Job Applications: How Much Will You Get Out of Bed For?

This week, Dr. Katie Schenk examines how to decide which public health jobs are worth going through the effort of making an application.

In the first season of this column, I spent a lot of time sharing advice about applying for jobs in public health, based upon my own experiences and those shared by colleagues and contacts from within my own network. Please review those articles before this one, which builds on the earlier advice.

TL;DR: LinkedIn FTW

Back in the 1990s, supermodel Linda Evangelista famously declared that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. In today’s column, I will explore questions about job applications in public health, starting off with how to decide what is worth the effort — because each one really is An Effort. I will respond to some specific questions about the process of applying for public health jobs and how to make it suck less. I am very open to learning more from readers’ experiences, so please reach out and join the conversation in the comments below or in our group on LinkedIn.

Also, please remember that while I focus on LinkedIn as the central tool in the job search, it certainly does not represent the sum total of all job opportunities. Keep checking directly at all the websites of all the employers that interest you. Remember all of the job search engines (I like and consider enrolling with the contracting agencies and recruiters too. Maintain attention to developing your networks through email correspondence and even seeking real-life (crazy!) interactions, especially now that in-person conferences are starting to back up again. 

How do you decide which jobs to apply for?

At the current moment in our specific field of public health, I recommend becoming highly selective about only applying for jobs that are consistent with your skills, training, experience, and interests. Be realistic about salary expectations (although we all know how challenging that can be). When reviewing a new job posting, ask yourself whether you would accept this job immediately if offered, or whether you would prefer to continue in your current situation and wait for a better opportunity to come along. Don’t waste your time hoping to negotiate a posted job into something else that might suit you better. At best, you can hope for growth and development, but be prepared to accept the starting point at face value for what it is advertising.

How do you keep track of your applications?

I recommend becoming utterly rigorous and systematic about keeping track of the latest status of every single job application and every single networking outreach conversation. Keep comprehensive and highly organized records to document the progress of every application and its associated correspondence. Save all documents associated with each application in their own folder so that you know exactly which application materials each employer has reviewed. Use a spreadsheet to manage the overall process: keep track of the original posting, the date on which you submitted the application, and notes about all details of subsequent interactions with the employer or recruiter. (Some fellow job hunters have recommended the Teal extension to Chrome for this purpose.) Another alternative is to use the template I will offer in a coming installment. Watch this space. Document everything, and always include dates and names. Things that seem obvious and top-of-brain right now will soon be forgotten when the recruitment process stretches on for months. Because you know it will.

How much effort should you be putting into each application?

Even when you are jaded and frustrated and thoroughly pissed off that this whole process is still taking so bloody long, and all the employers out there seem to be treating you like dirt and ignoring how fabulous you really are…  you still have to start each application as fresh and bouncy and enthusiastic as if the public health world hasn’t already cut you a million times.

I strongly recommend that you tailor each and every application to create a personalized cover letter and adapt your resume directly to the position. Yes, cover letters are a pain, and we all hope that market expectations will change, but right now this is how it is. Yes, using ChatGPT to generate a cover letter that hits all the key points of a given job description has sped up the process, but be sure to verify and adapt anything AI-generated to make it thoroughly your own. Yes, using the “Easy Apply” function on LinkedIn offers a much easier way to apply for multiple jobs, but those are the ones where you are even more likely to be ghosted and overlooked because everyone else is easy-applying for them, too.  

What does “just” a written application really mean? It might be “just” a tailored cover letter and a few adjustments on your resume to make sure that key terminology from the job description is reflected. It might be the requirement to double-enter all the information already shown in your resume into the employer’s ATS (Applicant Tracking System), which is an unspeakably frustrating requirement that should be forever banished. But it also might be a lot more than that.

And when the application is submitted, remember to follow up. A key part of the job search is developing networking contacts and seeking out relationships within your target organizations. Where possible, reach out to a personal contact at the organization to which you have applied (through LinkedIn, obvs) and let them know that you have submitted an application and perhaps they might think about looking out for it because you are utterly superb.

Academic applications: a tangent

A substantial subset of my applications has been focused on the academic job market, for positions teaching and conducting research in public health. Academic job applications typically require a whole extra level of documentation: in addition to a tailored CV and individualized cover letter, the package of application materials required for an academic position might also include such requirements as:

  •       statement of research interests,
  •       statement of teaching interests,
  •       statement of diversity,
  •       examples of recent publications,
  •       transcripts or certificates (this is not straightforward for us foreigners and immigrants who are products of an education system considered by default to be alien or suspiciously fly-by-night even if your famously well-established university was founded several hundred years before the USA itself – no, I’m not bitter at all, why do you ask?),
  •      3 references*, etc.

Each of these documents must be geared towards meeting the particular needs and interests of the specific job and academic department. I’ve even seen this entire list of requirements listed for academic positions lasting only a single semester. Do you think it might be time to reconsider these requirements, especially for fixed term, part-time positions that are light-years away from the tenure track? (And while we’re at it, isn’t it time to get transparent and put salaries into the postings, too?)

References: a tangent on the tangent

* Yes, some employers are asking for references (either contact details or full references) even at the very first stage of submission. Don’t get me started on the lunacy. We all know that this is a complete waste of time and effort for referees and candidates alike. I’ve written many references for my students, and I consider it only proper and fitting to devote time and care and attention to every single one. References are supposed to be the last stage of the process, to differentiate between final stage candidates, not gathered at an initial sweep. Grrr.

If you are asked to provide reference information at the initial stage of a job application, feel free to consider whether you might be comfortable gently and politely pushing back, using the draft language below: (Thanks to @Patrick Wm Luther for finessing the wording.)

“Respectfully, I reserve professional reference communication to validate information shared in formal interviews. I’m happy to provide references at an appropriate time for everyone’s convenience.”

Questions (join me for discussion in the comments or on LinkedIn)

  • How do you decide which jobs are worth applying to?
  • How do you keep track of your applications?
  • How do you decide how much effort to put into the next job application?

Read previous columns in this series: