How to find a job after doing a PhD in the field of security

by Verena Brähler, 7 June 2015

I am working as a Research Manager for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain. This is my first job since graduating from University College London with a PhD in Security and Human Rights. I really like my job but getting here was much harder than I anticipated. In this blog post I am sharing some of the lessons I learned, hoping that it will help others to transition successfully from doing a PhD to a professional job.

My personal job hunting experience

Between November 2013 and September 2014, I applied for 28 different positions. I spent the equivalent of three months’ full time work on networking, writing applications, getting references and filling out online application forms. I was unsuccessful in the first round on 20 occasions, never heard back anything from 3 organisations and made it to the next round on 5 occasions. Of those where I did make it to the next round, it took up to 8 months to hear back from them.

Timing is of the essence

The first time I applied for a full-time job was 10 months before I finished my PhD. In hindsight this was way too early. I was writing things like “I am currently completing a PhD” in my cover letter. Experienced recruiters know that if you haven’t submitted your PhD thesis yet, you are not mentally or “logistically” ready for a new job. The few applications where I was successful were the ones I wrote after I had defended my PhD thesis (read more about this experience here). That is why I would tell others that this is a good moment to start looking for a job, especially because in the UK, PhD students often need to do “minor corrections” after the defense which can take up to three months.

Prepare yourself mentally

You need to recognise that getting a job is a job and can take a long time. For most of the jobs I applied for I was told that between 250 and 650 other candidates applied (below are some examples of the jobs I applied for). You need to prepare yourself mentally for being turned down over and over again because it can be a very frustrating experience. The more realistic you are at the outset, the easier it will be to for you to deal with the fact that you are not getting interviews, or you get interviews, but you don’t get the job. At the same time you may see all your friends around you working on great career paths and it is easy to get disheartened and very down about yourself which is a dangerous spiral. Don’t internalise the job search – talk to your family, friends about the jobs you apply for, the interview you get or don’t get – there is no shame in applying for a job and not getting an interview, or getting an interview and then not getting the job.

Pick up the phone, networking is vital

In hindsight there was one thing that my 5 “more successful” job applications had in common, and that is that I had talked to someone in the organisation before I sent my application. I got in touch with these people mostly through contacts and colleagues I met over the years while doing my research. Linkedin is a great tool for that because it shows you who can put you in touch with someone in the relevant organisation. Don’t be ashamed to ask people you hardly know for some help. In the worst-case scenario your chances are something like 1 : 650 so you need any help you can get.

I asked people if they would be available for a quick phone call because I wanted to learn a little bit more about the organisation and the job in order to be able to write a better application. I never asked anyone to revise my application or give me any kind of insight knowledge that would put me at an unfair advantage compared to other applicants.

Everyone I contacted was happy to talk to me and these 30-minutes conversations proved to be extremely helpful for two reasons. Firstly, by preparing some interesting questions (”What does your daily routine look like?”, “Do you have a business strategy that underpins your work?” etc.) I learned a lot about the organisation, their culture and working style, their priorities and dislikes, and that indeed helped me to write a stronger application. Secondly, having had a friendly conversation with someone on the inside (didn’t matter so much at which level) might have helped (?) to end up on the pile of applications that were considered for the next round.

You will still have to go through the formal interviewing process, and your skills and competencies will be analysed fairly, but a recommendation or just a contact within the organisation can help enormously.

Sit down and write the application

Once you have made your phone call and you know a little bit more about the organisation and the specific role requirements, it is time to sit down and write the application. Nowadays most application processes are competency-based and every effort is made to eliminate assumptions, stereotyping and other forms of bias from the recruitment process. Recruiters are interested to know how you have handled situations in the past which are related to the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the job. Recruiters work on the principle that: „Past behaviour predicts future performance“. If you have successfully demonstrated certain knowledge, skill and abilities in the past, the chances are that you are likely to be able to do so again in the future.

The recruitment process of the British Civil Service, for instance, is entirely based on this principle. Applicants are asked to use the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to talk about their past achievements. This approach might seem very weird and rigid in the beginning but if you get behind the logic of it, it is very useful and I would definitely recommend everyone to have a look at it.

Here are some common mistakes that applicants tend to make:

  • Not providing a specific example of how they have demonstrated a competency in the past;
  • Not explaining clearly what the result/outcome/impact of their work was;
  • Using “we” instead of “I”, making it impossible for the recruiter to know exactly what their specific contribution was (opposed to what the team did);
  • Using passive language;
  • Exceeding the word count.

