Finding an academic job is like finding a perfect match. Universities advertise openings, you choose a list of places to apply. Nowadays an opening can easily attract hundreds of applicants, of which several are invited for on-campus interview. When the whole process is over, there might be a perfect match between you and a department (Congratulations!), while sometimes there is not.
I have just served on an advising panel in my department recently. The panel aimed to advise graduate students and postdocs on how to secure a faculty job. The crying needs for advice reminded me of the same situation when I was looking for a job. So I'd like to bring this issue to iMechanica for discussion, for the benefit of our students -- future mechanicians.
Here are some of my own observations:
Start to prepare as early as possible. The application process takes time and energy, so start early. Even at the early stage as a graduate student, you may want to start to explore what an academic job is like. For example, you may want to start from reading some background materials on academic job search (see a list of books in this comment).
Talk to people for advice. Your advisor is of course your best choice for the following reasons: 1. She knows you the best, both your strength and weakness. Your advisor can more accurately position where you stand in the job market. 2. She was once in the same boat as you are now. You can get advice from a successful former applicant. 3. She must have served in faculty search committees. You can then get advice from the side of search committees. You may also talk to other faculty members for general advices.
Take advantage of local career services. When I discovered and used such services from the Career Office in my previous institution, I was amazed how much I could benefit from them, and also was very surprised how poor such excellent services were used by job applicants. A series of workshops addressing different issues along the application process make you feel more confident. A career advisor who has reviewed thousands of CVs can definitely improve yours (which is very critical. Think about how to stand out of hundreds of applications!) So go search your institution for career services and make best use of them.
If you are looking for an academic job, please feel free to comment and ask questions. More experienced mechanicians might be happy to share their thoughts and experience.
Bukanlah tinggal tetap itu rehat bagi orang yang berakal dan berbudi. Maka tinggalkanlah kampung halamanmu dan pergilah mengembara. Merantaulah! Pasti akan kau temui pengganti mereka yang kau tinggalkan dan berusaha keraslah. Sesungguhnya kemanisan hidup hanya ada dalam usaha yang bersungguh-sungguh. Sesungguhnya aku melihat air menjadi cemar kerana tidak mengalir. Andai ia mengalir, pasti elok keadaannya dan andai ia bertakung, nescaya cemar jadinya. -Imam Shafie-