Applying for Faculty Positions

Looking for a faculty position is challenging for scholars in all fields. The menu below is a step-by-step guide to help you begin your faculty job search:

  • Your CV is an academic autobiography. It may be 2, 3, or 5 pages, or more, depending on your field. If you continue on to a position as a faculty member, it will grow.

    There is no set order for the categories on a CV, but remember that your first page is the most important real estate. Put the things you really want to emphasize on the first page. Be sure to put your last name and page number on all pages beginning with page 2. Most of you are currently in a degree program, so it is likely that Education will be the first category on your CV.

    CV formats and conventions will differ from field to field. As you prepare your materials, be sure to take a look at some examples from people in your department. Your department may even have a template that they can share with you–this is a good starting point.

    Your CV will likely include the following sections:

    • Name and contact information
    • Education
    • Honors and Fellowships
    • Teaching/Research Experience
    • Publications
    • Presentations
    • Professional Memberships
    • References

    Here are some additional categories people sometimes include on their CV:

    • Professional Experience
    • Grants
    • Languages
    • Skills
    • University Service
    • Research/Teaching Interests
    • Certifications/Professional Licensure
    • Additional Information

    Formatting your CV:
    Be consistent. What does this mean? It means that if your first heading (EDUCATION:) is in bold, all caps, and ends with a colon, all of your headings need to look this way. It means that if you write your first date 05.2012-12.2012, all of your dates need to look this way.

    Avoid sloppiness. Check repeatedly for spelling mistakes and formatting errors. If you are not a good editor of things like this, find someone who is and who can help you.

    Use only one font, and chose one that is clear and readable. True story: using a font that is hard for a committee to read or one that is too cute might sink your candidacy.

    CV’s for scientists from the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development

    Penn Career Services has samples from a range of fields

    A terrific article on “Composing the CV” by Teresa Magnum

  • For many new Ph.D.s in the STEM fields, particularly the life sciences, a postdoctoral position is a required step along the way to a tenure-track professorship. For others, a postdoc may provide an opportunity to develop additional skills if a first foray into the academic job market was unsuccessful. A postdoctoral appointment might provide you with:

    • A chance to move your current research in a new, innovative direction
    • A chance to build new skills, or even change fields
    • A chance to develop lab management skills in a new setting

    How do you look for a postdoc? A good starting point is to talk with your advisor and/or committee members about labs that might be an interesting fit for your work–and how best to get in touch with the PI’s in those labs. Perhaps you’ve met someone who gave a talk in your department whose work was of interest to you or met someone at a conference; these are good ways to establish contacts with potential labs. Once you’ve identified a few labs that might be a good fit, reach out to the faculty member in those labs/departments with a brief and well-written email about why you are interested in working there, and attach your CV. Having a prior connection to a faculty member is one of the most effective ways of finding a postdoc. This is why networking is so important.

    Where else might you look for a postdoc? Well, it is likely that your field’s professional association has a job posting service that may feature postdoctoral positions. Also, websites such as Science Careers and Postdocjobs post information about open positions. Many institutions have a central website in which many postdoctoral positions are posted. This is fairly common in institutions with central offices that help postdocs manage their research and their career, for example, Ohio State, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.

    It is always worthwhile to seek your own postdoctoral funding that you can bring with you to a lab. This is particularly true if you’ve already identified a mentor whose work is a good fit, and he or she is willing to work with you on your application. Both the library’s funding website and the Graduate Center’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs are useful resources for finding funding opportunities.

    Before accepting a postdoc, ask yourself:

    • I am truly excited about research here?
    • Does this mentor seem like someone I can work with?
    • Will I be able to achieve my career goals here?
    • Do the other postdocs here seem relatively happy?

    Chose your postdocs carefully so that it can help to position you well for your next step, be it in academe, industry, or beyond.

    Articles and Resources:


  • Postdoctoral fellowships–temporary positions that allow graduates to strengthen their research and/or teaching portfolios before going on the market as stronger candidates–are becoming more and more common in the humanities and social sciences. Typically lasting between one and three years, postdocs sometimes carry lighter teaching loads than faculty positions do. Fellows thus have time to advance their research agenda. For most job candidates, applying for a postdoc is a good option for someone who did not secure a tenure-track job that year. At the same time, some postdocs are themselves very competitive (for example, the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago or Princeton University’s Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts).

    Before accepting a postdoc, think about whether or not it will serve as a good stepping stone in helping you achieve your professional goals. For example:

    • Will the position involve an independent research project that will strengthen your CV?
    • Will the teaching requirements prevent you from making progress in your research?

    Just as you’d tailor your tenure-track job applications to suit the needs of teaching versus research institutions, you should frame your post doc applications so that you describe your work in a way that falls in line with the mission of the postdoc. And although the postdoc position can be useful in providing you the opportunity to focus on your own research, you’ll also want to emphasize in you application how you will contribute to the institution’s scholarly community.

