Need a job? 7 Steps to Consider During the Process

by David Wren and Sonia Underwood 

Congratulations! You worked hard and finished your degree and are now ready to put all your dedication and hard work to practice. In other words, you need to get a job. A real one. Scanning through pages of ambiguous job postings, you are not sure what jobs entail, what are the qualifications (what does “or related field” really mean, anyway?), and how to filter those for which you can be competitive. Added to the fish-out-of-water feeling, you may have other restrictions of location or coordinating a job hunt with a significant other (see “Navigating the Two-Body Problem”). Applying for jobs can be daunting, especially when you are in the middle of finishing up your Ph.D. program, post-doctoral fellowship, or teaching 5 classes a semester. Your application writing will most likely not happen in a nice coffee shop during the morning, but at night, while your friends/significant other are laughing at the new season of Orange is the New Black. But there is good news! Actually, two very good bits of news for you. Good news bit one: your degree sets you apart from most applicants, which is HUGE in the screening process. The second bit of good news is there is a process that can maximize your success in your job hunt (see below).

It should be noted that “success” in the job hunt can mean many things. It could mean getting gainful employment, regardless of the location or the fit of job to your skillset or interest. It could mean being hired near a location where you would like to live. Generally, a compromise is made with location and job fit, as your dream job may not come up during the window you are searching. That’s OK. Getting any job will make it easier to get your dream job, but you should try to avoid locations or positions where you will be miserable. In other words, shoot for the stars (plan A) but have a plan B (e.g., teach at your graduate school as an adjunct professor) or plan C (e.g., post-doc) as backups.

Step 0: When to start, what materials and letters should you have ready?

Generally, job posting start in the summer and continue through the fiscal year (July 1). If you want a job July 1 (2017) you should start looking for jobs as early as August 2016. This gives you the best opportunity to find a job with the best fit. The early bird does catch the worm per sae in that positions could begin to fill as early as December 2016 for Tenure-Track positions for the following academic year (start date of August 2017). The point being that you should apply to positions of interest as they come available and not delay your application. On the other end of this comment, it should be noted that even though you see an apply-by date that has past, however, if you are interested in the position still apply! If they have selected someone already then no harm, however, if they have not even better for you. Some postings in late summer/early fall will have January start date, or a flexible start date. Job postings start to drop off around the new year, but there are always positions being posted, so don’t give up! Some ads are posted as late as needing someone to start the next month.

Having certain application materials on standby is crucial to being able to make all deadlines and making your application as competitive as possible. You might find your dream job posting a week before the application deadline or a job posting may be accepting applications and reviewing until a qualified candidate is found. Each position will require slightly different materials, but you should have the following ready to go before you start looking for positions: Curriculum vitae (CV), Philosophy of Teaching (1 page and 2-4 pages), Research Proposal (for tenure-track positions), Teaching Portfolio, transcripts from undergraduate and graduate institutions, and contact information for three letter of recommendation writers. Most likely you will need to modify your Philosophy of Teaching statement and Research Proposal for each institution. Having a long version (2-4 pages) and short version (1 page) of both can make this modification process more efficient. I provided all letter writers my CV and any other information that could be used to personalize their letter. More information about the application itself is below in Step 3.

Step 1: Where to look for job posting

Coming out of a Ph.D. program, both post-doctoral positions and teaching positions may be of interest. I would suggest not ruling either one out when conducting your search. For either type of position, networking through your advisor and your CER colleagues is crucial (See “Networking” blog by Megan Grunert). Let everyone know what type of job you are looking for, make sure you have an updated LinkedIn profile, and go to professional meetings prepared to network with people who are at institutions or have jobs for which you have an interest. Job openings are often known well before they are posted, so getting a head start with inside information can strengthen your preparation and application.

There are many websites that aggregate job posting. Sites such as allow you to search by field, location, and position which can be very helpful. Some sites will provide RSS feeds which you can just check daily like email (or hourly). In addition, there is a listserv for CER in which job ads for post-doctoral positions and faculty positions (of all ranges) are posted and archived at Also with this listserv you can subscribe so that you can get all the positions sent directly to your email.

