I feel your pain, this is quite a stressful process. I applied for jobs across 3 years and it was an intense, exhausting, stressful, and exciting process. I made a ton of mistakes, but through trial and error got closer and closer to a job (year 1: 1 phone interview, 0 offers…. Year 3: 12 phone interviews, 5 offers). And then this past year sat on my first search committee and saw things from the other side. Below are some suggestions for strategies that can help set your application apart. Anyone have any other suggestions? Good luck everyone!
1) THE PROBLEM AND HOW TO USE YOUR CV TO YOUR ADVANTAGE: Last year I got to see how applications are actually reviewed. It's a bit horrifying. Think of it this way: if you had 100 applications to review, how much of your time would you spend on each? Basically 4 people skim through the CVs and the cover letters and cut about 50%-75% of the people. Then those 4 people choose 3-10 finalists and bring a 1/2 page summary of the candidates to faculty meeting where people vote based on the CV and 1/2 page summary.
Don't assume that the faculty voting have read your research or teaching statement or articles or reference letters! The search committee did, but many of the other people probably didn't. Don't assume that the search committee even remembers anything about your application when you do the phone interview. I'm sure the practices vary by place, but the key point is professors are all busy people and the job search is just one small part of the things they are juggling even though it is the most important and central part of your life right now.
So, the reason I mention this is it should guide how you construct your CV, since this is all most people will see or remember during voting time. At the top of my CV (after name), I have a short 5 sentence summary of my research program in jargon free easy to understand language.
Then standard stuff like education awards publications conference presentations. But then a list of all the classes I've taught and my teaching ratings and a short paragraph about the student research projects I've mentored.
So, you can use the fact that many people just read the CV to your advantage - make sure it includes the info you most want people to know, since it's all most people will know. Same with cover letter: highlight your research areas, what classes you can teach, and list some of the more impressive places you've published. If your work is highly cited, highlight your citation number and h index. If it's not, highlight the impact factor of the journals you've published in if they are high.
2) MATERIALS: Get all your materials prepared and photocopied in September/August. I had 40 packets ready to mail in August and just needed to add the cover letter. It was a pain in the ass to do so I hired a former RA at $10 an hour to help out.
3) COVER LETTERS AND TAILORING: Create different materials for liberal arts and R1 institutions. My research statement for a liberal arts college for example emphasized how my research is used as a teaching tool and heavily involves undergrads and highlighted. Also, I asked 12 of my former RAs to cowrite a letter of recommendation to show that I have an impact on student scholarship.
Your cover letter is very important. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are wrong. Have a 1-2 page cover letter that is divided into the following sections: Your current institution/major/position, your interest in the specific position (tailor it to each school), your research program (summarized in a very accessible way that makes it clear what the focus is and why the reader should care), your teaching philosophy and interests (including specific classes you want to/can teach), and a brief summary of the documents you have included in your application. Highlight anything particularly novel (e.g., NSF grant, etc).
4) STRANGERS: Have 5-6 faculty who don't work with you look over your research and teaching statement. Your advisors are too close to your work. You need feedback from strangers (since strangers are the ones reading your materials). Your statement needs to be interesting not only to people in your area but also to people in other areas as well. The advice I always give to my students is to write it so that your grandma would understand why it is interesting and important.
5) CONTACTS: Use all your personal contacts for the jobs you care about. If I knew someone at a university I was very interested in, I emailed them and expressed how interested I was in the position. At the job I accepted, one of my good friends had published an article with the search chair. After I submitted my application, I asked her to put in a good word for me with the search chair. Connections matter. If there are two qualified applicants and you have info on one from a source you trust, who would you invite?
6) DREAM JOB: For the 5 or so jobs I cared the most about, I asked my letter writers to highlight that I was extremely interested in the position and why I was so interested in the position, and I wrote in the cover letter that this position was a "dream job" for me for reasons X/Y/Z
7) PROVE YOUR INTEREST: I personalized the first paragraph of every cover letter for each school. Sometimes it was just changing a sentence or two. For the jobs I cared about most, I added specific details about the programs I could see contributing to or put in quotes from the school website regarding the teaching philosophy of the department. It just shows that you are interested in the position and not sending out a form letter. For the jobs I really cared about, in my research and teaching statement I had sentences that said things like "I would very much look forward to mentoring undergraduate research projects at NEW COLLEGE". Then I just changed the college name as needed.
8) ADVISOR LETTERS: I asked for my packets of letters from my advisors in August. Just having 40 sealed envelopes ready to mail and in the packets. For the online ones, I tried to submit them all at once so that it was easy for my advisors to just sit down once a month or so and upload the letters. As a rule, always lie about the deadline of course (i.e., assume that your advisor will be late, so if the letter is due on March 1st tell them it needs to be submitted Feb 1st).
So that's what I came up with and I think it helped. Anyone else find any tricks or strategies that work?