While submitting applications for tenure-track academic positions, I encounter myself making mistakes. Such mistakes are, e.g.:

  • submitting in the wrong format (one PDF file is asked, and I'm submitting many as usual),

  • taking too much time until submission deadline (the deadline is today, and, oh $h1t, including the reference letters),

  • sending an e-mail to a wrong institution whose e-mail address is slightly different from the one you wished to use,

  • sending an e-mail from a private e-mail address instead of an institutional one,

  • being uncertain about whether I apply for ALL positions in question at one and the same institution and then switching between applications to different institutions, which takes additional time,

  • etc.

Clearly, certain mistakes could be avoided by doing things extra slowly or introducing check-up phases. However, these solutions take more time and, therefore, are a no-go for me: the deadlines pass by before I'm able to submit. Instead, I'd like to arrange my application processes in a best possible way, getting them quickly right the first time. How? (Before you suggest asking for help: there is nobody from my circle who would be able to help me with that more often than once every half a year.) Please share the technological, organizational, or self-organizational steps that DID work for you to avoid the mistakes of the above kind. You may also share the steps that DID NOT work for you.

This question primarily seeks advice from people who have already gone through the tenure-track application process (with success or failure). If it is the case for you, please say so.

  • Make a spreadsheet? Checklists? Thin out your list of jobs to apply to? For each job, make a folder. In this folder put the requirements and copies of your documents. Use PDF Split & Merge to assemble the bits and pieces into a single pdf. – aparente001 Jan 9 '18 at 4:14
  • Things that do not work for me: spreadsheets (I get lost in them). Things that work: For each and every application, sit down and go through everything carefully. And do it again. If I don't feel like putting in that effort, I see that as a hint to myself that I am not interested enough in the position (or whatever else I am trying to put in the effort for). – skymningen Jan 9 '18 at 12:15
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    You really don't want to spend an extra five minutes to review an application for a tenure-track job...? Why on Earth would this be a "no-go" for you? – user9646 Jan 9 '18 at 12:40
  • upload your application but do not submit it right away. Give yourself few hours, then come back, double check all the required documents are properly prepared and then submit the application. – The Guy Jan 9 '18 at 15:01
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    There is nothing specific to application for tenure-track position or even to academia in your question. You just need to take a course on self-organization. Btw., if you are having this much troubles with the application process already, why do you believe that you'd do better with the actual work the position requires? – Roland Jan 10 '18 at 8:20

Set yourself a personal deadline that is 2-3 days before the actual deadline. Upload everything you can in the online form (assuming this is an online form) but do not press the "definitively send your application to the committee, no backsies" button. If this is an email application, write a draft in your email client but do not send it; save it to the "Drafts" folder.

This way, you will be able to take the five minutes necessary to review your application before actually sending it. Should you realize "at the last minute" that something is wrong in your application... well, no worries, the deadline isn't actually for another couple of days! It shouldn't be possible to get to the point that the mere act of checking whether you wrote the email of the university correctly make you miss the deadline... Then once you're ready, you can actually submit your application.

Set several reminders on your phone, tablet, computer or whatever you use, as soon as you know the deadline. One for two weeks before, one for a week before, then three days before, then six hours before... Mark the deadlines on your calendar (either a physical one or a software one) and take the habit of looking at the next few days in your calendar every morning.

If you want to go the extra mile, you can use something like a personal wiki to keep track of all your applications, or even some task management software (personally I use something based on Kanban boards, maybe it's not optimal but it works for me) and write down in it everything you need to know to complete the application, such as what documents they need, where they need them, when... You can even make logical links between tasks, such as "I cannot complete task 'Send list of referees' before completing task 'Ask potential referees if they can send a recommendation letter'".


Self-organisation is important

  • Keep track of all announcements, ideally in one place
  • Be able to quickly review which are due soon
  • Plan your time

I have a separate browser window with all the calls I'd like to apply to. (I am in an active search phase, the question rings a bell to be.) You might be better of with a calendar application with links to the actual calls in the events or a wiki, as suggested above.

It's basically about knowing what applications are due soon, and when is which.

Customisation vs. chain-mail

Customisation is important. Arguably, nothing is a larger turn-off to an HR than an application which is not-specific. But not everything needs to be customised. Cover letter? Yes! Research statement? Maybe. CV? Nah. Well, it might be, but, frankly, what changes in your biography and list of papers, depending on are you applying to School A in research area X or institution B in research area Y? You are you, you have achieved what you have achieved.

  • Prepare blocks that are permanent for each application.
  • Identify and be able to change the blocks that are unique for each application.

I have a Makefile that goes into each application folder and builds the typical parts of an application from separate files, but YMMV.

Read the damn call

The call says a lot and you need to get this information out of it.

  • One PDF or separate files are Ok? (Not prob, pdfjoin does the job in one sec.)
  • Email or snail mail? (Add one-two days for latter.)
  • Deadline is date sent or date received. (STRANGE, as there are sort of unspoken conventions in my country, but happens. Add one-two days.)
  • References to be sent directly or attached. (Culture in my country is very different, so I need to worry much less about this. But yep, add two weeks or something and ask them well beforehand!)
  • Whom should the cover letter be addressed to?
  • What are the requirements for the job? (Adjust cover letter and research plan, meditate if you should apply at all or it is waste of time.)
  • Google the damn school and look at their rankings. (Do you want to go there? Really?)

Now you have sort of an internal deadline before the actual deadline. Try to make it. Be aware of "oh, I also need to make this application which is due in 3 weeks, but they need this special sauce with the personal signature of god as an original document, not a copy, thank you very much, so I need to start now". (And yes, it's exactly my thought, there is such a call on my radar right now.)

Be bold

Generally, apply everywhere. The only chance missed is a chance not taken, and such. I can reassure you, few years ago I got into a very prestigious university I never thought I would. During the application I clearly thought "they won't take me, this is special-tailored for someone else, it's a waste of time, BUT I'll try it nevertheless". Surprise, they took me.


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