Common Errors in Preparing Application Materials & How to Avoid Them: Part 1

Guest Writer: Elaine Diggs, NCC, Career Counselor in OITE’s Career Center
Last week I was introduced on this blog, and I commented that I was eager to work together with graduate students and fellows to help you “build your career (and) shape the future.”  Since I spend considerable time helping trainees who are job hunting , I thought it might be helpful to list some of the common errors I see in reviewing trainees’ job application materials.
Error #1: Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) are used inappropriately when applying for non-academic positions.
Because you have always studied and worked in academic settings, the format you naturally think to use when applying for a job, albeit in an academic setting or any other work setting, is the c.v.  But there are differences in both the form and function of the c.v. vs. the resume.  Lori Conlan, Director of OITE’s Office of Postdoctoral Services, gave an excellent workshop at the start of the current academic year on the differences between c.v.’s and resumes and when to use each. Taking a few minutes to review her slides from that workshop might be a wise investment of your time.
Error #2: Letters of application (commonly known as cover letters) do not address specifically how your background fits the qualifications of the job.
The purpose of a cover letter is to arouse the interest of the reader in your educational and experiential background, and how that background could be used to help solve a problem a department or an organization is facing. So, the letter is a piece of persuasive writing, not merely descriptive. You are trying to persuade the employer to invite you for an interview, to sell yourself as someone who is well-qualified for the position and who should be hired. It is necessary, but not sufficient, to describe the research you have been doing here at the NIH and in prior laboratory settings.  If you fail to make a direct link between what you can offer and what the employer needs to have done, as specified in the position description, however, you will most likely be passed over.  Although it may seem to you to be stating the obvious and belaboring the point, s-p-e-l-l out specifically the connection between the organization’s needs and your education, skills and experience.  When requesting a critique of your letter of application, bring both the job description and your letter to the Career Services Center, and either Career Counselor Anne Kirchgessner or I will be glad to review your letter.
I look forward to sharing some other common errors and their solution in future posts to this blog.  Stay tuned!
Elaine Diggs                                                                                                                                                                  . . . to be continued

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