Spotlight on the Oxford-style CV: Let your achievements shine

MPP students
Some of this year’s MPP students (photo by John Cairns)

One of the most attractive features of our Master of Public Policy (MPP) is the diversity of our student body, in terms of cultural, academic and professional experience. Students selected should display a glowing academic record, an exceptional commitment to public service, and an ability to lead and make a real impact in the world. Therefore, it’s really important to present your achievements in the clearest and most accessible way for our assessors. We accept and embrace cultural differences in our applicants’ writing styles, and there is no single ‘correct’ way to write a CV (curriculum vitae) – however, we want you to present your suitability for the course in the best possible light, and this blog post therefore serves to give you an idea of how the CV of a successful MPP candidate may appear.

Firstly, how does it need to look?

Most commonly, CVs from our MPP candidates are presented in a time-based structure, where work experience and qualifications are listed in reverse chronological order (sample traditional CV). This ensures assessors are able to efficiently and effectively build up a picture of your academic and career trajectory to date. In some circumstances a skills-based CV may be submitted (sample) by candidates who have recently been out of education or work, or are seeking to draw attention to a specific skillset rather than focus on experience in a particular field or sector. In this case, skills listed should be supported with exemplary evidence, and it should be made clear why each skill would make you an ideal MPP candidate bearing in mind our selection criteria.

Information in your CV should be presented clearly and concisely. We recommend a length of two pages; if you’d like to highlight or expand on any activities, you can do so in your personal statement. Giving headings, for example ‘Education and Training’, ‘Work Experience’ and ‘Other Skills’ could help structure the CV if you are unsure of the order in which your achievements should be reported.

What do I need to include?

We would recommend including the following information:

  • Details of professional activities and positions held, including your full job title, the name of the employer or company, the start and end dates, and an overview of the responsibilities the position entailed.
  • Any voluntary work, public service or political engagement, if not included in the above.
  • Your academic degree(s), including any pending completion, making sure you list the awarding institution, the full degree title, the date the degree was/is to be conferred and the overall grade awarded/expected, along with any special achievements or honours.
  • Details of any additional awards, prizes and skills you have obtained.

All gaps in recorded employment should be fully explained, and you may also wish to give a brief overview of your extracurricular activities and interests.

I’m struggling to keep it short, what can I leave out?

You do not need to list any qualifications that are below degree-level, such as your high school examinations record. Extensive personal information is also not required – it’s perfectly sufficient to just cite your name at the top of the page, as other information such as your contact details and date of birth will be given elsewhere in the application. It’s important to remember that a CV is essentially a summary of key information relating to your academic and professional achievements, so excessive narrative is discouraged in favour of concise bullet-points (or similar) to aid flow and understanding. Also, there is no need to list (or even to refer to) your referees – these must be nominated separately in the application before you are able to submit, and names, titles and contact details will just take up space on the page!

Some candidates may wish to include a bibliography of published works to highlight a particular piece of research carried out. This is not in theory a faux-pas, but do bear in mind that our assessors will not read a long list in its entirety, so if you do wish to include this, consider restricting this to one or two pieces which you feel best display your analytical ability, and are most relevant to the topics on which the MPP will focus.

And finally… top tips

Do target your CV – Consider what is really relevant and should be a priority. Remember, the CV should outline your suitability for the MPP specifically, it’s not a competition to see who has held the highest number of positions! If you’re unsure what qualities our assessors are looking for, you may wish to read about our previous and current students’ experiences and the School community values on our main website.

Do ensure your CV reflects what sets you apart from other candidates and makes you worthy of a place – If there is an achievement of which you are especially proud, highlight why!

Don’t be too modest – If you have received any special recognition or prizes from your educational institutions or your employer then make sure you let us know about this. You should also think about any particular projects that you have initiated or led on and mention these briefly with an explanation of your role. But also…

Don’t lie about or exaggerate your achievements – It should go without saying that this is a big “no”! Our assessors will be thoroughly checking out any claims you have made: if you are judged to have been dishonest, your chances of being selected for a place could be severely harmed. Similarly, too much embellishment of your role can come across as superficial and our assessors may query the real extent of your accomplishments.

You may also wish to read through the University’s Careers Service CV advice, which should be considered in parallel with the tips above. If you’d like to apply for the MPP and haven’t yet started your application, check out the Graduate Admissions site – there you’ll find further information on the course itself, guidance on our selection criteria, full instructions on how to apply and a link to the application portal.

Admissions for entry in September 2018 are currently open and the deadline is 19 January 2018 at 12pm (noon) UK time (although we wouldn’t recommend leaving it until the last minute!).

 This post was co-written by our Admissions team, Sarah Randall and Natalie Turner.

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