Step 2: What criteria should you use to narrow the job search
Narrowing the number of applications you prepare will allow you to personalize your cover letter, teaching and research statements, and avoid fatiguing your letter of recommendation writers. Having served on hiring committees, an application with a generic cover letter does not generally end up in the short pile. It takes time to research the institution, program, or department to which you are applying. How will your skillset complement the current faculty or staff? What classes need to be taught, data need to be collected, students mentored? Is this a permanent position? What is the student population like?

Knowing what makes YOU unique is important, and selling this uniqueness is critical. Why does having a CER degree make you more qualified for the position. There will be some on hiring committees who are not familiar with CER Ph.D. programs. They will want to know if you know the chemistry content (be prepared to have transcripts available to help illustrate this if requested), so make sure you communicate your teaching and research accomplishments in the domains you focused on in graduate school. There are many skills that are valuable to faculty that you might not even be aware. Most CER research involves knowledge in cognition and factors that affect meaningful learning. Not many faculty have knowledge in this domain. For example, during my first month I was asked to co-author a grant section dealing with student outcomes and assessment, as I was the expert in the department. You know what no one likes to do in any Chemistry department? Assessment. Everyone hates continuous accreditation via assessment. Guess what? You are probably more qualified than most faculty to run statistical analysis, collect qualitative data, and provide suggestions for data collection instruments. As an applicant for a teaching-track position, if you can make someone’s life easier, you go to the short pile. Define yourself as more than just an instructor, but an asset. Don’t commit to doing all of the department’s assessment work, but clearly define your skill set and how it can be an asset for a department.

Step 3: The application

When submitting an application, there are many moving parts. While all of these pieces may not be required to the specific job you are interested in, we will discuss a variety here as well a view important aspects we believe should be kept in mind.

Cover letter: The first thing someone reads! This one page cover letter must be personalized to the institution and type of position you are applying to. Make sure what you write is appropriate and make every application have a unique cover letter. No cutting and pasting for this part! For example, it is not helpful to write about why you are qualified for a tenure-track position if you are apply for an instructor position (this has happened!). Furthermore, nothing is more damaging to your application than submitting more than one cover letter where one is for a different institution (seen this one too!). Therefore, care and detail should be taken with your entire application, but especially the cover letter. Each cover letter should consist of information about why you fit the position you are applying to, what you could bring to their specific institution (hence the need to personalize), and how you are qualified for the position (without reciting your CV). Including these parts to the cover letter imply to the search committee that you have thought about the position and how you would fit into their institution.

CV: All the amazing things you have done! The CV is where your creativity shows the most in that it depends entirely on what you want to include and how you want to display it. Of course information of where you went to school and the degrees you worked so hard for are necessary, but whether you include project details or thesis/dissertation tiles to show your specific skill set or how many details about the professional service you have done is a personal choice. The CV is what is most circulated around departments to inform faculty of applicants etc., so it matters and should be clear and concise. Assume that a lazy reader will only look at the first page, so organize and format your CV to put all of the most important information on the first page. One thing to note with your CV is that again it should be tailored to the type of position you want. Meaning that if you are applying to a position with more of a teaching focus, than teaching experiences before research experiences, whereas if you are applying for a position with more of a research focus then research experiences before teaching experiences. If listing publications in your CV, be sure to include the title of your papers so the search committee can easily look up the papers as well as know what you have been up to at a quick glance. Noting any talk for which you were invited (e.g., using an asterisk and a footnote) can make these accomplishments stand out. These simple efforts can assist a search committee in locating the more relevant sections of your CV to the position. On a final note for CVs, if grant writing is going to be a part of your desired position than be sure to include any grants from funding agencies as well as travel grants that you have submitted (whether pending, funded or unsuccessful) to show you have experience.

