Academic Applications

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By Neil Harris

Previously a CV and covering letter sufficed when applying for an academic or academically related job. Now many universities have on-line application systems many of which often ask for a CV.  Most of the rest of the space is taken up you’re your contact details, previous employment and academic record.

Before you start consider the skills you need for each specific job. They include skills in:

Researching          Writing                               Lecturing
Analysing               Editing                               Presenting
Evaluating              Supervising                      Tutoring
Monitoring             Applying for funds             Teaching
Mentoring              Coordinating                     Organising

Consider which of these are most relevant to the job you are applying for. Now, write down all the evidence you can think of that demonstrates that you have these skills. If possible include impressive numerical evidence - a 50% increase in productivity, a £400k grant, supervising a team of 10. Then think how you are going to include that evidence in your CV.

It’s good to start your applications by writing a CV because many universities want them. For those that don’t you can easily transfer the information onto their forms once you have read through it carefully.
There are good academic CVs and bad ones. To optimise your chance of getting an interview your CV needs to attract the reader immediately. Place it at arms length and ask yourself, does it attract me to read it? Does it say ‘read me’ or does it include long, off putting paragraphs of text?

Introductions: Start with your name, centred and bold at the top, a little larger than the rest of the text.

Personal details: Follow with your address, email and phone details. Dates of birth can no longer be insisted upon following age discrimination legislation. It may be useful to provide your nationality, especially if you want to establish that a work permit is not required.

Qualifications: List your qualifications in reverse date order unless told to do otherwise. Attach each qualification to the institution where you studied. Don’t list institutions and qualifications separately.

Give at least the title of all relevant research projects but don’t go into lengthy prose, use mathematical symbols or jargon. Also mention any specific training that you have received which enhanced your skills.

Experience: Consider your experience in three categories- teaching and lecturing, research, administration. Most academic jobs contain elements of all three, so consider the importance of each of these for the job you are applying for. Create headings for all three, placing them in decreasing order of importance.

The teaching section should include everything you have done that includes tutoring, demonstrating, teaching, lecturing, presenting at conferences or seminars and supervising of students’ projects.

The research section should include details of PhD and master’s theses plus all the research you have done subsequently. Mention all presentations, seminars and posters that you have presented.

Prepare a list of your publications and conference presentations to put at the end of your CV. If this is lengthy place it on a separate page and put the items into categories in descending order of significance for the post you are applying for.

If you’re applying for a research job be sure to mention all of the techniques in which you are proficient including statistical analysis.

All academic work includes some administration and liaison with people externally. Include any courses you have organised, funds applied for, committees of which you have been a member, details of any activities within a professional body. If you have liaised with research groups or academic departments outside your institution mention this.

Key words:

Including key words in your CV will increase the interest of the reader. Words that attract the attention of those selecting candidates for interview include the following:

Analysed                Supervised          Lectured
Researched           Interviewed          Directed
Organised              Liaised                 Assessed
Tutored                   Edited                  Interviewed
Presented              Co-ordinated       Managed

They are proactive words which demonstrate your skills in activities that relate to the job you are applying for.

Bullet points

If someone has received 100 applications they are not going to spend more than 90 seconds on your CV. It is therefore much better to use bullet points than paragraphs. Bullet points allow the reader to see specific details quickly. Long paragraphs bury them in a mound of words.

Best of all use key words immediately after bullet points. As the reader’s eye goes down the page they immediately see words they can relate to.

Suppose you received this:

During the process of my three year project I studied the behaviour of the Bengal tiger.

Or this:

•    Researched the behaviour of the Bengal Tiger for 3 years

Which would attract you most?

Never include negatives in your CV, don’t mention your failures or what you have not done. Avoid using vague words like ‘various’. ‘I worked on various projects’ tells them nothing.  

Hard skills

While prospective employers are always interested in ‘soft’ transferable skills such as teamwork and communication don’t forget to include hard skills. These include competencies with IT, foreign languages, first aid certificates – all of which may be useful.

Interests and activities

Mention any interests and activities that are relevant, especially those in which you are proactive. Include any responsibilities, prizes and awards, leadership roles and team activities. If the institution has interests abroad mention visits to countries that are of interest to them. Do not give a list of passive and solitary activities.

Why them?

One question that’s often asked is ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ or ‘Why do you want this job?’

Candidates often make the mistake of saying what a wonderful place it would be to work without including themselves in the answer.  Better to concentrate on what you have in common with your prospective employer in terms of your interests and the expertise you would bring.

Also demonstrate that you have researched them thoroughly by mentioning something that is on their web site.

Inevitable questions

For legal reasons they always ask about your ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender, nationality and sometimes criminal record.  But unless they are dramatically short of people in one of these categories, these are not usually what get you the job.

Related Articles

To read Neil Harris' article Academic Interviews click here

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