Add real world consultancy skills and experience to your PhD

Rosalinda Quintieri, a doctoral researcher in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, has come up with a fantastic new way to help our current doctoral and post-doctoral researchers to get real consultancy training, skills and experience of implementing solutions. It’s in collaboration with the University – and you’ve still got time to apply to take part.

Over to Rosalinda to tell you all about it:

REALabThere is a new Program at the University of Manchester, REALab, designed to promote PhDs and Post-Docs’ employability through tailored training in consultancy and freelance skills and through a program of collaborative projects with external organisations.

REALab is supported by Manchester Doctoral College, artsmethods, SALC and Manchester Enterprise Centre and it is aimed at researchers across all faculties interested in pitching a project proposal in response to challenges presented by external partners. This first year’s challenges call for interventions on strategy approaches and research regarding: Open Access, technology development, food sustainability, community engagement, museum galleries and archives valorisation and more. The challenges opened for intervention can be seen at

The Program offers to its participants tailored training in consultancy skills and project management – designed in collaboration with Manchester Enterprise Centre and Manchester Doctoral College – and the possibility to ‘pitch’ their project proposals at a final dragons-den style  event and to receive a first award of £1000 and a second and third award of £500.

The idea at the foundation of REALab is to offer a real-life opportunity to practice as consultants, working in collaboration with local major organisations and being trained in all the aspects of the consultancy process, from analysis of the ‘problem’ to ideation and delivering of the ‘solution’. It is becoming more and more evident how within the current economic climate and an ever-challenging work environment, as doctoral and postdoctoral researchers we need to develop these vital freelance and project management skills and doing this soon in our career means that by the time we conclude our doctoral programs we will have:

  • accumulated practical experience of managing projects on our own, from ideation to delivery
  • developed collaborations with external partners and across different departments and disciplines  which can prove to be vital for future job opportunities
  • demonstrated how our research and knowledge can positively have impact on key challenges faced by important sectors of our economy

Applications are now open and there is time to apply until the 31st of May. If you would like to know more about REALab you can visit or tweet @realabmcr

“I’m a Masters student – and I’m not sure what I want to do next.”

Does that sound like you’re feeling? If so, then you’ve come to the right place for information, advice and ideas on how to get started.   To Do list

Develop a strategy for finding out about career options:

Start with our How to… Guides, in particular:

How to explore careers options online

How to explore careers options in person

Increase your self-awareness and awareness of career options:

Try the Careers Interest Inventory – instructions on how to login are available here:

If you’re really stuck for ideas, this can give you some suggestions for areas to focus on and explore further. You could also use Prospects Planner or the TARGETjobs Careers Report.

Talk to people

Go to the June Graduate Recruitment Fair and other careers events and talk to employers. What type of work do they offer? What do they look for in a successful CV? What job hunting advice can they give you?  You can promote yourself to employers, but these events are also good for finding out more about different occupations and roles – and also how to tailor your CV to these opportunities.

Explore your options on the Careers Service website

The Which career? section of our website contains information on different sectors (e.g., Education, IT, Engineering, Finance, Scientific work…and more) as well as profiles of alumni and other employees.

Visit the Careers Service in the Atrium in University Place

We have reference books, guides and journals.  Experienced information professionals are on hand to help you with queries, recommend information or refer you to a guidance appointment.

Talk to a careers consultant.

It’s best to have tried the approaches above first, but if your head is spinning with options or none of them seem to appeal, make an appointment to talk to a careers consultant.

Finally, don’t panic, plan.
Getting on to a Masters degree proves that you’re smart, and more than capable of managing this whole process. A lot of the resources you will need are already available on our Careers Service website and through CareersLink.  Last, but definitely not least, browse all of the University of Manchester Careers Blog for valuable information, advice and insight from our whole team of bloggers.

LinkedIn – Get involved in groups

LinkedIn logoThis week I want to stress how and why you should be joining groups on LinkedIn. Groups are an important networking tool that will show up in your profile. There are many groups on LinkedIn (over a million!), focused around sectors, professions, themes, industries, etc. Recent graduates and students may find useful to join alumni groups. The University of Manchester has The University of Manchester Alumni Association  group which, at the time of this post, has 24 461 members.

You can find groups by using the search field at the top of your LinkedIn page. Another useful way of finding relevant groups would be to view what groups the leaders/influencers in your chosen sector or your connections have joined.

