Writing a personal statement for a Masters course

computerUnless you are applying for Teaching or Medicine through UCAS this will be a completely different process for you.

There are some universities which use the UKPASS system but most require a direct application to the postgraduate admissions contact for the course you are applying to. (You will find this on the university website when you search for the course details.)

What does the application look like?

  • For some it’s an application form, where you will fill in details on your education & experience and then have to write a personal statement explaining why you should be considered for this course.
  • Some will ask specific questions about your reasons for applying.
  • Some will require a CV too.

Personal statements – what can go wrong?

  1. Poor structure & disorganised ideas.
  2. Lack of research.

Typically your structure would include the following unless you are given instructions to the contrary.  The order you present the information in is largely dictated by the story you want to tell, but this is a reasonably logical progression.

1    Why this university?

Be specific – don’t make generic statements such as “Because you are an internationally renowned university with an excellent academic reputation”.
If the university itself made a difference in your choice – what was this?

  • Have you studied there before and enjoy the environment?
  • Is it’s location and the opportunity to gain work experience locally a factor?
  • Has it got a strong reputation in this particular field of research?
  • Are there specific academic staff you want to do research or study with?
  • Perhaps it offers something else unique?

2    Why this subject?

  • Your motivation – When did you become interested in this subject and what have you learned about it?
  • What is it about the structure of the course, the choice of modules, the learning methods that appeals to you? Did you attend an open day or talk to lecturers?
  • Demonstrate subject knowledge, through relevant prior learning, projects, dissertations, case studies etc. It could also come through relevant work experience in this field.

3    Academic ability

  • Academic achievement – have you got what it takes to do this course? Grades in key relevant subjects.
  • Academic prizes
  • Does it match your learning style – can you demonstrate this? Will you have to do group projects can you demonstrate teamwork or leadership?
  • Can you demonstrate the dedication and resilience required to complete the course? Ability to use initiative, problem solve, manage workload, work to deadlines, work under pressure.
  • Other academic skills relevant to the course, computing skills, knowledge of relevant scientific techniques, analytical or research skills etc.

4    Personal skills & experience

You can talk about work experience, volunteering and extracurricular activities in more depth here, but make sure you are evidencing key knowledge or skills needed for this course and your future career options.

5    Your future?

What are your career aims? How will this course help you achieve them? Knowledge, skills, accreditation with professional bodies etc.

How long should it be?

  • Some Universities will give you a word length. Do not exceed it!
  • If there is no guidance I would say write no more than 2 pages of A4. 1 page may be a little brief but it depends what you have to say and how you say it.  Think of the poor admissions officer who has to read hundreds of these. Keep it concise and to the point.

Style of writing

To some extent this is a reflection of who you are but in most cases this is a persuasive argument backed up with evidence.  Flowery or emotive language is rarely used in the UK.

If you are applying to a course like journalism your written style may be judged as part of your application.

Make sure it is grammatically correct and spell checked.

International applications

Expectations may differ country to country so do your research, contact the admissions officer to ask if there is any advice, what are they looking for?  Do you write in English or the language of that country?

If you need help with your application – book an applications advice appointment


Have you got the right skills for the job? Think hard before you say no!

Find JobFaced with a job advert it is easy to give up, shrug and say I can’t do that I don’t have what they are looking for. It may not even be that clear what they are looking for!

Don’t give up quite so easily – print out that job description, have a good rummage on their website and get yourself a highlighter pen. Now let’s do this…

To make a good application you need to be clear:

  • Why you want to do the job? You need to be able to write knowledgeably about it.
  • Why you want to work for them? (not a competitor or anyone else just them)
  • That you have the skills and experience they are looking for.

Some companies will have a full job advert backed up with further documentation such as person specifications and job description. These are great, they can help you decide if you can do the job and craft a clear and well evidenced application or CV.

Step 1 – deciphering the job description or advert.

Get your highlighter out and identify skills and abilities they are looking for


Step 2 make a list

  • Research skills
  • Communication skills written & verbal
  • Organisation skills
  • Accuracy & attention to detail
  • IT skills & including social media
  • Analytical skills
  • Creativity
  • Report writing
  • Persuasion
  • Ability to absorb information quickly

Things like administration or marketing are not skills in their own right, there will be a bundle of skills for each task. Unpick the tasks and add and extra skills to your list.

