Applications, CVs, interviews and assessment centres

As a postgraduate researcher, it is important to understand how to effectively communicate your high-level skills and experience to potential employers in an effective way.

Non-academic applications, CVs and interviews

If you are a current Birmingham PGR, you can find guidance on writing non-academic CVs and applications in the 'making applications' section of our PGR Careers Beyond Academia Canvas course. If you don't have access to Canvas, you can read about the basics on how to put together a strong CV for jobs outside of academia (PDF - 554KB), including how to present your PhD on your CV depending on its relevance to the job for which you are applying.

When you are applying for jobs outside of academia, it is important to effectively 'translate' your PhD experience into skills, qualities and achievements that are of interest to the employers that you are targeting. Here you can find some useful advice on articulating your academic experience for the non-academic workplace.

The key thing to bear in mind when you are putting together a job application or CV is that every job opening exists because the employer has a set of hiring needs. They have a set of things they need someone to do, or a set of problems that they need someone to solve. Your task in your application is to present yourself as the solution to these hiring needs. You achieve this by focusing on your best examples that demonstrate to the employer that you are capable of doing the things they will need you to do, and solving the problems they need to solve, in that particular job.

Here are some tips to help make sure that your application attracts the employer's attention:

  • Before you write anything, carefully read the job description (duties) and person specification (requirements) for the role.
  • If these are unclear, or there are things you aren't sure about, ask to discuss the role in more detail with the person named on the job advert. Alternatively, reach out to people who do the job already (e.g. through current contacts or via LinkedIn) to build up a clearer picture of what is involved. The key is to do your research and understand as much as you can about the employer's needs.
  • Next, think about where in your own experience are your best examples that show you are capable of doing the main activities mentioned in the job description, and that demonstrate the qualities listed in the person specification. 
  • If you are writing a CV, work these examples up into bullet points that start with an active verb, then give the example of what you did, then finish with a result or something that you learnt. Make sure that each bullet point directly references the skill or type of experience that you are using the bullet point to demonstrate. Don't make the employer have to 'read into' what you have written in order to see its relevance. You can do this by using the same words that the employer uses in the job advert. For example:
    • 'Adapted research on the psychology of language learning into an accessible lecture for thirteen-year-olds, demonstrating strong verbal communication skills'
    • 'Developed sound understanding of the peer review process, regularly reviewing manuscripts for department's Classics journal Rosetta. Contributed to three issues being released on time'
  • If you are writing a cover letter or supporting statement, don't simply repeat your CV in narrative form. Use the cover letter to:
    • Say what attracts you about that particular role
    • Say why you want to work for that employer (be as specific as you can)
    • Make direct links between your most relevant, 'stand-out' experience examples and how these show that you will be able to do this job well. Tell the employer what you will bring to them by explicitly saying which parts of the job your experience will help you to do the job well

For more advice, look out for events focusing on non-academic applications and CVs for Postgraduate Researchers in our Westmere Careers Series.

To get a draft of your CV or application reviewed by an adviser, please email careersenquiries@contacts.bham.ac.uk including details of the job you are applying for (e.g. link to job description and person specification if available). Please allow at least 5 working days for an adviser to get back to you.

If you are looking to improve or practise your interview skills, you can contact the PGR Careers Adviser who can help you with this. Our practice interview software also lets you practise your interview technique online if you can't make it to a practice interview.

CVs and applications for academic jobs

Here we've put together some advice for advice on putting together an academic CV and writing an academic cover letter.

Other useful resources include: 

Also, look out for events focusing on academic job applications and CVs in our postgraduate careers events programme.

Careers Network's CV, Application and Interview Support pages also contain useful information and advice on CVs, covering letters, application forms, interviews, assessment centres and psychometric testing.

Get support

If you would like further guidance on putting together your CV, cover letter or job application, or want help preparing for an interview or assessment centre, contact the PGR Careers Adviser on careersenquiries@contacts.bham.ac.uk for PhD-specific support. Alternatively, you can book a practice interview.

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