preparing for the academic job search: candidate package

A candidate package is fairly standard; most schools will ask for an up-to-date CV, followed by research and teaching statements, often a diversity statement, list of three to five reference letter writers and some number (typically three to five) representative papers. To this, you should add a cover letter. What is written below is biased towards research institutions; adapting it to teaching institutions moves stress from research portion to the teaching and diversity portions of your package. 

Here, I briefly discuss the cover letter and the CV. The research statement, teaching statement and the diversity statement appear in separate posts.


  • Q: Is it ok if research papers are not targeted to the position I am applying for?
    A: Yes. Your research papers demonstrate you have the skills to achieve specific goals; they do not necessarily have to relate to a specific problem/position.
  • Q: How do you relate several research papers in different areas?
    A: If possible, they should fit under your big vision umbrella. If that is not possible, some of them can just validate your ability to solve problems.
  • Q: If I know a faculty member at a particular institution, is it OK to send them my CV and ask them if they are hiring?
    A: Absolutely! That is the whole point of your network. Be polite, remind that faculty member where you met and tell them you are looking for an academic position and was wondering whether his/her institution is hiring. Mention that you are attaching your CV for his/her reference.
  • Q If the institution I am applying to recently hired in my area, does that mean they are not hiring again in the area in the near future?
    A: Not necessarily. It may mean this is their strategic thrust area and they are building a critical mass in which case they will hire again in the same area. Or it may mean that they are done with that area and will not hire again in the near future. The only way to know is if you know someone at the institution who is willing to give you some information.
  • Q If I read in the ad or get an email from the institution advertising positions in a specific area, should I apply even if this is not my area?
    A: You should. The worst that can happen is they are not hiring in your area; the best is that they look at your application and decide you are such an appealing applicant that they will interview you anyway.
  • Q How closely should I link myself to what is stated in the ad?
    A: If you can plausibly create a tie to the faculty ad, do; if not, paint your expertise with a broad brush.
  • Q: Does seniority really matter in the hiring process?
    A: Yes it does. The more senior you are, the fewer positions are available. In general, it is most difficult to get a tenured position outright.

Cover letter

A well-crafted cover letter can be very useful; it can be your case writ small. Use it to introduce yourself to the committee and give them “you in a nutshell”. Do not go over one page. Write your cover letter once you are done with the entire package.

  • Greeting: Address the committee by the name stated in the ad. If there is nothing stated, open with “Dear Members of the Search Committee:”.
  • Opening paragraph: State which position you are applying for (one sentence), why you are enthusiastic about the institution (one sentence) and why you are an excellent candidate for that position (one sentence).
  • Body paragraph: This paragraph should summarize the elements of your package. You can write it as a bulleted list. Start with a bullet (short) on your CV and accomplishments. Follow with the vision from your research statement with more specific medium-term elements. Follow that with your teaching and mentoring philosophy and some specific items you plan on doing. End with a strong diversity bullet.
  • Closing paragraph: Reiterate your enthusiasm for the position and why you are an excellent candidate for it. Thank the committee for its consideration and say you are looking forward to talking to them. End with a polite closing (“Sincerely yours”, “With my best regards”, …) and your full name.


  • Q: When I talk about my interest in the institution should only professional reasons be stated? How about personal reasons?
    A: You need always pivot back to professional reasons but you may couch it within a personal narrative. For example, you may say “Growing up in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon has always been a paragon of intellectual achievement; I would want my to spend my career in an institution like that.”


A full CV is a standard part of a package when looking for an academic position. Since most institutions have career services centers that do a good job of helping you create an excellent CV, we will skip details here and just give some general tips.

The CV should be well organized, with headings, bolded/italicized portions, bulleted lists and appropriate amount of white space. The main portions (such as Education, Experience, Publications, etc) should be easy to spot. Both the organization and specifics should be consistent; for example, if you spell out first names in publications, do it for all publications. Make sure you proofread it several times and check for spelling errors; sloppiness like this can turn the search committee off. Use action verbs when describing experience (for example, “Developed software for …”).


  • Q: If I helped with grant writing, is it OK to mention it in the CV?
    A: You may not list the grant unless you are a named member of the team. You may, however, state in the description under your PhD heading that you helped your advisor write grants (state agency and title of the grant).
  • Q: Is it OK to link an experience such as a startup in my CV?
    A: Absolutely!
  • Q: Should I include items that are not asked for in the application? Is that annoying?
    A: Depends on what it is. If it is something that can demonstrate your technical/leadership/etc skills, do. You may create a section in the CV named Miscellaneous and list it there.

useful links

(more to come)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *