First Six Months in your New Job

Written by Donald Lush 

It’s easy to make mistakes in a new job. These may be minor and result in nothing more than a few jokes, but they can also have a more profound impact on your future.

At an early stage in my career, after some years working for a London Borough, I had the good luck to work for the Lord Chancellor’s Department in the division looking after the affairs of people unable to manage their own finances.

Very early on, I inadvertently punched a hole in an original will. Now, you may not think this matters much but it does. A hole indicates that there might have been another document attached to the will which changed its meaning. The Battersea Dogs Home could have been in line for your aged relative’s money instead of you.

To put matters right I was obliged to make a statement describing my accident and swear an oath in front of the Master of The Court of Protection. To add to my embarrassment, it was Red Nose Day and the Master kindly advised me it might be better to remove my red nose before the proceedings as I would look more dignified and serious without it.

So why does this matter?  Well, I learned that you have to learn how to handle a new job.

First of all, when all the recruitment procedures are complete and you now have the job you’ve dreamed of, your learning doesn’t cease. You now have to learn what your new job is. Ask questions, agree targets, research, read, try things out.

Secondly, you need to get to know your new organisation. Who matters? Who can help you? Who has power? What are the unofficial rules as well as the official ones? Again, ask questions, do your research. Be sure you know who to turn to when you need support.

Thirdly, what are you supposed to be doing? It’s amazing how organisations and managers assume you know. Meet your new boss and agree a plan which is then written down and shared. Identify any help you need to achieve the agreed aims and ask for it (again in writing) and ask more questions.

Looking back, if I had paid serious attention to these lessons I might not have had my hole punch mishap (and not been reminded of it every few weeks by my colleagues and been saved much professional and personal embarrassment).

Finally, the first few weeks of your new job are an ideal time to think about your next job. Why? Because this one is the foundation of the next one. You need to know what you have to learn and contribute to assure you of making your next jump.

Lessons learnt – I haven’t perforated any important legal documents since and I have done a job I love for many years now.

You may not really Leave Research!

Written by Dr Nigel Eady 

If you have a fixed term contract, you’re often thinking about what comes next. Sometimes it’s straightforward. You know exactly where you want to end up, and maybe how to get there. In other situations, it can feel a daunting prospect. Where do I go next? What are my options? Who’s looking for people with my skills? The answer might be right under your nose!

I’d been a postdoc for less than a year when I left academia. Part of me was determined to come back into a university, at some stage, to sort out the problems I felt I’d encountered as a PhD student. But I didn’t really know what that would look like. In the short term I wanted out!

The reality is there are lots of great jobs within universities, alongside the academic/research roles. It’s true that in most cases you don’t need a research background, but you can certainly make a strong argument that it helps.

Many roles within universities require close working relationships with academics and research staff. As a former researcher, you speak the same language. You understand the pressures. You know the stakeholders, and may have a useful network of contacts. You can think like a researcher, analytically and critically, supported by your well-honed, problem-solving skills.

Some roles are no different to the roles you find in lots of organisations – finance, communications and HR, for example – but there are many more besides.

What sorts of roles exist? Here are a few areas* that are worth exploring:

  • Research policy
  • Grants
  • Personal/professional/career development
  • Impact and public engagement
  • Diversity & inclusion
  • Online or e-learning
  • General administration

In some places, the view still persists that if you leave research, you have somehow failed. It’s just not true. Please don’t let that hold you back! Remaining in research long term is actually the exception. Pursue research, if that’s what you really want to do. If you don’t, there are lots of options. You have much to offer.

So, where to start? Well, have a look around your department or faculty – how many people in Professional Services have a research background or a PhD? Ask to have a coffee with them to find out what they do. Ask them how they got their current job. Ask them what they wish they’d known when they were in your position! You may already be involved in, or may be able to find, projects that give you greater insight into working on the other side of the fence – perhaps you’re helping run a staff network, contributing to an Athena SWAN application or creating an e-learning module on KEATS.

Some people stay in the university sector, when they leave day-to-day research. Others, like me, initially move out, extend their networks yet further, develop new skills and return at a later date.

Who knows? Your next role might be much closer at hand than you think!

*Why not Google search these areas or look on www.jobs.ac.uk?

Changing your Career

Written by Dr Kathy Barrett 

In my previous role as a careers consultant for research staff one of the most common laments I heard was “I would like to leave academia but I don’t know what else is out there”.  If you have spent all your time in your research environment, socialising with other researchers and forming romantic partnerships with researchers whose friends are also researchers then it is hardly surprising that you’re not aware of the alternatives.  Even if you’re serious about a career in academia it is often useful to keep an eye on the alternatives to ensure that you’re following the path that is the most appropriate for you.

