How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia

Oliver Drake

Oliver is recruitment specialist who specialise in recruiting to academic, research and university administration roles. Oliver has gained, over 20 year resourcing for the higher education in the UK and worldwide.

If you are a senior non-academic university professional you probably have significant experience in the sector. Still, in order to get invited to an interview you have to make sure that your expertise is presented well in your CV, so that your prospective employer can quickly spot it. If you want to find out how to do it, check out this example of an excellent senior CV of John Smith who successfully applied for a Head of Admissions position. John’s CV along with the advice below will help you understand how you can prepare an outstanding senior CV that helps your experience speak for itself.

Use the “Personal profile” section to emphasise your goals

The “Personal profile” section sets the tone of your CV and helps your prospective employer understand your current career goals. In senior CVs this section does not have to be long. A single sentence or two short sentences are sufficient to let your employer know what you are looking for and why you deserve to get it. For example, John included in this section of his CV a sentence which, firstly, places emphasis on his extensive experience (8+ years of working in administrative university positions) and, secondly, explains exactly what type of a role he is currently looking for:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

Remember that in order to impress your prospective employer this section of your CV should convey a clear message that you are looking to work within the higher education sector, and in the specific position for which you applied. For extra points you could also state why you are looking to work in this position, just like John explained that the Head of Admissions role will help him “use his existing expertise and take on new responsibilities”.

Highlight “Relevant work experience” for more clarity

If you are a senior professional you don’t really have to worry about not having enough experience for the role for which you are applying. But you still have to make sure that your prospective employer can quickly distinguish between the experience which is and is not relevant to the position they offer. You can easily do that by separating your work experience into the “Relevant work experience” section and the “Other work experience” section. The “Relevant work experience” section is the first section which your prospective employer will pay a lot of attention to in your CV. As long as it is full of role titles and descriptions which are similar to that of the position they offer (at a similar or lower level), you are very likely to be invited to an interview. For example, John listed in the “Relevant work experience” section of his CV three highly related positions that demonstrate a proven track record of working in similar roles with fewer responsibilities:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

In order to make your CV really standout you can spruce up your “Relevant work experience” section by showing how much experience you have gained in your most recent role or the role which is the most relevant to the position you are applying for. For example, for that specific role you could include the projects which you worked on during your employment. For example, you can see in the example above what John decided to include in this section of his CV under the “Projects worked on” heading in relation to his role of Senior Admissions Manager. By listing the three projects John achieved two things. Firstly, he made his prospective employer gain interest in his CV by providing plenty of details about his experience. Secondly, he helped his prospective employer understand what types of tasks John is used to working on and what level of responsibility he can handle. John also showed to his prospective employer that he is used to not only blindly following the procedures of the university, but also taking initiative to help in improving them. You can use this clever strategy applied by John in your own CV. Simply list any larger tasks that you personally performed or which you helped to complete that were time limited, out of your ordinary work routine and that finished with a success.

John then included his student job as Student Accommodation Assistant in the “Other work experience” section, because this job was less relevant to the position he applied for:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

Emphasise your value in the “Achievements” section

The “Achievements” section is your chance to outshine other, more experienced candidates for the position by demonstrating your passion for the type of work required by the role. You should include in this section any formal awards or nominations to awards which you received throughout your career – as long as they are relevant to the position for which you are applying. For example, John decided to include in the “Achievements” section of his CV the Best Student Support Award 2020 which he received personally in his current role of Senior Admissions Assistant as well as the Best Student Support Team Award 2018 which he received as a member of the Admissions Team at his former institution. He also included in this section the nomination to the Employee of the Year Award 2019. Even though he didn’t actually receive the award, the nomination demonstrates that his efforts as a university employee were spotted by his previous employer:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

Use the “Recent trainings” section wisely for extra points

Developing new skills by attending frequent internal and external training sessions is very much appreciated by prospective employers, particularly in relation to senior roles.  The “Recent trainings” section is an excellent way to showcase any trainings which you attended in the past 2 to 3 years. By calling this section “Recent trainings” you show to your prospective employer that you regularly participate in professional trainings and have plenty more training sessions to talk about during the interview than just the sessions mentioned in the CV. This section can include both internal trainings attended as part of your role and external trainings provided by professional training providers – regardless of whether your employer paid for them or you did it yourself. For example, take a look at how John used this section of his CV to bring to the attention of the prospective employer the internal training on Data Protection in Higher Education which he undertook as part of his previous employment, as well as the online training on Effective Administration in Higher Education provided by the Association of UK Higher Education European Officers which he attended:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

John also listed the topics covered in each training, so that his prospective employer is better able to understand what knowledge and skills he gained during the trainings.

Evidence your expertise in the “Professional memberships” section

Finally, the “Professional memberships” section of the CV shows prospective employers that you are willing to share experience and learn best practices from your peers. This attitude is extremely valuable for two reasons. Firstly, it means that you will stay up to date with the latest developments in your sector. Secondly, it shows that you are a cooperative person you will work well as part of a team. Just make sure that the memberships in this section are related to the specific role for which you are applying. For example, John included in this section of his CV his memberships in the Association of UK Higher Education European Officers, the Association of University Administrators and the Student Services Organisation – all of which are directly relevant to the Head of Admissions role for which he applied:

How to Prepare a Winning CV for Senior Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

Notice how John also mentioned the years when he joined the above associations and specified that he is currently still their member. This shows to his prospective employer that John has been interested in developing his skills in the higher education administration sector from the early stages of his career.

Further resources:

Lucinda Becker, Write a Brilliant CV (SAGE, 2020)

James Reed, The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview (Virgin Books, 2019)

James Innes, The CV Book: How to avoid the most common mistakes and write a winning CV (Pearson, 2016)

Kevin Peachey, How to write a successful CV (BBC News, 12 January 2015): https://www.bbc.com/news/business-15573447

Stephen Chambers, Top 10 CV buzzwords – and how to avoid them (The Guardian, 9 February 2017): https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/feb/09/top-10-cv-buzzwords-how-to-avoid-them

John Lees, How to write an outstanding CV profile (The Careers Blog – Guardian Careers, 20 January 2014): https://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/how-to-write-outstanding-cv-profile

Sarah Shearman, Five ways to get your CV and cover letter noticed (The Guardian, 1 June 2017): https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/jun/01/five-ways-to-get-your-cv-and-cover-letter-noticed

Clare Whitmell, Spring cleaning your CV: an essential guide (The Careers Blog – Guardian Careers, 21 March 2013): https://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/springclean-your-cv-guide

Jack Grove, Career advice: how to write a CV for a university job (Times Higher Education, 5 January 2017): https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/career-advice-how-write-cv-university-job

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