- Use a recruiter: Recruiters can be a very useful addition to your job-hunting toolkit. Recruiters prefer to find you on LinkedIn rather than you search them out. However, you may approach a recruiter directly on LinkedIn, or by email, if someone has recommended them.
- Treat the recruiter as an equal: If they are experienced and from a reputable company, a recruiter will know employers and their needs more than you. Ensure that you work with them, explaining your background and experience, so they can best represent you to the employer. Never go directly to the employer, if you have found out about a position through a recruiter. Understandably, this will not go down well and you may struggle to secure the role without their representation. REC lists reputable recruitment companies.
- Know what role you want: Know what type of role you are searching for in industry. Look at the different roles open to PhD students and Postdoctoral researchers on the ABPI careers website. This will help you to be focused in your job search and help you to target your LinkedIn profile.
- A CV is not that important: Do not spend hours crafting the perfect CV. A CV has a 10% weighting in terms of securing you an industry role. A good LinkedIn profile and referrals from people within the company play a more important part.
- Recruiters find people on LinkedIn: Recruiters pay a substantial yearly fee to access relevant data on LinkedIn. They can only access this data if you turn on the ‘let recruiters know you’re open’ button in the career interest section on your dashboard. Here you can specify the types of roles you are interested in and your availability.
- Extend your network: Employees in companies get paid a referral fee if they refer individuals to the company who are subsequently hired. LinkedIn has a referral function. If you are applying for a job on LinkedIn, and you have a first-degree connection at the company, you can ask for a referral. Connect with alumni from your current university/research institute that are now working in industry. They will become first degree connections that can refer you when job hunting.
- Mind the gap: One of the first things that recruiters look for in your LinkedIn profile are gaps in employment. If there are gaps in your employment, recruiters start to speculate about why you are, or were, not working. Explain what you are doing from month to month, even if you are travelling, caring for people etc. Add any part-time work and other activities that you are, or were, carrying out during this time.
- Use key words in your LinkedIn profile: Recruiters use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to sift out applicants for roles. Look at people on LinkedIn that are doing the type of role that you are interested in. Look at the key words they use in all sections of their profile and add these words to your profile, if appropriate. Websites like jobscan offer one free trial that looks at LinkedIn optimisation for specific roles.
- Get good at answering competency questions: You will be asked competency questions at interviews. Save up a list of experiences that you can talk about during the interview. Look at the job description and list all the competencies required e.g. teamwork, relationship building etc. Try to record scenarios where you have used these skills. It can otherwise be difficult to answer questions such as ‘tell me about a time when a team member was not working effectively. How did you deal with this?’ Use the STAR technique to help structure your answers.
- Negotiate your salary with the recruiter. Recruiters get paid 15 – 20% of your first year’s salary, if they place you. It is in their interest to get you the salary you deserve. A recruiter will negotiate your salary with the employer, saving you a job! Make sure you ask for what you are worth. This article from Nature discusses industry salary negotiation.
My favourite Wednesday evening listening is The Moral Maze on Radio 4 and last night’s episode was entitled The Future of Work. One of the issues discussed was the worth or value of certain types of jobs and how subjective ‘worth’ can be. What is meaningful for one person may not be meaningful for another. The worth or value we place on a job is shaped by our social, cultural, religious and personal experience, making each person’s perspective unique.
One of my favourite exercises to do with people involves a values assessment. Many people have thought about their career values subconsciously but few have carried out an explicit, thorough assessment of their values. The links below are a starting point to help you begin assessing your career values.
- My IDP. A US link for scientists with PhDs from the journal, Science. Contains free exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values.
- Imagine PhD. A career exploration and planning tool for humanities and social scientists with PhDs. A US resource, containing a free, values evaluation assessment tool.
It is also worth identifying the skills and experience that you have developed as a researcher, and beyond, when contemplating your career. In addition to your specific subject knowledge and research expertise, capture the skills that are useful in a range of roles i.e., your transferable skills. The links below are a starting point to help you begin evaluating your skills.
- Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF). A framework describing the knowledge, behaviour, and attributes of a successful researcher. The framework can be viewed through several lenses, depending on what you want to use it for e.g., it has an employability lens if you are thinking about researcher skills and how they relate to jobs outside academia.
- Transferable Skills for PhDs. A list of transferable skills and how these can be further defined. Written for humanities academics but useful for all researchers.
- Academic and Professional Skills. A blog from [re]searching, describing skills possessed by industry professionals and academics.
- Be the Solution: How to Really Articulate your PhD (and other) Skills to Employers. A blog from Postgradual: The PhD Careers Blog.
- Eurodoc. Identifying Transferable Skills and Competencies to Enhance Early Career Researcher’s Employability and Competitiveness. Outlines the skills and competencies that are developed as a researcher.
Dear PhD students and ECRs
I have had the privilege of supporting hundreds of you across the UK and Europe for the last ten years. In my role as a career coach, I have observed how capable, yet modest, you are as you grapple with career transitions moving from academia to a range of other sectors.
Working within a context where critical thinking is essential, I notice that you have a tendency to turn this critical approach on yourselves, easily identifying the skills and experience you lack rather than focusing on where you excel. I sometimes think that working within a sector full of highly-intelligent and motivated people is both a blessing and a curse. In my workshops on impostor phenomenon, people often say ‘everyone around me is so much smarter than me.’ I notice, as does Malcolm Gladwell*, that ‘the more elite an educational institution is, the worse students feel about their own academic abilities.’
Despite being your own harshest critics, I know that you are also a tenacious and dogged group of individuals who go on to make a tremendous impact in a variety of roles and sectors. I have run countless careers events where past PhDs and ECRs have given up their time to share their experiences of moving into a plethora of interesting and fulfilling careers. Publications such as What do researchers do? and What do research staff do next? are testament to this.
I have had many conversations with you over recent weeks. Many of you seem to be taking stock and thinking about the security of your future career as higher education and research continue to face financial challenges**. With this in mind, I am writing to offer some words of support and advice if you are thinking about looking for roles beyond academic teaching and research.
Remember you are more than your technical or research skills
Think about the skills and experience that you have gained from your time in academia. These should include your technical skills, your soft skills and your personal characteristics/traits. I notice a tendency for researchers to simply describe their worth to a company in terms of their technical or research skills. Although these are often very important, remember your worth more broadly.
You possess soft skills such as the ability to work autonomously and communicate your research effectively. I know you are also resilient and tenacious, both of which are very important in many workplaces today. Think about examples of when you have used your skills and write about them. This will be good preparation for job interviews as you will often be asked what you can bring to the company. Be ready, and proud, to share the breadth of skills and experience you have developed.
Write about your core values to remind yourself of what is important to you. Google ‘core values list’ and you will find lots of resources. Choose three values that are important to you and write about these. How have you used these values to guide your life and decisions? Why are these values important to you? In many interviews you will be asked why you want to work for the organisation. If you can describe how your values align with the organisation’s, you will be answering this question more effectively.
Companies are interested in how you can help with their mission
In many sectors outside of academia, there is less focus on how intelligent you are and more emphasis on what you can do for them i.e. how productive are you and what difference can you make to the organisation?
When thinking about your achievements, focus on outcomes and results on your CV rather than presenting an exhaustive list of courses you have attended. You might want to state in your CV that you wrote a 5000 word grant application, resulting in £X of research funding rather than listing training courses from 7 years ago. Think about outcomes from your work and their relevance to the company, when you are constructing your industry CV.
Don’t obsess about skills gaps
You will probably have some gaps in your skills and experience. Remember that most employers write a job description as a wish list, knowing that they may not find someone with all the desirable skills and experience. Although some roles ask for relevant industry experience, I have known many PhD graduates and ECRs to secure roles without this. If you do not have industry experience, you will need to show potential and the motivation to learn quickly. Most of the PhD graduates and ECRs that I meet have these traits in abundance!