Ask for feedback

It is common practice these days to ask for feedback from an interview, particularly if you have been unsuccessful. It is very likely that you will just get a standard response or that giving individual feedback is not possible, but if you get it, it can service three important purposes:

  1. It will put your mind to rest – you may wonder why you didn’t get the job – they will tell you – you were a strong candidate but the successful candidate had more experience, or could evidence their skills more effectively.
  2. It can open other doors – you may have been exceptionally close to getting the role – sometimes employers make room for another person – following up shows that you are a professional and are interested in how you can improve your performance. They may be able to recommend another role for you within the organisation
  3. It may give you some important pointers in how to improve for next time.

Jobs in international organisation

Finally, here are some examples of international organisations that continuously recruit people through their young professional programmes. Please be aware that all of these programmes are highly competitive and getting through the process can take many months or even years.

  • Young Professionals Programme (YPP) – the general young professional programme of the United Nations
  • United Nations Volunteering (UNV) – it is called volunteering but you get paid
  • Junior Professional Officers (JPO) – JPOs work in UN organisations, the World Bank and other international organisations and are sponsored by their respective governments so you can only apply for positions advertised by your own government. In Germany, jobs are advertised twice a year on this website.
  • UK Civil Service Fast Stream

Job: Course Instructor, Ecuador Seminar, Trent-in-Ecuador Program

The Department of International Development Studies at Trent University invites applications for an Instructor for a course, entitled ‘Ecuador Seminar’, to be taught in the Fall Semester on site at the Trent-in-Ecuador (TIE) Program in Quito.

The Ecuador Seminar (IDST 3880D) is a third year course in International Development Studies that consists of an examination of the major features of Ecuadorian economic, political and social life, with particular attention to regional and cultural diversity. Responsibilities in addition to course delivery and design (in cooperation with the Trent in Ecuador Director) include conducting occasional field trips.

Salary: $CAD 6956 plus approved  professional expenses, and return airfare to place of domicile if required.

Qualifications: social science expertise on Ecuador, and preferably on the Andean region; PhD (or doctorate near completion) or equivalent as well as ability to work in English and Spanish.

Deadline: March 31, 2015 or until position is filled.  C.V. and two letters of reference should be sent to

For more information: please contact

Winnie Lem
Professor and Director
Trent-in-Ecuador Program
Tel: 705-748-1011, Ext. 7785
Fax: 705-748-1624

For details about Trent’s Department of International Development Studies and the Trent-in-Ecuador Program go to

JOB: Academic Coordinator, Trent-in-Ecuador

The Department of International Development Studies at Trent University invites applications for a nine-month position as Academic Coordinator of the Trent-in-Ecuador (TIE) Program in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

The Academic Coordinator works with a locally based Administrative Coordinator to deliver a comprehensive academic program for students from Trent and other Canadian universities.  Teaching responsibilities include a third-year undergraduate-level course on “Andean Economy, Culture and Society”; teaching and supervising students in a double-credit course in “Community Development” (which involves a 10-week student work placements in the winter term).  Other responsibilities include overseeing 3 other courses taught by local academics and advising students.

Term of appointment: August 10th 2015 to May 10 2016, with the possibility of renewal.  Salary  $CAD 38,890 plus allowances for approved travel and professional expenses.

Qualifications: social science expertise in Latin American studies, preferably in the Andean region; PhD (in hand or near completion) or equivalent, and ability to work in English and Spanish.

Deadline: March 31, 2015 or until position is filled.  C.V. and three letters of reference should be sent to

For more information, please contact:

Winnie Lem
Professor and Director
Trent-in-Ecuador Program
Tel: 705-748-1011, Ext. 7785
Fax: 705-748-1624

For details about Trent’s Department of International Development Studies and the Trent-in-Ecuador Program go to

POST-DOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP: Center for the Study of Violence, University of São Paulo

Post-doctoral fellowships opportunities FAPESP

The Center for the Study of Violence of the University of São Paulo is selecting four post-doctoral fellows to develop research projects in the referred program, with duration of one to three years. The candidates must propose specific projects in one of the following themes (click on each theme to access its work plan).

The Center for the Study of Violence of the University of São Paulo is selecting four post-doctoral fellows to develop research projects in “Building Democracy Daily: human rights, violence and institutional trust” program, with duration of one to three years.

The candidates must propose specific projects in one of the following themes (click on each theme to access its work plan)

1- Public Policies and Innovations – 1 position

2- Innovations in criminal justice and resistance to change – 1 position

3- Reduction of violence, laws and the legitimacy of institutions – 1 position

4 – Theory and methodology in longitudinal studies on legitimacy and institutional trust – 1 position

The objective of the research program is to analyze how the legitimacy of key institutions for democracy is constructed or jeopardized, by exploring the contacts between citizens and civil servants from local public services in representative areas of the city of São Paulo. The study will have a longitudinal nature, in order to enable a deeper comprehension of the phenomena and changes through time.

