Yesterday, I spent several hours applying for a single faculty position. For those unfamiliar, it can be an unnerving experience--not so much the application itself but realizing how time intensive the process is as well as thinking about the opportunity cost associated with it. I have been on the job market before in other disciplines, so at least I have that going for me. I am blessed to have had many great mentors who have given me excellent career advice, which I would like to share.
First, do what is asked. This may seem obvious, but the feedback I receive from others who have sat on hiring committees is that all too often, applicants interpret instructions as guidelines, for whatever reason. While there may be some room for interpretation when it comes to certain qualifications, the requested documents and all other materials should be supplied and completed as specified. You might be a creative genius or even the best fit for the job, but none of that matters if you aren't given an interview. More and more, institutions ask for very specific things, and often times, they provide links in the job advertisement with strong suggestions that every applicant read those other pages. Do so.
Second, there is a fine line between how you market yourself and how you will derive contentment from the position. When it comes to professorships, a job isn't just a job because it affects the lives of so many other people. You will be giving students not only knowledge but academic and career advice as a mentor. Your voice and input will help shape departmental or even university policy. The quality of your research will reflect positively (or poorly) on the institution and either attract (or repel) future students, the lifeblood of any institution of higher education. Look in the mirror and ask yourself whether this position to which you are applying will bring you happiness. If you view it more as a chore-for-cash type of situation, move on.
Third, do your homework on the particular institution as well as the type of institution. You will be revamping your standard cover letter quite a bit for each application. Even though you might have an opening paragraph, one paragraph on teaching, one on research, one on service, and a conclusion, the size and scope of each paragraph will vary based on your prospective new home. Applying to a "Research-1" university? Best not submit a cover letter or teaching statement that is twice as long as your research agenda. Want to land a job at a private liberal arts college? Emphasize your teaching experience over the nuances of A- versus B-level journals in your field. In addition, you should understand what, on average, the type of institution pays and then increase or decrease based on your discipline. For example, I know that, typically, research universities pay higher than small religious schools but require a more robust research track record. I also know roughly what each pays in the state in which I am applying. I also know that business schools generally pay better than most other schools, but if I am applying to a financial planning or risk management/insurance position, I should expect lower pay than if I apply to a straight finance department. Not only will this pay dividends come interview time, it will also help manage your expectations.
There are several other suggestions I could offer, but these are the big three of which I keep reminding myself as I craft my applications. Of course, there will always be exceptions to any rules or trends, and it would be in your best interest to learn what those are for the target school. Most importantly, keep swinging the bat, don't give up, and constantly strive to better yourself if for no other reason than to offer a better application.