Last year, the most excellent Gerty-Z posted a most excellent check list of do's and don'ts re: one's tenure track application package. She is exceedingly wise, and I highly recommend you pay that post a visit. This year I'm on a search committee, and as I really start to sink my teeth into the dozens of applications that have come in, I'm realizing what a
shit ton of work hefty task this is. There are so many of you! And so many words that you want me to read! But before I'm going to read the bulk of your words (your research and teaching statements), I'm taking a first pass at your cover letters and CVs, and I want you to remember something very important: I am looking for a reason NOT to have to read your research and teaching statement.
Now, my departmental sub-division is on the small side, and we are looking for someone relatively specific with respect to research interests and techniques. Some bigger departments have the luxury (?) of just picking whomever has the most Cell papers and/or portable funding, but the reality is that we will pass over Cell papers and funding for a better overall fit (and a reasonably impressive publishing record and evidence of fundability).
As I'm going through all these CVs and cover letters, I'm having some thoughts that I feel it might behoove you to hear. Some of you may disagree with my sentiments here, and that's totally OK. This is my first time seeing things from the other side, and I welcome those who've got solid reasons why I'm doing it wrong. I'm not saying that any of these bad things is an automatic deal-breaker, but the more I love the way you put your package together, the more I'm going to love you, because I will think that you GET IT.
1. Think of your cover letter as the written version of your elevator pitch. Some of the cover letters I'm reading are WAY too long. One page, tops, people. This isn't your research statement--this is an introduction. State who you are, who you're working with and where, and 3-4 sentences max on your awesomesauce research. That is all I care about at this point in the game. If I want to know more, I'll read your statements!
2. Now, about that CV. Here's what I want to see, in this order. I'll be honest, this is not even how my own CV was organized, but now that I've read about a million of them, I feel like there are things I care about more than others, and I want all of those things first, even if it's not traditional.
a) Your title, where you are, and who your mentor is if you're still a post-doc.
b) Your education/training--institution, department, and your mentors at each step.
c) Past/present/pending funding
d) Publications, reverse chronologically. I'm sure you had a very nice undergrad project in 1999 and that's great that your PI made you 4th author, but I don't actually give much of a shit, and so I don't want to see it first. I want to see what you have been doing lately, and that includes submitted-but-not-yet-in-press stuff, but put that in a visibly separate category. And don't you DARE put a journal name if that thing isn't at the very least in press. I can't tell you how much I LOL'd today at "submitted to Nature Neuroscience" or whatever. Hooray for you! Also: put your name in bold so I can easily see which of your pubs are 1st author, and the journal's name in italics (if the paper is published), because even though we are not GlamourMag whores here, we still like to know. And if you're feeling particularly web-savvy, do as Gerty suggests and embed a link to your PubMed abstracts for each pub--it really says, "I am a 21st century kind of scientist!"
e) Invited speaking engagements
f) Awards (I'd say e/f are interchangeable)
g) Everything else: ad hoc reviewing, students mentored, courses taught, what have you. I realize that it's common to put abstracts/posters for meetings, but that's not what's going to put you in the yes vs no pile, you know? We've all been to a bunch of meetings.
Unlike the cover letter, your CV can be as long as you want it to be, so make it nice to look at! And by "nice to look at" I don't mean "color gradient background" or "mouse drawing" (yes, I've seen both). Use spaces between sections, aligned indentations, and bold section headings! Different reviewers are going to have different things they care about most, so make it easy for everyone to jump around and find what they're looking for. Finally, remember that this is a CV, not a resumé. None of this "objectives" business, and no paragraph descriptions of each of your projects.
Gosh, I feel like I sound kind of angry, here! Sorry about that--I am not, though this process does try my patience at times. Looks like it's time to invest in a new bottle of whiskey for the office...