Improving your employment opportunities

Put yourself in the position to create and grasp opportunities. This page looks at how to improve employment opportunities by creating networks, raising your profile and gaining experience.  

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How do researchers find jobs?

What do researchers do?: Doctoral graduate destinations and impact three years on provides the following breakdown on how researchers found their jobs.

  • 33% of respondents found out about their current job through professional, work or educational contacts and networking
  • 16% through personal contacts
  • 24% already worked for the organisation
  • 22% had seen their position advertised in newspapers
  • 20% had seen it on an employers website
  • 10% recruitment agency
  • 5% University careers service
  • 8% through other careers services
  • 6% speculative approach
  • 1% headhunted

(Multi response questions: sum is greater than 100%)

Keeping informed

The career landscape is constantly evolving. At any time career avenues could be closed off as well as new pathways opening. Make sure you are fully informed about the sectors you are interested in working in. Is it an area of growth or retraction? How competitive is the field? What new opportunities might be on the horizon? Familiarise yourself with the most up-to-date labour market information.

Where possible get involved in departmental committees or online discussion forums to keep up-to-date with developments in your research field or in employment sectors of interest. Twitter is a good medium for online discussions and you will find most employment sectors represented either through professional bodies, government bodies, newspapers, recruitment companies or employers themselves.

 #ecrchat and #phdchat are established Twitter communities for researchers. Follow relevant news channels such as @timeshighered or feeds specific to your area of interest, eg @guardianteach (teaching), @bbcrecruitment (media) or @NIHforjobs (medical research).

Using networks

Establishing and maintaining a wide professional network may prove to be the opening to your next collaboration, contract or change of career direction.

We all have networks, even if we do not consciously cultivate them. Your network may include:

  • your family, friends and neighbours and their contacts
  • your work colleagues at all levels and their contacts
  • support staff who work in your institution (careers advisers, librarians, human resources professionals, training and development professionals)
  • former work colleagues
  • members of any professional bodies to which you belong
  • people you meet at conferences and/or training
  • members of your online discussion groups and social networks
  • members of social or sports clubs to which you belong.

It is important to take opportunities to develop networks - you never know when a contact may be valuable - or when you might be able to help someone else. Go to seminars, meetings and conferences, join groups such as professional bodies, staff associations and networks, and unions. Explore ways of using online social networks. Concentrate on areas where you need to increase your contacts. Don't confine your networking to the workplace, especially if you are keen to explore other career avenues. Ensure that you keep contact details up to date and try to keep in touch by email or phone.

Effective networking is two-way. Actively engaging with your contacts and sharing information will promote positive relationships and encourage people to be responsive when you are seeking help or information.

Online networking is the most accessible platform for networking with larger groups and works best as a follow-up to a positive face to face encounter or with personal introductions from colleagues. Social networking sites enable you to access a professional community, use the people you know to make contacts and give access to tools that facilitate networking. See our handbook on using social media if you're not sure where to start with sites such as Linkedin, ResearchGate, Academia and Mendeley.

Raising your profile

Building an appropriate profile - within your research field, within the wider research community and in the public domain - is an important consideration for researchers, whether or not they intend to remain in academic research.Raising your profile can help to create career opportunities.

Networking, conference presentations, involvement in committees and associations, public engagement activity, blogging and being active on social media are just some of the ways to get yourself known.

Gaining experience

Experience is essential in order to pursue some career options and may also help clarify your career-related ideas. Even if experience is not directly relevant to the career path you wish to pursue, it can provide an opportunity to develop transferable skills that you may not readily develop in your current research role. Whatever the reason, it can offer variety but do consider what you wish to achieve.

  • Research Councils and learned societies often provide placements and schemes that can offer access to research outside your institution or work experience with employers
  • Speak to faculties/departments, careers services and employer relations personnel within your institution about opportunities to gain experience – eg. they may support work experience or mentoring schemes
  • Look out for other opportunities to gain useful experience including training courses,  joining a committee or research staff association, writing a blog or organising a conference.