The Graduate School

Applying for a Job

No matter which area of employment you are trying to enter into, it is essential that you learn to Market Yourself Effectively.

Effective CVs, Covering Letters and Job Applications

Effective CV's

  • An effective CV presents your professional skills and experience to a prospective employer, and demonstrates your suitability for the position. To convince the employer of your suitability, each CV should be tailored to the job being applied for.
  • Your self-knowledge and the research you have carried out on the employer should allow you to match your skills to the skill set required.
  • Tailor the format of your CV for its ‘target audience’, which will vary depending on the employment sector and the specific job. For example, academic CV's should contain very specific information structured in a particular way - it would not be suitable to submit an academic CV for a job outside of academia.
  • Further information on the presentation and content of effective CV's is available here.

Covering Letters

  • A Covering Letter should often accompany your CV.  It should draw attention to the ‘highlights’ of your CV and demonstrate your suitability for the position.  Be aware that some organisations circulate CVs without covering letters so make sure all relevant information is contained in your CV.
  • For academic positions, covering letters (often in the form of a ‘statement letter’ or ‘statement of interest’) are of particular importance as this is often the medium in which you outline how you meet/exceed the essential and desirable criteria.
  • A covering letter should cover these five main points:
  1. The purpose of the letter: who you are, the job you are applying for and where you saw it advertised (including job reference numbers where appropriate).
  2. Why you want the job: this is where you get to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm.
  3. What you can offer the employer: make reference to your CV and/or application form, highlighting how your skills and experience match the job’s essential and desirable criteria.
  4. Why you wish to work for this particular employer: demonstrate relevant skills here and use your knowledge of the employing organisation to showcase the valuable contribution you could make to their organisation.
  5. The closing paragraph: this should be polite and positive.

Job Applications

Different employers/employment sectors have different job application procedures. Some employers, for example, may require you to complete an on-line or paper application form, while others may require only your CV and a covering letter. Job applications require a lot of time and attention to detail, you should aim for quality over quantity.

The following should come in useful:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the application procedure, taking careful note of the instructions, especially in relation to any documentation required and/or deadlines.
  2. Research the job/organisation/employment sector. As before, preparatory research is invaluable. If essential and desirable criteria are not specified, your research together with the job and person specifications provided should give you enough information to compile a list of these criteria; you can then demonstrate how you fulfil these criteria.
  3. If contact details are provided for informal enquiries, avail of the opportunity to gain additional and valuable knowledge in advance of completing your application.
  4. Analyse your skills and experience. It may be useful for you to note down the different activities you are engaged in as a researcher, and the skills each activity requires. This should help you to demonstrate how you fulfil a job’s criteria.
  5. Always supply as much strong evidence as possible to illustrate how you meet the criteria: leave the prospective employer in no doubt as to your suitability for the position. Application forms are designed specifically to make comparison between candidates easier: ensure your answers are carefully structured, convincing, concise, well-argued and honest, and convey your enthusiasm and commitment. Spelling and grammatical errors should, obviously, be avoided at all costs. 
  6. Always keep a copy of the application/covering letter/CV you submit for any job. If you get an interview, you will need to know exactly what you said.  In the case of on-line applications, you should save or print the job and person specification, as well as your application, as these are not usually visible once the application has been submitted/deadline has passed.

Some Useful Steps

Know Yourself

To begin with, the most important thing is to get to know the ‘product’ to be marketed: yourself.

The self-evaluation you began in the early stage of your research degree, when you assessed your reasons for doing a PhD, your strengths and career priorities etc. should help you now to promote yourself and your skills to potential employers. 

Know About the Employer

Learn as much as you can about your potential employer; this information will allow you to customise your application/cover letter/interview to demonstrate what you have to contribute to that particular organisation. If you want to move away from academic employment, consider how best to present your considerable experience and skills to attract attention in a new arena.

Plan and Research Your ‘Campaign’ Well

Focus on jobs that are attainable, both in terms of their eligibility criteria and in terms of your own requirements and deadlines. Plan ahead and use your skills as a research student to set realistic timelines to research the employment area, and to set clear and attainable objectives for achieving your goal.

Further Information

General Careers Advice & Vacancy Sites:

  • (QUB careers portal including vacancies, careers events & resources;
  • Vitae (Career Management Skills and Information for Postgraduate Research Students);
  • Prospects (The Official UK Graduate Careers Website);
  • Gradireland (Ireland's official graduate jobs & careers website, covering vacancies in the north & south of Ireland);
  • Target Jobs (Graduate Jobs and Advice).