what are PhD employers looking for? take 2…

My colleague Kevin Mahoney recently posted a discussion of how doctoral graduates can use Graduate Fairs as an alternative to direct entry or ‘experienced hires’. He focussed on the fact that many employers just don’t understand why PhD graduates or postdocs for that matter would consider applying to them. The Think Ahead team strongly emphasises the need to make sure you can describe and articulate your researcher skill set, or ’transferable skills’ before approaching organisations. I will go further and implore you to do your research in checking how you then apply to an organisation of interest. Have you found out what is required by the employer? Do they want a CV…? Maybe they do if this is a speculative enquiry. So, is your CV targeted towards the company, their aims, needs, and reputation? Is it the right length and format (usually shorter and straight to the point)? Is it different from your standard academic CV – because it needs to be. SKILLS Increasingly employers are using online application forms and expect you to answer challenging competency or situational questions because they want the best people. Many of the popular employers are inundated with applications, and may are rejected due to basic mistakes, lack of preparation before competing applications, or failing to address the person specification. Ask yourself are you ready to face questions such as:

  • Describe an occasion when you have had to lead a team of others to achieve a goal? Identify the qualities that enable you to fulfil the task?
  • Tell us about a time when you have failed to communicate your message appropriately?
  • What attracts you to this type of work?
  • Why do you want to work for us?

To make sure you stand out from the crowd make sure you know how to promote your skills and experiences – the good news is all this takes is practice! Try working with a friend to practice your answers to interview questions, use your contacts (and your contacts’ contacts) for feedback, and a good tip could be to think of the top three things you don’t want to be asked…then write great answers to them! And remember that employers outside academia are also very interested in what you get up to outside your research environment strange as that may sound. This is because those skills and experiences you possess extend far beyond your PhD/research experience. Check out what support your University Careers Service offers by way of workshops tailored to postgraduate and postdoctoral needs, 1:1 consultations and preparation sessions. The University of Sheffield Careers Service has produced a range of online booklets and videos covering what, where and how to apply and interview. In addition, I have collaborated with Vitae to crete this booklet – the career-wise researcher. Fancy the new MOOC – ‘How to succeed at writing applications’? It’s free to sign up and access the resources. Good luck with your applications!

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