Thursday, 10 November 2016

How to Get a Job in Research Management

A surprisingly large part of my work involves recruitment. I recruit for my own team, of course, but I often sit on other people’s interview panels, and I quite enjoy the experience.

I enjoy the snapshot you get of other lives and the choices people have made. I like that element of detective work that goes on when you look at someone’s CV and covering letter. Why have they decided to go for this job? Why did they change direction there, or only stay in that job for a few months? Would they be able to turn their hand to what we want them to do?

And I also like seeing my organisation from outside. Like a foreign press news story about the UK, it’s quite interesting to see how we are perceived by the rest of the world. Recruitment gives you an insight into how jobseekers see you.

What I find amazing, however, is how many people get the basics wrong. Now remember: we’re recruiting people for a service that is, essentially, about helping people prepare applications. We therefore set quite a lot of store by your ability to, well, prepare an application. If you are thinking about applying for a job in this increasingly professionalised world, take the time to get the basics right. For me, these basics have a lot in common with those necessary for external funding applications.

Make sure you’re eligible

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But there were a considerable number of applicants in the latest batch to come across my desk that weren’t eligible because they hadn’t met the essential criteria. This is a little like the ‘office reject’ that the research councils undertake. If we ask for an honours degree, you must have an honours degree; if we ask for experience of contract negotiation, then that’s what we want.

Make it easy for the reader

All of us have less time than we would really like, and we’re all essentially lazy. (Or is that just me?) But it’s best not to make it too hard for me to get the information I need. You should get the formatting right, and don’t be afraid of a judicious use of white space. In addition, make sure you proofread your text before submitting; nothing grates quite like spelling mistakes or bad grammar.

The latest batch, for instance, had one covering letter with the sentence ‘I fell I would be ideal for this role from my expe4rince in researching areas’ [sic]. But above all give some thought to what information we need, and how you should present it. Make your application attractive and your case irresistible, so that we have no choice but to give you an interview.

Make your experience relevant

Leading on from the point above, it’s okay if you haven’t been a research administrator from birth. Many of the skills required to be an excellent research manager are eminently transferable. However, make sure that your career makes sense and is relevant to the role you’re applying for. Use the covering letter and CV to take us by the hand and point out exactly how your skills and experience match the skills and experience we’re looking for.

If it’s not immediately obvious, explain how it is. If you’ve been working in a profession or an area that might be a little niche, explain what it is, and don’t ever fall into jargon or acronyms. And, if there’s an area of weakness, don’t try to fudge and obfuscate. Be bold and honest: it’s far more forgivable than wasting our time.

Don’t outstay your welcome

In job applications, more is definitely not more. I would suggest that, unless otherwise stated, the covering letter and the CV should really be no more than two sides of A4 paper each. Ideally, the covering letter should be less. Any more and we start to skim. So cut to the chase and only emphasise the important things.

Hone your English, and don’t waste words on explaining that, ‘further to your advertisement, I am putting forward my candidature for consideration of the role of…’ And, while your hobbies are nice local colour, they are only relevant if the relate to the post we’re advertising for.

And two more things...

To these basics, I would add two more essentials. First, be explicit about why you want the job. No, I don’t mean a throwaway line or two about the ‘university being a dynamic environment’, or something cut and pasted from the university’s website about the importance of research, or even that research management is something you’ve always been attracted to.

Instead be honest about what you find interesting about the job, and what attracts you to it. This is particularly necessary, I think, for academics moving into research management. Why do you want to give up the research in order to help others? I don’t have a problem if it’s a move you want to make; indeed many people in the office have been researchers, or still have a foot in each camp, but I’m always interested to know your motivation.

Finally, read around the job. Find out about the university and what makes it tick. Talk to staff and, if possible, come and visit to see if it is the kind of place that you really do want to work in. It might well not be, and you will be saving everyone a lot of time and heartache by not applying.

This article first appeared in Funding Insight in April 2016 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit

1 comment:

  1. Great piece - one which I had in mind to write every time we recruit!! A recent application actually had "[insert more detail here]" left in one section of the application form - not once but 3 times!!!