All of a sudden I am at the other side of the table. The first time I had to hire someone in the lab I was probably as nervous and sleep deprived as the candidate, but I tried really hard not to show it. It's scary. Picking those first few people with whom you want to build your team is of great importance. You don't want someone to quit after a year, because they suddenly realise they want to do something else. You don't want troublemakers: when your lab is still really small, one sour apple is going to spoil everything. You hope for someone smart and creative and you take a guess. In the end, there is no certainty.
What struck me however, was how easy is it is to make the first selection. And with 'first selection' I mean deciding who goes on the 'yes definitely invite to an interview', 'well, maybe' and 'nope' pile. As it turns out, many candidates have no clue how to write a letter (or how to present their CV) in such a way that they even remotely stand a chance.
So here are my 5 tips for increasing your chance to be invited to an interview (and I guess most of these tips hold for non-academia as well). Now some of these may sound like nitpicking. But remember: the job market is tough. For every tiny mistake that you make, someone else will do a better job. And that someone else is going to land on the 'yes' pile. That could have been you. So make the extra effort!
1) Spell check. Spell check. Spell check.
If you make errors here, what subliminal message are you trying to convey? That you don't care about details? That you never think twice and reflect on what you do?
2) Grammar. Structure.
Eventually you are going to have to write a thesis. And papers. And reviews. And I'd like to be that period as productive and enjoyable as possible for all our sakes. So if you give me mumbo-jumbo in your letter and CV, what am I supposed to think? Even if you suck at writing, make sure you have your letter and CV checked by someone else! You want to dazzle me at the interview right? Bad writing is not going to land you one.
3) Dear Sir.
If you don't have the time to google my name and check my website to find out that I am a dear Madam (and preferably a dear Dr. and while we're at it let's go completely overboard and actually address me as Dear Dr. Lastname), why should I take the time to read your letter?
Okay, maybe this is a pet peeve of mine. But if you cannot align stuff on paper? If it looks like your CV was created by aiming a letter gun at a piece of paper? That just gives me goosebumps allover. It sends me the subliminal message that you don't care about organisation and that everything you do is going to be a mess. Now my bench is not the neatest, but at least my CV has never betrayed that!
5) Make sense.
Get to the point. Why do you want this job and why should I want you? Saying that you admire my competitor's work? Yeah, there just might be days during which I have a hard time reading a complement in there. Why don't you write him a letter instead.