There are three basic types of marketing materials: CVs, covering 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
What style of CV should I use?
In short, the one that allows you to best match your skills and experiencies with what is required for the job.
What styles of CV are there?
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
- research- or subject-related job
- 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
- Use positive, action words and avoid the passive tense
- A final check - would you employ you?
For more information on CVs, see:
- Using a CV to evidence and sell your skills
workshop run regularlyfor researchers by the Researcher Career Development Adviser, Anne Cameron.
- Application, CV and cover letter guide
Careers Advisory Service booklet with many good tips and examples
- University Researchers and the Job Market
Has a good chapter on CVs and applications and is specific to researchers
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 (for email letters, print out to gauge length)
- 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, they are screening mechanisms; employers can spend a good deal of money on developing them and they are designed to extract relevant information from you.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to answer the questions on the application form in as much detail as possible - don't underestimate the amount of time this will take! Questions are intended to check whether you meet the selection criteria, and could cover areas including academic qualifications, work experience, career motivation and your skills and competencies. Many recruiters nowadays ask competency questions both on application forms and at interviews; for tips on how to answer these, see the relevant pages of the Vitae website and book on an Applications and Interviews workshop.
It is essential to research both the employer and the post before you start. Have a good look at their website and any literature you have; if there is a person you are invited to contact for further information then do so. This can give you a better idea of the type of person they want, and how the organisation as a whole works, which in turn aids you in completing the form to your best potential.
Practical hints for application forms
- Follow the instructions (eg black ink, word limits) - these could be used for screening if there are large numbers of applicants
- If you can't save an online form (do try this early on!) and return to it later, then print it and work on your responses offline to minimise the effects of system glitches
- Answer the question on the form. Don't be tempted to cut and paste answers from previous forms - even if the employer is the same, the job will not be, and employers can tell if the emphasis is not right!
- Give yourself plenty of time
- Think about why the employer is asking the question. Provide evidence where asked for it and reflect on what you learned from the situations you describe
- When choosing examples
- use different examples for each question if possible
- take examples from all aspects of your life including out-of work or family situations if they best answer the question
- recent examples are best unless an experience from longer ago is much better suited
- Use strong, active, concise language. This helps to create an impression of organisation and enthusiasm
- Spell-check (in British English!) and proof-read your form before submission
- Keep a copy to remind yourself what you have said - you may well be asked about it at interview
Some sectors and employers, including many that would appeal to researchers, are best approached through speculative applications. See the creative job-searching section for advice on this.