In recent weeks I have mentored colleagues applying for internal posts and this process has made me realise that filling in academic job applications is not as simple as it may first appear.
At Sheffield Hallam University, where I am Subject Group Leader for Journalism, we are currently advertising a series of posts including a 0.5 post for a lecturer in Sports Journalism but my fear is that some very good candidates may fail to get through the initial round of shortlisting due to oversights on their application.
This is not because they do not have the necessary skills, experience and expertise but because they have failed to get to grips with the bureaucracy of higher education institutions.
In my former life as a journalist, a job application was a one page cover note and a one page CV, but in academia there are criteria lists, job specifications, essentials and desirables to be met and a lengthy application form with lots of boxes to fill.
The purpose of this post is to steer applicants through the process with some top tips. And as my recent experience tells me this is a process senior academics need to understand just as much as early career lecturers.
1. Read ALL of the information on offer before writing anything. This usually comes in three parts: the advert blurb, the job specification and the criteria list.
2. Make a note of how your experience and skills map to all of the criteria and job specifications. The application form is used first and foremost to see whether you met the desirable/essential criteria.
3. Be aware that your application form will be seen by Human Resources before anyone else. Therefore make sure you are very explicit in your explanation and do not assume the reader has any knowledge of your subject area.
4. Higher Education institutions are increasingly looking for qualified lecturers so if you have a teaching qualification make this as clear as possible on your application form. Fellowship of the HEA is also very desirable but if you do not have this then at least make reference to it and how you are working towards it.
5. Don’t think you can just cut and paste information from you CV onto the application form. Read each section carefully and make sure you give the information that is being asked for. If the section says ‘give an example of how you have shown leadership’ then give one example and one only. Don’t start listing off everything you can think of. This only shows that you can’t read instructions properly.
6. Don’t skimp on the detail. Write in full sentences rather than note form as this will illustrate that you are taking the application seriously and have taken your time to think about it.
7. Make sure you address all of the essential criteria and be explicit about how you meet them. This will make the different between you being shortlisted or not. Don’t think ‘I can expand on that in the interview’ as you may not even get to that stage if the detail isn’t on the application form.
8. If one of the criteria is desirable but you do meet it, then make sure you put this on your application as this will make you stand out from others who do not meet the criteria. If you do not meet the desirable criteria then make reference to how you aim/hope to achieve it.
9. Think about your experience outside of the workplace. Do you do voluntary work or have hobbies that illustrate that you have the necessary skills required? For example if the job specification is looking for leadership skills and you have led a community campaign, organised a fundraising event or perhaps led children’s activities then include this and explain its relevance.
10. Proofread. A sloppy application form with spelling mistakes and typos will give the wrong impression even if you are applying for a role in the sciences. It shows that you don’t have attention to detail and don’t take care over your work. Also make sure you spell names correctly. There is nothing worse than annoying a member of the interview panel before you have even met them because you spelt their name wrong on the application (believe me, it is really annoying!).