-COVER LETTER (1pg)
-personal reference (someone that the faculty search committee member might know personally)
The worst thing is when someone sends you pages and pages of just paragraphs of text... we are mostly looking to extract key pieces of info from the letter, so help us by making it stand out!
The most important part here is to put the things that are critical up top. These are your education, best publications, funded proposals, and patents (if any). To make things easier, you can enumerate each one, so when I read it I can quickly write down that this candidate has X many papers, Y many patents and Z many funded proposals. You could also emphasize if a paper is in a famous journal, or has received a lot of citations. Likewise, could list your role in writing the proposal, and how much money it received. Same for patents, you could mention if it has been licensed by some company, and whether it is making money/being commercialized.
Basically, when I look at resume's, I am trying to extract, as fast as i can, your top achievements, such that I can put you into a comparison table against other candidates. Time spent on each resume is probably under 30 seconds, so if you don't emphasize things the reviewer may miss them.
Some common resume mistakes:
-Believe it or not, making your resume longer does NOT make it more impressive. There is no reason why your resume should be longer than mine (unless you are older/more experienced). The max should be 3-4 pages, but even 2 is acceptable (in fact the NSF biosketch is limited to 2pgs).
-Too much detail: this goes along with the previous comment about making this compact. There is a tendency to describe in gory detail everything you every did in your past (I just saw one 28 pgs long... compare to 4pg limit for CV in most proposals). Whereas all we need/read are keywords. Another example is an applicant put his GPA for every degree... if you are applying for a prof position, it is presumed you did well in our classes... but in this case the GPA was actually not that great, so he would've been better off not showing it!
-Conference Proceedings/Talks: unless you think this is somehow exceptional (if that is the case, you should explain why it is exceptional... e.g., invited talk, or some very competitive talk), you are just padding your resume with useless information. Not only does that make me annoyed when I am trying to extract key data out of it, it actually tells me that you are not able to compress information efficiently / tell apart what is important vs what isnt (both of those are important for proposal writing, which is key).
-Prioritize (put important things at the top): This goes along with the previous criticisms. For example, if you have an 8 page resume, full of conference proceedings, and you put your publications at the very end... no, just no! Publications/book chapters/books are important, they should go up top. So are your proposal writing experience, your patents, then followed by maybe your awards and teaching experience. I would say that proposal writing experience is the most important, and publications is second to it. Your knitting club membership can go at the bottom... it should NOT be above these things.
-Proposal-Writing Experience: you should list everything you ever touched, because I find this to be the most important factor that sets candidates apart from the rest. The only thing better than proposal-writing experience, is funded proposals that you can bring with you. Even if you did not write the proposal, but simply helped, you should still mention it. Explain clearly what your role was in writing, which agency it was submitted to, for what amount, and was it funded or not in the end (or is it still pending).
-Highlight/Emphasize: Often people have a patent (or some other big accomplishment), but they don't put it in a different section, nor do they don't make it bold/italic, etc... So I nearly miss them. If you have something that makes you stand out, do yourself a favor and highlight so the reviewers don't miss it! Likewise, somebody had a Nature publication that wasn't emphasized... yep, just another publication just like any other, nothing to see here... Remember, we scan the resume (FAST); and we don't read minds. So you have to make important things catch our attention!
-Number your publications (else I have to count, and I may miscount not in your favor; plus it annoys me). On one resume I saw someone put the paper numbers on the left, and the impact factor on the right hand side of each publication. I thought that was pretty nifty. Some people manage to squeeze the covers of the journals, if their publication made the cover. I think thats great, if you can format everything neatly. Also, make your last name bold, so we can see whether you were first or not. In fact, some people just say "8 first author publications, 15 total, h = 20, 500 cumulative citations". This makes things much easier for me.
-Under Review/In Progress Publications: I wouldn't bother putting these in, but if you feel the need to, be a good sport and make a separate section. Don't try to pad overall list using these. It is misleading on your part, and annoying for me to subtract them out. We care to see just what has been published (or accepted). And, in any case, its not so much about the number of publications.
