Careers and Employability Service
Services for research staff and PhDs

Academic CVs and covering letters

Adviser and student looking at a form

Your CV and cover letter must make an immediate and interesting impact on the reader. Being shortlisted for a research or academic post is extremely competitive and you can improve your chances by:

  • targeting your application to the requirements stated in the application information
  • using the person specification as a framework for your application
  • including specific evidence and examples of the skills and experience you have gained

Frequently asked questions 

How long should an academic CV be?
They do not usually have a page limit, but be succinct ─ between three and five pages is a reasonable guide. In some situations you may be given a page limit ─ adhere to this as your application may be rejected immediately if you do not do so.
What about point size and fonts?
10 is the smallest acceptable size, 11 is a good compromise. Times New Roman, Arial and Verdana are popular.
What tips are there on presentation and layout?
Use informative headings and sub headings to guide the reader through the document. Avoid large quantities of text. Communicate succinctly and clearly, especially about your research activities and interests. Avoid heavy lines and borders ─ they tend to detract from the content.
What should be on the first page of my CV?
The main focus should be on the information and evidence that clearly sets out your suitability for the post you have applied for. For example, if the main requirement is to contribute to a specific research area, then you must show evidence of your ability and interest in this area.
Do I include details of previous employment outside academia?
It is difficult to provide a definitive answer to this as everyone’s experience is different. This is the type of enquiry which can be dealt with in a one to one feedback session.
Is there anything I should avoid? 
  • Make sure your name is the title of the document, not Curriculum Vitae
  • Photographs are not usually included on academic CVs
  • Do not have a page break immediately after a title or sub heading
Should I always include a cover letter?
Yes, unless you are told not to do so in the application information. If you are sending your application by email, ensure your CV and cover letter are attached as separate documents, usually as pdf files.
What should the contents include?
The cover letter can emphasise the main areas of experience related to the post applied for and so should be consistent with the information in the CV. It can also include examples of the contribution you expect to make to the research group, school or department and statements about career aims and ambitions. Using headings is acceptable in a cover letter.
What other resources are available?

For academic CV examples and applying for academic jobs generally, visit the Vitae website.

CV Workshops for Research Staff - booking and other details are available in the Career Management section on Central Short Courses.

How can I get feedback on my CV and cover letters?
  • A careers appointment with the careers adviser for research staff can be used for CV and application feedback
  • Graduate Centre managers also offer feedback appointments
  • Academic colleagues may also be willing to offer advice


Careers and Employability Service

The University of Nottingham
Portland Building, Level D
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 3680
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 3679