Sometimes it’s not that easy, there may be little information on the role or skills required?

So how can you find out more?

  • Look on the company website is there any further information that helps? Graduate profiles, day in the life articles?
  • Many job advertisements list a contact to talk to about the role. It’s a really good idea to ring them, it makes you look serious about your application. Have a list of questions prepared but make sure they are not things you could have found out for yourself, do a bit of research first.
  • Have you seen similar sounding jobs advertised with other organisations? Do they have clearer information about the role? It may not be the same but it can be informative to see how it compares.
  • Use the profiles on the prospects website. They are great for giving a list of typical work activities and skills or aptitudes that you will need to show evidence of on your application.
  • Google it – put the job title in a search engine and see what other similar sounding jobs come up, it might give you some clues as to what the role involves.

Step 3 Evidence your skills

Use our skills list to help you think about ways you may have gained skills. Remember you don’t have to have done this job before,  you could have gained these skills in other jobs, volunteering, at university or via sports or hobbies.

Employers won’t just take you at your word, you need to show that you are competent by using evidence. Use the CAR model car-sandwich

  • CONTEXT – what was the situation?
  • ACTION – what did you do?
  • RESULT – what impact did you have that shows your competence.

The CAR sandwich has thin bread and a nice thick filling of actions.

Now you are ready to start that job application, remember your CV is only part of the picture, it gives the evidence but not the motivation. So make sure your read our cover letter & application form guides.

If you need help with your application – book an applications advice appointment

See also:

How to do your research for a CV or cover letter

How to do your research for a covering letter or personal statement

Employers want to be sure that not only do you have the relevant skills for a particular job but you also understand what the organisation does, how this role fits in and what it involves.  They want people who are making informed decisions and have a genuine passion for the job.

You may always have wanted to work for Virgin, KPMG, Rolls Royce etc. But now it’s time to put that onto paper and it’s not that easy!

Lets break it down:

In any cover letter & most personal statements you need to cover 3 things:

  1. Why you are applying to this company? – What makes them stand out from other similar companies?
  2. Why you are applying for this role? – Your motivation for applying, show your understanding of the role.
  3. The skills and experience you have that match the job description.( see next blog post)

1 So why do you want to work for us?

It’s often a question that’s asked at interview so do your research at the applications stage and you are saving time.

Often it’s a gut feeling, I’d love to work there, or I love their products or they are highly successful. But what do you REALLY know about the business and the way they work?

Here are some ideas for things you can investigate.

  • What makes this company different? What are their unique selling points – what differentiates them from their competitors? E.g. Tesco vs Sainsbury’s or HSBC vs Barclays. Why would YOU chose one over the other, how would you decide?
  • What products and services do they offer, and what do their competitors do? What are the differences and why is that important?
  • Who are their clients? Perhaps they work with a particular sector, demographic or country, why does that appeal to you?
  • Where are they based and where do they do business? Find out about company size, location and business catchment area.
  • What are their values & ethos, do they fit with yours?

You can usually find all this information on their website. BUT look at the website as if you were a prospective client or wanted to purchase something from them.

If the organisation has a public presence like a shop, hotel, leisure facility or bank visit some of their branches to get a real feel for what they do. Be a mystery shopper for your career!

If the organisation makes a product that is sold in supermarkets or stores, go and look at the products, who are they competing with, what’s the branding like, who buys it?

Do they advertise? Check magazines, TV adverts and billboards who are they aiming their marketing at?

2 Why are you interested in this job?

This one is all about the actual role. Now some graduate schemes cover a number of roles so  it’s helpful to investigate them all and have an initial opinion of where you think you fit.

Have you REALLY considered what working in this job is like?

  • Read the job description – what do they say the role is all about. What are the tasks, what will you be working on, in a team or on your own etc?
  • Read between the lines – what do you think it would be like in this organisation why might it be different to other companies? You might get some hints about this from the recruitment website, graduate profiles, talking to them at events.
  • Read up about what typically this job is all about. Prospects profiles & our Which Career? pages will help.

Don’t forget if a contact is listed on the job advert and you have questions give them a ring! Most people don’t bother, so taking the initiative could be the difference between your application and everyone else’s.

Check out our cover letter, application form & CV guides

If you need help with your application – book an applications advice appointment

See also:

Why generic CVs and cover letters end up in the bin!

