I was speaking to a recruiter to research roles in industry recently, and she shared some useful feedback on what does and doesn’t work in applications for industry:
Do: - Research the company thoroughly. In cover letters and personal statements it’s very important to not just talk about your current and past experience and achievements; you need to demonstrate how what you have to offer would add value to the organisation you are applying to. You also need to have clear reasons why you are applying to that company, which takes careful research via the company website, newsletters, social media and professional contacts. Check out these articles on researching companies and explaining why you want to work for a particular company. Keep your reasons positive; you may be thinking that you want to leave academia because of the lack of security or high levels of competition, but prospective industrial employers will want to hear about your pull factors, not your push factors. What do you know about how working in industry is different and why does this appeal to you? Who have you talked to or collaborated with from industry? It's probably best not mention personal circumstances; the recruiter doesn't need to know that you have relocated with your family.
Do: - expand on examples and provide clear and specific evidence that you have the skills and experience the employer is looking for. Use the STAR technique (Situation, task, action, result) to structure your examples, and talk about measurable outcomes and impact of your efforts and projects.
Do: - be aware of the broad range of skills, both technical and transferable, that you have gained as part of the PhD, and be prepared to explain these clearly and confidently to the employer. I've read a lovely article this week from Cheeky Scientist about the transferable skills that recruiters in industry are looking for; if you don't think you have all these skills, YOU DO; come and have a chat with a careers adviser and we'll help you identify them.
Do: - be positive and confident about your experience in both applications and interviews. Steer clear of apologetic and negative phrases (‘While I don’t have any industrial experience…’) and, don’t undersell or underestimate the value of both your technical research and broader skills. Just because you have never had ‘programmer’ in your job title doesn’t mean you don’t have the high level programming skills that are exactly what the company is looking for.
Do: - break cover letters and CVs down into separate paragraphs. Lack chunks of text will seem intimidating to a busy recruiter. The same principle applies to CVs.
Do: - proof-read all application materials carefully. Typos look unprofessional and hint at laziness.
Don’t: - repeat information. Busy recruiters don’t have time to read the same information twice. If you’ve written in earlier sections of an application form that you have a relevant undergraduate or Masters degree it isn’t necessary to repeat this in a personal statement.
Don’t: - include long lists of publications/conferences/posters. At most you could include one or two examples of particular interest to the company you are applying to; it can be better to briefly refer to having a strong publication record as evidence of communication skills or scientific impact, and include a link to your LinkedIn or Research Gate profile that the employer can look at if they choose.
Don’t: - include a photo with your CV for UK recruiters.
Don’t: - make the employer dig for the information they really need – use clear formatting, relevant subheading (e.g. research experience, research techniques, project management), and appropriate (though not excessive) use of bold to draw attention to your key skills and achievements, which should be tailored to the skills the employer is looking for.