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Career Planning Guide

Career Planning Guide

Your skills and attributes

No matter what your area of specialism is or what roles you are considering for the future, it is now an accepted fact that employers are looking for more than just technical skills and practical experience when they recruit. However, the most common term, ‘soft skills’, somewhat belies the importance of this very particular set of abilities. Competencies such as time management, problem solving and prioritising are relatively easy to evidence, but how about empathy, persuading, and motivating? It is important to be aware of the value of your research activities in building evidence of a variety of skills and attributes, but as mentioned elsewhere in this resource, it can also be helpful to build experience through other activities, for instance:

  • Volunteering
  • Internships / placements / work-shadowing
  • Part-time jobs
  • Teaching / mentoring at the University
  • Attending workshops
  • Funding bids
  • Departmental events and challenges
  • Collaborative writing / research opportunities
  • Entrepreneurial projects / businesses
  • Membership of societies / industry specific organisations

Hobbies and interests can also be used if framed correctly. For example, playing an instrument in itself has limited scope within applications, however, the ability to perform in front of an audience demonstrates confidence and presentation skills, or playing in a chamber group could indicate teamwork, attention to detail, communication skills etc. Employers are keen to take on individuals who have a passion for something outside of work; as much as to demonstrate their capacity for being passionate, as for maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

According to IFF research (industrial forecasting), employers report significant skills shortages in applicants post-university, with the following skills being highlighted as underdeveloped:

  • Time management and prioritising
  • Solving complex problems
  • Persuading or influencing
  • Managing or motivating others
  • Knowledge of the product/industry (commercial awareness)

Completing this section will help you to identify your skills, competencies and attributes so that you are clear of what to communicate within your applications, as well as areas where you can develop further

It is highly unlikely that you would be able to reasonably claim to have evidence for every skill, competency and attribute, however every work/activity/education-based experience you have had will contain the possibility of demonstrating several at least. What matters in terms of your career is that you are aware of your strengths (and areas for development) so that you can:

  1. Identify the best-fit roles for you
  2. Match your evidence to the skills, competencies and attributes in the job specification / industry requirements
  3. Communicate your evidence clearly during the recruitment process
  4. Commit to developing any areas which need more work (personal and professional development)

In order for future employers to understand how you will function in a role, they are looking for evidence that you have the right essential qualities. Each role naturally requires a different range of skills, competencies and attributes, and the only way for an employer to know that you are a good fit is for you to tell them about other situations when you have successfully demonstrated them. It is no longer enough to assume that an employer will know that you have great verbal communication skills simply because you have ‘led seminars’ on your CV. You actually have to break it down and explain why you excelled in that situation, and how you used specific communication skills (such as active listening) to create a positive result.

Absolutely. Even in the case of attributes, which are innate characteristics (such as empathy, confidence, and leadership), you can improve your capacities through conscious practice, attending workshops, and reading specialised texts – even watching TEDtalks can be useful for ideas! There will be plenty of support available through your University’s professional and training and development programmes.

By undertaking research you are demonstrating and developing a long list of skills, competencies and attributes. Depending on what you are applying for, the job specification will list required competencies and possibly the context, and there will be variations according to subject and industry.

As an example of how competencies might be communicated:

What you did during your research/study Academic Job Spec requirement Non-Academic Job Spec Requirement
Communicated complex information to varied groups (students, seminars, lectures, conferences, public etc)


To routinely communicate complex and conceptual ideas to those with limited knowledge as well as to peers using high level skills and a range of media and to present the results of scientific research to sponsors and at conferences. Your ability to share knowledge and grow strong relationships will be critical to your success, so you’ll be a proactive communicator who takes pride in building rapport with your contacts.

This document contains examples of core competencies and attributes required in both Academic and Non-Academic fields and suggestions of how you may have gained experience in these.

Activity: Using this worksheet, pick a situation or experience you have had and map out the associated competencies and attributes.

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