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How to use the career clusters

The career clusters are a significant proportion of Prosper’s employer engagement and co-creation. However, it is easy for postdocs, and others, to get confused as to the purpose and scope of the career clusters. This was clear from our interactions with postdocs and other stakeholders during the Prosper pilot cohorts at the University of Liverpool, University of Manchester and Lancaster University.

This guide aims to bring some clarity to the career clusters so that you can easily support postdocs, managers of researchers and anyone else at your institution who would like to use them.

Overview of the career clusters


The career clusters were conceived in consultation with multiple stakeholders to serve the following purposes:

  • To provide a structure for the co-creation of resources with employers
  • To act as a framework for the delivery of content to postdocs on the Prosper pilot career development programmes (2021-2023)
  • To keep the content accessible for postdocs from a wide range of disciplines

Twelve career clusters

The twelve clusters include some of the biggest growth areas in the UK and global economy. But they also represent areas where we think postdocs can add the most value. These include high technology sectors and those requiring critical thinking and research skills.

By contrast, other areas of the economy, such as retail, hospitality and those professions that would require significant re-training to gain new qualifications, are not represented. These are, in general, less suited to the skills and attributes of postdocs.  

Addressing important challenges

Many of the career clusters speak to some of the most important challenges we face today.

This includes:

  • building a more sustainable future
  • human health and disease
  • effectively harnessing the power of data and AI
  • ensuring our public services are fit for purpose

Expectation setting: what the career clusters are and what they are not

What the career clusters are

They could be seen as a starting point for further career exploration. In summary, the career clusters:

  • are a framework of resources to exemplify some different career options, organisations and job roles. Postdocs can use the framework to structure their thinking.
  • are an opportunity to lift the gaze of postdocs towards areas and careers beyond the boundaries of their research expertise. For example, they may browse one of the clusters and be inspired to research an area previously unfamiliar to them. 
  • are a means to support postdocs continued career development through advice and insight from employers at different stages of their own careers. This includes people who make hiring decisions, but also those with recent experience of academia who have just moved into another career.
  • are an opportunity to hear from employers about what they look for in new recruits. For example, the personal attributes, values and skills - transferable and technical - they are looking for.  
  • contain structured interviews with questions designed to extract the most information from employers. These can serve as an example for postdocs of how they could conduct informational interviews

What the career clusters are not

It can be helpful to be able to communicate what the career clusters are not intended to do. They are not:

  • an exhaustive account of all the possible careers, organisations and job roles in each area. 
  • a call for institutions to replicate the process in their own employer-postdoc interactions. They are designed to be used as they are, there is no expectation for individual institutions to expand on them or make new connections with employers within the different clusters. This is at the discretion of your institution - see ‘how you could use the career clusters at your institution'.  
  • a match-making service where the ‘perfect job’ is found for the individual postdoc. 
  • an offering of placements or work experience in the organisations represented.
  • a substitute for postdocs taking ownership of their career exploration and conducting their own research into careers, organisations and job roles
  • a replacement for making new connections, networking and finding a direction that is tailored to their personal preferences and circumstances.  

An introduction to each career cluster

Eleven of the twelve clusters represent areas of employment. The twelfth cluster - Start-ups and Entrepreneurship - focuses on starting your own business with examples of people who have taken the route into self-employment. 

In terms of the structure you can see on the portal, the career clusters start with a brief overview of the whole section and then link to each of the individual career clusters.

For each cluster, there is a summary of what is represented, and the types of organisations found there. There are then a series of interviews with individuals who work within that cluster. These interviews were conducted in different formats – see 'Formats of employer engagement'. The twelve career clusters are as follows.

Formats of employer engagement

One-to-one video interviews

These were question and answer sessions between the Prosper team and the employer or interviewee. They follow a set pattern with similar questions asked of each employer.

The sessions were recorded on Zoom and edited to their final version. 

Written interviews

Here, the interviewee responded to questions set by the Prosper team in written format.

The questions were mostly identical between interviewees but were altered slightly depending on their background. For example, if someone had previous experience in academia or if someone was self-employed rather than employed by an organisation.  

'Fireside chats' with postdoc participation

These were recorded sessions between Prosper, an employer and an audience of postdocs from the Prosper pilot career development programmes.

Many of the same questions asked to all employers were asked by the Prosper team, but additional questions were asked by the postdocs, making the discussion in these videos more fluid in nature.  

Other interview formats on the portal

In the 'Employer insights' section of the portal, you can see some employer panel videos. A few employers, usually from different sectors, were asked questions by Prosper together with a postdoc audience.

In this format, there was less discussion about individual organisations and more about similarities and differences between sectors and practices. For example, recruitment processes.

Types of questions and general learning points from the career clusters

Broadly, the questions asked of the interviewees can be divided into the following areas: 

  • Professional experience – how they got to where they are. 
  • The organisation, its structure and their role within that organisation. 
  • Day-to-day activities and responsibilities.
  • Technical and transferable skills valued by the employer. 
  • Hiring and recruitment processes at their organisation, if applicable. 

