What's On This Page?

Timeline for Applying | Where to Search for Academic Jobs
Understanding and Tailoring for Different Kinds of Institutions
Documents for Your Application | Recommendation Letters | Action Steps Checklist | FAQs

Timeline for Applying


Many colleges and universities begin the search for a tenure-track faculty member almost a full academic year before the anticipated start date of their new hire. Generally, social science disciplines begin posting faculty job positions during the summer a year before, while humanities and STEM fields start posting during the fall. However, institutions will also sometimes post tenure-track job openings outside of these common timelines. It's a good idea to check with faculty and colleagues in your department(s) to get their insights into when you should start searching for faculty job postings.

Career Services can help you utilize online tools to track openings. If you're applying for postdocs, visiting assistant professor roles, or other non tenture-track positions, consult with faculty and colleagues in your disciplines(s) to learn about those timelines. Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to chat about how you can prepare for your academic job search ahead of time.

Where to Search for Academic Jobs

Academic job listings are usually listed through disciplinary and professional associations, so be sure to consult those organizations as well as your advisors and colleagues in your department(s) and disciplines. In addition, you can find comprehensive academic job listings on ChronicleVitae, HigherEdJobs, Insider Higher Ed, and Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC). Don't forget to set job alerts when possible, so that you can be notified of job opportunities that match your preferences and criteria.

Understanding and Tailoring for Different Kinds of Institutions


As you're applying for academic positions, it's important to understand what kind of institution you're applying to so that you can demonstrate to search committees your strong fit not only for the role but also for their institution and community.

For each application, try to determine how much the institution values research vs. teaching. Does it prioritize one over the other? Is it a private or public institution? Who are the students that they serve? Do they have graduate students? Speak with a Career Advisor to learn about strategies to research different colleges and universities as you tailor your applications for each one.

Documents for Your Application

Below are some documents that are often required for your application for faculty positions. Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to have your documents reviewed. 

CVsThe CV is a complete summary of all of your academic achievements and can be as long as needed. Although it will grow longer as your academic career progresses, you'll want to make sure that you include accomplishments that are relevant and important. It typically includes sections such as education, publications, awards/grants/fellowships, conference presentations, teaching experience, research experience, academic/professional service, professional affiliations, and references. Depending on the institution you're applying to, your CV will be able to answer these basic questions that search committees will ask: What is your dissertation topic? Have you published? Do you have teaching experience? Have you presented at major conferences in your discipline? What are your teaching and research interests? For more information about CVs, check out this CV Guide for Graduate Students and Postdocs and review Sample CVs from different disciplines.
Cover lettersThe cover letter serves as an introduction to your application package and answers the following questions: Who are you? When will you defend your dissertation (if you're currently ABD)? Why are you interested in applying for this assistant professor position? Why are you interested in this institution? What is your dissertation research about? What are your research plans? What kind of teaching experience do you have? How will you contribute to our department and institution? Why is the school a good fit for you and vice versa? A strong cover letter will be tailored to the institution to which you're applying. For the humanities and social sciences, it is typically two to three pages long, and for STEM fields, it is typically one to two pages but will vary depending on the specific discipline. To learn more about cover letters, take a look at the Cover Letter Guide for Graduate Students/Postdocs.
Research statementsSome institutions will ask for a research statement, while others will ask for a statement of research plans. We often advise students writing the former to spend about 50% of the statement on past research, and 50% on future research plans, while those writing the latter can feel confident in devoting 90-100% of their statement to future research plans, including specific research questions and sources you hope to consider. A strong research statement, often two to three pages, will not only summarize the research you've done, including sources and methodology, but also answer the "so what?" question: Why does your research matter? Why will it be publishable and/or fundable? For more information, read the Research Statement Guide for Graduate Students/Postdocs and check out some Sample Research Statements. 
Teaching statementsOne to two pages long, a teaching statement or philosophy allows you to demonstrate what you're like as a teacher in the classroom. It often begins with a broad description of your approach to teaching. More specifically, what goals do you hope to accomplish as a teacher? What do you want students to get out of your courses? What in your past academic experiences might have shaped your pedagogical views? The bulk of the document should focus on your teaching experiences. Have you taught your own courses? What worked well and what did you do to improve your courses? How did you assess the effectiveness of your teaching? If you have only been a teaching assistant, how did you organize your discussion sections? Did you contribute to shape the course in other ways? A strong teaching statement will provide relatively detailed examples of what you have done in the classroom, or if you don't have prior teaching experiences, what you plan to do as a teacher. Check out the Teaching Philosophy, Statement, and Portfolio Guide and Sample Teaching Philosophy Statements. 
Teaching portfoliosThe teaching portfolio offers candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to teach in the best way that they see fit. While there is no standard list of teaching portfolio documents, most institutions will want to see a teaching statement or philosophy and evidence of teaching effectiveness, such as teaching evaluations, qualitative student feedback, and a letter from a faculty member who has observed your teaching. It is important to include materials that document your teaching, including syllabi that you've used in the past or that you plan to use in the future, handouts of tests and quizzes, or presentations that you've designed for a course. Given the variety of material that you can include for a teaching portfolio, it is crucial to provide context for the documents by providing a simple table of contents or just a brief description of how all the materials you've included fit together to demonstrate your teaching ability. Check out the Teaching Philosophy, Statement, and Portfolio Guide.
Diversity statementsAs many institutions of higher education are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion as values in their communities, they have also increasingly asked job candidates to submit diversity statements as part of their application package. If you feel that you may not have a lot to write about for this one-page document, take a moment to reflect on diversity as it relates to your research topic, your teaching, and your service work. Do you study groups or people who have been marginalized in society and have uncovered their voices as part of your research? Have you employed inclusive pedagogical techniques in your teaching to encourage students to participate in discussion? Have you contributed to your department or your profession in helping to increase diversity or volunteered in your local community? Reflecting on these questions can help you to start thinking about ways in which you have or hope to contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion in your career. For more information, take a look at our Guide for Diversity Statements.