    Finding a postdoc

    Most postdoctoral opportunities will be published as part of your professional association’s job list. You can also find listings in The Chronicle and through other internet resources, such as the Academic Jobs Wiki and H-Net. The Council on Library and Information Resources also has an interesting postdoc for Ph.D.’s interested in fields such as the digital humanities and data curation.


  • Every application you submit should be accompanied by a cover letter that introduces yourself and explains why your background makes you a strong candidate. This is also sometimes referred to as a “letter of intent.” The goal of your CV is to show your readers what you have achieved up to this point; the goal of your cover letter is to show your readers how you’ll do (and excel at) the job to which you’re applying. A cover letter has to “sell” you to a certain extent; so you must speak highly of your own potential as a scholar in your cover letter (even if it feels like bragging).

    Writing good cover letters is time consuming. Ideally, a cover letter should be tailored specifically to both the job advertised and the type of institution to which you are applying. This can be challenging when you are applying to many positions over a short period of time. In that case, you might draft some language about your teaching and research that can be easily tailored to individual positions.

    The first paragraph of your letter should state which position you are applying for and how you heard about the job. It should also set up the rest of the letter by outlining why your background makes you a good fit. The bulk of the letter should detail your qualifications and achievements, while the final paragraph should again emphasize your interest and enthusiasm. Again, think carefully about your audience. If you are applying to a position at a community college, your letter should focus on your teaching instead of your research.


    Letters in the STEM fields are typically a page, while letters in the humanities and social sciences can be as long as two pages (and sometimes a bit longer). You may address the letter to the person named in the job listing or begin with “Dear Members of the Search Committee.” Whenever possible, use letterhead from the department with which you are affiliated. Finally, be absolutely sure that your letter has no errors! Have someone read it closely–not just for content, but also for typos, spelling errors, and other mistakes that are easy to make and easy to miss.


    • Two samples from a GC alum who did a postdoc before securing a tenure-track position at a liberal arts college: Liberal Arts College and R1 University
    • Samples from the University of Illinois Career Center
    • Samples from the University of Pennsylvania
    • This helpful blog post from a recent history graduate breaks down the elements of a sample cover letter



  • Many institutions will ask you to send them a teaching statement, sometimes called a “statement of teaching philosophy.” They may also ask you to send “evidence of teaching excellence.” You may be asked to send materials like these as part of your initial application, or an institution may request these as your application moves forward. It can sometimes be difficult to sort out exactly what search committees are looking for. Below are a few tips for preparing your materials and deciding what to submit.

    Teaching Statements

    The statement should demonstrate your commitment to teaching by providing an overview of your principles and values as they are put into action in the classroom. Be sure to illustrate how you intend to achieve your teaching goals, and discuss specific strategies and techniques you’ve found successful. These statements should be concise and avoid grandiose or abstract language; they are typically just one or two pages. Your statement should address what you do (and aspire to do) in the classroom. How do you engage students in the subject matter? How do you work with students with various levels of prior knowledge and different learning styles? What knowledge, skills, and perspectives do you hope students take away from your course? Though your teaching statement does not necessarily need to be tailored to each institution, you may find that there are different examples you may want to include or different courses you’d like to highlight as you apply to different types of institutions.

    Evidence of Teaching Excellence

    What is “evidence of teaching excellence?” Often, the most effective way to provide this to search committees is to be sure that one of your recommenders has seen you teach and can address this in his or her letter. This direct testimony can provide some of the strongest evidence for your teaching skills.

    In addition to your teaching statement, syllabi from courses you’ve taught, sample student activities, and student evaluations can also be used to demonstrate teaching excellence. These materials make up what is called your “teaching portfolio.” These are materials that you probably will not send to a search committee unless specifically asked. Keep in mind that search committees already have a lot to read. If, however, a search committee asks for “evidence of teaching excellence” without specifying what they would like to see, you might pick one or two items from this category and send them along with the rest of your dossier.


    • GC Teaching Statement Sample from a GC alum who did a postdoc before securing a tenure-track position at a liberal arts college
    • The Center for Teaching and Learning (CRTL) at the University of Michigan has statements from various academic disciplines. Each sample scored an “excellent” in at least one category of the center’s rubric for evaluating teaching statements.


  • The research statement (sometimes called “research summary” or “statement of future research”) is another common component of academic job applications. In about one to three pages, the statement should describe your current work, highlight your accomplishments, and discuss the direction you expect your research to take.

    Possible questions to consider:

    • What motivated you and got you excited about your past research? Why are the questions you asked are important to your field?
    • What types of methodologies do you favor for addressing these questions?
    • What is new about your research? How is your approach innovative?
    • How will your future research be beneficial to the institution to which you are applying? For example, will you be able to bring in grant money? How will you involve the students there? (This is particularly important for those in the lab-based sciences.)

    Try to situate your work in the context of your field, so that people from across your field can understand the impact of your work. This is particularly true when you are applying to smaller schools and community colleges where there may be only 1-2 sociologists in a department of social sciences and human services, for example.



  • For your academic job search (or to apply for fellowships), you will need at least three letters of recommendation. These should be written by people who know your research and teaching well enough to address these in detail in their letters. You will want your letters of recommendation to be confidential, which means that you will not read them. Confidential letters of recommendation are more credible to potential employers.

