The two ingredients that make you an outstanding candidate

You have two minutes to stand out as a brilliant candidate. This is the average amount of time a prospective employer will spend reading your application before deciding whether to add you to a shortlist. The two ingredients that you need to create an outstanding application are; a brilliant cover letter, and CV. Your cover letter is the trailer to the movie that is your CV. So how should you put them together in a way that will stand out from the rest of the applications?

We give you several pointers on the content and format of your cover letter and CV/resume. These are based on the advice given by the Office of Career and Professional Development at the University of California, USA.

Here are bite sites pieces of advice for those of you brushing up your CV/resumes and cover letters followed by suggested formats and annotated PDF examples of both:-

1. Craft your cover letter and CV specifically for the job that you are applying for. DO NOT send in a generic document for either.
2. Repeat relevant important information on both documents.
3. Ensure that important information is in the opening paragraph of your letter and the opening section of your CV.
4. In your documents stay away from stating what you learned and focus on what you have accomplished.
5. Demonstrate your potential with evidence and productivity. Examples of how to do this in your documents are outlined below.
6. Mention academic reputation. Who your advisors are and your current and most recent institution should be mentioned in both documents as well as your collaborators.
7. List your awards and honours on your CV and, as mentioned in point one, highlight any key awards in your cover letter.
8. List your invitations to speak at conferences.

How do you present this information in your cover letter and CV?

The content of your cover letter
If you are addressing the cover letter to an individual, ensure that you use the correct title. If it is going to a committee then it is fine to address the letter to the recruiting committee.

In your opening paragraph write about the position you are applying for and how your research relates to the post.

In your second paragraph write about your research goals your collaborators with. You should demonstrate your research findings in terms of showing what you found and how it impacts your field of research. This will help to shape your research statement, and should be included both in your CV, and in your cover letter. As mentioned you should really focus on the outcomes of your research and the methods you developed. Another aspect to highlight in this section is how the research you completed shapes the feasibility of your future work and goals. You should also mention the types of funding you have secured for your work in the past, and the role you have played in securing funding as part of a larger team. In doing this it will help you to demonstrate a clear research vision that is feasible and fundable.

In your closing paragraph sign off with the same degree of professionalism you used in your opening. Depending on the role and whether you are applying to an individual or committee, there are several ways you can sign off. Click here to see examples.

The content of your CV/Resume
The suggestions below cover a broad range of experience and skills. Some sections may not be pertinent to your research area or not yet relevant for your CV. The intention is to help anyone refresh and update their CV and save preparation time for your next conference invitation or CV request.

List your contact details in your current institution and your personal contact details at the top of your CV.

Section 1 Education
In reverse chronological order give an overview of your education from your most recent degree back to your first piece of under graduate research. Include the names of the institutions, thesis or dissertation topics and type of degree obtained.

Section 2 Honours and awards
List any prizes, awards, honours or other recognitions for your research and work. Be sure to include the year it occurred and by who/which body granted the award.

Section 3 Research experience
List your research experience, be sure to focus on your research related achievements and the institutions you are associated with. For an institution productivity relates to its tenure requirements, and add research value for the faculty. So this is where you can show how your research meets these requirements, which will in turn show how you can be successful in the faculty.

Section 4 Funding
One of the key requirements for research-intensive institutions is the demonstrated ability of researchers to secure their own funding. Even if you are early on in your career you should be able to demonstrate that your work will be fundable. List the funding awards to have secured together with the values. Again key awards should be mentioned in your cover letter.

Section 5 Publications
This should be divided into peer-reviewed journals and submitted manuscripts. It may be worth listing the most reputed publications here and include a fuller list in an appendix. Remember to keep it relevant to the post you are applying for.

Section 6 Conferences and seminars
List the most relevant conferences or seminars where you presented or participated in a panel within the last 5-7 years. If your list is very long it is worth listing others in an appendix. In the appendix you can add an exhaustive list of conferences and seminars where you participated by giving a speech, presenting a paper or research, or participation in a discussion panel.

Section 7 Presentations
List your presentations. The purpose of this section is to highlight how you have endeavoured to disseminate and accelerate the impact and reach of your work. You should divide this section into oral and poster presentations. Be sure to list the location and date of the presentation.

Section 8 Teaching
List the institutions and the years you taught, as well as the subjects taught and levels of the courses.

Section 9 Patents
List any pending patents, again this should be mentioned in your cover letter.

Section 10 Professional memberships and affiliations
If you belong to any professional group or network related to your areas of expertise, you should mention them in this section. Only list affiliations or memberships where you have been active in within the last 5 years.

Your appendices is the place to have full details of papers published and conferences attended etc. If you choose to use appendices be sure to reference them clearly on your CV and perhaps list them in footnote of your covering letter where you list the documents included for your application.

It is really good practice and a massive time saver to keep your CV/resume up to date. The key is always to ensure that your cover letter and your CV are tailored to the position you are applying for. This may mean that you review what you keep in the main body of each document and what you put in accompanying appendices.

The final thing to remember is that recruiters are not just looking for someone to fill the position, they are looking for a new colleague.

Annotated cover letter
Annotated CV/resume

Example letters

Cover letter do’s and absolute don’ts
UCLA career faculty materials
Elsevier advice on what to include in an academic CV

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