Your PhD, what next?: Job applications and CVs
Use the following tips to ensure your application and CV will stand out when applying for academic or non-academic jobs
When do I start applying for jobs?
Timing is crucial and you need to start thinking about your career action plan before you enter the final year of your PhD.
You need to be aware of the recruitment cycle as some jobs, for example management schemes with large organisations, have set closing dates. Check these well in advance of applying.
For most jobs it takes about three months to go through the recruitment cycle, so start applying for jobs at least three to four months before you expect to finish your PhD.
Applying for academic jobs
Applications for academic posts must highlight your abilities as a professional researcher, together with your skills and experience in teaching and administration.
Make sure each application is carefully tailored to the post. Highlight the skills and experiences you have to offer, matching them to those that are described in the person specification.
Include the following sections in your application:
- Synopsis of your PhD - give a brief outline of your research that is understandable to non-specialists, as the selection panel is likely to include people outside of your direct research area. Explain why your research is important, and outline significant findings and achievements.
- Research interests - may be a separate section, or follow on from the synopsis of your PhD. Describe your plans for future research, making sure that they tie in well with the research interests of the institution to which you are applying.
- Research methods - outline the technical and methodological skills you have developed. Make sure it is clear how these will be of benefit in the post to which you are applying.
- Teaching experience - describe teaching you have done and relevant training you have received.
- Other relevant experience - perhaps you've sat on departmental or university committees, got involved with organising a student conference or supervised undergraduate students. Explain the situation, the skills you developed and how they are relevant to the position you are applying for.
- Awards - include any awards or recognition received that is relevant to the position for which you are applying.
- Membership of professional bodies - includes details of relevant professional bodies, associations or learned societies that you are a member of.
- Conferences attended - list the conferences that you have attended, stating whether you gave a poster or an oral presentation. If the list is particularly long, include as an appendix. Include details of any involvement in organising conferences.
- Publications - usually comes at the end of a CV and can be included as an appendix. Starting with the most recent, include journal articles, books or chapters of books and reports. If you have a large number of publications, you may wish to create subheadings, such as review articles, in press, etc. If you have not published many titles, include any forthcoming publications.
- References - include details of two or three referees, at least two of which are usually academic. Make sure you have asked their permission before including them.
Proofread your application before sending it. If you claim that you have excellent communication skills or good attention to detail with a CV full of typos, the employer is unlikely to believe you.
- Try to visit the university and department that you would be working in. It is important to establish a relationship and also to take a look at the university and the research group where you will be located. Potential employers will remember someone who made the effort to come and talk to them, much more than someone who simply sent in a CV.
- Read the journal papers produced by the research group. Be prepared to talk about them at interview. Employers are unimpressed by candidates that don't show an interest in their research.
- Be clear how this post will fit in with your longer-term career path. Be ready to talk about this at interview - employers will be looking for someone passionate about their research, not someone who is applying just because they need a job.
- Know where your research is going. Outline where you think your research will take you, which journals you plan to publish in, and the organisations that you will approach for funding.
- Think about possible collaborations. If you have been doing your networking, you should know some of the big names in your field. Outline any ideas you have for possible collaborative projects.
Applying for non-academic posts
For non-academic posts, you need to sell your PhD and broader experience to potential employers. In order to do this, you must demonstrate your competence, skills and achievements in line with what they are looking for, including reference to your PhD and broader experience. Examples include:
- Problem solving - the whole essence of your PhD is about problem solving, and you will have developed a set of strategies for analysing a problem and approaching its solution in various ways.
- Project management - don't forget that your three-year research PhD is a large project with many elements and calls on your time. Give examples of the tools you used to manage this project, such as Gantt charts, mind maps or writing work packages with goals, objectives and deliverables.
- Time management - talk about the techniques you used to manage your time efficiently during your research, such as identifying tasks that can run in parallel, delegation and working with others.
- Management of self and others - talk about techniques you have used to manage yourself and make yourself more organised.
- Managing multiple priorities - without going into too much technical detail, outline the competing calls on your time and how you dealt with them.
- Communicating with different people - giving lectures or tutorials, taking part in outreach programmes, giving presentations at conferences or to your research group all require different methods of communication.
- Networking - meeting people at conferences and other events means that you have some networking skills. Talk about how you keep a record of who you have met and how you follow it up.
- Writing skills - outline the different kinds of writing you've done: journal papers, thesis, progress reports and anything else you've been involved with, such as communicating with the media and the public. Explain what you have learnt about the different styles.
- Understanding and analysing information quickly - as a researcher, you will come into contact with a huge amount of data and will become skilled at understanding and analysing it quickly.
For further information, see applying for jobs and CVs and cover letters.
Written by Jayne Sharples, University of Birmingham