Planning Your
Postgraduate Career

Planning Your Postgraduate Career

When should I start career planning?

Don’t wait. Start now.

The peak hiring season typically occurs in semester 1 of your final academic year. Before that, you need to identify your target pathway and ensure you complement your academic training with additional technical and transferable skills.

Get started today with our 4-step process.

01

Establish Your Foundation

A strong foundation involves complementing your postgraduate degree with the right technical skills, transferable skills and personality traits (”the 3Ts”). This should be demonstrated in your resume and with the examples and experiences you communicate in an interview.

Start Early

Employers will look beyond educational credentials, for evidence of the 3Ts when they evaluate candidates. You need to determine what 3Ts the employer of your choice will look for and ensure you use your time in university to accumulate those traits, skills and experiences.

For example, MSc students may wish to go for an internship during the summer vacation, while postgraduate by research students may want to look for industrial collaboration for their projects.

You also need to remember that the peak hiring period usually occurs during the first semester of your final year. The Banking, Finance, and Consulting industries would hire a year in advance, during the penultimate year. So before the hiring windows open, you must already have accumulated the 3Ts and have them well-articulated in your cover letter and resume.

The 3Ts

Technical Skills

Technical skills refer to the knowledge, expertise and experience required to perform the necessary tasks or use specific tools in the role. These skills will vary across industries and functions.

Examples:

Programming languages: C++, Python, R
Engineering software tools: AutoCAD, CATIA, SolidWorks
Statistical software: Mathematica, SPSS, Stata
Microscopy techniques: Raman microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM)
Chromatography instruments: Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC-MS), High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)

It could also be another language, e.g. French, German, Japanese, or domain knowledge such as accounting, macroeconomics, clinical psychology.

Transferable Skills

Transferable skills refer to the knowledge and experience usually associated with "people skills“, or "self-management skills“, that can be applied across careers. Your transferable skills will not only enhance the technical skills that you bring to the job, but they can also be used to position past experiences when applying for a job in a different industry.

Examples:

Communication: Clear and concise in both verbal and written communication, active listening, presentation to internal and external stakeholders
Leadership and team management: understand and manage team dynamics, accept and delegate responsibilities, guidance to achieve goals
Problem solving: systematic approach to analysing issues, identify and evaluate solutions, organise to implement and monitor execution

Personality Traits

Personality traits reflect people’s characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

It is said that “A candidate’s skill set can help them catch recruiters’ attention–but their personality can help them win the job.”

Therefore, it is important to develop the traits that would help advance one’s professional career.

Examples:

Adaptable: able to be flexible and change with the evolving nature of work
Creative: able to generate new ideas, think out of the box
Dependable: can follow through on tasks consistently, meeting deadlines
Eager to learn: actively seek to better oneself, read or follow courses online
Innovative: able to look at something in a new way, finding new solutions
Proactive: jump into action when there is a way to help

The Foundation

The key to career planning begins with greater self-awareness of your skills and strengths in terms of the 3Ts. Establish what they are and record them in your resume. It should be a live document and updated as you progress in your programme. If you are considering an internship, you would also want to start honing your interview skills. This will lay the foundation of your next phase of career planning.

Start building your resume now. Once it’s built, compare it against your dream jobs to see if you have the 3Ts required.

Learn to de-jargon your research so that you can communicate, network and interview effectively with recruiters from all backgrounds.

Get your interview skills in shape for your next interview.

02

Explore Your Options

Now that you have taken stock and have a resume of your achievements and experiences, it is time to explore your options.

Identify Possible Career Pathways and Roles

Your options are extensive, but you will need to take note of the different skills sets required for the different career pathways. Start logging onto job boards and organisational websites, visit career fairs, and attend recruitment talks to see what roles interest you.

Professorial Route

What is it: Higher Education Research and Teaching

Roles within it: Doctorate candidate, Post doctorate, Lecturer, Professor, Research Associate

What’s required: Same area of subject knowledge and skills

Where to find roles: Institutes of Higher Education

Industry R&D Route

What is it: Research, Development and Consultancy

Roles within it: Industrial researcher scientist, product development, policy consultant

What’s required: Same area of subject knowledge and skills

Where to find roles: Private company or government department

University Services Route

What is it: Higher Education Management and Administration

Roles within it: Administration, career advice, fundraising, management (e.g., research centre), industry relations, corporate communications

What’s required: To specialise in a subject area or body of knowledge that differs from original core academic discipline, e.g, budget management, event organisation, public speaking

Where to find roles: Institutes of Higher Education

Industry Professional Route

What is it: Industry positions outside of academia where one would not be using the specific academic subject knowledge that was gained from the postgraduate discipline

Roles within it: Analyst, market research, project manager

What’s required: To specialise in a subject area or body of knowledge that differs from original core academic discipline, e.g., managing data and information, IT applications and programming languages, stakeholder management, bidding for funding

Where to find roles: Private company or government department

03

Equip Yourself

After identifying possible career paths and roles, now you can determine your gap in knowledge and experience, then create a plan to bridge it.

