Careers Service


Reflect – make sense of what you’ve done

Learn how to tell your story

Reflection isn't always easy to do, but you have a real advantage in the job market if you are able to take a dispassionate look at yourself and understand how you appear to potential employers.

What have you done this year?

When reflecting, it's often easiest to start from something concrete

  • What have been your achievements, your successes?
  • What have been your disappointments?
  • What feedback have you been given, good and bad?
  • Who has asked for your help? If someone has asked for your help, it's likely that they think you're good at something.

Try and record some of your successes

  • You'll need to remember them when it comes to job applications and interviews - having a few notes to jog your memory will really help.
  • When things get tough, it can help to flick through your file of 'things I've done' to remind yourself just how much progress you've made.

How should you record these successes? Any way you want!

  • On paper - try a box file, a diary, a shoe-box stuffed with scraps of paper, whatever works for you.
  • Digitally - you can simply use a text file or you can experiment with more versatile formats, such as Evernote, and capture text notes, web pages or even audio or video notes from your phone.

What have you learnt about yourself?

Are you clear about your strengths and weaknesses?

You may underestimate your strengths. After all, if something comes easily to you, you probably think 'what's the big deal?' However, other people may look at you in awe as you:

  • effortlessly get difficult people to do what you want;
  • talk to 10 year olds about your subject and keep them enthralled;
  • turn an unwieldy mass of data into an elegant graph.

If you're not sure what your natural talents are, try describing your recent successes to someone else and get them to pick out the strengths you must have been using.

'So what?' - What would this mean to an employer?

Think of your achievements as raw data. You now need to interpret them, turn them into useful information and present your argument.

From your own point of view

  • What does your reaction to each of your successes and disappointments tell you about what you want out of life? Try simply noting down any observations in two columns - Want / Don't Want. They'll probably change over time, but you can add to and change your list as you extend your skills or try new experiences which you'd rather not repeat.
  • Want a ready-made career checklist and self assessment process? Download our document 'What do you want out of a career?' from our website, An Academic Career.
  • As a University of Manchester postgraduate, you also have access to an online personality questionnaire, the Type Dynamics Indicator. The questionnaire examines your preferred ways of operating. There are no time limits and right or wrong answers, unlike ability tests. A computer generated report is emailed to you, interpreting your results and giving you feedback on:
    • ‚ó¶how you answered the questions
    • the impact on your relationships with others
    • your performance in groups
    • some suggestions for possible career areas (this doesn't take any account of your postgraduate degree however).

From an employer's point of view

  • You need concrete examples of what you've done in order to populate your CV, but you also need to help employers understand why these examples might be relevant.
    • Rather than simply list scientific techniques you have used, you could point out that you have 'used technique X in context Y to achieve outcome Z'.
    • For non-academic jobs, don't just list titles of conference presentations. Make sense of it to a non-academic eg 'invited to present latest research findings to 250 leading international academics, resulting in a new collaboration with a research group in Germany'.

What have you learnt about careers?

Information about jobs

  • What new jobs have you heard of in the last year?
  • Who have you talked to about their work?
  • What insights have you gained into their work and whether that would appeal to you?
  • If you've found a type of work in which you are interested, what do they look for in applicants?
  • How well does that match what you currently have to offer?

Information about job hunting

  • If you are a researcher who attended Pathways, what insights did you glean about how PhDs find work which satisfies them?
  • What have you learnt about the job market in your preferred field?
  • How is it changing, what are future trends?

Finding the right job for you

  • How well do the jobs you've heard of match your Want / Don't Want lists?
  • Could you start (or add to) a Yes / No / Maybe list of jobs you have considered?
  • Do you need to revise your view of some jobs, given new information or the way you have changed in the last year? For example, it's not unusual for researchers to fall in and out of love with becoming an academic - where are you in this cycle?