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Communicating with employers

We’ve found the following to be effective when making that initial contact. 

Be concise – Employers will  rarely have the time or the motivation to read a long email explaining the background to your project. A short message is much more likely to elicit a response. Think about what you are asking of an employer, and try to express this as succinctly as possible. Link to additional background information, or simply state to offer it should they require it.

Know your audience Try to imagine the motivation of the people you are contacting and the context in which they’re operating. Most employers are unlikely to be familiar with or interested in the concordat to support the career development of researchers or the specifics of your institutional context. Most will be interested in developing their organisation and attracting talent. Most will have values and drivers specific to their organisation or field. If you can indicate some understanding of the context in which they’re working this will help establish rapport.

Instead of:  
There is an increasing impetus within higher education institutions to provide quality career development which encourages postdocs to explore careers beyond academia. We are therefore seeking employers interested in taking part in a workshop…  

I am developing a series of workshops for postdoctoral researchers here at [institution] which will be great opportunity for employers like [name] to showcase your organisation to our postdocs and will give them valuable insights into working in the [name of field] sector. I wondered if you might be interested in taking part? 

Be flexible You may have a particular idea in mind, and it’s important to convey this to employers, but be responsive to alternative suggestions. For example, an employer may not want to give an interview or have time to take part in a panel, but they may be able to offer a half hour fireside chat which leads to further engagement.

Follow up with those who decline If an employer declines an invitation to engage, be sure to thank them anyway and where appropriate, offer to keep them informed of future opportunities to get involved and to pass on to any colleagues who may be interested. 

Emphasise the benefits Just as employers want to know exactly what you’re asking of them, they also need to understand the benefits of working with you. These will depend on the nature of your ask as well as your institution. We’ve listed some potential benefits below which you can use and adapt as appropriate.  

  • Showcasing their organisation to the untapped ‘postdoc talent pool’: emphasise how postdocs are some of the most capable employees in the UK. Taking part in an interview or panel discussion provides an opportunity to promote their organisation to interested and highly skilled potential employees.
  • Relationship building with your institution: many smaller organisations are interested in collaborating with universities but are not sure where to start. Prosper can provide a great opportunity for this. You could also offer to signpost any contacts to other teams in the University that may be relevant for them.  
  • Networking with other professionals in related fields: employers who took part in our workshops and panels shared that they benefitted from the opportunity to share ideas and compare practice with people working in different organisations and field.  
  • Giving something back: some employers, particularly those who have a previous relationship with your organisations, may appreciate the opportunity to contribute to researcher development, an activity which has such a positive aim. 

Be clear in your ask Be specific with the employers, state exactly what is required, the time commitment and the benefits of taking part.  You may wish to ask for something specific in the beginning – such as an interview or participation in a workshop – and if that goes well, you can explore more long-term engagement.

When developing Prosper, our initial ask of employers was very open. We didn’t want to be prescriptive as our aspiration was to co-create Prosper from the ground up.  We wanted to be guided by employer needs as much as possible. While this attracted employers who could more easily understand the mission and long-term benefits of Prosper, we soon learnt that most employers appreciate a much more specific request. 

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