Mid-Careers on the Job Market : Don’ts (3/5)

In this post contributors share their thoughts on what to avoid.


1. Don’t make it about leaving your current job, or about how you need this job because you do not have security in your current work. That could well be your motivation, but a committee is not interested in that. They are interested in why you’d be great for this job.

2. Don’t get hung up on rejection. Easy advice to give, difficult to follow, but the truth is that the competition for mid-career jobs is at least as fierce as ECR, partly because of the issues of precarious employment. As a mid-career researcher, you’ve probably been on the other side of the table now, too, and you can recognise intellectually that rejections are less about the quality of a candidate, than about the fit with what the committee is looking for.

3. Don’t be that person spreading it around who applied for what. Especially not before the interviews. It doesn’t do anyone any good to know who else is in the running, and there are all sorts of weird power dynamics to turning up to an interview to find another candidate who had ‘heard’ you got shortlisted, too. 


(1) Don’t promise the world in vague terms. I always think panels can sense when people are cobbling together unrealistic plans and this is especially telling at mid-career, by which time you’ll be expected to understand the field and show how you can work well within it. Goals presented should, as far as possible, be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Relevant, Time-bound), so if you’re thinking of a grant bid, then give a timeline, if you’re thinking of a big project, then show you understand the project sequencing. If you’re mentioning a shopping list of grants, then make sure you’re eligible, make sure the project fits, etc. Show that you are aware of REF demands, but you don’t need to be in thrall to them: it could help to review what you contributed to the last REF, to have specific plans for a set number of outputs, and to demonstrate an awareness of potentials for impact (especially if the new place could help with or benefit from that).

(2) Don’t get tied up in status and do be authentic. If you’re applying for a mid-career role, then you’re moving from one university to the next and will have a sense of the relative status of the institution within the field. I tried not to address that too much in the interview, as it can make things seem a little too transactional. If you’re coming from a post-92, you shouldn’t discount the teaching skills you’ve developed nor how hard you’ve had to work to maintain research, though nor should you insinuate Russell Group colleagues live in a land of milk and honey, for example, or if you’re moving up in grade but ‘down’ in status, don’t patronise colleagues based on your experience or status at your previous institution. If there’s a big difference in terms of size of department from your current institution (in whichever way), it could be worth thinking about how that would help you flourish (more colleagues to collaborate with, or smaller class sizes and cohorts to really work with students, etc). (3) Don’t be afraid to be a human being. I found that taking a moment to think about the people opposite you in an interview is important. At mid-career more than early career, I think that interviewers expect you to be a little more assured and less gripped by nerves. If you’re applying from another post, then remember that the worst that can happen is that you gain a little interview experience then you go back to your existing job. Try to connect and have a conversation, rather than giving rote answers to set prompts. I think of interviews as a chance to show that you can be calm, confident, and knowledgeable under pressure, and if you’re able to be convivial at the same time, then this can only help build their confidence in you as a potential colleague. By the same token, it is a professional environment, so don’t make inappropriate jokes or be overly casual, but if you can convey an air of good-natured professional competence, then this is an excellent platform on which to build well-evidenced examples.


(1) Don’t over-prepare. You want to be professional, not wooden.  

(2) Don’t forget to ask yourself why you’re applying to something. A mid-career career move should be like starting a new relationship rather. Do you want to work in this new place? Is it better than what you have? What will you lose by moving? An early-career “job at all costs” attitude makes it difficult to ask these questions. 

(3) Don’t arrive late – it’s so stressful!


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