Make your CV work for you.

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Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham. She is interested in researcher education and the writing that scholars want to, and must do. So when I came across her Patter  on writing CV’s I was intrigued to read what more advice she had for the Research Community Read the rest of this entry »


Using recruitment agencies Part 2: the practicalities

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Continuing my chat with Chris Young from SRG and Graeme Pallas from CK Science, I got some practical advice from them on CVs, the job market, and how to endear yourself to a recruitment consultant.

What should your CV look like? They had a long list of tips (and Manchester Postgraduate Careers blog has some further useful tips from SRG on CVs here).

  • They generally decide with a 5-10 second glance at the first page whether they want to read on, by looking at qualifications, where you’ve worked, and whether there’s any key words that they’re looking for. Your first page needs to contain the most pertinent information, which needs to be easy to find.
  • The first page should have information about your qualifications and work history. We talked about having a techniques section – Chris felt that it would be a helpful summary underneath your contact details, but both of them agreed that wanted detail about experience/techniques under your education or work history, so that they can tell what level you’re operating at.
  • Keep it to two pages – no-one is going to read anything longer.
  • You can put in a tailored CV for each job that you apply for. There should be nothing on the CV that doesn’t say something about your suitability for the role.
  • Don’t bother with IT skills unless you know how to use any specialist software – it’s taken as read that people know how to use Microsoft Office.
  • Don’t expand on anything irrelevant to the job (e.g. your summer job in McDonalds doesn’t require a detailed explanation), and bullet-point anything over 5 lines long.
  • You should include any relevant or recent publications, but only list 4-5 (remember those 2 pages). Apparently, employers can be suspicious of postdocs who don’t have any.
  • Have something extra. Voluntary work helps to show a bit of personality, and shows that you are proactive and have something different to offer.
  • If companies are looking for go-getters who don’t wait for a professor to give them direction, make sure your CV focuses what you’ve achieved in post; and try to keep the language short and snappy, using active words (‘developed’, ‘organised’, ‘led’ etc).

How to get the most out of a recruitment agency? Here are their do’s and don’ts.

  • Be enthusiastic. Remember: personality is king.
  • Be specific about what you want. With 30,000 people on the books, it’s hard for them to find work for someone who doesn’t care what they do.
  • Answer calls within 24 hours. This was a big bugbear. Sometimes vacancies are only open for 48 hours before closing. Get back to them even if your answer is no (remember about keeping them sweet).
  • Get in touch by phone rather than email – email is easy to ignore; the phone is not.
  • Stay in touch every 2 weeks, even if that’s just to update them on how you’re doing, or to tell them that you have a job (they might sometimes offer you a better one).
  • Don’t ring every day, or within minutes of applying for a vacancy.
  • Always ask for feedback. They know the employers, they know the job market. Ask their advice before you apply, and ask for feedback after interview. Don’t ring the company and ask for feedback – the reason that they hired an agency is so they don’t have to deal with potential recruits.
  • You don’t have to dress in a suit to see the consultant, but it never hurts to be a bit smart.

What’s the job market like? As far as the north east goes, there’s plenty out there for chemists, but jobs for bioscientists only really come up sporadically (that said, Fujifilm – protein purification, microbiology and R&D – and Leica – immunochemistry and histopathology – are currently expanding in the region). Cambridgeshire has more going on in the way of bioscience R&D. More specifically there are opportunities in:

  • Biochemistry:  Protein Purification or characterisation.
  • Microbiology/Molecular Microbiology:  Specifically projects working with an organism called Pichia (as well as protein expression and fermentation).
  • Organic Synthetic Chemists:  A number of pharmaceutical companies in the North East look for PhD level Organic Synthetic Chemists, especially if they have any experience of working with Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API).
  • Chemists:  Any Post Docs with experience of Heterogeneous or Homogeneous catalysis (especially if they have both).
  • Cell/tissue culture.
  • Food scientists and technologists who can work with synthetic flavourings
  • Some biotechnology, but you might be better approaching biotech companies direct.

Don’t forget other agencies. You can register with as many as is helpful, and there seem to be four key ones in the north east: CK Science; SRG; CY Partners and Kelly Scientific.

Everything you needed to know about recruitment agencies but were afraid to ask…

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Well, perhaps not everything, but when I met with two recruitment consultants last week, I certainly gave them a good grilling on your behalf!  Graeme Pallas from CK Science and Chris Young from SRG (both specialising in STEM recruitment) were kind enough to chat to me about their experiences with PhDs and postdocs. I got so much info, I’ve had to break it into two posts, so brace yourselves…

How agencies work: You can either register with an agency directly by sending them a CV, or apply to a vacancy that you’ve seen on their website (they also advertise on totaljobs, LinkedIn and Monster). A consultant will give you a call to discuss your skills and experience, and add you to their database (nationally, CK has about 30-40,000 active candidates). When new vacancies come in, the consultant searches the database for keywords (make sure you get yours right), and will ring you to suggest that you apply with a more tailored CV. The consultant is the person who ‘long-lists ‘ candidates for the employer, and the employer then selects people to interview.

The best time to approach an agent is about 1-2 months before you’re ready to start work. The shorter notice period you give, the more likely you are to be put forwards. There are booms and slumps in the number of vacancies throughout the year, with slumps generally corresponding to long school holidays (summer, Christmas and Easter). School starts next week, so expect a bit of an upturn!

International candidates might struggle, as it’s usually only large companies who go through the complex and costly process of becoming an approved sponsor for visas.

