Hello, and welcome to this video on Career Exploration Strategies. I’m Eamon Dubaissi, a research staff developer with Prosper. As I’m sure you know, it can be quite overwhelming to consider all the possible career options that exist, both within and beyond academia. Here, we will look at some practical steps that you could take to break down the process. We will look at ways in which you can begin to identify careers, organisations and roles that might suit you.
With the career clusters and other resources on the portal, you might have been inspired by different careers. However, these are just a small range of possibilities. It’s important to take ownership of your career exploration to drive it forwards and tailor it to your own needs. The strategies we present here are designed to get you started, to stimulate new ideas, and to support you as you weigh up your options.
In terms of the outcomes of the video, I will first touch upon how you can use your research skills to your advantage in career exploration. I will then spend the bulk of the time introducing you to three complementary and interlinked strategies to assist your career exploration. At the end, I will touch upon the importance of using your research into different careers, organisations and roles to reach out to people to find out more. You can make use of the very same research skills that you’ve honed as a postdoc to explore careers. In fact, you could treat your career exploration as a research project in itself.
Are there some transferable skills that you possess, but have given little attention to? Perhaps you’ve never spent the time to look carefully at what you’re doing when conducting research. It helps to look at a definition of research skills to bring awareness to the process and the skills needed to conduct research.
Indeed.com describes research skills as a collection of several separate skills that help you to find and review information and arrive at a decision. We make the argument here that you can also apply this to career exploration. So let’s break these research skills down and apply them to exploration.
Firstly, you need to be able to search for information. For career exploration, this could include reviewing the career clusters, conversations with others, and browsing the web. You need to pay attention to detail. So where is the organisation based? What would you be doing? What is the scope for career progression and development? These are some examples. Good research involves recordkeeping or taking notes. You can make lists, journal or create a database of careers that might suit you and why.
Time management is also important in research. For career exploration, you need to know how long you’ve got and when to do things by. You need to be organised with your time, especially if you are balancing with a current job.
Problem-solving is at the heart of research. You have a problem when searching for suitable careers. You need to know what’s out there and what would be a good fit for you. Based on what you know about yourself, would a particular career be appropriate for you, and what do you need to do to get there? In terms of communicating your results and career exploration, this includes networking to let people know your thoughts, and leveraging the support from others. Hopefully, you can recognise these research skills in yourself, and you’ll see how they apply to the different strategies.
One of the main difficulties you might have with career exploration is knowing where to start in the first place. This is the hardest part and where we are going to try to help you. We’re going to focus in on three strategies that you could use to stimulate new ideas and give you a starting point to move forwards from. A good place to begin is to zoom out and take a considered look at your current network and what those people in your network do for a job. You can map your warm network, the people that you know, in order to assess whether their careers are of interest to you.
What is your warm network? Essentially, it describes the people that you know personally and, importantly, that they know you in some kind of personal or professional capacity. So this includes people that are closest to you, such as family and friends, also colleagues and ex-colleagues. It also includes acquaintances, those you have had a few conversations and shared experience with, but perhaps don’t know so well. Why is it a good place to start when first embarking on career exploration?
Well, first, it is a quick and simple way to get started, to do something rather than to freeze. It allows you to start getting some new ideas. Also, it is easy to have informal chats with those in your warm network, and they can provide support so you don’t feel isolated. Your warm network can provide you with motivation. You can share your career aspirations with them, and they might be able to help you find others to connect with.
Many of your ex-colleagues and acquaintances likely have a similar background to your own in terms of their work history; this can give you confidence that you too can move forwards and onto new careers.
At first, the aim of plotting your network is to get an overview of what everyone does in order to direct further research. There is no requirement for you to reach out to people for informal chats at this stage, it’s just to stimulate ideas.
However, as you know them personally, if something does strike you as being of interest, the best way to find out more is to ask them. So start by putting yourself at the centre of the map and ask yourself who you know. Think of all the people around you and put a branch to their name. What do they do? Note down the organisation and role. You could highlight those people that you are initially most drawn to in terms of their careers.
