Many adverts for jobs in academia include an invitation to contact a named individual for further information. Understandably, people can be nervous about making this kind of approach and careers advisers are often asked whether it’s really necessary to take up the invitation. The answer is always an emphatic ‘YES’, mainly because other candidates certainly will make contact, and if you don’t, you risk looking less committed and enthusiastic than them.
However, other good reasons for making contact before submitting a formal application are that:
- It gives you a chance to make an immediate, positive impact on the selector.
- It can help you to decide whether the job is really what you thought it was and whether you actually do meet the recruiter’s requirement. At the very least, this will help you to avoid wasting time on an application that has no chance of being successful. On the other hand if you get positive ‘vibes’ from the conversation you will go into any future interview feeling a lot more confident.
- The extra information gleaned from the conversation could be very helpful later on in framing answers to interview questions.
Before phoning, it is a good idea to email in order to check when would be a good time to call. You could even ask to set up a Skype. Your email can include a brief paragraph summarising your key ‘selling points’. Next, you need to think about what form the conversation should take.
You could begin by seeking more information about:
- how the role fits into the day-to-day work and wider aims of the project or department,
- what distinctive responsibilities it carries
- and what they feel would make someone a particularly suitable candidate.
If you’re genuinely unsure about something that’s referred to in the job description, you can seek clarification, but make sure that you don’t ask questions to which there is an obvious answer in the documentation and don’t focus too much on things like holidays, working hours, etc. (unless it’s very important to know about these things because of childcare, etc.).
Once you have this information you can go on to highlight the skills, knowledge and experience which make you a good candidate. If there are any elements in the person specification that you can’t match, this is an opportunity to mention other things which might make up for this. For example, if you haven’t used a particular software package , have you used a very similar one or can you demonstrate an ability to learn to use new software very quickly? Similarly, if you haven’t done much formal teaching have you trained and mentored people informally?
Although this is meant to be an ‘informal’ discussion it’s important to avoid adopting an over-familiar tone , and if you’re not using Skype you’ll have to remember to use appropriate verbal clues to show that you’re listening and engaged.
Following these basic guidelines should help to make the whole experience less scary!