Philosophy of teaching: A document which should describe who you are and what you believe with respect to how people learn. What would your normal class period look like? What would you have your students do during class and why? Personalize your teaching philosophy to draw upon examples from your teaching experiences. If you have not taught before, that’s ok, describe what you would do when given the opportunity to teach in the classroom. If you have only taught laboratory sections during your graduate school days and there’s an example of a great teaching moment then feel free to use it. This best shows the search committee what your class would look like and why you believe it should be structured in a specific manner. Keep in mind that of all the documents in your application, this may be the last read (if at all for tenure-track positions) by some committee members. Try to catch the reader's attention in the beginning and keep the organization tight and use a unifying theme so it is easy to follow and read.

Research statement (if applicable): What amazing studies are you going to conduct when given those start-up funds as well as land that first successfully funded grant proposal? This part of the application should let the search committee know that you are ready to hit the ground running on your first day at their institution! Details about what you want to study, how this builds upon your prior research background, how you are going to carry the proposed studies out, etc. should be included. Information about what funding agency you are going to submit the idea to suggests that you know how to research the funding calls and are prepared for this part of the position. If possible, details about a specific funding call and when it will be submitted will set your application apart in that the search committee knows you are ready and committed to being successful in your new position (but make sure it’s something obtainable for you if you list it). Also, it should be apparent that you have more than one research idea. Meaning that you should provide the search committee with more than one study and how they are connected to show that if one direction is unsuccessful in being funded that you have a backup plan for another proposal ready to go. This is important as you will have more than one pending at a time and to brainstorm some initial projects helps.

Teaching portfolio (if applicable): Let the search committee know about how much you care about your students. This is the chance to include exemplars from your best teaching moments. It is the place to show them how you would structure your course (e.g. a syllabus), the types of activities you would have your students engage in (e.g. directions for a hands on activity or a group worksheet), examples showing the effort your students put into your class (e.g. a couple of unique examples of student work). Include artifacts that help support your teaching philosophy. Meaning that if you state in your teaching philosophy that it is important to give students opportunities to construct their knowledge, then your examples in your teaching portfolio should support that claim. Similarly, your artifacts should all support each other. This is another place to be creative in what you want to highlight as well as how your present your materials.

Step 4: Waiting...
You have spent hours on your application, triple-checked spelling, and sent your application off. Now what? Waiting is hard, especially when you really have your heart set on a particular position. Often, you will receive some acknowledgment of reception of your application material. Then, nothing. Some search committee’s will let you know when the search has closed and someone has accepted the position, some will say you did not make the cut, and some you will never hear from again. I would not expect to hear anything for 4-6 weeks after the application deadline, but it could be longer. If you have not heard anything after 6 weeks and you feel you are a strong candidate and need to make a decision about moving forward, it is not unreasonable to email the contact for the search to see their progress, restating your excitement and interest in the position. You most likely will not lower the probability of getting the job by expressing continued interest in the job opportunity. Often you will hear something back, but not always. Don’t keep emailing if you do not hear anything back. It might feel like you have no leverage in the job search, that “no one wants you”, but it is important to remember there are many factors outside of your qualification that influence search committee decisions. All positions must be posted publically, but sometimes an internal candidate has applied to the position, who are in a stronger position as a “known quantity”. However, having a unique degree and research/teaching experience can provide a contrast to internal candidates, so make sure you highlight these in your application! Internal politics can also play a role into who gets a Skype/phone interview. You have no control over this, but just remember extremely qualified applicants do not get a phone interview all of the time. A good fit between an applicant and a department/company include many factors that are always not clear to applicants. All you can do is make sure you highlight your strengths, your passions, and your vision to best help search committees see if you fit.

