Not Straight-A’s? Don’t Worry!
Don’t worry about it. Enthusiasm about a particular topic often gets you the position. In my own experience, most of the undergrads I have hired have been ones who were very enthusiastic about doing particle physics research. I didn’t check their GPA.
Cover Letters and Reference Letters
A cover letter for a job application written by the applicant and a reference letter for a job application written from the point of view of the referee are very similar. In the advice below each of these numbered items is a separate paragraph. You may need to modify this to suit individual needs and some paragraphs may be combined.
I always put one blank line of white space between each paragraph, for ease of reading. Use a thesaurus to not repeat the same word often and aim for power words (or lack thereof).
1. one single sentence as the first paragraph stating if you do or don’t support person X for job/award Y. Stress if your support is strong or not. (or, state that you are highly qualified for this position)
2. briefly introduce yourself and why you are relevant for reviewing this person/applying to this position
3. [Reference Letter only] immediately compare student to other award winning, high performing students of ~their generation (+- 5 yrs)
4. first mention of explicit strong traits and examples of traits
5. introduce thesis analysis and why it is relevant for the world (or introduce any recent analysis applicant has done and why it is important – emphasizes that this candidate is doing globally important stuff).
6. describe contributions the applicant made to above introduced analysis. Try to include explicit detail – ex: developed a method using boosted decision trees to quantify the amount of spent fuel in a reactor
7. additional evidence of self-motivation, drive, and strong work ethic. stress how important this work is by mentioning publications and journal articles where the applicant was primary author.
8. additional analysis details, demonstrate collaborative ties with well-known experts if possible
9. finishing paragraph, stress strengths of applicant using power words, why they would be a good fit to this position. Restate your recommendation, but using different power words.
Your CV should not include personal information such as date and location of birth or a photograph.
All items should be most recent to most distant.
You need separate sections for things like: Positions Held, Research Experience, Primary Publications, Other Publications (if you are on a collaboration you may be author on many papers you did not help write), Invited Talks and Posters, Professional Memberships, Teaching Experience.
Dressing For Success
Power colors and clean lines. Think bright and bold colors to catch someones eye, to give you the appearance of radiating great self-confidence. Pastels and soft colors are not usually recommended for job interviews. For men and women, as a good option for brightly colored button down dress shirts, I recommend JC Penneys mens department. Women can usually wear the tailored or slim fit mens shirts. You can find good dress shirts for around 20$. The prices online for JCP are usually more than in store – they’re always having good sales on the shirts. For ties try going with something less busy – bold simple patterns, not a ton of tiny stripes.
They used to also sell a dress shirt + fairly nice matching tie combo in a plastic box for something like 30$. For casual dress these shirts + jeans also look very nice and professional. Don’t wear dress pants that are too tight, made of that weird poly-stretch material that is cool now, or ones that show off your underwear. Bend over in front of a mirror to make sure they are not too thin or tight. This applies to everyone.
A Special Note for Women
Dressing for success does not mean dressing like a man or being less feminine. It does mean dressing so that people focus on you as a scientist. Most women’s shoes and blouses are geared for the wanna-be reality star set. You should never show up for any professional event (interview, invited talk, conference, etc) wearing such high heels that you cannot walk confidently or any clothing that provides a view of your undergarments or clings too much. Unfortunately it is much more difficult for women to find professional clothing, especially if you are not located in a large metropolitan area.
As we are in Gainesville, FL, and not Chicago or New York, I would suggest J.C. Penneys for something lower cost but stylish and professional. Try the Worthington brand. No, I am not paid to promote Penneys.
Show some interest. Research the company/person/group before you go. Think honestly of what you would want to know – is it important to you that you be able to work alone or do you always like to work in groups? Are you concerned about being able to author publications? Do you need to base a job or grad school decision on health care offered?
I won’t hire someone who sits there like a lump during the interview and doesn’t ask any questions. That shows they aren’t motivated or interested by the work I am offering. This holds for undergrads, grads, and post-docs who join my group.