Your PhD, what next?: Action plan
Preparing an action plan will ensure that your job search and applications are effective. Find out how to focus your thoughts, identify interests and priorities and work out how to get where you want to be...
Knowing yourself and what you want
An essential first step in your plan is to assess your skills, abilities and personality. Consider what you have to offer a future employer, what evidence you can give to demonstrate your ability, and what type of work and working environment are you suited to.
- Your PhD experience - what are your strengths and which aspects of your work do you enjoy most? What skills and knowledge have you developed?
- Skills audit - broaden your reflections by thinking about activities and projects you have been involved in outside your research, such as work experience, societies and sport. Consider completing a Personal SWOT analysis
to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Ask friends, family and professional colleagues for their opinion. What do they consider to be your strengths, skills and talents?
- Skills table and gap analysis - produce a skills table and include evidence for each skill. Identify gaps and areas for development in line with your career aspirations. Use the Vitae Researcher Development Framework
, specifically designed for researchers.
- Personality and character - use personality questionnaires and self-awareness tools or career management programmes such as Windmills
. Look at what jobs would suit me? and psychometric tests. Find out what resources are available through your careers service.
- Values and motivations - what do you want from a job? What motivates you? Be honest with yourself. Consider practical aspects, such as location, work environment and finances.
- Further research - speak to people who are already in the job you are considering. Alumni can be a good source of information. Do a work placement or work shadowing. Arrange an advice session with a careers adviser.
Researching your career options
Focus your research based on what you know about yourself and what you want. Add more detail to your SWOT analysis. What are the opportunities and threats?
- Internet - use the web to find out more about sectors and jobs you are interested in. See job sectors and types of jobs. Visit employer websites and make use of professional networking sites such as LinkedIn
- Speak to recruiters and individuals - to find out about current and future trends and what it is like to work in a particular career. Visit your careers service to find out which employers are coming on to campus.
- Find out what researchers do - see What Do Researchers Do?
and speak to alumni from your field of research.
- Network - to develop contacts who will help with your job search. Think creatively about ways to build contacts, such as attending careers fairs and joining professional bodies. Put together a list of questions to ask people about their work to help you find out more about the role and whether you would enjoy it.
- Skills needed - find out how you can develop your skills to match the jobs you are interested in.
- Mentor - work with a mentor to help you research your options and to benefit from their experience and career insights.
- Career service - get advice from a careers adviser on issues such as trends in the labour market, how to your focus your research and timescales for applications.
Making a decision
- Consider the pros and cons - keep a note during your research and weigh up the options.
- Discuss your options - visit your university careers service and speak to a careers adviser. Speak to family, friends and your professional contacts. Talking your thoughts through with others can help you to make a decision.
- Try it out - consider undertaking a period of work experience, volunteering or work shadowing to try out the role and reflect on the positives and negatives. For more information, see types of work experience.
- Intuition - what does your heart tell you? Can you imagine yourself in that role?
- Evaluate - look back at your skill set and preferences and evaluate whether it matches the role you are considering.
- Find opportunities - where are jobs advertised and what are the timescales for applications? Many large graduate recruiters advertise vacancies on mainstream graduate websites and with local university careers services. Graduate schemes and larger employers have fixed dates each year for recruitment. For further ideas, see job hunting.
- Research - find out as much as you can about the employer and what they will be looking for before applying. For hints and tips, see applying for jobs.
- Register with job websites - to receive notifications of newly advertised positions as they arise. Being aware of a suitable vacancy early on gives you more time to prepare your application.
- Tailor your CV or application - make sure what you include is relevant to the job you are applying for. Keep your CV up to date and get feedback from the careers service. For more information, see CVs and cover letters.
- Prepare for the interview process - think about possible questions you may be asked and practise with your friends. Check whether your careers service provides a mock interview service.
- Be proactive - make targeted speculative applications to organisations you are interested in. Your networks can be a key route to making applications. Set up a LinkedIn
Reviewing your progress
- Reflect - assess how successful your applications and interviews are going. Keep a record, for example, of how many interviews you are getting. What is working well and what could you do differently? What changes can you make to your plan? What help do you require?
- Feedback - try to get feedback from employers if you are unsuccessful as you can address the points raised in your future applications or interviews. Ask a careers adviser for feedback on your application form or interview technique.
- Skills check - review your skill set over time. What skills are employers looking for? Are you communicating those skills effectively? Do you need further training in some skills to make yourself a stronger candidate? Have your personal circumstances changed? Does this have an impact on your action plan?
- Check your goals - ensure that you have milestones and goals to aim for in your plan and review these on a regular basis. Are you still on track? What do you need to do more of? Are they still the goals you want?
- New opportunities - keep your eyes open for new opportunities. What do they mean for you? How do they fit in with your original plan?
- Stay motivated - find ways to retain a positive attitude during your job search. In the face of setbacks, for example, remind yourself of your achievements and strengths. Handle any rejection in a positive way and learn from the experience. Build a support network around you, including friends, family and mentors.
Written by Jayne Sharples, University of Birmingham