A few peope have asked recently about making the transition to a posdoc after graduating with a PhD, so here are some more thoughts...
(For part 1, click here)
When should you start applying for postdoc jobs?
This is one of those questions that doesn't have a single answer, as it very much depends on your personal circumstances. I wanted to take a break and travel after my PhD (I spent 3 months in Japan doing martial arts), so it didn't make sense to start applying before i finished. Others might not be able to afford to take a break, so they should start applying much earlier.
I would say, as a rough guide, you should probably start applying at least 6 months before you want to start a job, and before that you should start looking at academic job sites to see what the market is like in your field.
Some people start postdocs before they finish and defend their thesis, and this can work well if you have done all the work, you know how to write and you know exactly what you want to communicate (and the job allows you the time to finish). If you haven't done any analysis, though, don't start a postdoc.
Take your time
Take your time over every application, tailoring each one to the specific job. Read any papers referenced in the project description, and make sure you understand what the aims are. You then want to emphasise the relevant skills and experience you have.
As with research though, you should expect that not every application will be successful, but put effort into them anyway. You might see the perfect job and put days into applying but not succeed. That's just the nature of job hunting, so you need to be prepared for it and not lose heart.
Use your network
In a perfect world, all applications would be assessed purely on merit. But in the real world, you have a huge advantage if the person looking at your application already knows you.
Also, many jobs are never formally advertised, so if you have a good network of contacts who know you're looking for work then you may hear of jobs you never would have otherwise.
Both my postdoc positions came about through people I knew (or contacts of contacts). Who you know is almost as important as what you know!