Choices You’ve just sent me a CV & cover letter for a job.  You and possibly several hundred others so I’m going to spend just a few seconds skimming over it to see which pile you fit in.  Yes, No or Maybe.

I have a check-list of all the skills & qualifications I’m looking for and if you don’t tick any boxes you’ll be going in the No pile.

Why generic CVs fail.

  • They often talk about duties you performed not the skills involved.
  • The skills you are talking about may not be on my wishlist.
  • Personal statements clearly not targeted at this job or sector.

Why generic cover letters fail

  • Bad cut and paste jobs – even referring to the wrong company or wrong job.
  • You clearly haven’t done the research into who we are or what we do, why should I consider you? I want to see that you want to work in my organisation not ANY organisation.
  • Completely missing the point of the organisation or job role.

I’m not good at guessing!

I’m not going to just assume you have a skill or qualification either. Just because you say you have worked on a reception desk, I’m not going to imagine what that might have involved or that you might have been good at it.

SHOW ME – I want evidence that demonstrates your effectiveness.

  • You don’t necessarily have to have done the same job before, i’ll happily look at a skill gained in another context.
  • If you have done similar tasks or roles in the past I want to see specific details – now you have me really interested.
  • If it sounds believable and consistent you’ll move up the pile.
  • If you have more ticks on my wishlist than other people i’ll interview you to see if you live up to expectations.

So go on make the effort, even a bar job deserves a CV tailored at typical bar work skills!
Check out our CV & cover letter guides 

See also:

How to do your research for CVs and cover letters 

Help! I need to ring or email an employer, what do I do?

phonelaptopjpgAs part of your job search it is inevitable that you will have to write to or ring employers.  You may be applying speculatively for work experience, asking for more information about a job or have a query about the application process or interview.

Employers are not ogres but they are busy and will have expectations about how you should communicate with them.

  • Some employers will put their name and contact details on a job description. They want you to ring / email them and ask questions, it helps candidates  and should mean the applications are of a higher standard. Don’t expect an immediate response though they do have jobs to do, recruitment may only be a small part of it.
  • If no contact for enquiries is given you need to get creative, look on the company website, ring their switchboard and ask for HR, graduate recruitment, the head of marketing or whatever function you are applying to.

You need to be professional in your communication at all times, this will create a good impression and make the employer more likely to take you seriously. Really, you would cringe to see some of the emails I have received with regard to jobs I have advertised.

By email

  1. First decide – is this an appropriate conversation to have by email? If you need information quickly or to explain something complicated it might be better to ring.
  2. Are you contacting the most appropriate person for your enquiry? Do your research first.

Your email should be a formal business communication, the language you use should be similar in may ways to a cover letter. See examples in this guide

You should be quite formal starting your letter with Dear XXX  and signing off appropriately.  If the recruiter chooses to reply using Hi XXX then it would be acceptable to mirror this in your next communication. However, don’t make the mistake of becoming too informal, this is not a text to a friend.  If sending emails from your phone encourages you to be brief and take short-cuts in your language and grammar, wait until you can get to a computer and do it properly.

  • Be polite.  It is easy to send an email that sounds quite demanding or aggressive.
  • Get to the point, be clear and concise. No one has time to read long emails.
  • Answer any questions you have been asked.
  • Read it again and check for spelling and grammar errors.

By phone

Are you ringing a switchboard and asking to be put through or ringing a specific person on their number.  You need a game plan, what happens if the person is not available, will you leave a message or find out when to call them back?

What specifically do you want to know from the call, and how will you ask? Good preparation helps you sound, and feel, more confident.

  • Be clear, who are you, why are you ringing, what do you want?
  • Be polite, is it convenient to talk now?
  • Make notes – what do you want to say, what information did they give you.

A note on Social Media & LinkedIn

If a company has a graduate recruitment Facebook page or Twitter account, you can ask questions there. Again be polite and don’t expect an immediate response.  It’s also likely that any response may be quite generic or measured as this is a public arena. Be aware also that by doing this you are practically inviting that recruiter to look at your profile, make sure it’s respectable!

LinkedIn can be a good way to find out information about companies, and you may be applying to jobs advertised here too.  This is a professional networking site so if you are asking questions be polite and professional in your language and approach, and again make sure your profile is up to date. See our guide on LinkedIn  and our Jobsearch guide for tips.

