Dear candidate applicant,
Time and time again, I am deeply disappointed by applications that do not allow me to determine whether a candidate is suitable for the advertised position. Such applications are a disservice to applicants themselves, as they get discarded quickly.
With this brief piece of advice, I want to help us both: you as the applicant and myself as the recruiter. There is a ton of literature about how to write good applications and I do not intend to presume that the advice given here comes anywhere close to such literature. Still, on with it.
The one key issue is that many applicants write the application only thinking from their point of view, but they do not put themselves into the shoes of the recruiter and they do not think hard enough about what information the recruiter might appreciate and what not.
Example mistakes that may result include:
- Application does not contain required material: Often transcripts or motivation letters are missing. Note that our team includes people from many countries and abilities to read transcripts in various languages. English translations of transcripts, even if self-produced, are welcome to facilitate initial screening.
- Application document is a mess: We receive very many applications, but have very limited time for screening. Therefore, we discard many applications based on shallow criteria, which we think signal negligence by the applicant. Deeper consideration of an application will be given when proper alignment with basic criteria can be established easily. Lack of logical ordering or unreadable pages or pages of different scales make reading hard or even impossible. A proper ordering as one opens the single PDF file may be, e.g., 1. motivation letter, 2 CV, 3 transcripts, 4 other. Having your name on all pages is a plus. Having a linked table of content at the beginning is a big plus.
- The motivation letter lacks any connection to the announced position: This issue is typical for spam applications that are send to dozens if not hundreds of universities. Such misbehavior is clearly visible from the writing and scores very poorly. If you cannot think of any connection, you should not apply.
- The motivation letter includes false statements: Statements like “your place offers the best programme of all” will not be a flattery, but rather exhibit a lack of critical thinking. Notwithstanding the high quality of our institution we are well aware that there are many great colleagues in academia in many different places.
- The motivation letter is not up to the point: If the applicant writes less relevant – or completely irrelevant – content, the recruiter will not read until the end of your letter. The letter should not just dwell on how you will benefit from the target university, but also explain why the university/the targeted research group will benefit from you.
- Motivation letters and CVs that exhibit poor layout and contain many typos and grammar issues will score poorly. Run a spell checker, preferably even a grammar checker. If you do not have a knack for layout, ask a person who has a talent with it.
When you write your application, you should keep in mind that less information often is better than more information. Two good arguments are better than five weak ones.
If you have read this advice so far and intend to follow it, I sincerely welcome your application. Good luck!
Prof. Dr. Steffen Staab