More than half of LSE PhD students work outside academia after their studies. For some, the transition is smooth, for others the journey is longer and involves some rejections from employers before securing the first post-PhD position. A well prepared CV or application form will increase your chances of success in any sector and many PhD students and graduates have versions suitable for a range of sectors.

Employers tell us they expect written applications to be tailored to their role and organisation. Our PhD careers consultant Catherine Reynolds explains what this means for you:

Outside academia

‘Tailoring’ is probably more difficult than you realise, I think it means having a good long think about what you have been doing during the past few years and considering these experiences from the point of view of your next selection committee. They are only looking for a good match with their role and organisation, so make it easy for them to see how you meet their requirements. You’ll have to re-write your CV to explain the fit between you, the role and the organisation in language recognisable to the selector. You might have developed an academic CV that includes sections and sub heading irrelevant for your next role. Change it now! Be a good, ruthless, editor of your own CV.

Rhetoric matters. You might want to think about connections between your PhD experience and the tasks the employer will require. Think about these in the terms used by the employer and adopt the appropriate language. A simple version of this process appears on the careers page of Find a PhD.

Below are a few examples. You’ll be able to think of more!

  • Presented a poster at a conference = communicated complex ideas to a variety of audiences
  • Produced a 100, 000 word thesis = organised and structured large amounts of material in a clear manner
  • Conducted research using […] methodologies = dealt with a large, ambiguous task with resilience and a created a clear framework
  • Completed PhD = managed a large project and collected and recorded data in a professional way
  • Worked with supervisor = Learned from more senior colleagues and peers
  • Struggled to find data = worked in a systematic way to break down tasks in manageable parts and used interpersonal skills to build rapport with participants

There are many ways to describe your PhD experience some of them will help you get to the interview stage. It’s your story and you can tell it many ways. When you’re telling it for career purposes, the time pressed selector is a critical audience looking for quick solutions. Don’t give them reasons to put you in their ‘maybe’ pile. Get yourself in to the ‘we’ve got to meet this person’ pile.

Inside academia

Tailoring your experience to the role and the specific department is also essential in academic settings. PhD students and researchers wanting an academic career, our advice is to draw on four areas of expertise which tend to meet the requirements of an academic job spec:

  1. Research – yes, that’s your PhD thesis, but it’s also: going to conferences, publishing in the best journals, building your academic network, knowing your field and the other players. Broaden your horizons and learn what researchers are doing in other institutions.
  2. Teaching – get as much as is feasible with large groups, small groups in seminars, in lectures at undergraduate and at master’s level. Do it here and at other universities and get the Cert HE teaching qualification.
  3. Public engagement – take your work outside academia and show it has relevance to a wider audience through the media, social media, public talks, in schools and so on.
  4. Service to the university – show you want to help your target university strive for excellence. Join a committee, represent your peers, offer to support a conference, organise an event, work as a research assistant, contribute to a grant application. Or set up something new!

All the activities in these four areas need to be presented in such a way as to show your potential to fulfil the requirements of the role. Not just summarising past experience. It takes time to achieve this tailoring effectively. Often you are also asked to send additional materials such as a research plan, teaching statement and writing sample.

Further support

There’s guidance on our website about applying outside academia and also inside academia.

Our seminars and events for PhD students and research staff will help you develop your applications and slides from previous PhD seminars are online too. One-to-one appointments are also useful for reviewing your CV and covering letters – book on CareerHub.

Good luck with your applications and make good use of the support we offer!