Applying for the NHS Scientist Training Programme, 2017

2017 STP – opened 16th January, closes Monday 13th February at 5pm

conical flasksThe NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) is open for applications! Thousands of scientists and engineers of all disciplines work for the NHS, and the STP is how they recruit most of their Clinical Science trainees each year.

Many Manchester students and postgrads apply to the STP, so we update this blog post each year to help you navigate the process.  We will also update this post over the next few months when there is new information to share with you.

N.B. Some of the resources mentioned in this post may only be accessible by University of Manchester students. If you are not a Manchester student, have a chat with your own Careers Service about the support available to you.

UPDATE (Added 7/2/2017)
Scotland operate their own recruitment programme for Clincial Scientist Trainees and you can find details on the NHS Education for Scotland website. They tend to advertise their vacancies after England and Wales, and I spotted today that they have started advertising for Medical Physics trainees. They have 9-10 vacancies in the Grampian region and the closing date is the 1st March. Bookmark this page if you are interested in training north of the border!

UPDATE (Added 3/2/2017)
I have updated a short slide presentation with some extra tips on tackling the application form and online tests. If you are a University of Manchester Biological Sciences student, you should have been emailed the link already by your School. If you are a University of Manchester graduate, contact the Careers Information team to obtain access. If neither of these apply, contact your own uni careers service ‘cos they may have their own special help too!

Tips for applying 

You have until 5pm on Monday 13th February at the latest to submit your online application and (for anyone who isn’t an in-service applicant) until 5pm on Wednesday 15th February to complete two online tests – but get in as soon as possible as applications are reviewed as they come in.

The National School of Healthcare Science website has so much information for applicants it can be overwhelming – however, if you want the best chance of getting into these super-competitive posts, you’ll hoover it all up and use the advice in your application. A good place to start is by reading the STP Frequently Asked Questions for Applicants 2017.

The list of specialisms by location will be updated throughout the application window, and includes a new specialism for this year, Andrology. The list was updated 6 times last year, so check back regularly for additional vacancies (as of 27 Feb, there were 255 posts across 24 specialisms). You’ll have to inspect each specialism individually, but as it’s better to focus on a specific specialism in your application, it does make sense. (Applying for lots of different specialisms just to train in a specific location has never been recommended, never mind the fact it’d be tricky to tailor your application for multiple specialisms given the word count for each section!).


We were told last year that only 3 candidates are interviewed per post, so the competition is red hot.  You’ll therefore need some great answers to the essay questions, so set aside some time to do your research, think about your experience and craft your answers – you need to do yourself justice here.

Online application form

The online application form is near on identical to last year, so if you applied last year, you know what to expect. Frustratingly, there is still no easy way to preview all the questions before you start to fill it out – so we’ve had a sneaky peek for you.

Top Tip
As you go through the online form for the first time, you can’t advance on to the next page without completing the mandatory sections. However, you can review and change most of the answers once you get to the end – just don’t press “Submit” until you have filled it all in and checked it!

There are lots of mandatory sections, and once you fill in some answers, other mandatory questions may appear.  Be prepared to answer A LOT of questions about eligibility, fitness to practise etc before you even get to the bit where you fill in your education!  You also need to supply the details of three referees, one of whom must be your most recent education supervisor (or line manager, if you have graduated and are in work).

When your application form is read by the people who will shortlist candidates for interview, they will not be able to see the choices that candidates have made. Hence, if you choose two different specialisms your application will go to both short listing panels, who will not know if you have ranked that specialism as first or second choice. They also will not see any candidate names – it is done completely blind.

Essay questions

The form asks the same four questions as last year and, again, you are allowed a maximum of 250 words per answer. An implicit test here is whether you can write accurately AND concisely.

1.      Your knowledge, motivation and commitment to the Training Programme

In less than 250 words, please state why you have applied for the Healthcare Scientist Training Programme. Give details of your motivation, suitability and future career development or aspirations. Describe what actions you have undertaken to increase your knowledge, experience and understanding of healthcare science and the training programme for your chosen specialism(s).


In less than 250 words, please describe your commitment, interest and enjoyment of scientific practice and technology. Please provide examples of how you seek to develop, improve and adopt innovative processes in your work or studies.


The NHS Constitution* values and behaviours are paramount to the delivery of healthcare services.  In less than 250 words please describe how within your own experience you would display these qualities.

