How do postgrads find jobs?

Most postgrads are very internet-savvy, so when anyone asks me about finding jobs, the normal request is “which websites should I look at for jobs in X?”.

They look a bit nonplussed when I start talking about using their contacts, developing their networks, making a list of who you know – isn’t that all just for business men on the golf course, or “meejah luvvies”, and completely irrelevant for academia or specialist postgraduate roles?

Well, put away your prejudices, ‘cos here’s the proof.

Postgraduate and graduate jobs, 3-4 years on
A survey published last summer analysed how doctoral researchers, masters and undergrads who were employed in the UK found their current job, 3-4 years after graduating. The survey date was 2008, so all the participants had graduated around 2004/5. This is what it showed:

(if you click on the image, you’ll get a slightly clearer version).

This is from the excellent Vitae/IES/RCUK/CRAC report, “What do researchers do? Doctoral graduate destinations and impact three years on, 2010. Here are some of these highlights.

You can see that undergrads are most likely to have found out about their job from an employer’s website. Maybe it’s the experience of looking for jobs as an undergrad, or knowing friends who have found jobs this way, which perpetuates the belief that this is the most effective strategy.

In practice however, both masters and PhDs had most success in using their “professional, work or educational contacts or networks” to find out about jobs.

But what about academia?
There’s more detail for PhDs in the report, which reinforces the view that it’s all about who you know and who knows you when it comes to getting jobs in academia (again, click on the image for a clearer view):

The most striking use of contacts came for those working in research jobs in HE, ie mainly post-doc jobs, followed by teaching jobs in HE. Although jobs in universities are generally advertised (as shown by the numbers in HE who found out about the jobs from an “employer’s website”), those doctoral graduates who had been successful in getting jobs in HE more often mentioned their networks than the ads.

Jobs outside academia
Using your networks was still very important, especially for research jobs outside HE. Personal networks also started to come into play here.

Only when it came to finding jobs which weren’t normally seen as doctoral jobs, were networks less effective.

For teaching outside HE, ads were crucial (as any school teacher poring over the TES knows), and for “other common doctoral occupations”, ads and agencies were useful, alongside professional contacts. This latter group includes a high proportion of qualified health professionals (eg. clinical psychologists and medics) and significant numbers of “function managers” and engineering professionals, all of whom are attractive to agencies and advertisers:

(from a separate “Methodology” companion report to the main “What do researchers do?” survey.)

Speculative approaches
I’ll be honest, the one which surprises me most is the low number of doctoral grads saying they found out about their jobs through speculative approaches, particularly for research jobs outside HE. When I was recruiting techies in industry, we kept suitable speculative CVs on file, and whenever a vacancy arose, that was the first place we looked (before even thinking about an ad).

Either that’s no longer an effective approach, or my hunch is that so few people try targeted speculative approaches that even if they’re all successful, they will show up as  much smaller numbers. Anyone with some good data on this, I’d love to see it!

Multi-pronged approach
The most effective strategy is probably to cover a number of bases (the survey above allowed multiple choices answers to the question, acknowledging that realistically most people use a range of approaches).

I’d put particular emphasis on approaches which have proven to work for most people (get those networks going), but also tapping into some of the less well used sources, just in case you’re the only one who happens to spot that obscure ad, or whose speculative application hits the desk of a recruiting manager at just the right time.

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