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Five key skills to learn in your PhD and demonstrate in job interviews

Our PhD student Laura Griffiths, who has worked in government and as a consultant prior to her PhD led a discussion in our lab meeting on skills to demonstrate for job interviews.

We discussed how you learn many skills in a PhD, beyond just the academic and science specific ones. Laura showed the other students how it can be invaluable to demonstrate those skills in job interviews, particularly outside of academia.

Here follows the guest post by Laura Griffiths.

Laura Griffiths notes on five key skills

1. Technical Skills and Training

This relates specifically to your area of expertise. You need to communicate your knowledge and key concepts of your specific field. This will be highlighted in your CV but it’s possible that not all of your CV will be read. So the interview will provide an opportunity to emphasise your skills and training, as well as discuss other aspects not mentioned.

A tip from this blog: Before going into the interview, make a list of the less obvious but equally important skills you’ve acquired over the years, whether through formal training or self-development. These could include proficiency in different software programmes, or internal training specific to your current or previous organisation.

2. Communication skills

This is an important skill to show how you communicate verbally. Your CV and published papers will demonstrate your written communication skills, so the emphasis here is on verbal.

Interviewers want to know how you express and articulate ideas succinctly and how you interact and connect to others, so use appropriate verbal language and use body language that suggests engagement. Your experience presenting at conferences, workshops, teaching, participating in ‘in house’ discussions (lab groups, etc) is a good way to show case these skills.

It is also useful to show how you are capable of tailoring your communication skills for different audiences – managers, peers, public, etc.

A tip from Michael Page: Before an interview, practice talking about your experience out loud. Try to keep answers clear, concise and to the point. Good communication also requires you to be an excellent listener, so always pay close attention to exactly what’s being asked of you. Questions to prepare for are “Tell me about yourself” or “Tell me about your background”. See Link to Michael Page at bottom of article for more info.

3. Problem Solving and Critical Thinking

You need to display an ability to take a logical and analytical approach to solving problems and resolving issues. It’s also good to show that you can approach problems from different angles.

It doesn’t just have to apply to technical problems but also social problems, etc. Critical thinking skills are an integral part of any post graduate study so this is a good way to showcase these skills and show how you have presented solutions back up by data and ideas to solve the problem.

4. Professionalism and Leadership

This is all encompassing and includes how you can demonstrate professionalism, ie showing that you can prioritise, work efficiently and productively, and manage your time well.

It’s also good to be able to show employers how you decide what is important to focus on and get done, and how you go about meeting deadlines. It includes manners, having a positive attitude, being flexible, how you can motivate teams and other colleagues, etc.

Leadership is about assigning and delegating tasks well, setting deadlines and leading by good example. Not all jobs are seeking leadership roles but having leadership as a skill can help you create opportunities.

Professionalism can be demonstrated by learning about the company/department you are being interviewed by. Show your enthusiasm and motivation to be part of their team.

Tip from Michael Page: In an interview discuss situations where you demonstrated these qualities with a positive effect. For example, if you do pride yourself on your people skills then you may want to talk about a time when you led a team, helped a colleague or were commended for your excellent service.

5. Emotional Intelligence

This is an important skills across the board as developing and building relationships is crucial for any work environment.

Here you need to demonstrate the following - how you develop relationships and network, how you interact with others, how you guide and monitor reactions of others, judge impacts, sensing contexts, etc. You could give an example of how you are sensitive to the needs of others – eg how you diffused heated discussion, how you played the role of a mediator, or simply how you interact in a team environment (listen and respond).

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