Should I apply? Should I interview? The answer is always yes.

It seems to me that jobs may be on the rise this year, simply because I get about a daily inquiry from someone in my life about whether or not they should apply for X position or follow up on Y job lead. My answer is always the same.

If there is even the slightest chance that the job in question puts you in a better situation than the one you are in, YES. YES. BY ALL MEANS YES.

Now obviously there is a cost to applying for jobs. It takes time and interviews take even more. But if you are on the job market, or considering it, there is a reason (advancement, change of scenery, family, colleagues, creepy colleagues, etc.). In that case, you owe it to yourself to explore the options. Time after time people say something along the lines of "I would go there if xxxx, but I don't think that is possible" before they have even applied. This drives me crazy because people take themselves out of the running before the race even starts.

Rule #1: Make the hard decisions when they need to be made. You don't know what is possible at a job until you negotiate so don't decide whether or not you would be interested before you've even applied.

Rule #2: When opportunities present themselves, check them out. I have watched several friends of mine stumble into jobs that they had not previously considered, which turned out to perfectly fit their lives. By simply returning a phone call or agreeing to a meeting, they struck gold because they didn't make an a priori decision that something wasn't right for them.

Rule #3: Let the search committee decide if you meet the criteria. Don't exclude yourself based on what YOU think THEY might be looking for.

It always amazes me how many people talk themselves out of a job they haven't even applied for! If you need a job or want a better one, do the legwork and kick some tires. No one ever got a job by not applying.

16 responses so far

  • Dr24hours says:

    Until recently, I have only gotten things I didn't apply for. I didn't apply for grad school, or for either of my jobs after school. I'm still not sure how it all happened.

  • FSGrad says:

    I try to live by a generalized version of Rule #3. Best advice I ever got from the parents. But overall, this whole post can be generalized to many aspects of grad school -- fellowships, papers, you name it.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Definitely true. I sent out a truckload of applications when I was on the TT job market.

    I was always shocked to talk with acquaintances about the tough time they were having in their job search and hear how few places they'd applied to.

    "I'll never get a TT position. The job market sucks."

    "How many applications have you sent out?"

    "Five."

    ???

    Some folks were applying only to ads that seem targeted to their exact research sub-area & skill set. They didn't seem to appreciate that if an ad is that focused and detailed, it's very likely that they have a specific person already in mind.

  • Joshua King says:

    Leadership at its finest, blog-style.

  • pyrope says:

    In my department, the committee that writes the job ad is often completely different from the search committee...so no sense guessing exactly what they want from the job ad. Also, committee >1 person, so they probably want many different things.

  • geranium says:

    This makes sense. Once invested in pursing opportunities, dive in.

    But if you are on the job market, or considering it...

    This is what I'm interested in. Deciding WHEN to do this. I'm a postdoc in biology and my plan had been to apply for TT jobs early. This way I might get some practice defining my future research program, and if I were so lucky to get an interview, get some practice interviewing. If it took three years on the market to get a job, so be it. (I'm lucky to have secure funding in my postdoc.)

    However, my grad advisor, postdoc advisor and all the big deal randos I corner at conferences hate this strategy. As one (biomed) PI put it, "you're only a debutante once, make it count!"

    (barf)

    Their rationale is rooted in becoming known and respected in the community, however, which is pretty legit.

    WHAT TO DO?

  • chall says:

    "It always amazes me how many people talk themselves out of a job they haven't even applied for! "

    but it saves you from being dissed after all the work you put in, thus 'wasting time applying'. Only half-joking since that's been going through my mind/rationalization for not applying for some jobs. The fear of rejection after putting in a tonne of work. Then again, I have a job I like but have decided to keep looking for the next step before I really need* to move.

    What I have done to try and get over this, is to regularily look over my CV/Resume and update it with new things and read more job applications in order to hone in on all the various positions there are out there. Then write an application and send them in, without perfecting it for weeks but give it "just enough" since I've come to the conclusion that more often than not, I over-think the application letter and do too little to anchor it at the recieveing end...

    As for "more jobs", it feels like that - I do think there might be "more applicants" too though.

    *technically I could probably stay in my position forever, it's permanent, but there is limited upward movablilty, which makes it less likely for me to stay for a very long future.

