How to find jobs advertised at PhDs

training consultantIn my previous post on searching for a job outside of higher education, I recommended that you use sector-specific keywords to find suitable vacancies on job websites. My rationale is that a good job that a ‘professional X’ like you can apply for will rarely be advertised as specifically requiring a candidate with a PhD. Employers just want professional applicants who can do the job.

That said, there is a second search technique that I’d like to introduce as it’s worth knowing about for completeness. This is to run a search for non-academic jobs that ARE specifically advertised directly at PhDs. The benefit of this approach is obviously that you do find any jobs aimed at PhDs. The downsides of this approach, in my opinion, are:

1. You are limiting yourself to positions where the employer wants to recruit a PhD, which is a very small subset of all the jobs you are qualified for. Remember you are a ‘professional X’ and therefore you should be looking at a much wider range of positions.

2. Within the total pool of PhD jobs advertised, your specialism may or may not come up very often. This is especially the case for humanities PhDs. So if you solely used this technique for job hunting, the risk is that there may not appear to be any jobs for someone with your qualifications, when actually we know that there are many jobs you can do!

Still, used judiciously, this technique can flush out some interesting prospects and help you get to know who’s recruiting. If nothing else, by running a couple of these searches, it can help to convince even the most hardened sceptic that there are actually positions out there for PhDs!

To illustrate this technique, I used the keyword ‘PhD’ and filtered for UK-only positions on the job site glassdoor.com on 22 December 2012. The search returned 4,795 results. Looking at the results, a large proportion were either for software developers who have a PhD, or for PhD programmes. Ignoring these two categories, I’ve selected 2 vacancies that I want to explore in more detail in this post (I’m assuming that if you’re a software programmer with a PhD, you can look after yourself!).

Vacancy 1: Goldman Sachs – Strats Division, Full Time Analyst/Associate

AnalystIt does annoy me when people say ‘Ah but a PhD doesn’t equip you with skills for the real world’, because an advert like this one shows that a global financial services company like Goldman Sachs obviously thinks that a PhD does! (I might keep a copy of this advert in my pocket for such occasions in the future). The advert says that ‘we are interested in bright individuals who have advanced mathematical and computational backgrounds and a willingness to learn about finance’ and specifically that ‘successful members of our team hold Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees in Physics, Engineering, Mathematics, Computer Science and many other fields.’ So if you have an academic background and skills in Maths, Technology and Finance, this could be a good opportunity for you to make the transition out of academia and into a financial services career in London.

Judging from the advert, they have vacancies within 3 departments: Securities, Investment Banking and Investment Management. Read the text of the advert to find which department one would appeal to you more – depending on whether you would like to be building mathematical models, developing strategies and analyses, or working on electronic trading tools for example. You can think about how your PhD and/or other interests relate to one of these areas, and remember that ‘although the work performed by Strats is financial in nature, applicants need not have specific financial knowledge or experience to apply’.

Clicking on the ‘Apply Now’ button takes you to the job advert on the Goldman Sachs website, from where you can apply online. This could be a great opportunity if you fit the bill and fancy taking your skills to a whole new level in financial services.

Vacancy 2: Edissero – Training Consultant / Trainer

training consultantIn this advert Edissero is looking for a candidate who can develop and deliver training and who has a life sciences background, specifically ‘a PhD, MSc or BSc in a biological science, chemistry, biotechnology, bioinformatics, cheminformatics or similar scientific discipline’. So this could be an ideal first post if you have a qualification in one of these areas and you are interested in working as a trainer in industry. My first two roles after academia were training roles and I think it’s a great way to make a transition into a business career, using all the skills you’ve gained through your PhD. Reading through the skills and experience required in the advert, you should be able to tick all the boxes if you’ve given lectures and tutorials and used e-learning systems during your doctoral research.

By googling ‘Edissero’ I found that as a company they are ‘a specialist supplier of technical authors, documentation managers and other information development staff to clients in the UK, Europe and North America’ (edissero.com). So it sounds like you would be going straight into working for one of Edissero’s clients, potentially with some overseas travel. If you’re interested in this role the contact details for Michelle Northcott, the recruiter are available, so give Michelle a ring and talk through the job details and your suitability for it.

Edissero are based in Godalming in Surrey. You can apply online after clicking through glassdoor.com and then adzuna.co.uk. to reach the advert on totaljobs.com.

In conclusion, in this post I’ve shown you a technique which you can use to identify a selection of jobs that are advertised specifically at postgrads and PhDs. It’s a useful technique to have in reserve, but it shouldn’t be your primary approach, for the reasons outlined above. If you want to try this search yourself, just click the link to open the job search engine glassdoor.com with PhD jobs already selected, and filter by country, state and city.

Finally, just to say that I’ve reproduced these adverts for illustrative purposes only. I don’t guarantee that the jobs are still available by the time you read this post!

