What employers look for

Recruiting researchers: survey of employer practice, Vitae 2009 surveyed 104 employers and found that most (73%) would welcome more applications from doctoral graduates and that nearly a third (31%) are already actively targeting doctoral graduates. Employers are keen to recruit researchers both for their technical skills and for their ‘first class brains’.

Unsurprisingly, employers typically expect researchers to be strongest in skills closely allied to the process of research such as data analysis and problem solving and less strong on interpersonal skills, leadership and commercial awareness. However, the greater the organisation’s experience of researchers the higher the anticipated level of competence across all skills.

Many employers would be happy to recruit doctoral graduates and more experienced researchers but do not actively signal this. Doctoral graduates are typically in competition with high achieving graduates and will need to prove their particular value. Employers who already have links with universities are a good place for doctoral researchers to start their job searching. These employers are more likely to understand the skills possessed by researchers and may be willing to talk about their recruitment needs. Placements and internships offer doctoral graduates a good opportunity to establish a relationship with an employer that may develop into a job offer.

A minority of employers do not have any interest in recruiting doctoral graduates. If doctoral graduates are to overcome this during recruitment they will need to focus on their individual skills and motivations rather than their qualifications.

In applying for non-academic jobs it’s useful to try to see yourself from the employer’s perspective, to emphasise the transferable competencies that your research has helped you to develop and to present yourself as a person with knowledge an interests extending beyond the bounds of your research topic. If you are interested in moving into a business environment, gaining formal or informal work experience outside academia will help you to prepare to present yourself and will help demonstrate that you are serious about moving sectors.