Don’t make too many assumptions at this stage, and don’t dismiss anyone whose career you have a feeling wouldn’t suit you when you might not actually know much about that career. You can also highlight those people that might be able to give you support and advice, or those people that are well-connected and might know others in a field of interest to you.
Once you’ve made your map, take a step back and critically assess which areas you might look into in more detail, or who you might meet for a quick chat with. You might choose a few different careers as a starting point for further research.
As you will see with the other strategies, LinkedIn is an extremely powerful tool to strategically expand your network in areas of interest to you; it can also be of use in these early stages for analysing your current network. As you are creating your map, you can make use of LinkedIn to remind yourself of connections that you might have overlooked. You can simply browse your connections on the LinkedIn webpage to add people to the map; you can also download your connections to quickly scan them.
At the time of recording, you can do this by going to settings and privacy, data privacy, and get a copy of your data. Decide whether they are worth adding to your warm network map, based on your personal connection to them, and what they offer.
Over time, as you make new connections, perhaps using the next two strategies that we will discuss, you can add to this map, so it becomes not just your warm network, but it starts to change to include people that you know less well or not at all; these new connections will have the types of careers that you’re most interested in. The next strategy takes an organisation that you have an interest in as a starting point, and helps you to expand your understanding of that organisation and other similar organisations. This could be an organisation you have found in the career clusters, or one you have become aware of from a different source. It doesn’t matter where the initial interest comes from, it’s what you can then do to become more informed. This strategy helps you to start building a picture of what a sector or industry looks like.
To summarise the approach, you take an organisation of interest and gather more information on this organisation and similar ones, plus types of roles available in that organisation. If you’re unsure which field you’d like to go into, you can replicate this approach with different starting organisations; we suggest keeping the information you gather separately rather than mixing things up. Then it is important to record the information you gather. This could be in a list or spreadsheet or journal, something that you can easily come back to to refresh your memory. Record your thoughts as well as facts. Ask yourself if the types of organisations and roles you are looking at would suit you in terms of your skills, strengths, and values.
The final step of the strategy encourages you to use knowledge that you have gained to reach out to others for further insight, making new connections and potentially opening up new opportunities. Even just sharing a list with people that you know might help you to identify people for further conversations and networking opportunities. Let’s now take a closer look at the tools you could use to gather more information about an organisation and identify similar ones.
When you Google the organisation of interest, not only do you get a link to their website, but often also returns what people also search for. This might allow you to identify competitor organisations. Make a note of these and then you can use the same tools presented here to find out more about them too.
On an organisation’s website, in the About Us section, you can learn more about who they are, what they do, and why they do it, their values. Does this align with what you would like to do and where you would like to be? Sometimes larger companies also post their annual report on the website. This is useful for general research. If you do apply for a job there, it is a good resource to look at ahead of applications and interviews. Sometimes an organisation’s website might also have blogs and news items that you can read for more information. When you work at a university, you often have access to business databases through your library.
Examples include Marketline, Nexis and D&B Hoovers. You can use these resources to your advantage to understand more about the organisation you are interested in, similar organisations, and the sector as a whole. Finally, LinkedIn is an amazing tool to be able to find out more about organisations and roles within those organisations. It also allows you to connect with people that work there. Just input your search term in the search bar and use the filters to find what you’re looking for.
To demonstrate how this strategy works, it can be helpful to run through a worked example. I’ll take an organisation from the career clusters and show you the tools you can use to expand your knowledge. The company that I’ve chosen is LettUs Grow, who can be found in the food and agriculture career cluster. They design technology for indoor and vertical farms. When you Google LettUs Grow, you not only find the link to their website, but you can also find what other people search for.
In this example, you can see other similar equipment suppliers and related farming organisations. When you visit the LettUs Grow website and enter the About Us section, you can find out more about their background story, their culture and ethics, as you can see. When it comes to business databases, in this example, I searched for LettUs Grow on the business database D&B Hoovers, and I’ve highlighted some things you can find here.
