As regular readers of this blog will know, I've spend the majority of 2013 (and a little bit of 2012) looking for a second postdoc position.
One of the things I've been thinking about recently is just how stressful most of these interviews were, until the last one, the one I got. Don't get me wrong, I still did quite a lot of preparation, but in the end I didn't even need most of it. My future boss had been seriously interested in me from the moment he saw my CV, and then we just really clicked. So I'm coming to the conclusion that when applying for postdocs the really important thing is to just get into as many interviews as possible, eventually you'll find one where you just click (provided you are actually applying for the right sort of thing).
When I've talked to some other postdoc job hunters, they've been saying they found it hard to get interviews, that they were sending out their CV to hundreds of jobs and only getting a handful of responses. This didn't happen to me, I got about a 3/4 interview rate. So I just thought I'd put down a few approaches I take to applying for jobs in the hope that it might help someone else out. N.B I'm am definitely not an expert in this area, so don't take it as gospel!
1. Don't apply to hundreds of jobs.
I applied for 12 jobs in total. It seems like a lot at the time, because in order to actually have a got chance of getting to the interview, you've got to tailor you CV and cover letter to each one.
I was also really picky about what I applied for. Each job (at least in the UK) should have a person criteria attached to it, with a list of essential and desirable criteria. If you don't have the essential criteria, don't apply for this job. You should probably have most of the desirable criteria too. If you really feel like you would be great in the job, but don't fit the criteria, I suggest sending the PI an informal email to find out why that aspect is essential. It's possible you might be able to persuade them around, but you're unlikely to do this through a CV & cover letter. By then its too late.
2. Write a very specific cover letter for each job
I had a template that I worked from, but for each job I very carefully went though the person criteria and showed that I fit the specs. Make it really obvious that you're worth meeting. Even if it says "judged at interview in the criteria", get a head start on it in the cover letter.
3. Don't big yourself up too much on your CV
By making your CV self seem more experienced etc. than you really are, you're just wasting everyone's time. You can probably get yourself to a lot more interviews this way, but when they meet you, if you can't measure up in person, they're unlikely to give you the position.
4. Don't do yourself down on your CV
Although you shouldn't big yourself up more than you deserve, don't do yourself down either. It's really important to put everything in that you think might be worthwhile. Although by now you probably shouldn't be putting your school swimming badges on...
5. Don't worry too much about your CV format, as long as its clear
There are so many blog posts on the internet giving advice on how your CV should look.
Mine has :
Admin Experience (including running societies as a student)
I don't think by any means this is the 'best' way of doing it. But it got me a lot of interviews, and I think that was mostly just because it was clear and easy to see the info.