Careers Service

Identifying your skills

Thinking about what you have got to offer is helpful for both career decision making and marketing yourself successfully in job applications.

What have you got to offer?

Skills developed through postgraduate study:

You will have developed and demonstrated many skills and attributes through your doctoral studies. Some questions to get you thinking about this are:

  • What skills do you use to manage an independent research project? e.g. innovation and creativity, organisation and planning, analytical and problem solving, verbal and written communication, and more.
  • What specific technical skills do you use to collect and analyse your research data?
  • What problems have you overcome or challenges have you faced? i.e. think about the evidence you can provide for skills such as problem solving, persistence, overcoming obstacles to achieve goals.
  • What other activities have you been involved in beyond your research, e.g. teaching or demonstrating, organising seminar series, committee membership, and what have you gained from that experience?

Specialist knowledge, ability to research, solve problems and to a lesser extent innovate are important attributes of this type of postgraduate qualification

Senior Business Leader, Utilitiesfrom Talent Fishing, CIHE (2010)

The researcher development framework (RDF) developed by Vitae, the UK-wide organisation supporting the career and professional development of researchers, can help you to identify the skills and personal attributes that you have been developing through your doctoral research.

Find out more about the RDF and complete a knowledge, behaviours and attributes audit exercise in the document below:

Skills developed through other activities:

Think about what else you have been doing in addition to your PhD as you will have developed skills through a wide range of experiences. Non-academic employers in particular will be interested in any experience or involvement you have in, for example:

  • Work experience; full-time, part-time, voluntary, internships, both directly relevant and non-relevant
  • Participation in sport, music, or other activities, as an individual, team member or coach
  • Committee membership - through your PhD responsibilities or social activities, e.g. member of the postgraduate studies committee, the library committee, the trading and investment society

In the same way as you did for postgraduate study, you should think about the skills and attributes you have demonstrated through these other activities. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Using listening skills, negotiating, presentation and diplomacy on the postgraduate studies committee
  • Working under pressure, managing your time and communicating with all types of people in your part-time job as a waiter
  • Demonstrating clear communication, patience and problem-solving skills as a volunteer athletics coach

What do employers think?

Surveys of graduate employers have shown that many recruiters have little experience of recruiting PhD graduates and as a result may not understand the skills and attributes developed through a research degree. You therefore need to sell your skills effectively and demonstrate your suitability for the role for which you are applying.

A survey conducted by Vitae, the UK-wide organisation supporting the professional and career development of researchers, found employers ranked doctoral graduate skills in the following order:

  1. Data analysis
  2. Problem solving
  3. Drive and motivation
  4. Project managing
  5. Interpersonal skills
  6. Leadership
  7. Commercial awareness

You may find it useful to read more about employer perceptions of postgraduate students and researchers to help inform your self-marketing. Several studies can be found in related links below.

Employers across sectors value graduates’ excellent research and analytical skills, particularly their capacity for critical thinking and ability to solve problems by bringing fresh perspective and a systematic approach. Personal qualities of confidence, dedication, resilience and motivation were all recognised, and valued by employers of doctoral graduates.…employers also suggested that it would be advantageous for doctoral students to invest in developing interpersonal skills and skills for leading or working effectively in teams.

Impact of Doctoral Careers, CFE Research 2014