(*Have you read it yet? You can find it here)


In less than 250 words describe occasions where you have worked as part of a team and outline the skills you used to benefit the outputs of that team. Also, please describe a situation or situations when you have taken the opportunity to lead others and identify how you managed any challenges that arose.

There’s help on completing application forms on our website, including a useful hand-out. We definitely recommend taking the Context-Action-Result approach to structure your answers, to help keep them concise. Always take time to proof read your answers before you submit them (a good tip is to read them backwards to spot typos). University of Manchester students and recent graduates can get assistance from the Applications Advice service in the Atrium in University Place and also look out for Appointments in your School.

Online tests

After you submitted your online application, you have two tests to complete before the deadline, and you have to get through each of these for your application to get considered.

The tests are numerical reasoning and logical reasoning, and you can practise here. We guess they’re using logical reasoning tests to find people who are good at spotting patterns and trends (useful for diagnostics) as well as deductive logic. These tests can be very challenging if you’re not familiar with them, so do take time to practice, especially as only one attempt is permitted per email address!  Previous applicants tell us that with practice you can learn how to answer the logical reasoning questions accurately, so it is worth working your way through example tests.

What is the next one in the sequence?

What is the next one in the sequence?

You might also want to check out the psychometric test info on our website, including practice test materials. We have a new resource this year, Graduates First, which provides worked solutions for the answers you get wrong in its tests. I’d definitely suggest using a proper calculator when completing the numerical reasoning test and not the one on your ‘phone.

You’ll be able to do the STP tests at any time until the closing date but don’t leave it until the last minute: what would you do if you suddenly lost your internet connection or the site crashed with the weight of all the last minute tests being taken.

If you have a disability or a condition like dyslexia, you can request extra time to complete these tests. You’ll need to send evidence to support your request  at least 3 working days before the aptitude tests deadline date i.e. the 11th February!  If you fail to notify the team before the deadline date, you may not be granted the extra time you need.

Being optimistic …

If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets invited to interview, you might want to check out the interview dates for your specialism and keep the date free – looks like there’s no flexibility, so move heaven and earth to get there if you get invited.

Good luck – we are rooting for you!

The 1 page vs 2 page CV / resume dilemma. What should my CV look like?

CV In the UK the normal format for a CV is 2 pages.  There are some good reasons to use this format but we know there are also some exceptions.

Why use a 2 page CV?

  • Most employers will expect it.
  • It gives you enough space to effectively talk about your skills.
  • If you have a lot of experience you have space to convey this.
  • Mainly the reverse chronological CV is used because it is easy to read, create and update.
  • Sometimes a skills based CV may be appropriate, especially if you are changing career track and need to show transferable skills.  This is usually more appropriate for those further on in their career.
  • BUT don’t pad out your CV with irrelevant detail and waffle to try to get up to 2 pages.

What are the exceptions?

  1. If you are applying to another country you will need to use the format commonly used there. Unless it’s a UK company based overseas when they may prefer a UK style CV. Ask them.
  2. If you are applying to an overseas company based in the UK it’s possible they would like the CV  format they are familiar with.  For example some American companies may like a 1 page CV.
  3. Investment banks generally prefer a 1 page CV especially those that are American companies. See articles at the end. We asked The Gateway magazine what they thought and they recommended 1 page too. If in doubt check.
  4. CVs used to apply for academic jobs – e.g. lecturing. These will be much longer due to referencing papers, research and conferences.
  5. CVs later in your career. By then you will know the industry norm and also what will show off your skills best.
  6. Applying for casual part time jobs. If you are handing out CVs for bar work and have little work experience then it may be that a 1 page CV highlighting all the good stuff with only basic information about your education will be all that’s needed.

BUT how do I really know?

There is no accounting for personal taste. Employers are people and they may have their own preferences, if in doubt check. Use employers websites, social media, talk to them at events and pick up the phone and ring them!

In the absence of any information, it’s unlikely your CV will be rejected if you use one format or the other, the 2 page just gives you a better opportunity to sell your skills.


As you can see there is some contradictory advice out there!

If you need some 1-1 advice on your CV use our Applications Advice Service. Before you come do your research on the format required and tell the adviser why you have chosen the style you are presenting.

The simple 3 step approach to applying for jobs

badge-686321_640Don’t worry about your CV until you have found a vacancy to apply for.
Many students are so eager that before they even know what type of job they want to do they are writing a CV and cover letter.