Where do you start?  There are lots of ways to discover other professions.  The one you pick will probably depend on how you like to engage with information and people.  The options are wide-ranging, from browsing through job lists for those who prefer step-by-step methodology to engaging in person with as many people as possible.

You are likely to be limited by time so to make your search more efficient you may find it useful to narrow down areas or job sectors that are of interest to you by following the steps in last week’s post.  That way you can save time by focussing initially on one or two job sectors.  One of the things you have in your favour is that you are currently working in a sector that has generated a lot of information for this express purpose.  Although a large proportion of it is aimed at undergraduates much of it is of use also to career changers.

An approach that I found very popular for generating ideas was to start by looking at the top level of job sectors.  There is a comprehensive set of these on the Prospects website.  Each entry on this site contains an overview so you can get an idea of whether or not it interests you.  If it does you can investigate further by perusing the list of the most common roles available in the sector.  There are comprehensive descriptions of each of the roles and usually a convenient link to related roles so that you can broaden your search.

A lot of employment sectors also have professional bodies, learned societies and trade associations attached to them.  These often have useful information on their websites about careers in their sector and in some cases routes in.  Think Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, Public Relations Consultants Association and Association for Project Management, to name a few.

You can find these and other resources through CareersTagged, an online careers library (use your King’s username and password to enter).  Alternatively, search using the tag “early career researcher” or “PhD” and you’ll come up with links that are relevant to researchers who have a PhD.  Some of these resources are helpsheets that outline additional approaches you can use to identify what the options are, including Vitae.  The Vitae webpages include case studies and research on careers for research staff.  If you’re still struggling, make an appointment to visit our careers consultants as outlined in last week’s blog.

Once you identify your potential new career there is nothing more useful for finding out the realities of the role and routes in than talking to someone who is already engaged in that profession.  In our blog series last month we talked about networking.  Find a networking technique that works for you (you don’t have to be a social butterfly!) to track down someone in your favoured company, profession or role and get in touch.  People generally like to talk about themselves, especially to an appreciative audience, so this approach can often yield great results.  Don’t be afraid to use the King’s connection if there is one!

There are a lot of events around King’s that are designed specifically to provide you with opportunities to meet these people.  You may also find it useful to attend one of our careers workshops.  At these you can find out more about planning your next steps and also meet like-minded people with whom you can collaborate on your search for meaningful employment and from whom you can gain mutual support.  See last week’s blog post for information about our courses and events.  Consider the possibility also that your ideal job might be something that is not research but is still within the university, in which case someone doing that job is probably right on your doorstep.

Finally, we would love to hear your thoughts and experiences through our King’s CRSD LinkedIn Group.

What can I do Next?

Written by Donald Lush 

A few years ago I was listening to a radio interview with a fire fighter. He gave one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard:

“Never go into a burning building without knowing how you’re going to get out”

This is great advice for life in general but it has particular value in a careers context, where I think it means:

“Always plan at least two career moves ahead.”

The more you have a clear vision and strategy for your career, the more likely you are to achieve your objectives.

Of course, this is easy to say and hard to do. What if you don’t know the first move? Begin by forgiving yourself for not knowing. Everyone feels they should know what their own personal career plan is and it can be a great source of self-inflicted stress if you’re at a loss.  Don’t let the stress take over and stop you thinking clearly.

Here are some career questions you can ask yourself to dispel the clouds and get the ideas flowing:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What do you love?
  • What do you want?
  • What do you need?

You may find some of the answers by thinking about the following issues:

  • Salary
  • Location
  • Responsibility/Management/Leadership
  • Opportunities for promotion
  • Flexibility
  • Who you want to serve and why
  • What type of organisation you work in (what it does, how big, small and so on)

There will be many more issues personally relevant to you. Try to imagine a typical work day, five years ahead. See yourself walking through the doors first thing in the morning. How does your imagined day live up to your wish list?  What will you be doing that day (and with whom) that ensures you satisfy those wishes?

To go a bit deeper, it might also help to learn a bit about your skills in relation to your needs. Here are some more questions to ask yourself:

  • What can I do?
  • What can’t I do?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What do I not want to do?

You will spend many years at work and you’ll enjoy it much more if you are doing something you love and are good at (these are often the same thing).

Finally, as a researcher, don’t feel you are stuck in a narrow niche. You have skills that all employers value. You can solve problems, communicate, organise, analyse and research your way in a huge variety of situations. Your curiosity and creativity will keep you moving and your hard won resilience will ensure you reach your goals.

For a one to one careers discussion with one of our consultants please click here.

To keep up with our programme of careers events click here.

To check out our extensive range of careers training courses click here.

We have a suite of self-study online career courses here.