what are PhD employers looking for?

ResearchWordleOne of the key considerations for doctoral graduates looking to work outside academia is knowing which particular entry point to an organisation is the most appropriate for them. For example does the organisation have a recruitment scheme specifically for PhDs? If not, is it necessary to apply for the general graduate entry scheme or might it be possible to gain a direct entry job as an ‘experienced hire’?

If you’re currently asking yourself these kinds of questions, university recruitment fairs (e.g. the Sheffield Universities Recruitment fairs) present an ideal opportunity to meet employers’ representatives face-to-face and discuss your options. Did you know that many of the employers represented will also be offering internships/placements that are open to postgraduate researchers?

When looking at the list of employers visiting the fairs it’s important not to prejudge them or to make assumptions about whether or not they’re likely to have jobs suitable for doctoral graduates. Our experience shows that PhDs find rewarding, intellectually satisfying roles with the unlikeliest of organisations! It’s probably a good strategy to research the visiting employers in advance, focus on a fairly small group of companies and try to make the best impression possible.

As many employers won’t understand what working towards a PhD involves, you’ll need to be able to explain how doing research has helped you to develop your ‘transferable’ skills. Our booklet ‘Skills of Researchers‘ can help with this.

It will help enormously if you prepare some questions in advance. As well as the questions about appropriate career entry points, you might want to ask about such things as:

  • how your expected thesis submission date (or the end-date of your post-doc contract) fits in with the employer’s recruitment timetable.
  • what the organisation looks for in an application – what makes an application stand out?
  • whether the organisation offers open days, insight courses, etc. which can enable to you to find out more about them before making a formal application.

Above all, remember that although many of the employers will be very familiar with recruiting at first degree and master’s level, they will, in the great majority of cases, be very interested to hear about the ‘added value’ you as a doctoral graduate can offer their organisation.

It’s up to you to prepare beforehand and to ‘sell yourself on the day! And if you’re not sure what you want to do, take a look here at the What Do Researchers Do? series of publications exploring the destinations and career paths of doctoral graduates and how they contribute to society, culture and economy.

Image credit here – via University of Nottingham

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