What Employers Think of Postgrad Applications

I’ve just attended a session at a careers conference where three employers gave feedback on three (anonymised) postgraduate applications.

The employers represented the Co-op (retail organisation headquartered in Manchester), FDM (an IT training/services company with a strong presence in Manchester) and EPSO,  the body who recruit for the EU institutions. These are their opinions and “other employers are available” – but there’s nothing here which I haven’t heard from other employers as well.

A lot of what they had to say would apply to any postgrad application, so here are some of the gems:

  • If you’re applying for roles which are not specialist or related to the content of your PG degree (eg. generalist graduate/roles), they recommended a skills based CV, with an employment outline and examples of how you have demonstrated skills on the first page, and your education on the second page.
  • Speaking of which – “I just don’t do over 2 pages!” was the comment from one of the employers (for a non-academic CV).
  • Do include your postgrad qualification, but where it’s not directly relevant, particularly if it’s a PhD, put brief details, probably on the second page/towards the end of your CV.
  • Bullet points are easier to skim through. This was in response to a CV with employment descriptions which were 5-8 lines long, with no gaps between each of the descriptions. These were seen as too long.
  • A Personal Statement or profile can be good, but only 4-5 lines max.
  • Applications really must be tailored to stand a chance of standing out (FDM expect to receive 20,000 CVs this year, all of which need to be read). They suggested drafting a long “pick and mix” CV with examples of lots of skills. You then find out which skills that employer needs, and pick from your “long CV” to create a 2 page targeted CV – minimum effort, maximum result.
  • Omit any negative statements such as “although my experience is not directly relevant …”. These “qualifying statements” don’t add value to the CV. Showcase yourself – best bits forward!
  • Ask the employer about the recruitment process – can they give you a job description and/or person specification? This tells you what they think is important about the role. Once you’ve identified the main criteria for the job, make sure you address them near the start of your CV.
  • For non-research jobs, you don’t need a list of publications (if you have them). You can however point out that you have eg. “published 5 papers in peer reviewed journals”.
  • For non-specialist roles, think of who the gatekeepers will be, and what they will understand on your CV. If an HR officer or recruitment agency is doing the first sift, they probably won’t understand any of your technical jargon – that space has probably been wasted.
    And be careful about what you think is obvious – one of the employers pointed to an application from a life scientist and said “for example, MRC – I don’t know what that is …”. Most people outside academia or research have never heard of a “Research Council”.

There was some disagreement on the value of covering letters. The recruiter from the EU was initially dismissive, whereas the other two recruiters liked a good covering letter. After discussion, we discovered that whereas most recruiters want to see your motivation for the job and for the employer in your covering letter, no-one at the EU seems to be in any doubt that you are desperately keen to work for them, so you don’t need to cover that for the EU (in fairness, most covering letters they get seem to put great effort into gushing about the EU, so they take it as read now!).

One final insight from the EU was that their recruitment exercises rarely accept a CV as a first application; it’s always by online application form. However, where they do ask for a CV at a later stage (quite common), they expect it to be the Europass format, preferably with a photograph. I’ve blogged in the past about how Europass CVs are generally not suitable for UK employers, but this is proof that someone loves them!

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