In our most recent round of hiring for a Research Assistant, we noticed that unfortunately, many of the candidates were unable to produce a high quality and concise job application. We estimate that around 10 applications of the [100+] we received effectively conveyed their skills and experience in a clear and concise way. We are not alone in noting this, other academics have expressed similar concerns on social media (see this amazing thread by @DrAmyGillespie). We decided it was time we do our bit to tackle this issue. For this reason, Shannon Bristow and Professor Thalia Eley bring you their top tips for nailing a Research Assistant post job application, to help future applicants obtain the job they deserve.
Make it easy for us.
Research Assistant (RA) posts are traditionally very competitive: for our part-time post, we had >150 applicants, and for full-time posts this is often >200. If we spent 10 minutes on each of 200 applications, that would be 33 hours (nearly a whole week of working time), before we even got to interview. This is just not feasible, and as a result, most of the time we can only spend ~5 minutes reading your application. So, please make your relevant skills and experience as clear as possible – don’t make us go looking for your skills in a sea of words and descriptives.
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
It is absolutely fine to copy the job criteria (essential and desirable) word for word and explain how you meet each one. In fact – it’s better than fine, it makes it easier to see how fabulous you are.
The job criteria is there for a reason. You need these skills, or at least the foundations or willingness to learn them, to do this job, so make sure that the job criteria is the centre of your whole application. This is every bit as important, and sometimes more important than your CV.
If you do not possess a certain skill and experience, think of what you have done that is similar or transferable to the role, and demonstrate how and when you have been willing to learn or adapt. This can sometimes also work for a career change or unconventional route into the role (Note from Thalia – we loved having Shannon, a qualified school teacher, join our team despite her unusual training route).
Tailor your application to the role you are applying for. A generic cover letter does not show us your enthusiasm and suitability for the specific role and is unlikely to make the impact needed to get an interview.
Keep it short.
A single page of A4 is a good length as it keeps you focussed, and it’s likely that you are then only talking about your relevant experience and potential for the role.
Do not include additional documents (such as dissertations). If we need more information, we will ask you for it.
Ensure your font size is at least size 11 or above. Most of us work long days on a computer, and our eyesight doesn’t thank us for it. A smaller font may be tempting to cram more information in, but that information is probably less relevant and not what we’re looking for.
We both really find it helpful if bold is used to draw our eye to something important – such as an essential skill.
We don’t need to know about your hobbies and interests, favourite quotes or anecdotes – unless they specifically relate to the job post. If we end up hiring you, we will get to know these things about you in due course, when you are a valued member of the team.