CVs, applications and interviews for researchers
Find out how to create a successful CV, covering letter or application form and prepare for an interview as a researcher.
Recruiters will use a variety of application methods; usually these involve some combination of CVs, cover letters and application forms. They all serve the same function - to get you an interview - but are used in different ways and possibly at different stages.
As each job you apply for is different, you'll need to adapt these materials for each application. This might not mean a completely new version; more likely is that you'll have a CV for each category of job you're interested in and 'tweak' the appropriate one accordingly each time you submit an application.
The CV is the format you as researchers will be most used to; it is also an excellent starting point for application forms and the basis for covering letters.
What makes a good CV
There are three essential stages to preparing a good CV:
- identify the skills and competencies required for the job (read the 'further details' section in the advert!)
- gather evidence to demonstrate you possess them
- choose a style of CV that allows you to showcase these skills and competencies most effectively.
Which style to use
In short, the style you should use is the one that allows you to best match your skills and experiences with what is required for the job.
Basically three: the academic style with which you are probably familiar, the classic (reverse chronological) style you might remember from when you applied for your PhD, and the skills-based style. Examples of these three styles can be found in the Creating Effective CVs section of the Vitae website.
Your choice of CV will be determined at least in part by the sort of job you want. These are suggestions, not recommendations - each case will be different.
- academic or research job - academic CV
- research- or subject-related job - classic CV
- job less related to subject area - classic or skills-based CV.
Some 'top tips' for successful CVs
- First impressions count: make your CV clear, uncluttered, spell-checked and grammar-checked. For best results get it expertly reviewed by a Careers Adviser!
- Use neither too much nor too little white space (think of it like a well-laid-out conference poster..)
- Tailor your CV to the job description and person specification
- Make the information easy to find: put your most relevant experience in the most prominent place, and definitely on the first page
- Use positive, action words (see these tips as to how) and avoid the passive tense
- A final check - would you employ you?
For more information on CVs, see:
As the name suggests, this is a letter that accompanies (or 'covers') your CV when you submit it for consideration. It should be used to explain your motivations for applying for the job and to highlight the best points in your CV and the reasons that they make you the ideal candidate for that particular job. Employers say that one of the most annoying things in covering letters they receive is references to jobs and companies other than their own. The key point when writing a covering letter, therefore, is that it should be absolutely tailored to that particular job in that specific company.
Top tips for covering letters:
- No longer than one side of A4 (no longer than two sides for academic jobs)
- Address to a named person if at all possible (telephone the company to find out if necessary)
- State clearly what you are applying for and, if a job, where you saw it advertised
- Include: why that job, that company, and why you would be ideal for the job
- Conclude politely and remember: Yours sincerely for a named addressee, Yours faithfully for an unnamed person
- Spell-check and proof-read your letter - errors here could mean the recruiters don't even look at your CV!
- Keep a copy so you can remember what you said
- More tips and sample cover letters can be found in the Application, CV and cover letter guide.
Application forms are increasingly the method of choice for employers, particularly where the numbers of applicants are likely to be high. As such, there are screening mechanisms; employers can spend a good deal of money on developing them and they are designed to extract relevant information from you.
Application forms will vary in format and structure. Some will ask detailed questions about your reasons for applying for the job and a range of ‘competency’ questions where you are asked to provide examples of the skills required for the job. For detailed advice on application forms, see our Application, CV and cover letter guide.
It’s increasingly common to be asked to write a personal statement as part of an application form outlining how you meet the criteria on the person specification. Go through the specification and think of examples from your experience to show that you meet these criteria, and organise these in a logical structure. Open or close the personal statement with your reasons for applying for the job. See our blog for advice on personal statements for academic jobs.
Applying for academic jobs
Interviews are usually the final stage in a recruitment process, and give you the opportunity to back up the evidence you’ve already given that you can do the job and are interested in it. Interviews can take many forms, including panel, case study and technical interviews. Interviews via Skype are becoming increasingly common; our blog has advice on these, and there is detailed information on types of interviews and how to approach different types of questions in our Interviews and assessment centres guide.
Preparing for an interview
Arm yourself with as much information as possible about:
- what would you be doing each day?
- what are the career prospects?
- what training might you get?
Read the company's website and the business pages of newspapers. Find out:
- their mission, values and USP
- who their competitors are
- the state of the sector
- the main issues affecting it
The interview and interviewer(s)
When you confirm your attendance at the interview, ask who will be interviewing you and what the interview will entail (if you haven't already been told). This could help you anticipate questions and will ensure you aren't thrown by a sudden request to do a presentation!
Your travel arrangements
Where exactly is your interview, and how will you get there? Will your expenses be refunded? If you will need overnight accommodation, do ask them for help in booking it. And, most importantly, ensure you have some means of letting them know if you are unavoidably late.
What to wear
Smart dress is the norm: suits for men and jacket/skirt for women.
Do you get nervous?
Interview nerves are normal and can be beneficial - the adrenaline can make your brain work faster! Here are some strategies to help:
- breathe slowly and through your nose (helps prevent hyperventilation)
- practise (so the sound of your voice doesn't make you more nervous)
- take the application form and job description with you, to remind yourself that you CAN do the job!
Only 7% of the impression you give comes from what you say; over half is from your non-verbal communication. To make the most of yours:
- make eye contact (for panel interviews, look at all the interviewers, but particularly the person who has just asked you a question)
- resist the temptation to fiddle - hold your own hands if necessary
- keep your legs still
- cultivate a firm handshake - it conveys confidence
Handle questions well
You'll have seen people at conferences NOT doing this, but answering the question they wanted to answer. Did you get annoyed? Then so will an interviewer! Strategies for successful answering:
- ask for clarification if you need it
- pause to think - better that than an ill-thought-out answer!
- stop when you think you have answered the question. If they want more, they can (and will) ask.
- remember that for hypothetical questions there is NO right answer, they just want to observe how you think
Interviews for academic jobs usually involve a panel of people, and almost always include a presentation on a topic related to your research. Questions will focus on your current and future research (make sure you have some future plans!) and teaching experience. Make sure you research the department you are wanting to work for and have a clear understanding of their current research and teaching emphases and strategies and be prepared to demonstrate how you can contribute to these. For guidance on what to expect from academic interviews and presentations and some sample questions, see the relevant sections of the Vitae website and the Manchester Academic Careers website.
Jobs.ac.uk have produced a Toolkit to help you prepare for and reflect on academic job interviews.
For one-to-one help with interviews including arranging a mock interview, contact Anne Cameron the Researcher Career Development Adviser.