Having "served on a bunch of search committees," Odyssey at Pondering Blather says that more often than not, "standing out in a crowd" of faculty position applicants "comes down to quirks," such as colloquialisms and typeface. But, he says, applicants can distinguish themselves from others by thoroughly researching their prospective institution, crafting an intuitive, easy-to-follow CV and a comprehensive — yet concise — research plan and teaching statement, and having "the important stuff up front." A strategic cover letter — customized to the department's description of its desired candidate — is essential, Odyssey says, as "if it doesn't impress the search committee, there's a reasonable chance they won't bother looking at the rest of your packet." Because it's likely that search committee members must sift through hundreds of them, Odyssey stresses that applicants should "design your CV for an exhausted, overworked PI with poor eyesight, a pile of 500 applications to read, and potentially one too many bourbons." To that end, it's best to have your document reviewed and critiqued by others, such by a mentor or other faculty. As for the research plan, Odyssey suggests that more than five pages' worth is probably "way too long." Scope is important, too: "If your entire research plan can be covered by a single grant, you're thinking way too small," he says, although applicants should "be careful ... to make sure you're not proposing to use multi-million dollar fancy equipment not available where you are applying, unless you can justify this." Teaching statements can bolster one's application "even at research-intensive institutions," Odyssey says. Here, he says, it's hard to go wrong — applicants must simply outline their teaching experience and approach in two pages or less, without "under any circumstances, [saying] what you don't want to teach."
In a comment to this post, Dr. Zeek says she is "scared ... about the whole thing — not just the application and interviews, but the also the fact that someone may think I can actually run a lab." In his reply, Odyssey says that confidence is key. A lack of it, he says, "will come through in your cover letter and research plans."