A post by Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education, and Mimi Weiss Johnson, Senior Educational Technologist, City, University of London.
In our first post we looked at how to identify and prepare for the application. Now we want to take you through the steps you should take to be ready for the application, from getting the documents you need ready, and being prepared for the (possible) long process of using the organisation’s online application process.
Having a great CV is important, but you will find most university jobs require you to complete your application in their own online application system. Be prepared for a lot of cut-and-paste from your CV, but there is also the need to prepare for more lengthy free-text sections about your experience and background, as well as a supporting statement.
The key when applying is to understand how you meet the personal specification and being able to demonstrate this via the personal statement. Sounds obvious, right? Sadly, so many people fail to do this well, and we have seen many suitable candidates fail at this stage by having a poor supporting personal statement.
Download the job description.
Have you ever been invited to interview and couldn’t remember the specifics of the role you had applied for? Having decided to apply, the first thing that you should do is download the job description and keep a local copy somewhere handy. It is wise to store a copy locally (downloaded) as the online one may not be available after the deadline date and you will need to use it to prepare for a possible interview. Alternatively, you could print out a copy so that you have a convenient reference next to you at the interview.
Structure your personal statement.
By far the simplest way to do this is to use each item from the person specification on the job description, as a heading and write an example for each one. If you are limited on word count, you could use a numbered or bulleted list to help separate out each section. This makes it so much easier for the recruitment panel to score the application. Typically, we have a shortlisting grid that lists all the criteria, and we give a score in a range to indicate how much you meet each statement (e.g., 0 – Not met to 2 – Fully met). Using the criteria to structure your statement means you can ensure you cover everything that the recruiter is asking for and should ensure you at least partially meet all essential criteria – crucial for getting shortlisted. It also means that recruiters don’t have to hunt through your application to see whether you have met the criteria. If you bury your answers in long paragraphs or in unrelated examples, then things are easily missed.
Use examples but keep them relevant.
“I have experience of providing training.”
That’s great, but is that all you’re going to tell us? Don’t just say that you can do something, provide an example that demonstrates it. Structure your example using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique to ensure you provide a clear example detailing the situation, the tasks that you undertook, the actions that you followed and the result of your actions. To demonstrate that you have experience of training, tell us about a workshop you have developed or run recently – What was it about? Who was it for? How did it go? Just make sure you keep it on topic, there is nothing more frustrating than when candidates go off on a tangent or provide an unrelated example.
If there’s something you don’t have experience of, then think about whether your experience is transferable, whether there is some training you could do or something else that demonstrates your understanding of an area. For example, if you have only worked with Blackboard, but the role requires Moodle expertise, then demonstrate how your experience is transferable. You could also have a look at the Moodle documentation, install a copy yourself or access a trial version, speak with colleagues at other institutions who use Moodle, or if your institution has something like LinkedIn Learning, which is an online repository of training videos, watch the videos to learn more about how it works.
Brevity is the key, but not too brief!
“In the next 10 pages, I will explain why I am suitable for the role.”
We often look at around 30-40 applications per role, so you do not want to be the applicant who submits 10 pages of a personal statement, as chances are we are not going to be happy with you. But also, there is no way you will cover everything you need to in half a page. 2-3 pages is usually enough depending on how many items there are in the person specification. Just watch out for any word limits on the application!
Attention to detail!
“…and I feel I would make an excellent addition to the University of Newtown.”
I’m sure you would, but you’re applying to the University of Oldtown. When recruiters ask for ‘attention to detail’ this includes on the application as well. It is great to tailor your personal statement to each job, but if you do then make sure you get the details correct, especially the job title, department, institution and technologies used.
Another aspect of attention to detail is grammar and spell checking, especially if you need to put your personal statement into an online form. Write your personal statement in a word processing tool first and make sure you correct any typing or spelling errors. You could consider using tools like Grammarly to help with writing. Also, build in time to get a friend or family member to look over your application. This can help with sense-checking what you have written, catching any typing or grammatical mistakes, and sometimes even help you come up with additional examples.
Make sure hobbies are relevant.
When we all created our CVs as kids, we were advised to add hobbies, to which most people would add something generic like ‘exercise, reading and current affairs,’ but how much value does that really add to your application? Whilst we are occasionally impressed by the expert water-skier, or the black belt in karate, think about how relevant it is to the role and what skills you have developed as a result of the activity. For example, if you haven’t had much experience working in a team, then playing a team sport could demonstrate your team-working skills. Likewise, you might have developed a range of leadership and management skills through running a local club or branch of a charity.
Me, myself and I.
This is your time to really sell yourself, so make sure you use the word ‘I’ as much as possible but acknowledge where you have worked with others. Try to avoid sentences saying, ‘the team did this’ or ‘we did that’ unless you specify your role in the activity. Remember, the recruiter needs to know about you and what you have done. Also think about what qualities and experience you can bring to the institution and relate it to the job description – “I have done this, I did it well, now I can bring that experience to you.”
Avoid document overload.
“Please find attached my dissertation, degree certificate and a letter of recommendation from my colleague”.
Most institutions will ask you to complete an online application form but will give you the opportunity to upload supporting documentation. Think carefully about what you upload. Here are some examples of things we have come across:
- Cover letter – this is nice, but keep it brief and don’t just replicate your personal statement here.
- CVs – Application forms allow the recruitment panel to collect all the relevant information they need, and they put all applicants on a level playing field as they have all been asked the same questions. As a result, some recruiters don’t tend to look at the CV, so don’t bury your expertise there. Make sure the application form contains everything you want us to look at. Your CV is nice to include but should not be relied upon.
- Personal statement – Sometimes the application form is restrictive, and it is easier to write a separate document with your personal statement. This is fine to upload separately, and gives you more flexibility over layout, but do be careful about any word limits listed on the application form.
- Dissertation/Thesis – Lovely as it is to see the fruits of your labour, we really don’t have time to read your dissertation or thesis. Just reference it in your application if it’s relevant.
- Portfolio of evidence – This will depend on the role you are applying for and may be useful if you are applying for multimedia or instructional design position but keep it brief and consider putting the portfolio online so it can be accessed via a link. We are not going to look at everything, but we might look at a couple of examples if it is relevant to the role.
- List of publications – If you’re applying for an academic role or research is a key part of the job description, then you probably need to include a list of your publications. But for a standard learning technology post, it’s not usually relevant. If you feel it’s important to include some, then add in some key ones or recent ones, but make sure they are relevant to your role.
- Certificates – It’s only natural to be proud of the qualifications you have, and you should definitely list any relevant qualifications on your application, but we don’t need proof just yet. Save these for when you get the job as it’s something HR usually asks for.
Finally, make an effort!
We know which applications have been created in a hurry and really, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. Some people try to save time by copying content from previous applications and although this can be done, we definitely want people to update the text to reflect the role that they are applying for. We can tell if this hasn’t been done or if the application has been created at the last minute. A rushed application, that hasn’t been appropriately tailored, makes us question your work ethic and does not leave a good impression. A good application takes time to write, so use the time to prepare your examples, find out more about the job/institution and write a good personal statement tailored to the job you are applying for.
These tips will help you get your application arranged in a way that fulfills the recruiting panel’s needs, and hopefully show you to be the recruiter’s dream candidate. Our next blog post will look at preparing for the interview.
With thanks to our City Digital Education colleagues Taqveem Ahmed, Kathryn Drumm and Olivia Fox for their advice and feedback.
This post, and all posts in the series, have been written by Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education, and Mimi Weiss Johnson, Senior Educational Technologist, City, University of London.
If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.