Preparing Application Materials for an Academic Position

Before you begin...

Before getting started, check out this video,
Strategies for landing your first academic position – Introduction

and depending on your area of study, these may be helpful as well:
The Academic Application Process: Social Sciences & Humanities – Duke University

The Academic Application Process: Sciences & Engineering – Duke University

What they want...

At the most basic level, each institution where you apply will want a copy of your curriculum vitae (CV) and a cover letter. To learn more about the difference between a CV and a resume, check out the article, Curriculum Vitae vs. Resume? ( They may ask for a whole host of other materials as well including:

  • Statement of teaching interests (or teaching philosophy)
  • Statement of research interests
  • Professional development plan
  • Sample syllabi
  • Writing samples or copies of published papers
  • Sample course evaluations
  • Letters of reference
  • List of professional references

What to keep in mind…

This is the time to make sure you do some research on the school in which you are applying. Here is some information to look for and where you can go to get this information:

The school or institution’s website
Here you can find out quite a bit about the school. Where they are located, how many students they have, what they’re campus is like, when they were founded, if they’re public or private, etc. Check out their “about us” page or equivalent. Find out what their mission and vision is, and how your career goals can help them further their mission. Look at the department’s website where the position is listed. How many faculty do they have? What areas of research do they work in? What courses are offered? Look at a few of their CVs if available as well. Where do they publish their work? Where are they from?

U.S. News and World Report Rankings (
Here you can find out quite a bit of information about the school or institution you’re applying to. They have information including number of students, student/faculty ratios, tuition costs, and much more.

Carnegie Foundation Rankings (
Here you can find out the ranking of the institution you’re interested in and what it means. For example, the expectations are much different at a very-high research (VHR) school versus an institution where only bachelor’s degrees are awarded.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (
Once again, a go-to resource. Look here for information on how much faculty are paid, type of institution, number of students, etc.

If you see a position announcement that fits you well, at a place you think you’d like to work, but maybe you don’t feel like you’re qualified, it can’t hurt to apply anyway. To take some liberties with a quote from Wayne Gretsky, “You miss out on 100% of the jobs you don’t apply for.” You may bring something to the position, not listed in the announcement, that they didn’t even realize they wanted. You’re the only one who has your special set of experiences and skills.

How to use the information you’ve collected…

When writing your cover letter, and possibly, statements of research/teaching interests, the search committee wants to know that you’ve done some research about their school, department and program. After you look at the courses offered in the department, list a few courses that you feel like you could contribute to, and think about a more advanced course that you could teach that would complement their curriculum. See if any of the faculty in the department do research that is similar to yours, or if your research can contribute to their work. Are there any research partnerships that you could see forming?

Address the question, “Why do you want to work at our school (type, size, location), in our department/program, with our faculty/students?”

Make sure you specifically address how you meet the qualifications that they are looking for in their position announcement, and give them what they ask for. If they ask for a one page statement of teaching interests, don’t give them a five page document. If they ask for three professional references, don’t give them 20. Acting like you know what they want better than they do will not earn you points…or an interview.

Here are a few online resources to help you get started, but also take the time to search for examples of the documents requested online - especially those specific to your discipline. There are some good examples (and not so good examples) of application documents online. You can also ask faculty in your department if they would be willing to share copies of their CV, or a cover letter they wrote for a position. You can also ask other graduate students.

Why relationships with other students matter (

Tailor your application materials so they reflect what is commonly done (format, content, length) and what is expected in your discipline. A statement of research interests for a mathematician is going to be much different than one for a historian.