PhDs - Applying For Jobs Outside Academia

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If you are applying for jobs in sectors outside academia ensure that you are in a strong position to succeed by preparing well for the application process and marketing yourself effectively. Use the following tips as a starting point for your effective career development strategy.

Plan ahead

Make sure that you give yourself time to think ahead to your next career step on completion of your PhD. Even if your aim is to develop a career in academia it is worth having a plan B to give you alternative options to fall back on in case you don’t succeed in the competitive jobs market for a permanent post in academia.

Write a list of sectors you’d be interested to work in, identify organisations which are advertising jobs and do some research to understand the recruitment cycle and process. For example, does the organisation have graduate schemes with closing dates each year? Does the business specifically advertise opportunities for PhDs? For most jobs it can take about three months to go through the recruitment cycle, so if you want a job lined up for when you have completed your PhD you need to get started early.  

What are employers looking for?

Ensure that you are applying for jobs where there is a good fit between your strengths and skills and what the job will involve. Think also about the company culture and values of the organisation and how this matches up with what is important for you.  Recruiters are typically looking for employees who are motivated and demonstrate potential. You therefore need to be able to clearly articulate why you want the job, what attracts you to the organisation and your career aspirations.

Explore job opportunities and understand what employers are looking for by gaining relevant industrial or commercial experience or get a mentor in your chosen field. Also, take advantage of opportunities to meet prospective employers who come on your University campus, get advice from a careers adviser and use alumni contacts to research specific career paths and to make useful contacts.

Ensuring your application stands out

You’ve done the research and found the job you want to go for, now make sure that you market yourself effectively. Many of the larger organisations will have robust application processes in place to ensure they get the right person for the job, so think of ways in which you can prepare effectively. The first hurdle is to make sure that your CV gets you through the initial stage of the recruitment process. Ensure that your CV is concise and tailored to the role you are applying for. Whilst it is acceptable for an academic CV to be a lengthy document, you will do yourself no favours by using this type of CV for a job in business or industry. Recruiters will want to see at a glance evidence of your skills and experience in line with the job description, so prioritise what to include and take out irrelevant content.

Increasingly application processes are online, so select from your CV relevant and impactful information to go in to the online application. Think creatively also about linking to further information in a well-written LinkedIn profile or website.

In addition to the CV prepare for other stages of the application process, which may include telephone interviews, online psychometric tests and assessment days before you get to interview. You are likely to find that small to medium sized companies have less formal recruitment processes, so in all cases do your research beforehand and adapt your preparation accordingly.

Networking and speculative applications

As well as applying for advertised jobs you may find it beneficial to send off speculative applications to organisations you are interested to work for. Be clear about what you can offer to the business, for example what problems could your research or research skills solve? It helps if you send the speculative application to a named contact in the organisation, so do some research to find out the best person to send the information to. Or better still, find opportunities to network and build up a contact list of influential people in the business and industry sector you are interested to work in. Let people know what your career aspirations are and the type of opportunities you are looking for. In the job market it is often down to who you know as well as what you know.

To read more about these topics refer to related articles on, such as:

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