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Career Planning Guide

Career Planning Guide

Professional development planning and opportunities

We all know that the job market can be very challenging. You may find it more effective, rather than having a sequential “If Plan A doesn’t work, I’ll do B”, to explore multiple options in tandem: keep your eye out for things that look exciting and follow up leads that interest you, even if they don’t fit the Grand Plan. Who knows where they will lead? This might also help with the disappointment of not getting the only lectureship you’ve seen advertised in your specific research area in three years. Continuing to explore multiple options can make you feel less helpless.

So, how can you feel more in control? Part of it is knowing that you are doing everything you can. Whilst doing your research degree, you need to be strategic. If you know you want an academic job, you need to be making sure you are ticking off some of the essential criteria you will see on those job adverts. If you want a job outside the academy, you still need to make the most of as many opportunities as possible, but will need to know how to frame these to make your experience attractive and relevant to diverse employers.

Strategic planning can only be done smartly if you have clear objectives in mind. You can draw a better map to where you need to go, if you have a greater understanding of the specific destination.

To do this, we suggest you start by doing a Prospective Personal Specification Audit. If you’re aiming for a job in academia, follow the guide below. If you are looking for a job outside the academy, skip to Prospective Personal Specification Audit: Generic.

Although all institutions and roles will vary, using the University of Exeter’s Job Description Library is a useful place to start to help us work out what prospective employers will be looking for. We’ll look in more detail at Personal Specifications in the section on preparing applications, but approaching our planning with slightly broader brush strokes for now: What will they be looking for? For most academic jobs it will be: expertise in teaching, admin and research.

Download the blank prospective person specification audit for academia. In it, you will a table of the sorts of things you will need to show you have achieved. These are in the first column. In the second column, make a note of the things you are already doing/have done to meet this specification. In the third column, add ideas for things you could do to build your experience in the areas you have the least evidence for.

For a more detailed analysis of all the qualities, skills and capacities that are needed in an academic, look at Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework.

Outside academia, what prospective employers will be looking for will, of course, vary between professions and roles; however, almost all employers will want to see these qualities/abilities and proven experience. Download and fill in the prospective person specification audit (generic) to start working out what you already have experience in and plot some ideas for how you could build on these. You might be inspired by the examples listed in the academic version of this exercise, above.

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