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Why PhDs should consider the labour market when exploring careers

By using labour market information as a tool for targeted career exploration, you can facilitate a smoother transition to employment following graduation.


Labour market information can be a useful tool in career exploration by helping you to situate your career options within the context of the employment landscape. Information on the labour market can be general (e.g., Canada), moderately specific (e.g., the academic sector), or very specific (e.g., the biomanufacturing industry in Quebec).

The best way to explore the labour market is to treat it like a research project. There are questions, data, and even hypotheses (e.g., preconceptions of what a job might be like). Importantly, labour market research goes beyond general career exploration. For example, a general career exploration ask is: “What are my options?” But a labour market ask is: “How many people are needed for these options and where?” Researching the labour market is an important exercise in strategic planning that can make finding and starting your next job less stressful. It can help you be prepared with information and have fewer unknowns as you transition to the next stage of your career.

The labour market is a general term referring to the supply and demand of people, and their skills, within the world of work. It is where you will find your next job and pursue your career.

For example, you’ve decided you are interested in working as a researcher in a biomanufacturing company and you’d like to live around a certain location. Great! Rather than jumping into job ads, refine your search further with a few extra questions. Does that location have any biomanufacturing companies? How many? Is that area projected to grow or shrink over the next few years? What about another location, or a similar role in a different industry?

Bonus: Labour market research can also help you learn to speak the language of your potential career – a valuable asset in resume writing and interviewing.

How do you leverage your existing research skills to learn about the labour market?

  • Independent research. Gather publicly available information (e.g., online) on the skills needed in a role, organization, or industry. Reflect on your current skillset. Is there alignment between roles of interest and your skills? Is there a skill you’d like to acquire or refine as you finish your studies to be competitive? This information gathering serves as a navigation tool and helps you to develop more specific research questions.
  • Informational interviews. This is a low-risk activity where you ask someone specific questions about their role, organization, industry, or career path. Alumni are a great place to start. Informational interviews are not a place to ask for a job, but a place to listen and learn. They are a good way to build your network and you’ll have a chance to learn some more nuanced things, like how an organization’s culture and values manifest in day-to-day operations.
  • Work-integrated learning (WIL) activities. These are activities that allow you to envision and use your skills in different contexts. They include one-day job shadows, micro-internships, full-time internships, fieldwork, etc. WIL activities are valuable because they allow you to gather multiple perspectives and can give you first-hand experience in what it’s like to work in a specific role or organization.
  • Research trends in your area of interest. What are some of the major challenges your area of interest is experiencing or anticipating? Can you situate yourself as a problem-solver? The three suggested activities above can help you gather this information.
  • Make it easy for others to know you. One of the top ways employers connect with new hires is through their network, either directly or through a contact of a contact. Many jobs are filled before being posted because of someone’s network (this is sometimes called a “whisper network”). A network of people who know you and your skillset is a valuable tool at all career stages. You can actively reach out to people as well as make efforts to be visible for others to connect with you. The people who comprise your network can also be a significant source of skills and employment information. Having a complete and up-to-date LinkedIn profile, periodically sharing some of your expertise with the general public (e.g., articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, news interviews), and reaching out to people for informational interviews will all contribute to growing and maintaining your network.

Relevant resources to assist with your labour market research

  • Publications on employment outcomes of alumni in your discipline (e.g., TRaCE McGill, 10,000 PhDs Project from the University of Toronto, UBC PhD Career Outcome Survey).
  • Narratives and interviews (e.g., the Papa PhD Podcast).
  • Some industries publish material on skills demands and other relevant employment information. For example, BioTalent Canada has published a labour market information study with reports for specific areas within Canada, as well as a national report.
  • Consider publications, talks, events, and other communications from your professional organization(s).
  • Some independent organizations may publish relevant skills or labour market information. For example, The Conference Board of Canada published a study of ). Adoc Talent Management has published jobs reports based on their 2019 PhDetectives study outlining employment outcomes for PhDs across Canada alongside data from employers who’ve hired PhDs.
  • Job Bank of Canada – Trend Analysis: explore the market. Learn about an occupation (skills, demand, etc.), understand factors influencing an industry, browse wage and outlook reports, see job market snapshots, and more.
  • Labour Market Information Council. Information on labour market trends, skills, data, labour market terms and definitions, and more.
  • Review job ads. Once your independent research has helped you narrow in on some areas of interest, you can explore specific roles advertised, along with their skills and responsibilities requirements.

These are a few of my top suggestions for PhDs and postdocs to explore the labour market. It is not a comprehensive list. However, I hope these tips and resources will make your post-graduation transition easier by helping you to gain knowledge and make informed decisions along your career journey.

Rebecca Maymon is an academic associate in graduate education for McGill University’s faculty of science. Following her work in the private sector as a PhD employment researcher and a recruiter and head-hunter of PhDs and scientists, she now works to help highly skilled problem solvers build meaningful careers within and outside the academy.
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