How to research your target job sector

When I was an undergraduate, I’d ask my housemates who were studying engineering or medicine what they’d learned in their lectures that day. They’d say to me, ‘Chris you can’t be interested in that stuff, you’re an English student!’. If you’re like me and you have an in-built curiosity about everything, this will really help you get to grips with a vital next step on your post-academic career journey – getting to know your target sector.

So if you’ve been following my previous posts, you’ll have identified two or three key areas of work outside of academia that interest you (see my post How to search for your ideal non-academic job). To go after jobs in these sectors you’ll need to learn the basics of each industry or line of business. This background will enable you to talk the same language as your interviewers – vital for showing that you’re a fellow professional who is switching careers from academia into their sector (remember that academia is just one sector in a very big economy). Fortunately, as a PhD you’re already an expert in researching and getting to know all about new areas of knowledge!

In fact each time I’ve changed sectors in my working life so far, I’ve given myself a complete crash-course in that sector. Training, transport, sustainability, engineering, technology, financial services – it’s been a case of getting my head down and learning as much as possible about relevant companies and how each sector works, in support of my applications and interviews. My PhD training has definitely helped me in this respect. The first time I did it, going from academia into e-learning, was the hardest, purely because I wasn’t familiar with how the private sector worked. As an ordinary consumer I knew a little about the companies behind typical retail brands, but in fact there is a whole other world of ‘business-to-business’ where companies provide products and services to one another, and to public sector organisations like councils and government departments. I found it mind-blowing at first, but it doesn’t take long before you can begin to understand how a sector works, who the main suppliers and customers are, and how it’s related to other sectors. As your knowledge develops, you’ll find yourself spotting opportunities for someone with your unique skills and experience.

The Internet makes it very easy to get access to the resources you need for researching your target sector. There are 5 main sources that I use, listed in the order that I would personally work through them:

1. Start with the websites of organisations in your chosen sector. By definition, organisations use their websites to present and organise information for their customers and users, and so even from a home page you can begin to glean all sorts of useful information. Take a look at the ‘About Us’ or ‘Who We Are’ pages first for each organisation. Then check out the pages on ‘Products and Services’ and ‘Our Clients’ next.

In my opinion the best source of sector-specific information is a white paper or other kind of thought-piece that sets out a company’s view on the future development of that sector. Usually these are short, easy-to-read and the key points are highlighted for the reader. When I was looking to break into e-learning, I downloaded and read loads of white papers, as they gave me the best insights into the language and approaches used by the leading companies in that sector.

2. Read books, newspapers and magazines that cover your target sector. For many sectors you can buy introductory guides to learn the basics, such as Dummies, Bluffer’s or Idiot’s guides … don’t be put off by the titles! You can also comb the business section of a good newspaper for relevant stories, or buy a magazine that covers a specific industry.

3. Read blogs and listen to podcasts. Blogs are a fantastic source of insight into your chosen sector. While published hard copy material gives you a high-level public view, blogs are great for getting inside the mindset of your chosen sector. As they are personal, you can get a better sense of what day-to-day working life is like for a real employee. This can also help you decide if you really want to follow this line of work at all! Just search for ‘blog’+’your sector here’ in a search engine, or view a list of the top ten blogs for individual sectors at sites like blogs.com.

You can also download free podcasts for your chosen sector. To take one example, financial services, the Financial Times publishes podcasts such as Banking Weekly and the FT Money Show on iTunes. Use keywords from your chosen sector to search for and find relevant podcasts. Download a selection of podcasts and listen while you commute to learn about the latest issues and trends in that sector. I’ve personally listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on management, personal development, project management, sales, entrepreneurship, transport and financial services, all for free!

4. Talk to people face-to-face. Through your network of friends and family, and your university careers service, get introduced to people who already work in your chosen industry or sector. Most people will gladly talk to you about their profession and answer your questions. Ask them about the latest trends, where the sector is going and what the problems are. They may even be able to introduce you to employers who have a vacancy! You can also try searching Google for meetings of professional groups in your local area that you can attend – the podcast Google Job Search Tips Chaper 2 from Career Tools explains exactly how to do this.

5. Talk online. The Internet gives you access to all kinds of industry groups and forums, which you can join for free. Spend some time reading posts and comments for a flavour of the current topics under discussion. You can join as yourself or anonymously. You can post comments and questions of your own, but try to avoid anything that makes you sound too naive (such as ‘I have a PhD in atmospheric science, how can I break into advertising?’). Remember at this stage you are gathering information, and you want to come across as a fellow professional who is interested in switching sectors. So you should be asking targeted questions that help you glean what you need to know.

In summary, the key pieces of information you’re trying to find out when ‘mapping the landscape’ of your target sector are:

  • The main organisations in your chosen sector (one of which will eventually employ you!)
  • Market trends (where your skills can help to solve problems and provide value)
  • The types of products and services that are being sold or provided
  • Customers types – who is buying or being served in the sector
  • The language and terminology of that sector
  • The historical foundations of that sector and a brief overview of its recent and future development
  • The typical job roles and associated skills in that sector

James Mulvey has a nice phrase to cover this part of your career journey: ‘you are on a research diet’. See page 42 onwards of How to Find a Career With Your Humanities Degree in 126 Days for more guidance on acquiring the knowledge required to support non-academic job applications.

