Crafting Effective Application Materials for Academic Leadership Roles

Crafting Effective Application Materials for Academic Leadership Roles

By Scott Flanagan, Ed.D. | February 2024

When considering applying for a role at an institution, there are a few key documents that are typically requested for your application to be considered: a cover letter, CV/resume, and references.

While your application materials should be catered toward the role you are applying for, there are a few best practice guidelines you should follow to garner the best chance of securing the role.

Advice for crafting your application materials:

You should start by considering your likeliest target audience—a search committee. Reviewing application materials isn’t their full-time job, but rather an addition to an already full calendar—perhaps one exacerbated by the absence of someone in the role for which the institution is searching.

Consider that members of the search committee might be reviewing your application on Tuesday at 9 PM, after a long day of teaching, meetings, etc., and in advance of a committee meeting on Friday morning. Imagine you are applicant 37 out of 70.

If you were a search committee member in that circumstance, what would you find helpful? Through discussions with members of search committees I’ve worked with, I’ve gleaned the following:

  • Don’t shy away from saying what you want to say. But when faced with the choice between a long way to say it and a shorter way, take the shorter way.
  • Ease of reading. Most folks are reading your materials on some form of screen. Break up your text so there is plenty of white space. Use bullet points in your resume, and a mix of paragraph lengths in your cover letter. (There is no place in a cover letter for a paragraph that approaches one page in length.)
  • Clarity. Make it easy for the committee members to follow your line of thinking (cover letter) and career progression (CV/resume). There are three potential outcomes from their review: they clearly understand your progression and your thinking, they think they do but draw the wrong conclusion, or they quit trying to piece it together. Only one of those outcomes is a good one—make sure that’s the result.
  • Attention to detail. Don’t let small mistakes like spelling the institution’s name wrong cause your application to not be considered. Search committees are likely to set aside applicant materials on a technicality.
  • Interest in the institution. We have experienced candidates who think customizing their letter can be done through the “find and replace” function, or through a quick mention of the institution in the introduction or conclusion. This is an incorrect assumption. It is important to show some level of knowledge about the institution and the opportunity, ideally by addressing the leadership priorities outlined in the profile.

When applying for an open role for which Academic Search is leading the search, we encourage you to reach out to the senior consultant on the search after reviewing the position profile and when you’ve identified some questions you’d like to explore. They can provide valuable insights into the role and institution, helping you determine if you’re the right fit. This connection can also provide you with essential information to tailor your application materials more effectively.

Crafting application materials for academic leadership roles is a critical step in the application process. By adhering to best practices for higher education executive searches, you can significantly improve your chances of standing out among the candidates.

About the Author

Dr. Scott Flanagan

Scott Flanagan, Ed.D. 

Senior Consultant and Senior Executive Coach

Dr. Scott Flanagan is a seasoned leader in higher education recruitment. With extensive experience and a robust network, he assists institutions in strategic thinking, attracting diverse talent pools, and selecting ideal leaders. Before joining Academic Search, Dr. Flanagan previously served as President of Edgewood College and has held other notable roles including a three-year term on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and President of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, an NCAA Division III conference.

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