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Made to measure: how to ‘tailor’ your job applications

Customizing your job application documents for academic and industry roles will help you stand out as a candidate.


When an employer is searching for an ideal candidate, in addition to someone qualified they are also looking for someone who will excel in the role and thrive in their organization and team. As an applicant, you want to ensure the role reflects your interests and skills and aligns with your career goals. You also want to be sure that the organization’s core values resonate with you and your potential new manager and team’s dynamic are compatible with how you operate. While it is important to create readable, well-written job application documents, it is also imperative to tailor said documents to the potential employer. Let us tackle some ways of uncovering information and using it to personalize your job application. Please note that for North American job applications, resumes refer to a focused one to two-page document highlighting relevant qualifications and a curriculum vitae (CV) which is more typically used for faculty and research-oriented positions, is more comprehensive and is an exhaustive list of everything the jobseeker has achieved.

Applying for faculty and postdoctoral positions

Applying for a faculty role in North America includes providing a CV that documents your overall experience, a cover letter demonstrating your fit and interest, a research statement outlining your current and future research program vision, a teaching statement and dossier, and a document outlining how you incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility (EDIA) principles in your research and teaching. A postdoctoral position requires sending a cover letter/email and CV.

Reading the latest information about a faculty, department, or a professor’s research program from university websites, news features, research articles, podcasts, vision statements, or Twitter will tell you what a university or program offers in terms of research areas, research facilities, opportunities for collaboration and professional development.

For postdoctoral positions, it is vital to review the potential supervisor’s existing research and mention what you find compelling about their research in your application. I suggest watching the Grad School Advice YouTube channel to learn more.

You should also highlight key aspects from your information search in your cover letter, strategically weaving in those details. For example, in a faculty position, one may choose to highlight their lived experience teaching international students when applying for a position where this is a key requirement. Zachariah Heiden, a scholarly associate professor from Washington State University has written about some of these aspects using cover letters, teaching and research statements as examples. For humanities-related examples, the HR commons Academic Job Market Support Network group is a great resource.

Applying for roles in industry, not-for-profit, or federal organizations

For most industry roles, a one-to-two-page resume denoting relevant skills and experiences and a one-page cover letter highlighting your fit are required. You can find examples of these in university career centre websites (ex. Like at Toronto Metropolitan University).

Reviewing company websites, LinkedIn pages, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, interviews, and articles can help you learn about products, projects, outreach, EDIA initiatives, and roles. Highlighting a key aspect of an organization in your cover letter that interests you can elevate your job application.

Mission or vision statements will mention where organizations are headed in the next couple of years. This information can help guide not only your job application but can also serve as an interesting point of conversation during interviews.

Networking for the win

Utilizing networking strategies, ideally prior to a job being posted, can be very informative in learning about an organization. Take advantage of conferences, meeting booths, LinkedIn, professional associations, meetup groups, and alumni to learn about company or institution culture, interesting projects, outreach, professional development, and related topics through informational interviews. Organizations will appreciate these efforts made by a job applicant to discern more about a role or team. Remember to always maintain and nurture professional connections – the goal is to help and learn from others.

Use the right keywords

It is important to reread the job posting several times and highlight key qualifications that you can showcase. Recruiters often look for essential skills in the form of keywords from the job posting. Need tools to find keywords from job postings? Here are some examples: jobscan, skillsyncer, tealhq, resumeworded, cultivatedculture. Use keywords in a genuine and authentic manner to accurately reflect your skills and qualifications. Remember to order sections in your resume and CV based on relevance for the positions you are applying to. Bring out pertinent experiences with quantifiable accomplishments using a T-chart. In this context, It is also important to be aware of the applicant tracking system (ATS), a software used by recruiters for collecting and organizing job applications which they may use as a tool while screening job applicants.

Your unique selling point

Some value adds when applying to any role, be it academic or not, could simply be proposing a program, bringing in a new skill or expertise, suggesting a solution to a problem the organization may be having (ex. Austin Belcak’s value validation project), bringing a novel research area or product idea to them or even highlighting your unique leadership, outreach, mentorship, or personal experiences.

In a competitive job-market, making the effort to customize your job applications can not only help you stand out but also save the employer tons of time and resources in finding the right candidate. So, always do your research to create quality applications, and build a supportive professional network that you can contribute to, leverage, and grow.

Ketan Marballi
Ketan Marballi is a postdoctoral and graduate student professional development specialist in the faculty of engineering and architectural science at Toronto Metropolitan University. Following his PhD and postdoctoral training in molecular biology and neuroscience, he pursued his passion for helping graduate students and postdoctoral trainees with their career and professional development.
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