1. What makes an application “wow” you? And the converse, what makes you want to stop reading an application on the spot?
Good applications rarely make me go “wow.” A good application should provide honest and accurate information that will best determine fit for a position. It should also convey some degree of passion for clinical science and summarize a few highlights and major accomplishments. It often helps to know the pedigree of the applicant (i.e., who the mentor/s was/were), but this should be mentioned only briefly (i.e., don’t describe in great detail your job on a grant your mentor had). The application should always be honest while highlighting the applicant’s strengths. Overly self-serving applications are a real turn-off and can signal narcissism and trouble down the line. A good application tells the reader why you might be a good applicant and what you can offer to the team/department.
2. What are commons myths or misinformation about the review process?
A common mistake (myth/misinformation) is the assumption that the best candidate will always get the job. Getting rejected does not mean that you are a poor candidate (assuming that there are no glaring problems). Most of the time, it is a simple matter of fit. Sometimes, excellent candidates do not get a job simply because they are not the right fit for it. Therefore, think about how you might fit into the department and what you have to offer. How do you complement, broaden, and/or deepen existing areas? This obviously means that you need to do your homework. Know who else is in the department, what they do, and how you might find a place for yourself. You should tailor each application to the specific job. Do not send the same letter to all the places you apply.
3. Would you advise that applicants make “personal connections” when submitting an application, such as sending an individualized email to get more information about the position?
It is fine to introduce yourself to a committee member if there is an occasion to do so (such as during a meeting). Be careful, however, not to stalk people and refrain from sending emails with irrelevant or unspecific questions just to get noticed. It might get someone’s attention, but not necessarily in a good way.
4. What's the best way that an applicant can prepare to successfully obtain the type of position that you are working in now? Are there steps that can be taken very early on (e.g., in undergraduate or graduate training) that set the stage for a successful application later?
Obviously, you need to show the quantity and quality of research output that is required for being a successful applicant. This can only be accomplished by receiving good mentorship. Every successful researcher/scientist can identify at least one or two people who they consider as their primary mentor(s), and often these are recognizable names. Even if they are lesser-known scientists, however, they can be important mentors who will guide you in your career, give you honest feedback, and provide you with lots of opportunities, all without expecting much in return. Mentorship is a precious relationship that cannot be replaced by any guides or blogs, even the one you are reading here.
About the Author
Stefan G. Hofmann, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Boston University, where he directs the Psychotherapy and Emotion Research Laboratory. Having published more than 15 books and 300 articles, he is a Highly Cited Researcher.