by Dr Catherine Armstrong
Although officially the UK is out of recession, it’s still a difficult time for those in the academic job market. Some universities are still threatening redundancies while others have hiring freezes in place. The situation is similar in the US and Europe. Indeed, the job market is very competitive everywhere at the moment. So, how can you go about making yourself stand out from the crowd? Here are some tips on how to become more employable.
1. Work on your CV
This has two aspects. First you need to improve the actual CV document, so focus on the way you are presenting the information to an employer. Is the layout correct? Does the most important information stand out? Are your qualifications and experience obvious to those who don’t know you? Think about improving the appearance of the document to make it more eye-catching, but don’t let it become gimmicky. Try to show your CV to people in your workplace or on your course to get feedback on the impression it produces.
You should also think about developing your CV by improving the contents. You could focus on your teaching, or research/publication or administration record for a year. Where do you fall short, and how could you boost that area? Is there anything you can offer to do in your current job that would get you more experience?
2. Develop new skills
This is closely linked to point one. Once you have worked out how to enhance your CV, you might find that you need to develop new skills or areas of expertise in order to achieve your goals. This could mean going on training or professional development courses. There are many different courses on offer. Choose something that you will enjoy and that will be useful in the future.
Consider developing your teaching practice by learning new classroom techniques or exploring e-learning possibilities. It is also possible to change your role within your department. For example, you could undergo a leadership course, learn how to mentor others, or advise students with specific issues such as mental health problems or disabilities. You could also enhance your research programme by going to funding workshops.
These events are held regularly at most universities and are open to all staff. If you don’t currently have a job in a university it will be difficult, but by no means impossible, to access training. You can enquire at your local university, although you will probably have to be prepared to pay for the courses.
3. Change your job application pattern
Perhaps you have got into a rut with your job applications. You may send out so many applications that they start to blur after a while. While you might change your application slightly for each job to tailor it to the job specification, you might still rely on a cover letter and personal statement that was written months ago. Try starting again from scratch. How would you sell your experience and skills now?
It is also important to consider the types of job you are applying for. Perhaps you are applying for too narrow a range of positions and could consider alternative roles. Or the opposite problem could be true. Are you using a ‘scattergun’ approach and applying for too many jobs when you would be better applying for positions only in your field?
4. Do a mock interview
University careers services offer mock interviews to third year undergraduates to help the students get into graduate level positions. It is a useful tool for people at all levels of their career, however. Perhaps you haven’t had an interview for a while, or are changing careers and are unsure of the interviewing format for a new job. You need to find someone supportive (a current colleague, a mentor or a PhD supervisor perhaps) who will take the exercise seriously and is willing to act as the interviewer.
It will give you the chance to rehearse some of your answers to challenging interview questions and hopefully you will get some positive feedback on your performance.
5. Broaden your horizons!
Although it is easy to become single minded when looking for a job, it is important to constantly reassess the situation. Are you sure that you really want to work in the field for which you are applying? If you have any doubts, perhaps it’s time to come up with an alternative plan. There are many other ways of finding fulfilling work apart from doing a permanent job. Many scholars have portfolio careers where they work for a number of different universities, perhaps doing freelance tutoring or exam marking as well.
You could also consider volunteering. It is a great way of getting new skills and of helping a charity or local organisation. And it will really enhance your CV and give you a sense of self-worth during a difficult time of unemployment. Future employers will look favourably on someone who thinks outside the box to try to develop their workplace skills.