    Make life easy for yourself and your recommenders by doing a few things:

    • Ask for your letter well in advance of your deadline(s).
    • Be sure to give your recommender a deadline that predates the institution’s or organization’s deadline (i.e. if all of your materials need to be in by October 15, ask your recommender to complete the letter by October 1).
    • Send your recommenders the most current version of your CV and other job search documents you may have prepared. This will help them as they write their letters.
    • If there’s something specific (your teaching, a research project) that you would like a recommender to mention, ask.
    • Gently remind your recommenders that your deadline is approaching if you haven’t heard from them (or don’t see their letter in Interfolio).

    Many Graduate Center students and alumni use Interfolio to manage the process of sending out letters of recommendation. We are able to provide current students with a three-year account and $90 in mailing credits (click here for link). The advantage of using Interfolio is that it gives you control as to when your letters go out and you know when they have been sent.


    • GradHacker offers some dos and don’ts for obtaining strong letters of recommendation.
    • The Chronicle of Higher Education has more advice on obtaining the best letters possible.
  • In an academic job interview, the goal of those faculty who are interviewing you is to assess your fit for the department in terms of research, teaching, service, and what some might call “collegiality.” Departments want to find someone who is not only a strong researcher and teacher, but someone who will be a good colleague and who is a good match for the department, its mission, and its students.

    In many fields, the academic job interview process takes place in two rounds. The first round is a short, one-hour interview that takes place sometimes by phone, sometimes at a professional conference, or, increasingly, via Skype or similar services. The second round is usually a full day or two-day visit to a campus. You will need to have done some research into the department and the institution so that you can make the case for yourself as the best fit. You should practice interviewing–either with faculty from your department or with a career counselor (or both)–so that you can talk about these things fluidly and with confidence.

    Some sample questions you may be asked:

    • Tell us about your teaching.
    • Tell us about your research.
    • How would you teach our department’s introductory course on topic X?
    • What is your next project?
    • How do you motivate students?
    • What would you do to encourage students to major in our field?
    • Do you have any plans for seeking external funding for your research?
    • Why are you interested in our department/institution?

    In addition to being asked questions, it is expected that you will have some questions for those interviewing you. These questions should reflect that you’ve done some research on the institution and the department. You can’t ask: “How many students go here?” Your questions must be more substantial than that (and not easily answered by an internet search). Here are a few good questions:

    • What do you like best about teaching at this institution?
    • What are the department’s goals for the next five years?
    • How does this university support your research?
    • What are the service expectations for junior faculty?

    For more ideas about what to ask, see “Asking the Right Questions” from The Chronicle of Higher Education.


  • Given the tight academic job market in the United States, expanding your job search to include colleges and universities abroad might help you land more offers. Many U.S. universities, for example, are building international branch campuses (participating in what the New York Times calls “a kind of educational gold rush”), and these new schools will require faculty members. Hiring processes vary by country and by field, so you might even be able to find international job postings when the searches in North America are largely finished for the year.

    There are a few potential risks, however, associated with taking a position abroad temporarily. For example, leaving the country for an extended period of time can limit your opportunities to network with prominent U.S.-based scholars, and hiring committees in the United States sometimes look upon institutions in other countries as less prestigious — potentially making it harder for you to obtain a tenure-track job when you return. On the other hand, experience abroad can demonstrate to hiring committees that you will be a good mentor to international students (a plus, especially as more and more American schools are trying to attract top students from other countries). Be sure to discuss your options with your adviser and other people that you trust in your field.


    Where to look for job listings:

    • has international academic jobs listings, searchable by discipline and location.
    • The extensive list of faculty and administration job postings on is also searchable by location and type.
    • lists faculty jobs not only in the European Union, but from around the world.
    • The International Studies Association (ISA) site has job postings from colleges and universities around the world; the jobs are largely in the social sciences, although positions in the humanities and sciences are also occasionally listed.
    • Academic jobs are often listed on general employment sites., for example, might be useful if you’d like to work in Ireland; check if you’re interested in moving to South Africa. lists a range of jobs in the Middle East that you can filter by searching by keyword (such as “faculty” + “your disciple).



    “Conducting the Academic Job Search,” written by Katrina Gulliver (a Ph.D. in history and a research fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians University, in Munich) and published in the Chronicle, is an especially useful primer if you’re considering applying for academic jobs abroad. For example, Gulliver recommends attending international conferences during graduate school if you can, familiarizing yourself with differing job titles and higher education debates in your target country, and using local terms in your cover letter.

    Kathleen M. Pike and Jean Dowdall, also writing for the Chronicle, offer advice on “Globalizing Your Academic Career.”

    “The Professor is In” has a guest blog on the Dutch academic job market, which is “relatively open to American candidates.”


365 Fifth Avenue | New York, NY 10016 | Room 3300.08 | 212-817-7425 | | @careerplangc
Make an Appointment | Join our Email Lists | Career Planning Guide | Interfolio | Versatile PhD

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message
Skip to toolbar