Step 5: The phone interview

Congratulations, your application has caught the interest of the search committee and they would like to learn more. Phone interviews are more often moving to video conferences (e.g., Skype, Google Talk, etc.), making it feel more like a real interview but also testing your technical abilities. Be sure you have researched the position and the university thoroughly before your interview date and time, being prepared sets you apart. Don’t walk in like you have no idea what’s going on. It also means you need to dress like a real interview, at least from the waist up. Phone interviews confirm your strength as a candidate by verifying your communication skills, affect, and enthusiasm for the position. Most interviews also include questions related to how you have handled adversity, why you want the position, issues concerning student diversity, and questions relating to your own background and application materials. I found writing out a paragraph summary of your dissertation research streamlines responses and helps you distill down what you accomplished in easy-to-understand terms. Also have a couple examples of adversity that you overcame, examples of accomplishments you are most proud of, and examples of working with students of different preparation or cultural background. Most importantly, have questions about the position. What will be the expected teaching load, what courses are you expected to teach, are there professional development funds available to attend conferences, does the position have a track to secure employment or promotion (for non-tenure track positions)? Try not to ask questions about doing things outside the scope of the advertised position (e.g., teaching upper-division courses for a lower-division teaching position, or ability to conduct research for a teaching-track position).

The most important thing to focus on during your phone interview is to be yourself and to be relaxed. This means booking a room with a lock on the door so you will not be disturbed. Pick a place where you know the internet will work flawlessly if you are meeting virtually. Being familiar with the technology used for the interview. Remembering to breathe. Your goal is to confirm that you are a person that the committee members would like to work with, you are worthy of an onsite interview, and your answers to their questions are not off-base.
Step 6: The onsite interview
Onsite interviews are as much about you interviewing the department/company for a good fit as well as them interviewing you. It might not feel like it from the applicant seat, but having sat on search committees, a good applicant has most of the leverage. Remember that it takes a lot of effort to obtain a new faculty line, much time to screen applications and narrow the search down to 2-3 finalists. The search committee wants to succeed (failed searches are equivalent to losing the Superbowl by a field goal in overtime) and it is your job to validate their selection. Coming prepared, enthusiastic about the department and the faculty’s research, and giving solid research/teaching presentations will go a long way in the selection process. Alternatively, I’ve seen candidates who looked extremely strong on paper lose a job by showing a lack of interest in the department, giving a sub-par presentation, or just not coming to an interview prepared. So, do your homework, practice your presentation(s), and remember that you have what it takes for the position or you would not be invited for an onsite interview.

Be prepared for a very busy schedule on the day of your interview. If you are a person who needs to drink water or eat a snack between meals, bring these with you. I carried a bag with me during all of my interviews that had water, coffee, and snacks. Most interview schedules start at 8:00 AM and go until 8:00 PM with little or no scheduled breaks. Most candidates are scheduled to meet with people for meals, so make sure you take the time to actually eat your food (ask questions to others that involve long answers as a way to take some bites). You will be talking non-stop for about 12 hours, so make sure you stay hydrated. Also, wear shoes that are comfortable for walking and clothes that can be layered for going inside and outside (you will be shuttled between offices and buildings throughout the day). I always made a cheat sheet with notes about the background and research of all of the faculty I was scheduled to meet. Showing that you are interested enough in the institution and department to look up information of faculty and remember it goes a long way on making a good first impression.  

Teaching demonstration (if applicable)

Teaching demonstrations can be the most nerve-racking and stressful part of your interview. Some departments will have you teach an actual class with real students on material that is planned to be covered that day. Others will have you teach to faculty and graduate students or upper-division classes on a topic related but not part of the course. If you act as a guest lecturer for a live class, it is critical that you obtain the course textbook, syllabus, and details what the students have covered up to your lecture. Make sure to assume the students have no prior knowledge of prerequisite material and build in questions to verify knowledge and notes for quick reviews. Teaching presentations are less about your mastery of content (this is generally assumed to be high for all candidates) and more about your control of a classroom, interaction with students, and enthusiasm for material you are teaching. Making an error while teaching is not a deal breaker, but faculty will be very interested on how you handle the mistake. If you or a student catches the mistake, make a joke that you were simply using a teaching technique called “making an intentional mistake” to see if everyone was paying attention. I actually did this during one interview and making this joke neutralized the mistake and got a pretty good laugh from everyone. The faculty remembered the recovery and not the mistake. Practicing your lecture with your colleagues before you go will dramatically improve the final product during your interview. The more comfortable you are in front of a classroom, the more comfortable the search committee will be putting in front of their classrooms.

