Getting the right support for your career

As a researcher there are a range of career options open to you – some which relate to your qualifications and experience, some which may be more in tune with your preferences and interests.

It can be bewildering to make career decisions, particularly if you aren’t sure of all the possibilities you could be considering. It may be useful to discuss your options with a careers professional.

All research students have full access to the services offered by their institution’s Careers Service. These include one to one advice from a careers adviser, support from information specialists, feedback on CVs and applications, help preparing for interviews and recruitment activities. They will also run events at which you can meet potential employers or hear about particular employment areas.

Research staff will often be able to access many, if not always all of the facilities in Careers Services. Larger universities, particularly those who value their research profiles, will usually offer specific support to their research staff either by extending the availability of the Careers Service or by employing specialist advisers who only see researchers. These services will be free to use and are often tailored to meet the needs of even very experienced staff. The other resources to support staff are described in the making the most of your time in academia section.

Access for staff is not available universally and some people prefer to talk to someone outside the academic world. There are many companies and individuals which offer advice and help to those considering career options or looking for career development support and it can be confusing to know which will suit your needs. This section will try to clarify what different help is available and how to go about deciding which will be best for you.

Personal referral is always an effective way of finding any support, so ask around your network for recommendations. Your Careers Service or Human Resources department may also know local providers with a good reputation and may even have used them for redundancy support or training.

If you need to make the choice without support, look for evidence of qualifications and experience – it is very easy to set yourself up as a careers coach, so look for consultants with professional memberships of credible bodies such as the Institute of Careers Guidance. You might also want to work with someone who has experience of working with researchers or scientists and is familiar with their skills, interesting career options and how to market their specialisms. If you are trying to move into a particular job or sector be sure to ask explicitly if the consultant or company has knowledge of these areas.

There are many styles which consultants will use but they can be generally described as taking a guidance/advisory approach or a coaching/counseling approach. The former focuses on providing information about possible careers, giving feedback on applications and possibly using questionnaires to identify options. You may only need to meet a careers adviser once to help start your career planning. The coaching/counseling approach takes more time and involves deeper knowledge of the client. The coach works with the individual to help them understand what they want from a career and often provides little information or few answers. Their role is provide a structured approach to reflecting on a career in wider terms. Many consultants will use a combination of both approaches depending on the needs of the person they are working with.

Finally it is important to feel that you will trust the person you will work with. If you are going to benefit from their expertise you will need to be honest with them about your interests and career goals which means you probably need to trust them. Are they willing to arrange a short preliminary meeting at which you can find out more about their approach and be sure you are going to work effectively with them?

Checklist for seeking professional support
1. is support available from your institution either from the careers service or a researcher development unit?
    2. has anyone in your network worked with a careers professional and can they recommend them? This includes people in your institution such as Human Resources or Careers.
    3. does the professional you are interested in have qualifications or membership of credible bodies? If not, do they have experience and can they provide references from former clients?
    4. what level of expertise does the consultant have with scientists, researchers or specific job sectors that interest you?
    5. can you arrange a short meeting to see if you are going to enjoy working with them, without any commitment on either side?

last edited: October 12, 2012

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