The application

For most jobs, there are many more applicants than there are positions available. The challenge at the application stage is therefore to get an interview. You need to make yourself stand out positively on paper from all the other applicants.

If you are asked to apply by filling out a form, do so. Don’t send in your CV instead and think that will do. It won’t. If you are asked to apply by CV and covering letter, follow these tips.

The covering letter is often the first thing that will be read. It must not contain any spelling or grammatical errors and it must read fluently. The letter should be short and to the point, outlining why you are applying for this position and why you think you would be a good fit. It needs to grab interest (and can use more emotive language) but not repeat what follows in the main CV (which needs to remain factual and objective). You should come across as enthusiastic, positive and keen to be seen.

Here are some dos and don’ts to help get you an interview:

  • Do check your CV/application meticulously for spelling/grammatical mistakes. If there are any, it gives the reviewer an excuse to put yours in the bin. At this stage – ‘sifting’ – reviewers are looking for any reason not to interview you. Don’t make it easier for them!
  • Don’t make your CV too long. Two pages should (in most instances) be long enough to sell your strengths and arouse the curiosity of the reviewer sufficiently to want them to find out more. Applicants for academic and specialist roles may require longer CVs with more depth/detail.
  • Do set your CV out clearly under logical headings, relating your experience/knowledge to the impact you have made in previous roles. For example – ‘trained in xyz technique – led volunteer project team in communicating xyz technique to other departments’. This clearly joins your experience to the impact you have made and makes it easier for the reviewer to see the benefits you could bring with you.
  • Don’t include any information that might allow the reviewer to make false assumptions. At this stage the objective is to get an interview. They don’t need to see a photo/know your age/know your address/know your interests, for example, any of which could potentially influence their decision – consciously or subconsciously – as to whether to give you an interview or not. An email address and mobile phone number are fine at this stage.
  • Do make your CV easy for the reviewer to read. Use bullet points rather than long sentences which allow you to get to the point fast.
  • Do align your CV to the specific role being applied for. Every job is different and you should adapt your CV accordingly to ensure it reflects the skills, knowledge and experience relevant to the role you are applying for. This may be time consuming but you will have a much better chance of getting an interview.

The interview

Preparation is everything. If you really want this job, you must be adequately prepared. And this isn’t just a quick look on the website the night before. This is finding out everything there is know about the organisation (its staff, its finances, its trustees/board, its competitors) and the role itself. Look at their website, newspapers, scientific reviews sites, company accounts, Google search, annual reports and look at the job description itself again.

Familiarise yourself with the organisation’s website. What do they do? What can you see that they could do better? What are their competitors' doing/doing better? Be prepared to offer your thoughts and suggestions during the interview – in the right way and if appropriate of course! But prospective employers like to see initiative and candidates who have thought about the role, who demonstrate they understand the challenges associated with it and who may have something positive to offer by way of solutions, will stand out.

If you don’t already know, ask who will be interviewing you. Look them up on the organisation's website and on social media. Find out about their roles and responsibilities, their current role, and how long they have been in post. It may help shape your answers to their questions.

Dress appropriately for the nature of the position and the role being applied for. If in doubt, dress more conservatively.

Think about the questions you may be asked and have your answers thoroughly prepared. Why should we offer you the job (as opposed to the other five people we are interviewing today?). Have three or four points ready to make. If you can’t answer this, you should question whether to save yourself the train fare and stay at home.

If your work is technical or difficult to explain, think how you will need to communicate this to a layperson, who might be on the interview panel. Good communication skills are a requirement of all jobs to a greater or lesser extent.

Check your route and journey time. Leave enough time to get there early. Have a contact phone number with you in case you get held up/lost/delayed.

Prepare questions in advance to ask the panel. These should reinforce the panel’s already positive impression of you. So rather than ask questions that may well be able to be answered by HR (‘how often is pay reviewed’, ‘how many holidays am I entitled to’) ask higher quality questions that reinforce your interest in this specific role, e.g. ‘if I were to be successful are there opportunities for me to take part in any cross department projects so I can share my skills from my area of expertise and learn from others about theirs?’ This illustrates a willingness to share and be part of a team, at the same time as wishing to listen and learn from others. All good qualities an employer will be looking for.

If you are asked to make a presentation find out in advance what facilities there are to do so and what the size of the interviewing panel is. If it’s just one or two, a power point presentation may be over the top and you may wish to adopt a different approach. Practise delivering the presentation at home until you are confident doing so. Time yourself delivering it, know it thoroughly but use it as a tool to elaborate from – don’t just read it word for word from the slides or hard copy

Present confidently, smile and be friendly. Don’t waffle. This is an opportunity for the panel to see you in action and decide whether they would be able to work with you in future. It is a real opportunity to impress with not only the intellectual quality of what you are saying but of how you are saying it too.

Careers events

Attend upcoming careers events to get more information about courses and jobs in microbiology.

Bioscience Careers Festival

The Royal Society of Biology Careers Committee is excited to announce the launch of its new flagship careers event for bioscience undergraduates.

  • Hear experts give top tips on exciting careers available to you with a biological degree
  • Book a mock interview to sharpen your technique for future employers
  • Watch science communicators perform live on stage & meet them afterwards
  • Meet a variety of organisations in our exhibition and ask questions over lunch
  • Delve into the biological collections at King's College London's onsite museums
  • With over 200,000 bioscience undergraduates in the UK, the 500 places for this event fill up fast!

If you have any questions about the festival, including sponsorship enquiries, please email Dan Rowson.


There are a series of UCAS Exhibitions throughout the year - learn more about Higher Education Opportunities at these regional events.


The annual London Naturejobs Careers Expo usually takes place every September and is a good event for those looking for graduate jobs or postgraduate opportunities.

Image: Thinkstock/iStock