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Applying for Positions in Academia and Industry

By Dr. Margarete Hubrath

Aspects that lead to success when applying for a job in the private sector can be a criterion for failure in academia and vice-versa.

Applying for positions in academia and industry
Appointment procedures at higher education institutions differ in many ways from recruitment processes in companies. Things you should keep in mind: overly lively or creatively worded covering letters are likely to meet with suspicion in academia. In academia, it's not the "manager with an attitude" who's in demand but the serious researcher who primarily qualifies through his or her research activities.

The presentation of your academic career in your CV should be equally well structured for companies and universities, making all essential information about your qualifications directly accessible. A particularly elaborate, perhaps even coloured layout of your documents is not worthwhile for appointment procedures since the application folders are very rarely looked through by all members of the appointment panel personally. The members of these panels very often base their decision on tabular format overviews containing directly comparable details about the applicants, e.g. age, research focus, number of publications, amount of acquired external funding etc.

Your qualifications are decisive

However, for applications for professorship positions, the need to keep it short (i.e. a maximum of two pages for your CV) which is typical of applications in industry does not strictly apply. On the contrary, your level of qualification increases the more projects and responsibilities in both teaching and research that you can present. A multi-faceted academic profile may easily take up several pages in your CV.

In the academic world, having "no gaps in your professional history" does not necessarily mean that one contract must have directly followed the other. In many disciplines, it is entirely common that there will be some (short) phases of time between two employment contracts in which e.g. applications for funding extensions were written etc.

Carefully chosen and listed hobbies or particular interests outside of your occupation are not particularly relevant for academia. In many disciplines, you will rather encounter the attitude that there should not be anything else in the life of a researcher apart from their job.

Industry versus academia

In addition, there are a few differences between the appointment procedures of industry and academia that you should note. While companies are normally interested in filling vacancies fairly quickly, appointment processes at universities may take up to two years from posting the job offer to appointing a professor. The personal evaluation of the various applicants however takes the smallest amount of time in this procedure. The appointment panel will often find it entirely sufficient to interview the candidates once in order to form an opinion.

In companies, on the other hand, decisions are often only taken after several interviews; sometimes even more elaborate recruitment methods, such as assessment centres, are used. While it is normal for companies to reimburse applicants' travelling costs for attending interviews, this is rarely the case regarding the travelling costs for holding assessment lectures before appointment panels.

After the interview, a follow-up call to enquire about the status of the application process is viewed as a clear expression of interest in the role and thus as positive by many companies. This is not the case for university appointment procedures, where such behaviour is commonly considered pushy and inappropriate. Patience is indeed a virtue here.

uni-support / Institut für Hochschulberatung (Institute for Academic Consulting), Düsseldorf