1 Decide what jobs you are interested in.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a part time job, internship or graduate job, it will make your life a lot simpler if you know what you are looking for. It’s like trying to guess what present someone will like when you don’t even know them.

2 Find places that advertise those vacancies and start looking at them.
Which appeal to you and do you have the skills or qualifications they are looking for?

3 Use the list of skills the employer wants to create a CV  or application that matches their needs.
Employers will expect to see evidence of your competence to evaluate how good you would be at the job. If you have done something similar before that’s great but don’t worry if you haven’t sometimes the same skill gained in a different way is fine.(transferable skills)

Repeat step 3 for every job you apply for. Check and double check that you are matching the needs of that specific role in that specific company.

Avoid common mistakes when applying for a job.

It’s the time of year when new graduates and returning students alike are all looking ahead to graduate jobs or internships. Make sure you avoid some of the top application mistakes. iStock_000018416955Medium Girl ticking checklist

What does the employer want?

The employer has a job to fill, they know what makes a good employee and will have a list of skills, experience and attributes they are looking for. Your job is to correctly identify these and provide evidence that you have them AND information about why you are right for the job. How many boxes on my checklist can you fill?

Most job applications will use a CV, cover letter, application form or some combination of these.

Lets start with the CV

  1. A good clear layout, tabulated nicely.  Dates easy to find, clear chronology and headings. Bullet points usually help. I’m not fussy about the order of the headings or what you call them so much, as long as it makes sense.
  2. Don’t get too creative with boxes, fonts, underlining etc. It’s just distracting.
  3. TAILOR TAILOR TAILOR.  This is the biggest mistake and the most common.  You see a perfectly nice CV and when you read it, there is nothing relating to what you asked for. It’s not because the applicant has no experience, it’s they just haven’t bothered to match it to the skills you are looking for.
  4. Don’t waffle on about responsibilities and duties of the role you were in, tell me about the actions you took and what skills you used.

Cover letters

  1. …and in at number 1 the most common mistake is not telling the employer why you want THAT job.  It’s all very well banging on about the company and the wonderful work they do, but why does that interest you. More importantly why does that particular role interest you.  It’s called motivation and it shows that you have correctly identified what is important and that it matters to you too.
  2. What skill do you have that are relevant?  Entice me to read your CV.
  3. Please don’t just cut and paste from your CV , I’m going to look at that too and who wants to read it twice.
  4. Dont be negative about yourself, I don’t want to know what you haven’t done and skills you don’t have, I can work that out for myself. Tell me what you have done successfully so that I see you in a positive light.

Application forms with competency questions or personal statements


This will help you identify the breadth of what they are looking for and what sections you can use to highlight which evidence.

  1. If there are strength or competency questions – try to understand why they are asking them. They relate to the role somehow,  this will give you some context and help you think about how to frame your answers.  Perhaps one of your skills examples is better than others?  For example if they are asking about communication skills and it is a job where you have to be able to communicate to different stakeholders or to a particular group, have you got an example of where you have done something similar?
  2. If the bulk of the application after basic details about your education and previous employment is given over to the why do you want this job section then aim to write 1-2 page A4 UNLESS they state otherwise. It can be useful to write down all the elements of the person specification as headings and then write a short paragraph for each one. You can decide if you remove the headings later.
  3. Don’t leave any questions blank
  4. Don’t say  – see my CV

Some applications will involve all 3 elements CV, cover letter and application form. It may be a judgement call how you split the information in a personal statement out from the cover letter.  Be led by the phrasing of the questions and don’t leave any information out.


Recruiters are not stupid, we know it’s time-consuming to write a great application and we appreciate it when it is done well.  It makes our job easier and gives you more chance of getting an interview.


Playing Articulate – Putting your experience into words that employers want to read

gratrick the maverickFrom guest writer and Faculty of Humanities Careers Manager, Paul Gratrick.

It was the Bee Gees (and latterly covered by Boyzone) who once sang: “It’s only words, but words are all I have to write on this application form” …or something along those lines anyway. Writing a CV, cover letter, or in an online application form text box is often the first stage of many graduate-level applications. Whether you’re applying to a large corporation or a one-person start up, the first port of call to see if you are a “good fit” for that company is usually the written documents you submit.


