Reflecting On The Value Of Your PhD – What Are Employers Looking For?

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If you are planning to apply for jobs outside of academia this article will provide you with tips for understanding what employers are looking for and how to create impact. Being clear about the transferable skills you gain from your PhD will help you to identify career options suited to your skills, strengths and interests.  It will also enable you to demonstrate to employers the value you can bring to their organisation.

What are transferable skills?

Transferable skills are the skills gained through the experience of completing your PhD and can be identified by reflecting on and analysing your work as a researcher. Key to creating impact is to apply the skills learned in the research context, such as problem solving, analytical thinking and project management skills to career routes outside of academia.  Also develop your skills by attending training courses, by taking on leadership roles and responsibilities in your department and by engaging in activity with business and industry.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the transferable skills I have gained during my PhD?
  • In which areas am I particularly strong?
  • How can I develop my skills by taking part in activities outside of my specific PhD remit?

What are employers looking for?

Recruiters value PhD candidates not just for their technical expertise, subject knowledge and research skills, but also for the broader set of skills and competencies they bring to their organisation. Here are some examples of what employers of PhDs are looking for in their ideal candidates:

  • analytical thinking and problem solving abilities
  • ability to bring new ideas, curiosity and innovative approach to the organisation
  • ability to solve complex problems
  • project management and organisation skills
  • leadership potential
  • ability to work in a team
  • excellent communication and client facing skills

Take some time to consider this list and to add to it by researching employers relevant to your areas of interest.  Take every opportunity to develop the key skills employers are looking for and give evidence of your competency and experience in your CV and in interviews.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the skills employers are looking for?
  • How can I evidence my ability to do this?
  • How can I demonstrate my ability to translate my skills to business and industry?

Exposure to environments outside of academia

You can add further impact and ease your transition to a career outside of academia by gaining work experience in the field you would like to work in. This is particularly important if you have no relevant work experience prior to starting your PhD.  It will also give you the opportunity to gain awareness of what type of work you enjoy doing and to reflect on your strengths.  Think creatively about how to gain relevant work experience. Use the contacts within your University and ensure you create impact when you do get the opportunity to work for a prospective employer.


Finally, think long term. Employers will be recruiting you for your future potential and will be prepared to invest in your training and career development. So do not just focus on how you add value in the short term, consider your long term goals, aspirations and potential.

Summary of practical tips

  • Identify the transferable skills gained during your PhD
  • Take every opportunity to develop your skills
  • Research prospective employers and understand what they are looking for
  • Articulate and evidence your skills in your CV and in interviews
  • Gain relevant work experience
  • Demonstrate the ability to adapt to a business and industrial environment
  • Think about your long term potential and aspirations
  • Use the resources and people around you, including your Careers Service, alumni contacts and industry mentors

If you have found this article useful and would like to learn more about specific points raised do let us know and we can expand in future articles.

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