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Career Planning Guide

Career Planning Guide

CVs and cover letters/speculative emails

Before you even apply for a job, you may want to get in touch with an employer to discuss job opportunities or a particular role in their organisation. You may do this from CVs, cover letters and speculative emails.

Although not all job applications will require a CV (with some instead requiring you fill out their own application form with the same information), it is crucial to keep an up-to-date CV, both for last-minute opportunities and so that you can refer back to it to copy information across, if a different format is required (these can sometimes be quite arduous, with lots of boxes to fill, so make sure you leave time to complete all job applications and understand what is required well in advance).

In this section, we will look at the difference between academic CVs and “normal” CVs, outside the academy. We’ll look at this in more detail in the sections below, but the most significant difference between them is the length! Outside the academy, it is expected that your CV will not extend over more than two-sides of A4 – and we’ll talk about what to include and how in our section on Non-Academic CVs. For academic jobs, they can be much longer than that (although it seems quite controversial how much longer! But we’ll look at that in the section on Academic CVs). If you are applying for a variety of jobs, it might be useful to always have two CVs on the go: one academic and one non-academic. You may also find it useful to have a long-version of your CV, which you put EVERYTHING on, as a form of record-keeping, and you can then select the most pertinent points to make a bespoke CV for each job application.

Most job applications will require a cover letter or personal statement. If you’re unclear what is being asked of you in the application process, remember that you can always email and ask. Better not to assume that when they say ‘cover letter’ they mean a couple of paragraphs in the body of the email, when they actually mean a one or two page document, where you outline your skills and experience in line with the job specification. If you’re not sure what they want: check. Here are some examples of cover letters.

What about contacting somewhere when they haven’t got a job currently advertised? A speculative email is where you contact someone within a company/organisation/institution to ask whether they might have any opportunities for you. The Prospects website has lots of information about how you might do this.

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