Groups can be open or closed. You can join open groups immediately whereas closed groups will require an authorisation from the group administrator.

LinkedIn closed  groups

Why should you join groups?

  • You can get advice and ask questions to people with similar professional interests
  • You can make yourself more visible by starting relevant discussions or commenting on ongoing discussions
  • You can send members of the group direct messages
  • You can find job opportunities posted by other members

LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 groups which is a lot considering you probably wouldn’t have the time to take advantage of those many groups.

If you use general terms when you search you will end up with general results. There are over one million groups on LinkedIn so you must be focused on what you are looking for. Consider my line of work as an example. When I type “careers” I get 14 020 results! If I type “university careers” the results are trimmed to 782 and finally if I search “university career services” I get a more manageable and focused 317 results.

If after joining a group you decide that after all it’s not relevant for your interests and goals,  you can leave the group by following a couple of easy steps. You just need to click on the group you want to leave in your profile page and then click on the “Member” button on the top right hand side. When you hover on this button the word “Leave” appears instead of “Member”. Click and you’re out.

Helping Sam with his CV – content. Can you spot the difference in content?

Can you stop the difference between this version of Sam’s CV and the one published on Friday?

Sam doesn’t have to put everything on his CV – but he has to put on the stuff that’s going to get you to interview.

You may notice that Sam has some gaps on his CV. He left school in 2008 – but didn’t start university until 2011. Did Sam make a mistake? Or are there things missing from his CV? Sam didn’t make a mistake, he did one thing applicants commonly do:

  • He forgot some relevant experience that took place several years before – 9 months as an English teaching assistant in the Chilean primary school.

To prevent this from happening in the future, I’ve suggested to Sam that he keeps a diary, a portfolio, or simply takes time to update his CV every few months.

Something he did that is less common, but I have experienced several times with students from countries all over the world:

  • He left off 2 years of work experience because he was working for his brother’s landscaping business to save money and to decide what he really wanted to study before going to university. He left excluded this experience because he was concerned that other employers ‘won’t take working for family seriously’.

We discussed Sam’s concerns and established:

  • It was a real and demanding role – in fact, Sam’s brother hired someone to take his place after he left.
  • He had crucial responsibilities, including effectively running the business for several weeks while his brother recovered from knee surgery.
  • Several key achievements during the 2 years
  • The possibility of getting a former client to give a reference, as well as his brother, to alleviate any worries about ‘favouritism’.

Many people work with the family business – Lego, Bechtel, Hermes Group are just a couple of high profile organisations which are still in the family. It doesn’t matter if you are working as part of a family business (or volunteering: “I wasn’t getting paid” is another reason students give for excluding or minimising this sort of experience) or an international conglomerate – potential employers are going to be focusing the skills, experience and evidence that you are marketing to them.

Speaking of gaps on CVs – it’s best if you don’t have them. 

Here’s some advice for applying for graduate jobs and for more experienced candidates.

Your university qualification – whether undergraduate, Masters or PhD needs ‘translating’.

University study takes up an enormous amount of your time – even if ‘only’ a year for a Masters or Diploma.  Employers need to know what, if anything, that gives you in terms of relevant skills and experience.  In terms of this role, Sam:

  •           Has relevant course work with high marks.
  •           A dissertation topic which enabled him to gain some experience in community biodiversity projects and working with volunteers.
  • There’s much more Sam could probably draw attention to, but he can probably include some of this in his covering letter, as well as talk about it at interview.

If Sam’s experience had been less directly relevant, he could have drawn extensively on transferable skills from group work, research, writing, presenting and more.

Drawing out the relevant experience

Elsewhere in Sam’s CV, you may notice where not much seems to have changed except for a few tweaks in language.  You can see from the highlighted version of the job advert where we’ve identified key criteria Sam needs to link to his CV:  Enthusiasm, communicating excitement, working on the ground and online, developing activities, working with volunteers/mentoring, eye for detail, relevant subject area. 


As with many students, Sam’s recognition of his own accomplishments only emerged when he came to a careers consultant to talk about his CV for a specific job.

I’ve suggested to Sam that he ask for some feedback from friends and family to get a more rounded picture of his skills, abilities and achievements – as well as areas to think about improving, or ideas for filling any gaps that emerge.

Is this the end for Sam’s CV?

Probably not.  Arguably, there may be more that Sam could do to get his CV in shape for this role – and let’s not forget his covering letter (which we haven’t looked at. Yet.).   Are there further suggestions you’d make?