Being articulate is for life, not just for Christmas…

I see many students – as do my colleagues – who sometimes find it hard to articulate their various experiences into words and phrases that employers will see the value of. We also see many students under-valuing (or not mentioning at all) things which an employer would want to see in an application.

Employers understand the sphere within which you’re operating; they know that months and years of paid experience are not available for all, and they do understand the typical roles that are available to students (e.g. part-time work in bars, shops, etc.). Employers typically aren’t so much concerned with where you have worked and what you did – they want to read how these experiences have equipped you with the skills that they need for the job they are hiring for.

To summarise what an employer is looking for:

Written application = provide evidence to show you have the skills/experience/transferable skills required in the job specification 

The rest of this blog post will deal with six examples you can use to do this (other than more formal internship or paid summer roles) given the types of roles usually available to students during their degree years.

1. Part-time work

If you work part-time whilst you are studying (even just one shift a week) then put this on your CV. Whether you’re replenishing vegetable stocks in Aldi, mixing up a Mini-Mega-Milky-Mocha in Starbucks, hosting children’s birthday parties, waiting tables or serving hot dogs at Old Trafford, balancing any part-time job with your studies show great time management skills. Most part-time jobs you do will involve some sort of customer-facing element, developing customer service skills that any employer who has customers of any type will value.

2. Societies and Clubs

As a UoM student you have access to all kinds of clubs and societies, be those the 400+ official University ones ranging from sport, academia, interest groups and charities, to other clubs in the Manchester area. Membership of a society looks good in the “Interests” section of your CV to show what you’re into outside of your studies. However if you sit on the committee of any society (no matter the topic – so yes The Game of Thrones Society counts too!) then put that higher up your CV under “Experience” or “Positions of Responsibility”. Active participation like this shows your leadership qualities, and even event management and communication skills (if you run the society’s social media channels, for example).

3. Music and Sports 

For some people, they grow up playing sport or a musical instrument. Whether you’re part of a UoM club or not, if you are an active player of any sport or musical instrument then include this on your CV. Playing sport/instruments requires dedication and mastery of craft – good qualities to show that you have. (True story: I have little ability when it comes to playing musical instruments but at University I often featured with a band because of my rap ability! Luckily no Youtube videos exist of such antics, but it went on my CV and it was an interesting talking point at interview.)

4. Volunteering

To include details of any volunteering activities on your CV, you don’t have to be in the Sudan with Brangelina or building wells in third world countries (although this is good, too). Any volunteering activity – local or otherwise – looks great on your CV as it shows an altruistic and compassionate side to your personality and often involves working in teams, providing great examples to use if you’re asked about a team experience you’ve been involved in. If your volunteering included fundraising then put how much you raised; it’s not a contest, but being able to quantify your fundraising gives a real-life example to back up the work you did.

5. Unpaid work experience

For some students (and employment industries), it’s often an accepted norm that you will undertake unpaid work experience in order to get experience. This isn’t ideal for all, but your unpaid experience doesn’t necessarily have to be days and weeks of experience at a company – working somewhere for just a day or two (sometimes called work shadowing) still looks good on your CV. Unpaid work shows a real dedication to the role/sector/company, and gives you “commercial awareness” of how a business works and experience of a professional environment, great for future applications and interviews. Within Manchester there are businesses of all kinds who are likely to have taken on students for work experience in the past. Use this local advantage and get in touch with companies for some experience. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

6. Using your academic work

There are lots of skills you develop as a student. It varies from course to course, but most degrees now have elements of team/group work, presentations, seminar debates, project work, and the like. It’s more than okay to use these as examples of communication, teamwork, negotiation skills, etc. in your applications. Whilst a mix of academic and extra-curricular experience is great, there are some skills required that you may not be able to answer with your extra-curricular work. When using academic examples, just be sure to evidence how these have developed the skills required by the job description.

CV Sam Routledge3

And so, in summary – if you feel like you haven’t done anything during your degree to develop your skills, the chances are you actually have! By virtue of being a student (and particularly a UoM student) you are exposed to all sorts of activities and these are interesting to employers. The key thing for any job application is to list the key skills required then go through your academic and extra-curricular activities and find the examples that match. If you’re not sure what to use, I’ve heard about an excellent Careers Service full of blog writing experts and Careers Consultants who can help you out, no matter where it is you’re trying to get to (and even if you’re not sure what comes next).

You can read more about transferable skills and what they actually are on our website.

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