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Are you excellent? Insightful? Powerful?

How do you write strongly about yourself in applications and why it’s important to do so.

So, the first thing we need to do is address the elephant in the room.  The main reason we have to make sure we write strongly about ourselves in applications.  The elephant has a name, competition! You’re in a competition, it’s very important that you make yourself come across in your applications as the best person you can be. 

The key with any application, whether it’s as simple as just sending your CV, writing a letter or filling in the dreaded application form, the basis is the same. We can’t leave it up to someone else’s imagination to fill in the gaps. We have to blow our own trumpet and declare that we are a world leader in whatever field we are applying to.  We have to make sure we talk about every relevant piece of experience that we have in our life that is relevant to the future employer you are hoping to impress. It’s really important to make sure that you are channelling that potential employer or funder whoever it might be.  You should be talking positively about yourself.  That is the key part.

This is one of the main things that I know postdocs struggle with the most. I think we’re all super lovely, clever, intelligent people, but quite modest when it comes to talking about how fantastic you are. You really cannot overdo it, I’ve yet to come across a postdoc who overdid talking about themselves in their application. You know that you’re surrounded by amazing people but the thing that people forget is that you as a postdoc are amazing. You are highly literate, highly numerous, great at problem solving and a project managing wonder person. I firmly believe that postdocs are superheroes. It is so hard to overdo this. If you think or are not quite sure about putting it in, put it in. Try it out, chances are you aren’t overdoing it. After all, it’s a competition, you need to make sure that you are singing your praises.  No one else is going to do it for you! 

How do I make my CV stand out?

CVs are looked at by an employer for around 30 seconds sometimes even less.  With so many to sift through you have to stand out from the crowd.  You need to include the best, most positive things you can write about yourself so put them in then put the document down, step away from the computer, go off for a walk, give it some time and then come back to it. I know for sure that when I’ve written something and think, Oh, I’m not sure, when I come back, I’m often thinking – actually, that is pretty good. I like that. The same is true with applications.

Have in your mind the question – do I really want this fellowship, postdoctoral job, job outside academia, whatever it is, whatever it is that you’re applying for, do you really want it? If so, play the game. Absolutely. Make sure you play the game. If you don’t want it, it’s simple, don’t apply because it will shine through in your application that you don’t want it and it’s then just a waste of time.

To play the game you need to make sure you follow the format of whichever dreadful form universities decided that you need to fill in.  You also need to be positive about yourself, saying, you know, owning your experiences, owning your achievements, because that’s what’s expected. 

No one is expecting a CV that says nothing positive about you. They are expecting a positive statement of your skills.

Employers and I’ve done this myself when I’m recruiting, are expecting people to be upbeat about coming to work with them. We’re expecting, a polished, glowing CV and a letter that outlines your accomplishment. If we don’t get that there’s almost a slight wrong tone. 

I’m not big fan of spreadsheets, I do use them but I’m not a spreadsheet nerd. I think there is a place for making sure that you have everything and I literally mean everything you’ve ever done in a spreadsheet, that includes positive feedback, big achievements, small achievements, all sorts of things. So you could have different sheets in the spreadsheet.  My GCSE for example,  is now quite a long time ago so I’ve actually got them written down so that I can remember what I got and when it was.  You need to have those facts and figures. Also think about having a column for personal achievements which might be things like some brilliant feedback from a student. Keeping things in one place, ie a spreadsheet stops you from needing to sift through hundreds of emails to find things. Document things as you go, write them down when you get them.  We wouldn’t dream of doing anything else without evidence. We wouldn’t plot a graph, you know, make up the numbers. Your CV works in the same way.  You will have plenty of evidence of great communication skills, project management, leadership, mentoring etc. If you prefer it could be a Word document, just make sure you have it collated somewhere. Then when it comes to applying you’ve got everything at your fingertips. If you haven’t got these ready, and you think, yeah, I’ll do that, I’ll do that. It is always a scramble when you see your ideal job. My big piece of advice here is start today, you don’t have to do that whole spreadsheet but start today, make the file, put in your score qualifications, put in your degree qualifications as a start, and put in highlights about your degree, your PhD, etc. All of this will then correlate into building a successful application, whether that’s a CV, an application letter or some sort of form. Pay particular attention to any positive feedback that you have had along the way. 

Now start to think about using Active Words in a CV.  Words such as lead, initiated, developed, and Pioneered. These active words really do promote positivity. If you’re looking at jobs outside academia? Have a look on LinkedIn? Look at the profiles of similar people? How do they describe themselves? What evidence do they have?  Do you have that evidence on your sheet? For example,  being awarded Teacher of the Year at University of your choice.  That’s definitely going to be a relevant achievement. So quite often, there are things in our experience in our past, that we’ve forgotten about, which is where the spreadsheet comes in. Also make sure you think about how you word things for example voted, best teacher is better than just best teacher because it’s got that sort of participative sound to it. Think of using those Active Words throughout but also back them up with evidence. So, you wouldn’t say, I’m a world leader in – without some evidence.  

What are my top three skills?

I did this exercise with my clients recently as part of some homework and I was amazed at the responses that I got, they pulled out strengths that I had not really thought about and they pulled out strengths that I really didn’t give enough importance to.  I think it’s that feedback that you can get from other people. That can be really useful. The best feedback that you can get in this sort of arena is from someone who you’ve worked for because chances are you’re applying to work for someone else.

I know that can be a really tricky thing to do in academia, depending on how you get on with your principal investigator but friends, peers, other postdocs, other researchers, even don’t forget researchers who perhaps have moved on. Ask them. Perhaps someone who you’re sharing a lab with, you know, quick email saying I’m applying for jobs. I’m trying to put together a really positive application. I wonder if you could just help me outline my top three strengths. The answers may surprise you, It can be a really great way of getting to know yourself better and being able to articulate better to other people.

 So, go on, make sure you blow your own trumpet in your applications from now on.  The results might surprise you!

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