The most important thing is whether or not Sam feels his CV is now telling the story about his experience that he wants to tell the employer.  Prior to seeing this advert, Sam hadn’t thought much about his CV, and it’s all been a bit of a rush trying to pull it together.  Discussing his application has helped recognised his achievements, identify some of the gaps he has in relation to the role and helped him develop a more nuanced perspective of the application process – it’s hard work, requires self-awareness, critical thinking and time.

Sam recognises now that a CV is a living document – it will need updating, as well as tailoring to specific vacancies in order to be effective.

Actually, is Sam even a real student?

You may come across Sam in other University of Manchester Careers Service resources.  I’ve based my version of Sam on several students I’ve been acquainted with over the years to highlight critical areas of CV writing.

Helping Sam with his CV – layout and presentation.

Earlier in the week, I asked you to think about your own CV writing skills by considering what advice you would give Sam, an undergraduate student, with his CV.

Unfortunately for Sam, his CV needs a lot of attention.  Since there are so many areas of concern in both presentation and content, I’ve made the decision not to tackle both at once with Sam.  We’ve agreed that a more effective approach is for Sam to work on some of the issues of layout and presentation.  Once we’re satisfied with improvements in that area, Sam will come back and we’ll look at the content of his CV. Stay tuned for part 3 on Tuesday…and do comment if you have suggestions for how Sam can improve the presentation and content of his CV.

Sam's CV marked up

You can read Sam’s marked up CV for specific comments but here are the main points:

Relevant information

Everything that goes into a CV should be telling the employer why Sam is suitable for the job.  The job description, person specification and research Sam did into the organisation and the role will tell him what the employer needs to know about.  I’ve pointed out some things to Sam that he should consider taking out of his CV for this particular opportunity.

Spelling mistakes

Sam’s CV is riddles with spelling errors. An employer might – might– be inclined to overlook one, but not 5, including 1 of the most common spelling mistakes in one of Sam’s headings.  You can read about the top 10 spelling  mistakes  to be sure you avoid them (and others) in the future.

Order of content

For a chronological CV like Sam’s, content needs to be in reverse chronological order – most recent first. Sam needs to reorder his experience.


Headings, like headlines, help capture the reader’s attention.  Headings also help organise information in a sensible and, sometimes even strategic, way.  Sam can make better use of font styles to make his headings stand out.

The Work Experience and Interests and Hobbies headings aren’t working as hard as they can to help Sam persuade the employer.  Sam has quite a lot of relevant, valuable experience scattered under these bland headings.  The first thing the employer is going to see under Work Experience is Sam’s experience in a pizza restaurant.  They may never notice his mentoring experience.  Under Interests and Hobbies, Sam has quite a lot of transferable skills, but the way he has presented the information makes it difficult for the employer to recognise the link between Sam’s experiences and the tasks and responsibilities of the role. By choosing heading titles that are more targeted at the opportunity, Sam can make his relevant experience really stand out and organise his experience in a more focused and strategic way. 

Using Times New Roman

Created specifically for newspapers in 1931, it’s narrower and more compact than many other fonts, which can affect its legibility (I would also argue readability – actual typographers may take issue with my opinion) in other contexts.   Some argue strongly that Time New Roman is the one font you should never see on a CV. I would argue that the other one is Comic Sans. #bancomicsans I’ve suggested that Sam explore other fonts and styles to improve the attractiveness, readability and legibility of his CV.

Slabs of text

On a related topic, Sam has presented his information in large unbroken paragraphs. He should look at different ways of expressing his information or perhaps even cutting some text, particularly if it’s not strictly relevant.  I’ve suggested to Sam that bullet points and judicious use of line spacing can make the CV easier to read and more attractive.

Tip:  Try the ‘arm’s length test’.  Hold a CV in front of you at arm’s length – you should still be able to read it.  If not, experiment with ways you can use fonts, styles and line spacing to help. This means when it’s in front of the employer (who has in all likelihood just already read 20), you’ve done what you can to make it easy for them to read.

This is Sam’s second draft. What do you think?

Sams second draft

Pathways –preparing for life after your PhD

Networking map cropped

You’re always being told that networking is the key to exploring career options and strategies for getting into work, but where are you supposed to find the time and the contacts when you’re concentrating on your research?

Well, each year, we try to make it easier for you.

