How to Prepare a Winning Entry CV for 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.

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

Entry professionals looking for non-academic university roles are often struggling to make their CV stand out. This is because they typically don’t have much (or any) work experience to include in their CV or the experience which they do have is not that relevant to the role for which they are applying. If you are in this position, check out this example of an excellent entry CV of John Smith who successfully applied for an Admissions Assistant position. John’s CV along with the advice below will help you understand how you can prepare an outstanding entry CV without having outstanding work experience.

Use the “Personal profile” section to explain your potential

The “Personal profile” section contains a single message which sets the tone of your CV and helps your prospective employer understand your previous professional experience (if any) and your future career goals. Outstanding CVs typically include in this section a very succinct summary of the most relevant experience of the candidate, followed by a clear and unambiguous statement of what the candidate is currently looking for. For example, John included in this section of his CV two sentences. The first sentence highlights his relevant university education and his experience in supporting university students. The second sentence clearly states that John is looking for an Admissions Assistant position, which reassured his prospective employer of his specific interest in this type of work:

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

Remember that you will only impress your prospective employer if this section in your CV conveys a clear message that you are looking to work in an environment similar to that of your prospective employer (i.e. higher education), and in the specific position for which you applied. In order to gain extra points you could also explain briefly why you are looking to work in the position for which you applied, just like John explained that the position of Admissions Assistant will help him “use his skills and pursue his passion for higher education administration”.

Highlight your relevance to the role in the “Relevant skills” section

When reviewing CVs prospective employers tend to first read through the “Work experience” section and make a quick decision as to whether to invite the candidate for an interview, mostly based on the contents of that section. If the title of your previous position(s) or voluntary role(s) is very different from the role for which you are applying, your CV might be overlooked – especially if there are plenty of other candidates with the ‘right’ titles in their “Work experience” section. You can prevent this from happening by focusing the attention of your prospective employer on the “Relevant skills” section which includes any transferable skills that are relevant to the position for which you are applying.

Those skills might not be evident from other parts of your CV, such as the “Work experience” section. You might have gained them as part of university projects, voluntary work as well as formal or informal trainings which you attended. The point is to bring those skills to the attention of your prospective employer quickly, so that they don’t misjudge your ability to perform the tasks advertised in the job advert. For example, John listed in his CV four crucial transferable skills which he believed made him an excellent candidate for the position of Admissions Assistant, even if he had never worked in this role before:

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

Make your “Work experience” standout

If you are applying for an entry-level position, you might be competing against a significant number of candidates, many of whom might be more experienced than you. In order to make your CV standout you have to spruce up your “Work experience” section by showing how much experience you have gained in your previous role(s). Apart from mentioning in this section the titles of your previous roles and the responsibilities which you had in each role, you could include the projects which you worked on during each role. For example, this is what John decided to include in this section of his CV under the “Projects worked on” heading in relation to his role of Student Accommodation Assistant:

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

By listing the three projects under the Student Accommodation Assistant role 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 capable of doing 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 – despite his low level of experience. 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.

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 as part of your previous employment, volunteering experience or university study as well as any student and non-student memberships in professional bodies and associations which are related to the higher education sector.

For example, as you will see from the example below, John decided to include in the “Achievements” section of his CV the Best Student Support Award 2020 which he received personally as well as the Best Student Support Team Award 2018 which he received as a member of a university team. He also included in this section the nomination to the Student 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 Entry CV for Professional Roles in Academia Careers in HE

John also included in this section his membership at the Association of UK Higher Education European Officers. You could say that a membership in a professional organisation is – strictly speaking – not an ‘achievement’. But when applying for entry level positions it will impress your prospective employers to see that even at this early stage of your career you were interested in joining a professional organisation. Alternatively, if you have multiple awards and multiple memberships all of which are relevant to the position for which you are applying, you could create a separate “Memberships” section in your CV.

Use the “Additional qualifications” section wisely for extra points

If you lack the relevant work experience, you will struggle to make your CV stand out. But you can still do that by including in your CV your non-professional experience which might set you apart from other candidates. The “Additional qualifications” section is an excellent way to do this, because it allows you to show any informal trainings which you undertook that demonstrate your interest in and ability to work in the position for which you are applying.

Feel free to include in this section any trainings undertaken as part of your membership in professional associations and organisations, or even additional student trainings provided at your former university by external providers. For example, take a look at how John used this section of his CV to bring to the attention of the prospective employer the online training on Data Protection in Higher Education which he undertook through the Association of UK Higher Education European Officers:

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

By including the name of the course, the name of the course provider and the date when John undertook the course he showed his prospective employers that he has particular interest in issues which are relevant to Admissions Assistants (even if he doesn’t have any experience in working as Admissions Assistant). He also listed the topics covered in the training, so that his employers are better able to understand what knowledge and skills he gained during the training.

If you are looking for ideas on trainings and events which you could attend in order to build your entry level CV further, make sure to regularly check the pages of key higher education organisations in the UK, such as AdvanceHE, Universities UK, Independent Higher Education, Higher Education Business Continuity Network, Helping Students Make Informed Decisions and many more.

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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