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What do non-academic recruiters really think of PhDs?

By uczjvwa, on 24 September 2015

When it comes to applying to non-academic organisations, the more you know about your target market the better placed you’ll be to tailor your approach to meet their needs. This includes understanding the concerns some recruiters have about candidates who’ve chosen to spend the last few years in academic research. Remember that many people simply don’t know what PhDs actually get up to, and that vacuum of understanding can quickly be filled with a variety of stereotypes.

If this is the situation, your job is to help them get a better understanding of what PhDs do – and more importantly, how your experience can specifically benefit their organisation.

Let’s have a look at three of these stereotypes and ways to counter them.

  1. PhDs are extremely smart, but unworldly, impractical and too narrowly focussed.

The stereotype of the dusty academic surrounded by nothing but test tubes persists. You’re likely to be thought of as highly intelligent – which is a great start! – but removed from the hustle and bustle of the ‘real world’. The recruiter will be wondering if you understand the practicalities of working for a modern commercial organisation. Do you have a realistic view of what you’re getting into? Will you be happy to “roll up your sleeves” and get on with jobs that might not always be terribly interesting?

The concern here is about cultural fit and adaptability. You can address it by proving that you understand the organisation’s culture and have already adapted accordingly. This means managing your image and language at interview – in other words, dress and talk in a way that fits in with the organisation you’re going for rather than the one you’re coming from. It also means being able to talk in depth about your reasons for leaving academia and applying for this job, and perhaps giving examples of other times when you’ve had to adapt to new situations.

  1. PhDs don’t understand business and have no commercial awareness.

This is a huge issue for recruiters and one that you’ll have to address head-on. Commercial awareness is basically understanding how a business works and how you can help it to be more successful. PhDs are often seen as way too far removed from the realities of the ‘bottom line’.

It’s extremely important that show you’ve got this skill, so it’s worth thinking about your non-academic work experience or even situations during your PhD when you’ve had to think commercially – finding funding, for example, or making decisions about a budget. Performing a SWOT analysis on the organisation you’re interviewing with will help you prepare for any strategic questions.

  1. PhDs spend a great deal of time alone and don’t know how to communicate or work in teams.

This goes back to the stereotype of the solitary “ivory tower” researcher. The recruiter will be wondering if you’ll be able to get along with those who aren’t as educated as you, build cross-functional relationships and put aside personal concerns for the good of the business.   The best way to counter this is by providing plenty of evidence of teamwork experience. If possible, draw on both academic and non-academic experiences (hobbies are great fodder for demonstrating softer skills), showing that you’re comfortable working with a variety of different people – and that, at the end of the day, PhDs are pretty much just like anyone else!

– Hilary Moor, Careers Consultant, Careers Group University of London

Employer Led Career Skills Workshop Programme for Researchers – Open For Booking!

By uczjvwa, on 12 September 2014

These workshops, arranged by UCL Careers in collaboration with the Doctoral Skills Development Programme, will introduce you to the employability skills that are required in today’s workplace and provide opportunities for you to develop and practice these skills. They will also demonstrate the transferable nature of the research skills you have acquired during your PhD, from an employer’s perspective. You can find out more information about the range of workshops available here.

Upcoming workshops

Networking Skills with Citi – Tuesday 30th September – 5:30pm to 7:30pm

Venue: UCL Careers Seminar Room, 4th Floor, ULU Building, Malet Street, WC1E 7HY

The ability to network productively is a key skill in academic and industry settings. This session will help you to understand what effective networking involves and will enable you to identify and make the most of networking situations. You will have the opportunity to practice some techniques within the workshop.

Learning Outcomes

• Recognise the importance of networking when looking for work and in the workplace
• Understand what networking involves and demonstrate your networking skills
• Develop some techniques for connecting with new people
• Develop some techniques for leveraging existing contacts

Research Students book a place here

Research Staff book a here


Commercial Awareness with PwC – Thursday 2nd October – 2:00pm to 4:00pm

Venue: UCL Conference Suite, Seminar Room 2, 188 Tottenham Court Road, W1T 7PH

Commercial awareness is about having a complete understanding of the career sector, company and job that you are applying for. It is the ability to view events and circumstances from a business perspective. This session is designed to help students understand the importance of commercial awareness when making the transition from their studies to the workplace. The session will focus on the methods through which students can build their commercial awareness in the run up to job applications, and the benefits to be gained from this.

Learning Outcomes

• Recognise why and how graduate employers look for commercial awareness in their recruitment processes
• Develop techniques for increasing commercial awareness in order to apply for jobs and attend interviews
• Communicate your commercial awareness more effectively to graduate recruiters
• Gain the tools to evaluate your level of commercial awareness when applying for your next role

Research Students book a place here

Research Staff book a here