It is said that it is currently much harder for students to get a job in academia than ever before. Although there are more jobs out there, there are also many more people applying for them. Getting your CV right is clearly an important factor in getting that coveted job; giving yourself the greatest chance of getting through the mass of applicants to that all important interview stage. The first session I sat in on was a discussion group on writing CVs lead by Prof Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum. So here is what I found out…
Broad or specialised skills set?
First, we discussed whether it is best to be specialised or more broad in your skills set when applying for jobs and writing your CV. We were advised that at the start of an academic career it is best to be more specific in your area of expertise; have a recognisable identity and try to be the “go-to” person for your subject area. It is best to be a specialist at the earlier stages of your career and to broaden those skills and areas of interest as you progress. So, as a PhD student applying for a post doc, it is advised that you highlight your area of expertise within a large portion of your CV.
What to include in your CV?
When applying for jobs, the main aim of your CV is to get you through the sift panel – to make sure that you stand out from the many, many applications from people, just like you, who are also applying for the job. There will usually be a points based scoring system to see how well an applicant meets the person specifications of the job. Two elements to get you through the panel are making sure you include some “hooks” in your CV and tailoring the CV to the job.
Hooks are elements on your CV that are being looked for and will make you stand out from the crowd. Here are a list of examples; you do not need to try and include all of them but working towards some of these is something to think about during your PhD.
- Presenting at conferences and meetings – there are conferences large and small out there with options to present posters or give talks. It all helps to get your name out there and gives you practise at communicating your work to wider audiences.
- Publications – an obvious one perhaps but publications of all kinds can help give your CV a boost with papers being the best option.
- Getting funding – successfully applying for money from a competitive source is a great CV booster. Travel grants or small grant schemes are a great source as well as money from special interest groups for a workshop or meeting.
- Peer review papers – concentrate on the journals you want to publish in and put this down on your CV. Working on reviews with your supervisor or others is a great way to start out.
- Spend time in another lab – getting experience of working with people other than your supervisor is a useful addition to any CV. You probably don’t want to be seen as a mini-me of your supervisor!
- Writing – writing commentary pieces or review articles are a great addition. Blogs are an easy way to practise writing for a wider audience too.
- Contribute to working groups or synthesis groups – being a part of something outside of your own project will show independence and interest in collaboration.
- Other prior experience – only the relevant parts! Don’t fill out your CV with information that is not relevant to the job you are applying for.
Tailor your CV to the job:
It may be tempting, especially if you are applying for a lot of positions, to cram as much as possible into your CV and send the same one off with all applications. However, if you have the time to spare, spend it tailoring your CV to the job you are applying for. It will be beneficial in the long run! Although you may have pages and pages filled with all the different experiences and skills you have, a CV should only be maximum 2 pages long. So that means being ruthless and cutting it all down. The best way to go about this is to reverse engineer the job advert. Take each point in the person specification and try to include the relevant skills and experience in your CV. You can go into more depth in your covering letter, using the person specification and your chosen experiences to show exactly how you meet the requirements. The covering letter is also a great place to include information on other skills you have and particularly how these are relevant for the project you are applying for. What are they missing that you can provide?
Well, I hope that was useful. Keep an eye out for my second post with information on applying for post docs.