History job applications: dos and don'ts

This is my personal advice on how to help your chances of getting an interview for a history job post in the UK.

There's also some excellent advice on Nadine Muller's blog by Fiona de Londras.

Obvious point first, but academic jobs are usually advertised on www.jobs.ac.uk, and in the Guardian higher education supplement (Tuesdays) and Times Higher Education Supplement (Thursdays).


  •  research the department and your future colleagues thoroughly. Make sure you get the terminology right (e.g. is it a history or humanities department, school or group? Who is the head of history, and are they the same or another person from the head of department and/or school?). Think how your research and teaching can complement but also differ from existing staff.
  • Read the application specifications carefully. If the specs say they need a historian 'from 1400 to 1700' in any country apart from Britain, don't apply if you are a 19thC British historian. Often the stipulations relate to teaching needs, and there's no point wasting your time applying if you can only replicate the modules already on offer in the department. Sometimes, however, a job might be as a replacement for someone, and this may specify which modules need to be taught. And if the specs are vague, if in doubt, apply. Departments may offer the job to an outstanding researcher even if their teaching experience doesn't quite fit with the existing programme.
  • Put your publications high in your cv, if not first. Alas, university research posts now hinge very much on 'REFability'. Selection committees want to see at a glance whether you're eligible. (Don't however, mix up ineligible publications in your list, e.g. book reviews. Put those later in the list, under a different heading).
  • include everything the application asks for, in an order you want it to be read by the committee. In our pdfs of the applications, everything is in one batch, so we see the documents in the order you've submitted them: e.g. electronic application form, then covering letter, then cv, then personal statement. Please include all four if requested.
  • address the job specs in your cover letter - explain how you are suited to all the aspects of this particular job (and not the generic specs of a generic history job). List them under headings if you wish. The specs may include: 
    • publications suitable for inclusion in the REF
    • experience of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching
    • ability to develop new modules 
    • experience in applying for/achieving funding
    • teamwork in team-taught modules
  • If the job spec says that the applicant will be responsible for developing new modules/papers, think of at least one new module and briefly state what it will be in your cover letter or personal statement. Make sure it fits and differs from existing teaching provision. 
  • Keep the cover letter short if you include a personal statement; if the application doesn't stipulate a personal statement, you can make the cover letter a bit longer (ideally 2 pages; 3 pages at the very max). In either, it is good to underline briefly what your immediate and long-term research goals (publications, grants, collaborations) are.



  • list every single conference and seminar paper you've given/attended. By all means give the last 4 or 5 to show you're an active networker, but I really don't care if you attended the Society of Applied Basketweaving studies bi-annual conference at the University of Poppleton in 2006. This is not an American tenure package. Please tell us what we need to know, first, easily, and no more.
  • Similarly, there's no need to list every single module you've ever taught in chronological order with full details of how many students, modes of assessment etc. List the most recent, then summarise the others from previous jobs.
  • Write in the third person. It sounds pretentious, and hides your real voice and enthusiasm.
  • put your DOB, marital status or photo on your CV. Although some European countries require this information, British institutions do not.
  • include a course syllabus or sample article/chapter unless the application asks for them. It's quite annoying to have to scroll through a syllabus of many pages (especially if it's placed before the CV). Leave this for the interview if you really want to show what you teach. Similarly, search committees can always look up the journal article themselves if they want to read it. 
  • include a long teaching philosophy statement unless the application asks for it. Most teaching philosophy statements sound overly trite/vague/silly. If you want to highlight what's unique/strong/different about your teaching style and how much you care about students, then do it in a paragraph in your personal statement or covering letter. 
  • similarly, this may vary by committee, but don't butter up your application with quotations from your evaluations by students/peer review/external examiners. From a personal perspective, I believe we operate on trust that people will develop into good teachers and we shouldn't have to set a precedent of everyone having to put their course evaluations on their applications (as we all know that sometimes you just have a bad semester, or that students' evaluations are unreliable). 
  • put 'knowledge of email, MS Office, the Internet'.  (Seriously, applicants do this). That's self-evident. Only put computing skills if you can use specialist software and programmes e.g. ArcGIS, Python, etc, that are useful for your research. 
  • put 'I am a native speaker of English' and 'I have an A in GCSE English' if you are obviously British. 
  • put lots of outside interests unrelated to the job. We don't really care that you like cats or are training for triathalons. However, if you do talks to local branches of the historical association, or help out with a local history or heritage group or archive, then do put those experiences down as they show willing to do history outside academia.


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