Time to reflect – make sense of what you’ve done

learningcommonsreflectionReflection isn’t always easy to do, but you have a real advantage in the job market if you are able to take a dispassionate look at yourself and understand how you appear to potential employers – it will help you “tell your story” more effectively.

By really thinking about what you want, and critically assessing information you pick up along the way about careers, it can also help you avoid falling into a career which doesn’t satisfy you.

So how can you do this? I suggest you cover four areas:

  • What have you done this year?
  • What have you learnt about yourself?
  • “So what?” ie. What would all this stuff you know about yourself mean to an employer?
  • What have you learnt about careers?

Why? Because writing CVs and explaining yourself at interviews will be so much easier if you’ve done this groundwork first. Here’s some tips for how to do it.

What have you done this year?

It’s often easiest to start from something concrete.

  • What have been your achievements, your successes?
  • What have been your disappointments?
  • What feedback have you been given (good and bad)?
  • Who has asked for your help? If someone has asked for your help, it’s likely that they think you’re good at something!

Try and record some of your successes.

  • You’ll need to remember them when it comes to job applications and interviews – having a few notes to jog your memory will really help.
  • When things get tough, it can help to flick through your file of “things I’ve done” to remind yourself just how much progress you’ve made.

How? Any way you want!

  • On paper – try a box file, a diary, a shoe-box stuffed with scraps of paper – whatever works for you.
  • Digitally – you can simply use a text file or you can experiment with more versatile formats, such as Evernote, and capture text notes, web pages or even audio or video notes from your phone.

What have you learnt about yourself?

Are you clear about your strengths and weaknesses?

You may underestimate your strengths. After all, if something comes easily to you, you probably think “what’s the big deal?” However, other people may look at you in awe as you:

  • effortlessly get difficult people to do what you want
  • talk to 10 year olds about your subject and keep them enthralled
  • turn an unwieldy mass of data into an elegant graph

If you’re not sure what your natural talents are, try describing your recent successes to someone else and get them to pick out the strengths you must have been using.

If you want a list of strengths and skills often required by employers, try our “Masters/PhD skills evidence form“. NB. Not all skills on this list are needed for all jobs!

Want more?

University of Manchester students and recent graduates also have access to an online personality questionnaire, the Type Dynamics Indicator. By answering a number of online questions, you will receive a computer generated report by email, interpreting your preferences, including the impact on your relationships with others, your performance in groups, and some suggestions for possible career areas (this doesn’t take any account of your postgraduate degree though).

“So what?” – What would this mean to an employer?

cumulativeadsdec09.xlsThink of your achievements as raw data. You now need to interpret them, turn them into useful information and present your argument.

From your own point of view

  • What does your reaction to each of your successes and disappointments tell you about what you want out of life?
    Try simply noting down any observations in two columns – Want / Don’t Want. They’ll probably change over time, but you can add to and change your list as you extend your skills or try new experiences which you’d rather not repeat.
  • Want a ready-made career checklist and self assessment process?
    Download our document “What do you want out of a career?” (pdf) from our website, An Academic Career.

From an employer’s point of view

  • You need concrete examples of what you’ve done in order to populate your CV, but you also need to help employers understand why these examples might be relevant.
    • Rather than simply list scientific techniques you have used, you could point out that you have “used technique X in context Y to achieve outcome Z“.
    • If you’re a researcher going for non-academic jobs, don’t just list titles of conference presentations. Make sense of it to a non-academic eg. “invited to present latest research findings to 250 leading international academics, resulting in a new collaboration with a research group in Germany“.

What have you learnt about careers?

Information about jobs

  • What new jobs have you heard of in the last year?
  • Who have you talked to about their work?
  • What insights have you gained into their work and whether that would appeal to you?
  • If you’ve found a type of work in which you are interested, what do they look for in applicants?
  • How well does that match what you currently have to offer?

Information about job hunting

  • If you are a researcher who attended Pathways, what insights did you glean about how PhDs find work which satisfies them?
  • What have you learnt about the job market in your preferred field?
  • How is it changing, what are future trends?

Finding the right job for you

  • How well do the jobs you’ve heard of match your Want / Don’t Want lists?
  • Could you start (or add to) a “Yes / No / Maybe” list of jobs you have considered?
  • Do you need to revise your view of some jobs, given new information or the way you have changed in the last year? For example, it’s not unusual for researchers to fall in and out of love with becoming an academic – where are you in this cycle?

(And yes, this is another preview of what’s going on to be appearing on our postgrad website – this could keep me going for months!)


One response to “Time to reflect – make sense of what you’ve done”

  1. Thanks Elizabeth, great post as always. Jisc talk about the research behind the benefits of reflection e.g. “By engaging with reflection and the associated processes of self-evaluation, action planning and goal setting, levels of achievement can be raised as evidenced by Becta’s report on the impact of e-portfolios on learning (Hartnell-Young et al 2007).” See http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/e-portfolios/purposes/reflection/ for more.

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