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Tips for a successful postdoc application

By Birk Grüling

Universities and research institutions have strict requirements and high expectations for postdoc applications. Our postdoc application guide explains how to make a good impression with your application.

Tips for a successful postdoc application© Luis Pedrosa - istockphoto.comPointers to a successful postdoc application

Read the job announcement carefully:

This first point may sound obvious, but it is very important. You should read the announcement for the postdoc position thoroughly and ask yourself a few questions. How does this position fit in with my research career so far? Do the tasks and duties involved sound interesting and will they advance my career? Which of the requirements do I meet, and which do I perhaps not meet? Answering these fundamental questions will also help you draft your application.

Pay attention to the formalities:

"Please send your written application, quoting the reference number and accompanied by the usual documentation, to..." You may not know exactly what phrases like these are asking for. It is therefore advisable to check with the university or research institute to see whether they have general information and guidelines on submitting postdoctoral applications. You should be sure to fully comply with these formalities in order to avoid annoying any potential employer. This also includes bearing in mind the customary application requirements for passport-size photographs and portfolios.

An "exposé"/cover letter:

Research centres and departments regularly ask applicants to provide a detailed "exposé" or essay explaining how their research profile matches the advertised postdoctoral field of study. Remember: providing a focused description of your work and expertise is more important than writing a 12-page novel.

Diplomas and transcripts:

If stipulated in the announcement, documents such as diplomas for your master's or PhD, and any relevant employment references should be enclosed. All transcripts must be certified. Here, too, less is more. Employers don't need to see your old high school diploma or the reference you received from your work in a restaurant when you were a student.

List of publications:

A list of publications, consisting of books, articles, and reviews in high-ranking journals, is an important way for postdoc applicants to demonstrate their academic achievements. Depending on the requirements of the university or research institute, you may also enclose some exemplary papers. Noteworthy lectures delivered at meetings and conferences may also be of interest.

Teaching skills:

If the advertised postdoc position also includes teaching duties, you should briefly describe your previous teaching experience. You should also include teaching evaluations, sample lesson plans, and list any advanced teacher training you may have had.

Further skills and qualifications:

In addition to research skills, many employers also require new postdocs, especially those in the natural sciences, to possess practical professional skills. These may include knowledge of programming languages such as C++ or experience using statistical programs. This may also include experience in social media or journalism.

Soft skills:

It is a good idea to list any soft skills you may possess that may be important for the position. These could include, for example, previous management experience as the head of a junior research group, communication skills, or intercultural competencies, such as knowledge of a foreign language or research experience abroad.

Letters of recommendation:

In academia, it is customary for applications to include letters of recommendation from PhD or thesis advisors. Words of praise from a distinguished expert in the field can significantly help to open doors.

Use your networks:

Did your PhD advisor go to university with the director of the research institute, or did you have a long discussion with a professor from this department at a recent conference? Networking within your field is very useful, even when applying for a postdoc, if only to obtain information about a potential new employer. A good recommendation from colleagues or information on what is expected of the position will certainly not harm your chances of obtaining a postdoc.

academics :: May 2012