Job hunting

Networking and the Creative Job Search

Careers fair

One of the most important skills to develop, particularly if you wish to have an academic career, is that of networking. Networking is a way of marketing yourself to potential future employers, finding out more about people and/or organisations you may wish to work for, and sometimes hearing about vacancies before they are advertised.

If you are hoping to become an academic, then attending conferences is not just about giving posters and presentations - it's also about networking with others in your field who may be future research collaborators or employers. Equally, if you are considering a move away from academia, networking is a good way to find out more about areas of work that interest you, or employers you might wish to approach.

Networking is part of the process known as the "creative job search". This describes a number of different techniques which allow you to research career paths and potential vacancies in a more creative way than simply applying for an advertised job.

More information about effective networking is available on the Vitae website.

Wanting an academic career?

For those of you who wish to make a career as an academic, having a PhD is a vital starting point - but it is very much only a starting point. Being a successful academic requires much more than that, as it is a highly competitive world. If you want to stand out as an applicant here's what one senior academic says he looks for:

"a good academic pedigree, a proven publication track record, and a good sense of research direction in a fundable area. I also expect to see evidence of good networking skills and the ability to develop research collaborations towards achieving international excellence in their chosen research area." (Senior Lecturer, Chemistry)

Remember, this is about your POTENTIAL to develop into an excellent researcher and teacher, with the capacity to generate possibilities for funded research within your subject area and stay at the forefront of your game.

More advice on launching an academic career is available on the Vitae website.

Job seeking strategies

When you are ready to begin your job search, it's important to remain focused and have a clear plan. Knowing what kinds of jobs you want to apply for and having researched what they involve is an important first step.

You then need to find out how, where and when employers advertise their vacancies. This can vary depending on the type of work and organisation, from formal applications for advertised posts, to making a speculative application directly to an employer you are interested in working for. As there are different approaches, this means you will need to do your research.

To find out more about the graduate recruitment cycle, particularly if you are thinking of leaving academia after your research degree look at the finding a job with your PhD section of the Prospects website.

To see examples of job vacancies in UK universities and related organisations, (including post doctoral research vacancies) see the website.

To see examples of job vacancies for postgraduates look at the vacancy pages on the Careers Centre website.

Remember, these are simply starting points. Carefully research your selected career area and check how applications are typically made.

CVs, Covering Letters and Application Forms

Any written application you make is crucial, as your CV or form are key marketing tools to persuade employers that you have the required knowledge and skills for the job.

Academic applications

Academic style CVs can be longer than the traditional 2 sides of A4 usually recommended. The focus of an academic CV should be on the research you are completing for your PhD (topic title, names of supervisors, and details of your research), along with your research output (publications and conferences, etc) and any academic achievements (prizes, scholarships or awards) which make you stand out.

If you complete an application form which requires a supporting statement, use the person specification and job description to structure your statement. Make sure you provide evidence in the form of specific examples that illustrate that you have the required skills and knowledge - these are often presented in the form of "essential" and "desirable" requirements.

For example, if presentation skills are listed as a key requirement of the job, it is not enough to say "I have good presentation skills". You need to give specific evidence - for example, "I am a confident presenter, having spoken at several international conferences and most recently having been invited to deliver a lecture to 200 sixth formers about laser spectroscopy". Most applicants don't give enough detail or simply leave out examples, assuming the reader will know what they have done! Avoid doing this and make sure you don't fall into the trap of underselling yourself.

Non-academic applications

If you are applying for jobs outside academia, away from research and your chosen subject area, then you will need to focus your applications on the transferability of your skills. As a researcher, you will have developed a wide range of transferable skills. If you are applying for jobs outside academia and research, you will need to give specific examples that support your claim that you have the right background and experience for the job.

Carefully research the job role for which you are applying. Make sure to give clear, well thought out reasons for why you are a good applicant and are interested in this post.

Make sure that you adapt your CV for such applications. It should be 2 sides of A4, concentrating on the skills you have developed from being a researcher. Avoid language which is technical or specialist. Give as simple a summary as possible of your research, and think about the advantages of being trained to teach and research to a high level - what does this say about you as a person and what your strengths are? Remove lists of publications from your CV which will make it too lengthy and imply that you are too specialised for a non academic job.

The same applies to any application statement you are making. Avoid technical or specialist language when illustrating points, and focus on the transferability of your skills using a range of examples, not just your research degree.

More information

Interview skills and interview questions

When you get to interview stage, you know that your CV or application has done its job. You have been shortlisted and now need to present your case verbally. The key things to remember are:

  1. Prepare thoroughly
  2. Anticipate questions you are likely to be asked
  3. Prepare questions for them
  4. Practise answering some questions

Whether you are applying for a post doctoral research post in higher education, or a job in a different sector, outside academia - you still need to research the organisation and your potential role within it. Guesswork is not enough - gather as much information as possible.

Make sure you keep copies of all the applications you submit as they will form the basis of your preparation. What information did you give the selectors and how might that shape the questions you are asked in interview? Do some "question spotting" and go through your application looking at it from the selector's point of view. What makes you a good applicant and what are the key skills and experience you have to offer? Think also about questions for them - maybe about training and development within the role, if you are selected for the job.

Make sure you prepare thoroughly. If you haven't had a formal interview for a while, you can book a practice interview with a Careers Adviser (arrange this through the Careers Centre) or a colleague or friend who preferably has some experience of interviewing. This gives you the chance to have a go at answering questions (including some you might not have thought of!) and structuring your responses.

See the Vitae website for more help with interview skills and sample interview questions.

Destinations also incudes information on interviews.

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