They often list competitor organisations, which you can research; you can also click on the industry to find out more about which other organisations are present in this space. I’ve also highlighted the news section, which may give you more insight into the organisation. This is also something you can come back to when applying for a job, or before going for an interview. It helps to build your commercial awareness. In this slide, I shall search for LettUs Grow using the website Glassdoor. This website allows you to look at reviews from employees and get some insight into salaries. This could form part of your research; approach it with caution, as sometimes people have an axe to grind, or if there are only a few reviews, it might be hard to properly judge.
Finally, when you search for LettUs Grow on LinkedIn, you can view their LinkedIn company page to gain more insight; you can also see similar pages people also viewed, allowing you to identify related organisations. So once you’ve used these various tools for your research and recorded your findings, if you’re still interested, the next step is to use your connections to get more insight and expand your network. You can start off small, share your list of organisations with friends and colleagues, they might know of additional organisations and people that work there.
This is also where LinkedIn comes into its own. Using the People tab on the organisation’s LinkedIn page, you can see who works there and what their job title is. Make a note of these to come back to. You can also see whether you know anyone there, or if one of your connections does. You can request to connect with them, as demonstrated on the next slide.
On LinkedIn, you can also search for professional groups in your area of interest. By joining these groups, you can connect to more people and start to learn the language of professionals in this area. Once you’ve made some connections, it’s a good time to ask for a chat and conduct an informational interview. So let’s look again at the LettUs Grow LinkedIn page to demonstrate how you could send connection requests to people who work there. When on their page, under the People tab, you can see who works there. If you don’t have any link to them, you could write a short message with your connection request.
For example, ‘Hi, I’m really interested in your organisation and I was hoping to connect with you. If you can spare some time, I would love to ask you a few questions.’ Alternatively, you could just try to connect and see if they accept. You can then ask for a chat. If you have LinkedIn Premium, you can send in-mails to people you don’t know without connecting first.
Consider adding any new connections to your network map. Be aware that people might not reply to your connection request and messages. Don’t take this personally, it’s just part of the process.
Before we move on to the final strategy, this slide just gives an example of how you might track what you find. This is useful for all of the approaches discussed in the video. In this example, we’ve created a spreadsheet showing the organisation name, location, job roles, notes from your research, for example similar organisations that you find, people that you’ve contacted, outcomes of conversations, and other information, such as skills requirements, and then any next steps you might consider taking.
Once it has been populated, you can zoom out and ask yourself some questions. Do any organisations or roles particularly stand out for you? Can you rule any others out? Is it still an area that interests you, or do you need to look elsewhere? This is also the time to look back critically at what you know about yourself from reflection exercises to ask if your own skills, strengths, motivations and values match with the organisations you have found.
I am now going to take you through the final strategy, which highlights how you can use job boards for career exploration, and how searching these job boards by skills can be a powerful approach to identify careers, organisations and roles that might suit you.
Let me introduce you to Tina Persson, a former academic, who later worked in the recruitment industry, and is now a career coach, author and entrepreneur. Given her background, Tina is perfectly placed to advise on career exploration for researchers. She’s an advocate for an agile job-searching strategy that can be used for research into different the career options.
Tina emphasises the importance of searching by skills rather than job titles, as it allows you to be open to new areas and ideas that you might not have considered before. This approach is ideal if you’re not sure what you want to do, or you’re looking for some initial inspiration. It also allows you to familiarise yourself with using job boards, which you may use again when it comes to actually applying for jobs. It also gives you an understanding of the current labour market and trends, but keep in mind that this is always changing, so don’t be put off if you don’t find anything of interest immediately.
Revisit job boards regularly to see what comes up. Accompanying videos produced by Tina are available on the Prosper portal in the Explore section. These demonstrate how to use the agile job-searching strategy with specific examples.
Here, I will summarise the approach. Three of the major job boards used in the UK are Indeed, Glassdoor and LinkedIn. For this strategy, you can use them in combination. Before I move on to describe the strategy in more detail, I just wanted to go back to job titles. With Prosper, we’re often asked by postdocs for lists of job titles as a means to start exploring.