When taken as a whole, there were some themes that emerged from employer engagement in the career clusters.

An appreciation of these themes is useful for all postdocs, from all disciplines, whether they are interested in the individual clusters or not.

You could stress this when communicating with postdocs or other staff at your institution. They can get more out of the clusters than just an appreciation of the individual organisations. The themes include:

  • The importance of culture in an organisation.
  • Working for start-ups and SMEs compared to larger organisations.
  • Employer insights into in-demand transferable skills such as communication, creativity, leadership, project management and commercial awareness. Hearing from employers about the real world value of these skills provides validation for many of the learning and development resources developed around these skills.
  • Advice on the value of networking, relationship building and conducting informational interviews.
  • Contrasting different types of recruitment processes.

How the career clusters relate to other portal resources

The career clusters should not be viewed in isolation. They are related to many other resources on the portal. This should be communicated to postdocs at your institution.

Employer insights

This page has several other interviews with employers, including panel sessions with a few employers at once. These interviews supplement the content found in the career clusters.

Former postdoc case studies

These written and video interviews are with former postdocs who have moved beyond academia. There are also interviews with former Prosper pilot cohort members who have changed career.

They are similar to the career cluster interviews but because all of the interviewees have previously been postdocs, they focus on the experience of moving beyond academia. This includes the skills they have taken with them, as well as what they are currently doing.

Career exploration strategies

Postdocs may be inspired by the content in the career clusters, but ultimately they need to tailor their career exploration to their own needs. Three exploration strategies have been developed to help them do this.

Example: a postdoc could find an organisation of interest on the career clusters and use the other strategies to conduct further research. They could map their own network to see if anyone they already know works in that organisation or area.

They could use the research tools described to expand their knowledge of the organisation and other similar organisations.

They could also use some of the key skills mentioned by the employer in the career cluster interview to search job boards for more ideas.

If they don't find anything in the career clusters of direct interest to them, they can still use the career exploration strategies to stimulate new ideas.

Reaching out to others

The career clusters naturally lead on to the importance of networking and conducting informational interviews.

Resources on how to network effectively and conduct informational interviews can be found in the Explore and Learning and Development sections of the portal.

Reflect and Act sections

Many of the employers in the career clusters discuss the importance of knowing what you want from a career. Postdocs should try to match their skills, strengths, interests and values to their career options. The Reflect section of the portal discusses in detail how to cultivate self-awareness to realise what you want from a career and what type of work you could be most suited to.

The employers also talk about hiring, interviews and recruitment decisions, which are covered in depth in the Act section.

How you could use the career clusters at your institution

As mentioned earlier, there is no obligation to use the career clusters in any particular way. The simplest approach is to use this guide to signpost the postdocs to the current resources. However, if you wish to replicate some aspects of the career clusters at your institution, here are some suggestions.

Framework for employer interactions

You could use the framework of the career clusters to identify particular employers for engagement with postdocs at your own institution. Depending on the size and scope of your institution you could use the career clusters to get a balance between employers or to focus in on particular clusters.

You could split the clusters to focus on certain ones depending on the make-up of a department, school or faculty. For example, Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals could be aimed at postdocs in the medical and biological sciences. However, if you do this, be aware that it might prevent postdocs from broadening their horizons or looking at areas less familiar to them for career inspiration.

Postdoc organising committees

This is a powerful approach to improve postdoc engagement and reduce the workload on any one individual. Enlisting the help of postdocs to source employers and host interactions can make the career clusters more dynamic and inclusive. Such an approach also helps postdocs to simultaneously develop skills such as leadership and communication, and expand their own networks.

Formats of engagement

You could use some of the same formats that we have used. The most relevant in terms of direct postdoc engagement are the fireside chats, where a postdoc audience asks questions in addition to the host. You may also wish to run employer panels where several employers are invited to attend a session, comparing and contrasting their careers and organisations.

If preferable, you could also collect one-to-one video and written interviews for on-demand access by postdocs.

In-person vs virtual sessions

Live, in-person, sessions have the advantage of allowing postdocs to network with employers, before and after the event, or during breaks. They could be simultaneously recorded for catch-up but this is often not straightforward.

Virtual sessions like the ones we conducted have several advantages, even if they can't replicate the atmosphere of in-person events. The logistics are simpler for the employer and yourself.

There are fewer issues around travel and expenses. Also, the employer is usually more flexible with dates and times. Recording the sessions for on-demand storage and viewing is trivial. Virtual sessions also allow postdocs in other departments and those not based on campus to participate.

Pitfalls, misunderstandings and frequently asked questions

It may be helpful to summarise some of the most commonly asked questions in one document. These can be used for ease of reference should you be asked a question by someone at your institution. Download the document by clicking here.

Example interview questions

Should you wish to conduct employer interviews at your own institution, here is an example list of questions that you could use. Download the document to view the questions. You can copy them, modify them, add to them or combine them with some you have used previously. Throughout the Explore section of the portal you can find other questions that we have asked employers in written and video interviews.

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