Real jobseekers' problems!

Yesterday in the glorious July sunshine I went off to Southampton University to give a talk on how to maximise your chances in the job market to a group of postgraduate computer scientists. As well as my talk, the campus was also hosting an open day so I got caught up among several hundred teenagers and their parents! However, I also got asked some really interesting questions about academic jobseeking that I thought I’d share with you.

We had a long discussion about academic CVs and the perils of getting CV advice from generic websites targeted at those who are entering the commercial sector. Many of these advice sites say that a CV should be no more than 2 pages. Well, even for academics at the start of their careers it is impossible to fit everything in to 2 pages. We decided that a good length for an academic CV was between 4-6 pages. But the question was raised about how to make different sections of your CV stand out and be more attractive to the reader. The use of colour was proposed, which I think is a great idea. BUT what if the person printing out your CV at the other end hasn’t got a colour printer? Or if the CV is distributed for the interview panel using only a black and white photocopier? All that hard work choosing colours will have been for nothing. Messing about with italics, underlining and different fonts is also not recommended as it makes the CV harder to read. The solutions we came up with were using different point sizes and spacing the words well on the page.

Another question was about the issue of salary negotiations. Rarely, an interview panel will ask you what level of salary you would expect if you got the post. What a challenging question! You don’t want to price yourself out of the market but equally you don’t want to under-sell yourself. Obviously any answer given in an interview is not binding: if you are offered the job you will be able to negotiate formally later. But it’s still a difficult one; I’d be interested to hear anyone’s suggestions on how to handle that.

Overall I had a great time in Southampton, a lovely setting and a very friendly, enthusiastic bunch of students. I could quite get used to this roving careers adviser lark! So if you have a group you’d like me to come and talk to…please get in touch!

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About Catherine Armstrong

Dr Catherine Armstrong is a Senior Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, specialising in North American History. She is a former teaching fellow in History at the University of Warwick and Oxford Brookes University. Catherine was also Director of Historical Studies in the Open Studies department at the University of Warwick. Her first book ‘Writing North America in the Seventeenth Century’ was published by Ashgate in June 2007. As a long-time jobseeker for an academic role herself, Catherine is in a unique position to understand and offer her knowledge and experience to those developing an academic career.

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