-The Short Postdoc: there is a tendency to think that more postdocs = more experience --> better. But this is not so. In fact, more postdocs makes you look less desirable. Your goal is to sell your "stock" at the peak of its price (around the 3rd or 4th year of your 1st postdoc). So a common mistake I see people doing is putting the brief postdoc (immediately after their graduation) on their resume. You know, the one where your PhD boss kept you there an extra 2-3 months while you were looking for a job, just cuz he is nice like that (and also wanted to get more results out of you)? Yea, that one. Everyone has it. Its not impressive. Don't list it.
Some common research statement mistakes I see over and over (the less you annoy the reviewer, the better your chances):
-Dont waste space with describing your past and current research; this is meant to be about your FUTURE proposals! I see research statements where 50% of the content is about how great you were when you were the appendage of your boss. That's great, but I want to know whether you can function with the umbilical cord cut.
-There is a tendency to just jump into the gory details of your work... But rather you should first establish importance (e.g., "i will save the world by saving cancer by developing this amazing drug, if only you hire me and give me money"). Obviously, I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.
-Explain what you are doing in lay-man terms to a public who doesn't know industry-specific terms! explain the broader impact: why is your proposed project important? why should i care about reading it? why should someone want to fund it?
-It should be obvious from the first line of your project description what it is about. Section titles should be descriptive too. Often I read a proposal and, by the of it, i still have no idea why or what they are trying to do. It is up to you to establish importance, and to make your work easy to understand.
-Brief problem description and no solution plan = BAD. Some people just kind of tell me that they plan to rid the world of cancer, but don't tell me HOW they are planning to do that exactly...No, you are not a snake-oil salesman, so avoid sounding like one. You have to lay out a detailed, coherent plan about: how you are going to solve this problem, what tools you will use, what results you expect to see and what long term goals you hope to achieve(you may even include some backup plan, in case your approach doesn't work). Moreover, you need to tell me how you are going to get money to make this happen (see below).
-Funding plan is often absent or lacking detail - just mentions the funding agencies (which are huge), but not specific grant opportunities. When you go the extra step and think things through deeper, it sets you apart. It also shows that you know what you are doing. Saying that you will simply apply to NSF and NIH is not enough. List which programs within that agency, which particular grant types, who is the program officer and have you discussed your work with them? Also, emphasize the funding plan (i often nearly miss them, if you just sprinkle it throughout the main text).
-Good idea: include potential impact (1 sentence summary at the end of each project description of what would change if you get this done)
-No Figures: this goes with what I said before, that you have to make your research plan easy to understand. I know that YOU know. But I can't read your mind. Also it shows that you are not good at expressing your thoughts clearly/conveying your message to your audience. Guess what? It means you are not a good proposal-writer (ie, you won't be able to fund your research after we hire you).
-People attach their transcripts, recommendation letters and god knows what else instead of the research plan. This is an automatic disqualification.
-Don't include resume and other documents into your research statement, if you uploaded them individually elsewhere... If we are going to invest over a million bucks into you (add up your salary, student support for a few years until you start bringing money in, your start-up, etc and you will come up with such a big number), you better not be careless.
-Industry People/National Lab people, I highly advise that you find some research statements from academics. Typically, your research statements do not conform with university expectations. The proposals I've seen are too short, and the projects are too superficial. One paragraph per project, with no figures, simply does not suffice. Funding plan is often missing entirely.
TEACHING STATEMENT (1-2pgs)
For teaching statement I kind of think of it as going from describing your past, to trying to forecast your future as an educator. It is not the most important part of your packet, but it is a necessary one. So here is how I would structure it:
Misc: you could also talk about increasing K12 involvement, participating in science Olympiads (those things always need organizers), collaborating with your nearest science museum, underrepresented communities, etc etc. Basically, there are lots of ways to increase the impact of your work on society, and many people in these institutions will be more than glad to expose their students to a college research environment through you. Btw, grant agencies want to see this type of stuff too, so the world is your oyster!
-A common mistake is that people start listing courses that are outside of the department (like gen.eds).