Read my note about affiliate links on the Jobs on Toast website.

‘But I don’t really know what I want to do!’

I’ve already written a post about how you need to identify specific areas of work outside of the university sector in order to focus your job search (How to search for your ideal non-academic job).

However, I appreciate that some postgrads and PhDs will still struggle to decide upon a non-academic career area. After all the focus that it’s taken to get through school and university and post-grad life, it can sometimes be difficult to think of a work area that really excites you as much as your academic subject.

The danger here is that unless you are prepared to rethink who you are and what you can do, and take a firm decision on how to market yourself, you can easily get stuck in post-academic careers limbo. ‘No employer wants to hire a specialist in contemporary critical and cultural theory’, a PhD may complain. Exactly right my friend – no employer outside of academia does!

But employers do want to hire authors, analysts, researchers, consultants, advisers, project managers, trainers and designers, to name but a few job roles. If you have a PhD you are perfectly capable of doing all of these roles: in fact you’ve probably done some of them already without realising it! Written academic papers? Then you’re an author. Designed and run courses? Then you’re a trainer.

So you need to be marketing yourself as a professional X who is now bringing their talents to Y industry or the Z area of the public sector. Presenting yourself and your qualifications in a positive, employer-friendly way is the key to unlocking the mainstream job market.

Back in 2000 for instance, I picked e-learning as my target industry and got a job with a start-up company by presenting myself as a professional educator with an interest in technology. After the bottom fell out of that market and I was made redundant in 2002, I picked software training and technical writing and got into that by presenting myself as a training expert, with a wide knowledge and experience of different modes of learning.

Did I have a PhD? Yes. Did I present myself as PhD in Medieval Studies looking for a job? Certainly not! My PhD is just one part of who I am and what I can do – it did not and does not wholly define or limit me.

In fact a postgraduate qualification gives you lots of angles when it comes to presenting yourself to employers. You just need to identify a particular industry or job role, and then find an angle that helps the employer understand your unique value. In the examples given above, the angle I used was education and training, and this approach is open to all PhDs, whether you’ve taught in a classroom or a lab.

Remember, you can always present yourself as a professional educator and get a job that way. You can also present yourself as a professional researcher, since your PhD demonstrates your capability in this area, although there are fewer research jobs outside of academia.

Other angles that you can choose, depending upon your confidence and relevance to a specific industry are given below (click on a job title to view current vacancies for that role in the job search engine glassdoor.co.uk – you’ll need to filter by country, state or city):

  • Writer or Author: required in the worlds of advertising, marketing, journalism, publishing and engineering (e.g. Technical Author).
  • Project Manager: a required position in many fields of work including engineering, manufacturing, finance, consultancy, health and sustainable development.
  • Analyst: many industries require smart people who can collate and digest information, ranging from intelligence and national security, through to software development and finance.
  • Designer: products and services need to be tailored for use by customers, and so this role is found in many areas including online businesses, manufacturing, financial services and publishing.

You might think that while all this sounds great in theory, can it work in practice? Well, if you look at my CV on LinkedIn, you’ll see that in the first 5 years of my post-academic career, I held job roles with all of the titles mentioned above. Did I spend 10 years in university just to become a Content Analyst? No … but did the fact that I was willing and able to market myself as someone who could fill a Content Analyst role help me land my first post-academic job, and open up a world of possibilties? Yes it did!

The bottom line here is that unless employers are advertising for a graduate trainee, they will only have vacancies for generic job roles with specific responsibilities. They want someone who fits the job description and who can get started in the business or organisation from day 1, to replace the person who left, or do the same work as someone who already works there and is too busy.

In fact a recruiter or Human Resources Officer won’t take any time or trouble to try to understand your letter or CV; it will go straight into the Reject pile unless you come across in a familiar and acceptable way! So the critical first step in marketing yourself is to present yourself as a professional [fill in the blank], and have that role appear after your name on your CV. Choosing one or two roles to focus on in this way is an important psychological step, as well as a practical necessity in securing your first post-academic job.

Once you’ve decided on your shortlist of job roles, it doesn’t mean that you have to spend the rest of your life wearing one of those labels. The point is that the language of job titles is a bridge between skilled people on the one side, and the work that organisations need doing on the other. As a doctoral researcher who has already accomplished so many great things, you can perfectly well walk that bridge without giving up any of your personal integrity. The sooner you can decide upon a type of job, the sooner you can transition out of academia and get on with the rest of your life.

Take action now: After reading this post, take a quiet moment to list seven or eight mainstream job roles that appeal to you. Pick one or two that really stand out. Then take your CV and at the top, next to your name, write a dash and then the job role you’ve chosen. What does that look like? How does it make you feel?