  • Brooksphd says:

    "It always amazes me how many people talk themselves out of a job they haven't even applied for! If you need a job or want a better one, do the legwork and kick some tires. No one ever got a job by not applying. "

    The old "imposter syndrome" at work here. Something vital that is often overlooked by job seekers is attempting to form a communication link with the various hiring managers you meet. This way, if the answer is "thanks, but no thanks", you have recourse to ask "why?" and use knowledge gleaned to attempt to make yourself more marketable.

    This is also why I drive networking and face-to-face meetings with anyone I'm 'mentoring'. You need to understand the market and resumes of your competitors.

  • miko says:

    Everyone tells me that if you have a connection to anyone in a department you are applying to (or friend of a friend, etc), you should reach out and let them know you're interested and try to find out more about the search.

    These are always awkward to me. Hi, we met at SfN 4 years ago... Hi, our mutual friend suggested I should contact you.... I express my enthusiasm for the department, 1-2 sentences about what I'm doing, note a mutual interest, attach cv, and then a vague fishing question about search committee's priorities.

    The response is always some form of: Glad you're interested, your work looks great, you should totally apply. WTF else would they say?

    Is this a real thing to do? I don't feel like it accomplishes anything. Or does it? You people on the other side of this, pray tell.

  • Bashir says:

    How far do you go with rule #3 in terms of fit? At some point the job description and research area is so different from what you do that it really is a waste of time. Particularly if you are taking time from working on job apps that are a more reasonable fit.

  • Bashir says:

    I 2nd mikko's question. People do this?

    "I just wanted to let you know I'm applying for a position in your department..."

  • proflikesubstance says:

    However, my grad advisor, postdoc advisor and all the big deal randos I corner at conferences hate this strategy. As one (biomed) PI put it, "you're only a debutante once, make it count!"

    I've seen this before and find that it is field specific and tends to be favored by people last on the market >20 years ago. I sent applications in year 2 to the jobs that were up my alley, and much more broadly in yrs 3 & 4.

    but it saves you from being dissed after all the work you put in, thus 'wasting time applying'. Only half-joking since that's been going through my mind/rationalization for not applying for some jobs. The fear of rejection after putting in a tonne of work.

    You HAVE to get over this or else the first year of a TT position will kill you.

    Is this a real thing to do? I don't feel like it accomplishes anything. Or does it? You people on the other side of this, pray tell.

    I can see doing this. I puts a face to an application package and might afford it an extra minute look in the weed out process.

    How far do you go with rule #3 in terms of fit? At some point the job description and research area is so different from what you do that it really is a waste of time. Particularly if you are taking time from working on job apps that are a more reasonable fit.

    Obviously this is going to vary by the number of possible jobs one can apply to. I had three versions of my letter and research package that roughly corresponded to different possible foci. If something was WAY outside of any of them I didn't bother, but I was specifically thinking of the broader job descriptions.

  • chall says:

    .... Only half-joking since that's been going through my mind/rationalization for not applying for some jobs. The fear of rejection after putting in a tonne of work.

    You HAVE to get over this or else the first year of a TT position will kill you.

    PLS: I totally agree that it has to be done, the applying I mean.

    (by the way, I'm not on the TT but in industry. Although, I think your advice works well for that too. Need to apply for a job you are interested in. Need to work on it all the time)

  • TheGrinch says:

    I had same questions 1+ year into postdoc and boy am I glad I paid attention to similar advice I received at the time. There are just so many unknowns (mostly out of one's control) in the TT job search process, it does make sense to go all out.

    Great post PLS!

  • Mac says:

    Excellent advice! I can vouch for the recommendation to apply if it's even close thing. I got an interview once where I had forgotten I applied for the job. It was one those ones I threw in because although the job title was outside my specialty area they had something connected in the description and I thought 'why not'. The search chair called about 2 months later and I had to think quick to even remember what the description had been - it was far enough outside my area that it wasn't one of the jobs I kept track of. I didn't get the job and that was probably in part because I wasn't really what they were looking for (although it may also just have been that the person they hired did a better job on the interview) but if you can get the interview you've got a shot and at worst you get some interview practice and make some professional connections. I've seen people not apply for jobs because of small differences in the ad versus what they do e.g. 'they say they want someone who works with mammals but I work with mammals and birds so I'm out ' (made up example but not far off) and I always wonder if they didn't just miss a great opportunity.

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