Generally at the end of the interview there is an exit interview with the entire search committee or with the chair of the committee and/or the department chair. These can range from formal to casual, so prepare for both. It is not out-of-line to ask when the committee will expect to make their offer to the top candidate. This communicates that you are very interested in their decision and that you are considering other opportunities and need to have a timeline to make a decision.
Other notes of importance: 1) If you have a two-body problem in which the other would like a job at the institution this should be known from the beginning. Spousal hires are made under special occasions and should not be done during negotiations where the committee is blind-sided for example.  2) Also, if you are interviewing for a position that is more research focused, have a start-up package budget drafted before you go. Some institutions will want this up front when you start your interview (paper copy and digital as well). This should include what you need to hit the ground running at their institution (assume you have no supplies). Don’t go overboard with the budget, if you are completely in left-field that’s not good. The advice given to me was to have three tiers of a budget: must haves, comfortable, and wish list. This is where your network can come in handy ask to see what is needed to start a research lab if you don’t know (think of what you use on a daily basis from the software on your computer to the paper and pens). 3) If you are applying for a research position that is split between departments, be sure to ask if there is a department where your tenure goes through. If it’s multiple departments ask what the expectations are to know if they are like night and day or in-sync.
Step 7: Negotiations

Great news! You got the job! But, don’t let the warm embrace of gainful employment let your guard down for the most important part of the job hunt--negotiations. The most important thing to remember is ask for everything! At this point, you have all of the leverage and anything you ask for will not change the search committee’s decision that you are the top candidate. After you sign your contract, you go back to zero leverage. Again here is where research becomes a necessity. If you are trying to negotiate salary, etc. know what is reasonable for that position as well as for that institution. Consider cost of living, state taxes, etc. Know your battles when negotiating. Yes, most everything is negotiable, but be prepared to walk away from certain requests if they say no. But, if they really want you, they will try to meet all reasonable requests to the best of their ability. If you really need a piece of equipment to get your research started, make it separate from your start-up package. If you have a 9-month contract, ask for summer salary for your first year so you can get necessary data to apply for grants to pay for future summers. Make sure your teaching load is clearly stated in your offer letter (ask this during the interview as well) if it differs from others with the same title in your department. If you have a spouse that needs help relocating and finding a job, ask for assistance by the Human Resource department. It is very helpful to justify all of your requests, so that the department chair or Dean can better understand why you need more money. Rationales should be reasonable, and ground with something concrete like higher salary (does it meet a living wage in that city or are you more experienced than what might be expected) or moving expense (you are moving across the country). For example, I calculated that it would cost $8K to move my family across country for our given circumstances of the move (we needed professional movers because my wife was pregnant and I had to move out 10 weeks before we sold our house). I rationalized that the relocation package was insufficient and the Department was able to find money to lessen this burden. Negotiations are a way for you to help ensure your happiness and productivity down the line. This is beneficial for you and for your future employer. They want to help make you successful in your new position.

Other Great Resources: As it turns out, this is not the first or last post on how to navigate the hiring process. Here are some examples of previous blog posts and literature reads that are relevant:

10 Tips for a Successful Academic Job Search by LaKeisha McClary:

What’s behind Door Number Two: Other Chemistry Education Research Career Options - Part 1 by Stephanie Ryan:’s-behind-door-number-two-other-chemistry-education-research-career-options-part-1

What’s behind Door Number Two: Other Chemistry Education Research Career Options - Part 2 by Stephanie Ryan:’s-behind-door-number-two-other-chemistry-education-research-career-options-–-part-2

Chemical Education Research and Education Technology Industry by Erik Epp:

Why I Chose an Instructor Position After Graduation by Daniel Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano:

Informal Chemistry Education by Brittany Christian:

CER in Teacher Prep Positions by Michelle Dean:

Using Chemistry Educaiton Research in a Teaching-Centered Position by Seth Anthony:

Oliver-Hoyo, M. T. et al. Hiring and Promotion in Chemical Education J. Chem. Educ., 2008, 85 (7), p 898.