Unrealistic salary expectations are an issue, and you are likely to have to take a pay-cut (they pitched average salaries for people coming out of academia at £18-25,000). This was definitely a vicious cycle situation: the advice was to be prepared to take a step backwards to get experience, but at the same time, industry managers don’t want to hire someone who is more qualified/experienced than themselves, even on temp jobs, because temp jobs often lead to permanent posts (Aesica commonly hires people on six-month contracts and then makes them permanent). Ask the consultant’s advice – they know the employers.

It is much more difficult for postdocs than fresh PhDs. Some industry recruiters don’t value academic experience – one of the consultants mentioned an employer he knows who won’t take anyone with more than 2 postdocs, as they’re too ‘entrenched’ in academia.  One employer recently told me that he’s never sure about hiring postdocs because “they always seem to be waiting for some professor to tell them what to do”..

This reluctance to hire long-term postdocs struck me as a tremendous waste of talent. If only 23% of PhD graduates get permanent roles in academia, then what happens to the remaining 77%, who usually only start thinking about alternatives a few postdocs in? Graeme and Chris both sympathised with my frustration, however, the agencies are paid by the companies and the consultants know what hiring managers want, so can’t (and don’t) put forwards candidates who don’t match expectations.

It’s really important, therefore, to take leadership opportunities where you can, and to think about how your experience translates to industry, and to take any opportunities to work outside the university. Network with industry scientists whenever possible to find out more about the working culture and what you need to do to adapt.

At what level should you pitch yourself? It’s best to discuss it with the consultant. You should try to be as honest with them as you can about what you have to offer and what you want, and you can expect some honesty (sometimes unwelcome honesty) in return. The consultant may be giving you bad news that you don’t want to hear. Their advice was to stay positive and ask what you can do to maximise your chances. Given that the consultants are the long-listers, it pays to keep in their good books.

Personality goes a long way (especially for postdocs). You want the consultant to go the extra mile for you, which means that you need them to like you enough to fight for you. What makes them like you? Both Chris and Graeme said that it was all about the enthusiasm. If someone comes in to see them who is energetic, passionate about what they do, and has a positive outlook, it makes a big impression. Both of them cited instances where they successfully persuaded an employer to take on candidates who, on the face of it, didn’t meet the criteria for a role. This will be crucial for postdocs – energy and enthusiasm can help to overcome the misconception that you are a cerebral academic with no teamworking skills.

What has your experience of using recruitment agencies been like? Any advice or tips?

CV Advisers still needed

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The Careers Service is still recruiting part-time CV Advisers for the next academic year, and is particularly keen to recruit PhD students to the role.

Why is this a good option for a PGR? Knowing how the CV Advisers work, it’s excellent experience for careers both inside and outside academia. It gives you the opportunity to work 1-1 with students and clients, and trains you to effectively use ‘active learning’ techniques to help clients understand for themselves where improvements need to be made. This would be excellent experience for anyone interested in supervision; training; development; and providing constructive feedback – great for teaching and leadership roles.

And let’s not forget, of course, that after being trained on what makes an effective CV – and seeing so many other CVs on such a regular basis – you’ll easily be able to turn your own CV into something fantastic that will get you noticed…

How to write a CV for Academia – workshop

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How to write a CV for Academia

22nd February 2012


Bamburgh Room, King’s Road Centre

Applying for research opportunities, lecturing posts or a PhD? Find out about the key indicators of success in an academic environment, what to prioritise and how to make yourself stand out in an academic CV.

This workshop is aimed at postgraduate researchers and other students who need an academic CV because they are applying for university-based research posts or a PhD. Research staff are also welcome to attend.

No need to book – just turn up – starts at 1pm prompt.


Career Bites – for Newcastle University research staff

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Career Bites for Research Staff

These lunchtime sessions will provide an informal forum for research staff to come together and discuss questions, queries and concerns about an aspect of their career planning.

Facilitated by the Research Staff Careers Adviser, Rachael Roberts, each session will aim to address the needs of those that attend and the issues they raise. You can come along and ask questions, contribute suggestions, share documents you are working on relevant to the topic or to listen to the discussion. The aim of the sessions is to provide you with input and feedback on an issue in the way that you need at that point in time, rather than deliver a generic workshop that may not be appropriate for you.

Each session has a theme including; CVs and Cover Letters, Application Forms and Supporting Statements, Interviews and other selection methods, Networking and developing contacts.

Research Staff from all faculties are encouraged to attend. You are welcome to bring your lunch with you!

Research students should look at their own faculty programmes (HASS, FMS and SAgE) and book onto the courses organised for you!


Application Forms and Supporting Statements

Date: 24th November 2011

Time: 1-2pm

Location: Kings Gate L1.26

To book a place on this session please click on this link:


Networking and developing contacts

Date: 8th December 2011

Time 12-1pm

Location: Kings Gate L1.26

To book a place on this session please click on this link:


CV’s and cover letters

Date: 19th January 2012

Time: 12-1pm

Location: Kings Gate L1.26

To book a place on this session please click on this link:


Interviews and other selection methods

Date 2nd February 2012

Time: 12-1pm

Location: Kings Gate L1.26

To book a place on this session please click on this link:  

If you have any questions about the sessions please email

Making the most of Careers Service events

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If you look at the events page of the Careers Service website you will see that there are a significant number of events and activities happening over the next few months. Research staff and research students are cncouraged to attend any event that interests you, including careers workshops, employer presentations, recruitment fairs and networking sessions.

Next week the workshops include…… ‘How to write a CV for Academia’

Applying for research opportunities or lecturing posts? Find out about the key indicators of success in an academic environment, what to prioritise and how to make yourself stand out in an academic CV.

20th October 2011, 13:00 – 14:00 – Bamburgh Room – King’s Road Centre

I’d encourage you to make the most of these events and take some time to look at the events page and find out what’s going on that appeals to you.