:41
    
Oops! Sorry I misunderstood. –  JeffE Apr 28 '12 at 19:50
    
No problem. It's just a sign that my original question wasn't clear enough. –  aeismail Apr 28 '12 at 22:32
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