Step 1: Analyse Job Descriptions

Download the job descriptions of the roles you are interested in. Then examine the job descriptions and highlight the 3Ts the employer is looking for.

In addition, read between the lines and identify other skills that can be inferred. Note that job requirements could specify either required skills in terms of knowledge or experience, or both.

Sample JD – Backend Algorithm Engineer

An established engineering and AMR company is looking for a Backend Algorithm Developer to join their team to focus on enterprise solutions for automated guided vehicles in various operating environments.

Responsibilities

  • Design real-time distributed applications for lights off automation
  • Develop algorithms and models for managing and coordinating adn AGV Fleet
  • Able to make presentations to internal and external stakeholders for own work
  • Incorporate various forms of artificial intelligence into solutions involving mobile robots
  • Generate data and process results from simulation
  • Creating and maintaining back-end architecture
  • Design charging and staging algorithms

Requirements

  • Bachelor / Masters in Computer Science or Engineering or related field
  • 1–2years hands-on experience working with vehicle routing problems
  • A solid foundation in computer science, with strong competencies in algorithms, data structures, objects-oriented programming, design patterns, multi-threaded programming, and software design principles
  • Experience in developing in a microservice architecture
  • Strong programming abilities in Python and C++
  • Self-motivated, independent learner, and enjoy sharing knowledge with team members

Step 2: Make a list of skills you have and those you don’t

Compare the 3Ts you highlighted in the job descriptions with what you presently have on your resume. Then make a 4-column chart and list the 3Ts, current skills, missing skills, and ways to acquire skills.

3Ts Current Skills Missing Skills Ways to Acquire Skills
Technical
[in terms of experience]
Final year project on mobile robot Work experience with vehicle routing
  • Internship
  • Collaboration project
  • Hackathon
Transferable
[in terms of knowledge]
Knowledge in C++ and Java Python programming
  • University elective module
  • Online courses
  • External training and certification
Trait Have minimum team experience Teamwork
  • Join team project
  • Join student committee
  • Join team sport

Step 3: Identify ways to acquire missing skills

As you begin brainstorming possible paths, consider the methods outlined below. Again, note that both technical and transferable skills could be experience or knowledge-based.

Where to start acquiring missing skills:

Technical (for experience-based skills):

  • Internship: Learn on the job or receive company-sponsored training
  • Collaboration project: Learn from collaborators from other disciplines on the use of specialised techniques, such as liquid chromatography
  • Hackathon: Learn, practice and hone programming skills

Transferable (for knowledge-based skills):

  • University elective module: Select module from within postgraduate programme that would teach or allow practice of skills
  • Online course: Learn from online providers such as Coursera, Udemy
  • Classroom course: External providers that provide training and certification

Trait-related skills:

  • University activities: Volunteer with a team project, lead a committee, organise an event or join a team sport, to hone teamworking, leadership, organizing skills

04

Execute Your Career Plan

You have identified your ideal role, built up the required skills and prepared your resume. Now it’s time to execute your career plan.

Step 1: Map out your plan

Below is a suggested schedule for implementing the four phases of your career planning, depending on type of programme. Use it as a guide for your planning.

Establish Explore Equip Execute
By coursework: Sem 1
By research: Year 1
By coursework: Sem 1/2
By research: Year 2/3
By coursework: Sem 2/3
By research: Year 3/4
By coursework: Sem 3/4
By research: Year 5
Take stock of your achievements and experiences Determine your preferred sector: academic or industry, and whether you want to leverage on your current skills or you are open to acquiring new skills Determine the gap between your skills and traits, and those required in the job roles Enhance personal branding
Start recording them in your resume Research the job roles in the preferred sector Decide on how to realistically bridge the gap Understand the hiring process
Start preparing for interviews Analyse the job requirements   Hone the skills for specialised interview formats

Step 2: Be Active

Even before beginning your job search, it’s important to stay active so you stay at the top of mind and relevance for employers. This will help increase your chances of finding your dream job.

Establish and maintain an online presence:

Recruiters not only use LinkedIn to advertise vacancies, they also use it to actively search for suitable candidates. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is updated and filled with rich content. Keep an eye out for virtual and LinkedIn networking workshops on the CFG Calendar.

Attend recruitment and industry talks:

CFG organised over 300 industry recruitment talks in the last academic year. Get your foot in the door by meeting industry professionals, and use it as an opportunity to find out the hiring period, process and format. See the CFG Calendar for upcoming events.

Participate in industry-sponsored competitions:

These are events such as case studies and hackathons. They can provide much needed practice for interview formats such as technical interviewing or assessment centres.

Step 3: Be Diverse

Don’t resign yourself to using one approach for your job search. Try a range of different approaches to identify opportunities.

  • Leverage your personal and professional networks for referrals
  • Reach out to recruiters
  • Speculative applications with engaging cover letters
  • Apply through the respective portals e.g. dedicated job portals of companies, job boards, Career@Gov for public sector

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