Recommendation Letters

Reference letters

As part of your faculty application package, you will also need to submit between 3 to 5 reference letters from faculty you've worked with. In addition to having your primary advisor or PI write a letter on your behalf, keep in mind the kind of institution you're applying to as you consider asking other faculty members to advocate for your candidacy. Depending on the institution and the role, you may want to think about which faculty are best suited to write strong letters about your research, teaching, and service. If you have questions about how to navigate this process, Career Services is happy to help you brainstorm ideas -- just make appointment via Handshake. You can also review our References and Recommendations Guide for Graduate Students/Postdocs.

Action Steps Checklist

Below are some suggested steps for you to take as you prepare application materials for academic jobs. Make an appointment with a Graduate Student & Postdoc Career Advisor via Handshake to discuss your specific plans for applying to jobs.

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Consult with faculty and colleagues in your department to learn about the timeline of applying for academic jobs in your discipline(s).

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Attend Career Services' Academic Job Search Series workshops be prepared for the process before you are on the academic job market.

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Consult the Academic Job Search Handbook to learn more about the faculty job search process. 

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Determine which faculty members you will ask for recommendation letters and provide them with all written materials you plan to submit for your applications. Make your request at least 3-4 weeks before the earliest deadline.

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Circulate drafts of your application documents to your faculty members and colleagues to get their feedback.

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Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to discuss your plans for drafting your application documents and to have them reviewed.

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Read ahead to learn more about the interviewing and negotiating stages of the application process.


Q: How important is the job ad?
A: Very! The job ad is crucial in helping you tailor your application materials. In particular, the order of responsibilties outlined in a job posting is often helpful in determining what the priorities of the role and the institution are. If a job ad lists teaching first before research, for example, then you'll want to adjust how you structure your CV and cover letter to reflect those priorities.
Q: Can my cover letter be longer if an institution is not requesting additional documents like a teaching statement or research statement?
A: Generally speaking, you should stick to the page lengths outlined in the job posting, but if there aren't specifications, then yes! Just make sure that it isn't too long, so try to keep it to 3 pages or fewer.
Q: Let's say I'm applying to a faculty position at X university? How can I begin to understand
what kind of institution X university is?
A: Start with reading the job posting closely. Usually job postings will include information about the institution, including location, the number of students, and breadth of academic programs and degrees offered. Beyond the job announcement, visit the institution's website and read the "About Us" and "Quick Facts" sections. You can also find information about the institution's values on research and teaching and their support for faculty by visiting the institution's Office of the Provost page or an equivalent page. Additionally, don't forget to ask your faculty members and colleagues in your network if they have insights on a particular institution. You can also reach out to Penn alumni through QuakerNet and LinkedIn as you research different institutions.
Q: When an institution posts a priority deadline for applying to a faculty position, should I try to submit my application before then?
A: Yes! Even if an institution says they will accept applications after their priority deadline, it's always better to submit before that deadline so that the search committee will see your application during the first round of deliberations. The reason is that if the search committee already has a strong pool of candidates in the first round, then they are more likely to move forward to the next stage of the process with the great candidates they already have rather than wait to read more files. In addition, we usually recommend that applicants try to submit their application at least a day or two before the stated application deadline, just to avoid the possibility of technological issues at the very end.
Q: Can I send extra application materials that are not requested? For example, I have a few papers/articles that I recently published and want to send all of them. Is that a good idea?
A: Generally speaking, you should not send additional materials that are not requested by the search committee. Members of the committee will have plenty of applications to read, which is quite time-consuming already. If the search committee would like to see more materials, like a dissertation chapter or even your full dissertation to date, they will contact you with that request.