Think about how you can prove to a potential employer that you are interested and determined enough to fill your skills gaps. Look out for relevant talks from people in your preferred industry, complete courses on commercial awareness, blog about your sector of interest to increase your knowledge and showcase your expertise, volunteer at the weekend etc. There are many free online courses available at the moment which can help you to begin bridging skills gaps e.g. Coursera courses.
Find people not job adverts
It is becoming increasingly difficult to be shortlisted if you are applying for a job online. More and more industry recruiters use robots or applicant tracking systems (ATS) to screen CVs for keywords and other information. For this reason, it is important to connect with people rather than spending all your time completing job applications and trying to get through applicant tracking systems. If you are the right person for the role, your connections can recommend you to the organisation, increasing your chance of securing an interview. Meeting people provides the opportunity for you to show your personality and potential, which is challenging to do even on the best applications.
Reach out to alumni from your current and past universities/organisations. They will be working in many roles across different sectors. You can connect on LinkedIn or by using email. Look at alumni groups on LinkedIn and ask to join. Your university or research institute may also give you access to their alumni database. There are also many tools available online to help you find email addresses. Ask for ten to twenty minutes of people’s time and talk to them about their job, the sector etc. Try to improve your knowledge of the labour market you want to enter. Some people will agree to speak to you and others may ignore you. Keep going and your tenacity will pay off! Remember that you will be more easily found by recruiters and hiring managers on LinkedIn if you are connected with people in the sector you want to work in. When recruiters and hiring managers search for people on LinkedIn, the search algorithm looks at your relevant contacts.
Use your careers service
A 2017 survey by Science Connect showed that PhD students ranked their university career service as ‘least important’ when looking for their first job after graduating, preferring to look online and use their own social networks.
Many universities and research institutes have specialist careers consultants to support PhD students and ECRs. This is a service that is offered as part of your studentship or employment, so make use of it! Specialist consultants can support you with evaluating your career options, editing CVs, practicing interviews and job hunting. They are also likely to run PhD alumni events where you can speak to people and make connections with PhDs and ECRs now working in a variety of sectors.
Job hunting can be an onerous and, sometimes lengthy, task. Find people to give you a helping hand along the way!
So here is my advice if you are thinking about making your way to pastures new! Remind yourself of your worth as a PhD graduate or ECR. Remember to think about the breadth of skills and experience that you have developed within the world of academia. You are more than your technical and/or research skills.
Secondly, use your research skills to do some more research! Reach out to people, ask them questions about their job and sector, be curious and find out as much as you can about different career options.
Once you have done both of these things, you are ready to do some job matching. Do your skills, experience and values fit any of the jobs and/or organisations that you have found out about? If they do, then you are ready to apply. If you have skills gaps, that is OK. Work out how to fill them whilst continuing to do your research. Once you have started to bridge some of these skills gaps, you are ready to apply.
Good luck on your journey!
*David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
I am often asked about jobs boards for science and technology researchers, looking for jobs beyond academia.
However, there are many more specific jobs boards out there which can be useful. Here are 5 that I commonly recommend to people.
1. Research Research Jobs: This is a website that lists science or academic – related opportunities. You will find roles such as those related in grants management or project management listed here.
2. PSCI COMM Mailing List: This is not a jobs board but it does list opportunities for people wanting to work in areas related to science communication.
3. Stack Overflow Jobs: This is a website well-know to programmers looking to share and showcase ideas. It also has a jobs board that not everyone knows about.
4. Jobs.ac.uk: There are many research-related jobs in higher education. Use this website to search for opportunities in the profession/managerial/support services section of the website rather than searching under your academic discipline.
5. Freshminds: This is a recruitment agency that sources consultancy work, sometimes on a part-time and/or project basis. Useful for researchers looking for part-time consultancy work.