Instead of you having to find a load of contacts, set up meetings, and take multiple days out of your diary to talk to them, we find over 50 PhD qualified professionals and bring them to you – to Manchester, on campus, all on the same day. Our Pathways event has been running successfully for 6 years, attended by hundreds of researchers each year.

Why are you always told that networking is good for you?

1.       Making friends is a positive thing . Having people who understand you, listen, ask questions, give advice and information, provide support is essential to life (and you get the satisfaction of returning the favour).

2.       It raises your profile. If you are known to potential employers, it helps your application stand out from the 90 other ones on their desk.  And having a higher profile…

3.       …puts you in the way of opportunities. Have you, or do you know someone who has, got a job through networking?  You acquire information through networking – this gives you leads about jobs. It could also help you find out about jobs before they are actually advertised.

Networking is not about asking for a job.  It’s about making friends and conducting research – two things PhD students should be pretty good at.  Good career decisions are based on reliable information.  Pathways 2015 is a treasure house of career information – you have upwards of 50 panelists to learn from, but also 350 or more other PhD students to talk to.

Research with postgraduate and undergraduate students shows that, just like studying for an exam or practicing a conference talk, preparing for networking helps to contribute to a more positive outcome.  Here are 2 simple things you can do right now to prepare so that you can make the most of Pathways:

          – Read the Art/Science of Academic Networking and watch the video

      – Start working on this Networking map. Who do you know? Who do they know? Who would it be helpful to know? Could you meet this person at Pathways?

Register now

Online registration is now open. If you want to be sure this event goes ahead, and that we book enough lunches to go round and venues large enough to seat participants, please register!

Detailed information is available on the University of Manchester Postgraduate Careers blog.

Follow us on @manpgcareers and join in the conversation using  #PathwaysEvent2015

How good are your CV writing skills? Find out by helping Sam.

 Sam is applying for the following job*:

Get Everyone Gardening Scheme 2015 South Riding of Yorkshire Botanical Trust

You will excite and facilitate people to get involved with sowing, growing and enjoying growing food and flowers and to share examples of the benefits. Your focus will be to develop and implement engagement activities that extend the reach and impact of the Get Everyone Gardening Scheme 2015 – both on the ground and online.

Your role in our partnership team will be focused developing activities that encourage community participation in gardening.

You should have notable achievements in engaging people with community activities and experience of working with volunteers, mentors and/or youth networks. You should also be able to communicate effectively and have a keen eye for detail. Ideally, you will be enthusiastic and skilled in a relevant subject.

*fictional, but based on a real advert

This is Sam’s CV. [PDF] He’s brought it to you for some feedback before submitting it.  What advice would you give Sam to help him improve his CV and increase his chances of being invited for interview?

Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter and think about things like (but not limited to):

The presentation of the CV

Is it easy to read? Is it attractive to look at? Do you want to read it and find out what Sam has to say about his suitability for the role? Is it too long? Too short?

What could Sam do to improve the presentation?


Are Sam’s achievements clear? Is it obvious how Sam’s experience connects with the demands of the role? Has Sam provided any evidence for relevant skills and experience?

How would you suggest Sam improve the content of his CV?

Make your suggestions by commenting on this blog post.  Sam’s revised CV and a plenary discussion of the feedback will appear on Friday.

Sam's CV cropped

Social Justice Festival – Postgrads welcome!

JustFest: Thursday 23rd April

Workshops: 10:00 – 12:00
Festival events: 12:00-18:00 outside University Place

JustfestThe University of Manchester’s first Social Justice Festival kicks off this Thursday. This is a brand new event aiming to promote a just society by challenging injustice, valuing diversity, and supporting human rights and a fair allocation of resources – and postgrads are very welcome to attend.

24 workshops in the morning explore a range of different issues relating to social justice, for example:

  • Social Justice, Creativity and Participation – Contact Theatre, Working with Communities
  • Just Banking: can banking be good?
  • Direct Action in HIV/Aids Activism
  • Is Humanitarianism Aid a Human Right? The Case of Darfur
  • Race, Education and Social Justice
  • WeFarm: The internet for people with no internet

You can find out all about the workshops here:

From 12 onwards, there’s more of a festival feel outside University Place, with a Main Stage hosting performances including Rodney P, Fallacy, Dizraeli, Jon McClure (Reverend and the Makers) and a panel session featuring Akala (of The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company). There will also be more intimate and interactive sessions and a whole host of food stalls. You can simply turn up from midday onwards.