Tina’s advice is to keep them in mind; not to obsess about them. Job titles are constantly changing. They mean different things in different organisations and they may even limit you when it comes to career exploration because they narrow your search.
Remember that employers hire you and the skills that you can bring. They might not always know exactly what they want, and your job title could change or be negotiated when you arrive. It is a good idea to write down titles when you come across something you’re particularly interested in, especially if the same job titles come up again and again, but be openminded to what you find.
When using this strategy, Tina advises to think like a head-hunter. By this, she means that head-hunters focus on the skills that a person possesses in order to find the match to what the employer is looking for. So why not adopt the same approach when looking for careers and organisations that might suit you? As the starting point for this approach, you first need to identify some of your transferable and technical skills, focusing on those that you particularly enjoy using, or are a particular strength of yours.
Revisit the Reflect section of the portal to understand more about what your strengths are, and which skills you’re most likely to use day-to-day. Look back at your skills inventory, if you’ve made one, and also the frameworks that give names to the range of transferable skills. For example, the Research and Development Framework or Eurodocs transferable skills. You can use these to help you decide on the skills that you’d like to input as search terms.
This slide provides an overview of the strategy. Start by taking some of your preferred transferable or technical skills, two or three perhaps, and input them into one of the job boards. Indeed is a good place to start because it has the largest database of jobs. If you get too many hits with the skills that you input, one way to narrow it down is to also add in the term PhD and/or the broad discipline area.
Although you won’t only be looking for jobs and organisations that recruit people with PhDs, it can help to reduce the number of hits returned. In the example here, I used Indeed to input supporting, communication and influencing, together with life sciences and PhD.
Once you’re happy with your search, scan the job ads to see which ones stand out for you, which roles and organisations are of interest. Then go to the job description within these ads. Can you find any additional skills or new terminology that you can use to repeat the search and find more jobs?
The final step, much like the previous strategy to expand your knowledge of organisations, is to switch platforms to LinkedIn in order to identify people to connect with and arrange informational interviews. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of recording your findings. You might want to come back to it later on, or find something very specific to build upon.
Remember to copy job ads of interest to you into your own personal documents because you will lose the ads once the deadline passes. If something does interest you, note down the reasons why, the name of the organisation and role. The job ad may even give a name and contact details for someone to find out more. You could note this down too. If you record job titles at this point, you can use them to identify people with these titles on LinkedIn.
At this stage, don’t be put off by the job descriptions and requirements. One, you’re not actually applying at this stage; two, remember that job descriptions are a wish list from the employer. It is very rare for anyone to tick all the boxes. When you switch platforms to LinkedIn, you can search for the organisation that interests you and identify people within that organisation, perhaps those with a similar role to the one you found in your initial search. You could look for people with PhDs. This not only shows that the organisation has employed people with PhDs before, but, as you have something in common with the person, this could trigger them to reply to a message or connect your request.
For larger organisations, look out for talent acquisition managers whose job it is to interact with potential recruits. They can give you more insight and tips. Send connection requests to people you’re interested in, as we discussed earlier. Consider adding them to your network map, if they do accept your request. I want to end the video by summarising the three approaches to career exploration that we have discussed. They have several things in common and can be used alongside each other. In all of the strategies, you can leverage your research skills to gather information, record it and reflect on what it means to you. Use this to your advantage.
Not everyone possesses these research skills. The first strategy relies on you understanding and mapping your own warm network to identify potential career areas of interest to you. If you find an organisation of interest using this approach, this can then feed into the next strategy. Or maybe you have seen an organisation in the Prosper career clusters that sparked an interest.
Wherever you get the initial interest from, the second strategy gives tips on how to find out more about that organisation and related ones. In the final strategy, you use the skills approach to search job boards to identify careers, organisations and roles that might suit you. All of the strategies described converge on reaching out to people in order to gain greater insight and realise new opportunities. The Prosper portal has lots of resources on reaching out to others. This includes more details on using LinkedIn, tips on networking and overcoming barriers to speaking with others, plus how to conduct effective informational interviews. Thanks for listening. I hope you have found the video useful and you can give the strategies a try.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]