What employers want

Business people shaking hands

More than 70% of employers would welcome more applications from doctoral researchers. (Source: Vitae, "Recruiting Researchers", a survey of employer practice, 2009)

Messages and attitudes

Below you will find some common messages and attitudes from employers, taken from a survey conducted by the University of Reading in 2009.

What employers value in candidates with academic research experience

  • Analytical thinking, report writing and the ability to work independently
  • Ability to settle into the work environment quickly
  • Logical thinking and relevant research field
  • Up to date experience with research methods
  • Intellectual approach
  • Good communication and presentation skills

Drawbacks to recruiting candidates with academic research experience

  • Lack of commercial awareness
  • Too focused on academic research area and not able to emphasise transferable skills
  • Too set in academic style work patterns
  • Limited communication skills

Messages from employers recruiting those with research experience

  • Stress transferable skills and be aware that your particular area of research is not always the prime importance
  • Prove that you have given thought to the differences between academia and the corporate world
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the goals and values of the organisation you are applying to
  • Emphasise that you are a rounded individual

Messages from researchers who have moved outside academia

  • Try to gain work experience outside academia, especially within a business environment
  • Demonstrate other roles, including voluntary, that increase your skills base
  • Gain teaching and coaching experience and try to present at conferences
  • Take opportunities to develop yourself outside academia

Careers Fairs and other events

Employers regularly visit our campus and other locations which might be convenient. Take a look at the Careers Service Event Diary to find out what is available.

Virtual Fairs

These are increasingly common and might be more convenient for you. An example from the Institute For Computational Fluid Dynamics (ICFD) is illustrative.

Job advertisements

These can be revealing about the attributes sought by an employer. For example, a current vacancy for a Lecturer in Metabonomics at the University of Reading (March 2010 ) seeks:

The applicant will be expected to conduct human studies and supervise other researchers. The ability to attract funding from research councils and other funding bodies (especially industry) is vital. The successful applicant will play a major role in the future development and success of the FMSU group.

Nationally published reports and surveys

These provide insight into what employers want from researchers. For example, the Vitae report Recruiting Researchers, a survey of employer practice conducted in 2009, states:

"Employers ranked doctoral graduates' competence highest in data analysis and problem solving. Next came their drive and motivation, project management and interpersonal skills. Leadership and commercial awareness were ranked lowest relative to the others."

A survey of employer attitudes to postgraduate researchers, conducted by the University of Sheffield in August 2006, states:

"For the majority of respondents, the key benefits of recruiting postgraduates included: specialist knowledge, research/analytical skills, future potential and maturity. This picture has not changed significantly in the last five years. What does seem to have changed, however, is the steady increase in PhDs going into small and medium-sized companies. Recruiters in these companies praise these recruits highly in terms of their specialist skills and ability to move quickly within the organizations."

Another key piece of advice from the University of Sheffield survey is:

"Encourage researchers to explore commercial awareness through industrial placements, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, employer-led skill workshops and research-specific seminars in areas such as grant writing, intellectual property and budgeting."

Things to do now

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