JustFest is your chance to engage with issues of social justice, to take part in something out of the ordinary, and to make the most of your time as a postgrad at Manchester.

The Art/Science* of Academic Networking

*(delete as appropriate)

Which of the following best describes you at a conference?

__ Life of the conference – always leave having given out a stack of cards and collecting invites to give seminars
__ Making sure whatever session I’m in is the trending topic on Twitter
__ Browsing posters on coffee breaks and chatting with one or two people about the weather.
__ Most likely to be found lurking in dark corners/behind the poster presentations with people from your lab/office
__ Spend most of the time drifting in the spaces between groups of tightly knit people who all know each other wondering how to join the conversation
__ What is the point of talking to anyone? It’s not as if they’re going to give you a job.

Have you got some ideas for making the most of conferences?

Have you got some ideas for making the most of conferences?

Think about your response and consider: Are you making the most of conferences? Do you appreciate the relevance of networking to a successful career in (or out) of academia? What could you be doing differently to feel more comfortable, more confident and more productive?

Conferences (as well as other events – and even your departmental kitchen or common room) are brilliant opportunities to meet people, acquire information, get advice, explore ideas, raise your profile and generate research opportunities.

Here’s some useful advice to help you make the most of networking opportunities (aka – making friends):

Networking resources for researchers by Vitae


Once upon a time… role models, stories and finding your own career Pathways

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a vet.  I was four years old, I liked animals and when we took my cat to the vet, I saw people who got to work with animals every day.  So determined did I seem,  that my mother even bought me a book about becoming a vet, Ms. Veterinarian by Mary Price Lee (the title might seem strange now, but back in 1976 it was rare for women to pursue veterinary careers; now nearly 60% of veterinary professionals are women).  Events took an unfortunate turn for my cat and I discovered the less pleasant aspects of a vet’s job – so I just as determinedly decided that this was definitely not the career for me.

How was I making my career decisions between the ages of 4 and 8? I had information based on my preferences (liking animals, and liking them alive), a role model (our family vet), and a book about careers as a vet.  Seems reasonable, but it’s safe to say, I wasn’t really thinking about things much, just operating on impressions.  I would like to say that this changed early in my career development but then this wouldn’t be much of a career story.

My high school didn’t offer careers guidance.  In those pre-internet days, I used the most ubiquitous and easily accessible form of information available, film and television. It may seem silly now, but thirty years later, children are still using television as a source of career information.  So – film buffs, it was 1981 – what film inspired me to be an archaeologist, and most significantly, at the age of 9, decide to get a PhD?  Other than a bit of dirt under the fingernails archaeology seemed free of occupational unpleasantness (current archaeologists may disagree) and I pursued this path until 2003 but it still didn’t feel like the ‘right’ choice.

Role models, as Robert Merton (he coined the phrase) demonstrated, are an important source of information about careers and professional identities- arguably the most important because often we are not even aware of their influence on our decisions.  Role models show us and tell us what it’s like to work as a veterinarian, an archaeologist, a teacher, a careers consultant, a policy officer, an entrepreneur, an aid worker, a cartographer.  Their career stories are valuable sources of information, advice, inspiration, ideas for experimentation, testing and exploring – but only if we don’t take the stories at face value and learn to ask our role models the right questions (although I admit, asking Harrison Ford what being an archaeologist was really like probably wouldn’t have got me much further ahead).

The poet John Oldham said, "And all your future lies under your hat." How can you make sure it's the right hat?

The poet John Oldham said, “And all your future lies under your hat.” How can you make sure it’s the right hat?

It wasn’t until I started working in careers as a researcher that I learned the critical questions to ask, of role models and their career stories as well as reflective questions to ask of myselfThis is how you make the most of what role models have to offer, and how you incorporate their information into an personalised, informed decision-making process.  Finally learning to do this helped me find my ideal career and set me on the pathway to becoming a careers consultant.

At Pathways 2015, you will have the opportunity to encounter the career stories of a diverse range of professionals with PhDs (i.e., role models). This is an opportunity to get beyond vague impressions of jobs and career paths:

  • What will you learn from hearing panellists’ stories?
  • What questions will you ask them?
  • What will you be listening for?
  • What friends can you make on the day?
  • What stories do they have that you can learn from?
  • What can you teach them from sharing your own stories?
  • In what ways do you hope Pathways 2015 can help you take the next step in your career?

Image: Brown felt fedora by Ivy Dawned is licensed under CC BY 4.0


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