Access an extended summary of the research programme here

For applications guidelines, click here

The post-doctoral (PD) fellows, from areas in the human sciences such as sociology, political science, anthropology, social psychology, urban studies, law etc., are expected lead theoretical and empirical research in the program, aside from other regular activities such as the organizing seminars, preparing papers, disseminating research results and cooperating with the educational projects.

Application deadline: November 15th, 2014.

JOB: Postdoctoral Fellow “Interdependent Inequalities in Latin America: Structures and Negotiations” (German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, Germany)

The GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies / Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien is one of Europe’s leading research institutes for area and comparative area studies, with a focus on Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as on interregional and global issues.

The GIGA seeks to hire a postdoctoral fellow to conduct research on migration and citizens’ rights in the framework of the international research network “Interdependent Inequalities in Latin America: Structures and Negotiations” ( Through, the GIGA cooperates with the Freie Universität Berlin, the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik) and the Ibero Amerikanisches Institut, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz.

Applications are invited for a full-time position, with a contract of 18 months, starting on 1 May 2014. If preferred, working hours may be reduced to part-time (75%), prolonging the duration of the contract accordingly. The salary is commensurate with TV-AVH / TVöD EG 13/14 (75-100%). The position is offered conditionally upon receipt of funding.

The successful candidate will:

  • Conduct an empirical research project on the relation between inequalities and citizenship, and the renegotiation of those inequalities by migrants, as expressed through the struggle for political rights in both their countries of residence and their countries of origin;
  • Circulate the research results in the Working Paper series and publish them in high-ranking international peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes;
  • Organize a scholarly workshop on the research topic and an outreach workshop at the GIGA’s Berlin Office to disseminate research results to public stake-holders.

Desired qualifications:

  • Doctorate in a relevant field of the social sciences (political science, sociology, economics, etc.);
  • Excellent research skills;
  • Fluency in English and Spanish

The reconciliation of work and family life is of great importance to the institute. The GIGA promotes gender equality and actively encourages applications from women. Among equally qualified applicants, women will receive preferential consideration in those areas in which they are underrepresented.

Please fill out the GIGA application form (found at and send it with your application (Ref.-No. GIGA-14-03) plus relevant supporting documentation (including names and contact details for up to three references the institute could get in touch with during the selection process, max. two work samples, a max. 5 pp. project proposal, CV, list of publications, and copies of any relevant diplomas and certificates) to:

Stephanie Stövesand, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Neuer Jungfernstieg 21, 20354 Hamburg, Germany
Email: (email applications are particularly welcome).

Screening of applications will begin on 30 March 2014.

For further information on GIGA and, please visit: and

JOB: Senior Researcher, Rule of Law Program (The Hague Institute for Global Justice)

Location: The Hague, the Netherlands

Job purpose: Research and management of projects in the Rule of Law program.

Reporting to: Head of Rule of Law Program

Organizational background:

The Hague Institute for Global Justice is an independent, nonpartisan institution established to undertake high-quality interdisciplinary policy relevant research, training and facilitation activities on issues at the intersection of peace, security and global justice. The Institute uses a combination of internal and external experts to conduct research, implement practical projects, and convene a range of topical workshops, conferences, and seminars that bring together practitioners and scholars. The institute’s research, analysis and programming are of use to the Dutch government, multilateral institutions, and NGOs. The program of The Hague Institute is divided along three thematic focus areas:

1) Conflict Prevention
2) Rule of Law
3) Global Governance.

The Rule of Law Program:

The rule of law is crucial for creating sustainable peace in societies making the difficult transition from war or conflict. Without it, insecurity, corruption, impunity, and criminality undermine stability and democracy and threaten a return to violence and chaos. The Rule of Law program aims to contribute to creating sustainable peace in such contexts by first, engaging in grounded, multidisciplinary, empirical research; and second, fostering dialogue between governments of conflict-affected countries, multilateral and bilateral donors, civil society organizations, academia, and private enterprises. The Hague Institute is well-situated in the international city of peace and justice to bring the expertise of The Hague to the field, while also ensuring that international legal institutions respond to local concerns. The multidirectional links and dynamics that run between local and larger-scale conflicts constitute the central theme for the program’s analysis. By adopting this perspective, the program seeks to effectively promote the rule of law in fragile states to help manage conflicts and mitigate the factors that drive them. The program looks at conflict management and mitigation through the lenses of transitional justice processes; the enforcement of national and international criminal law; enhanced access to justice and legal empowerment, especially for vulnerable groups; and engagement with customary justice systems.

Duties and responsibilities:

  • Conducting policy relevant original research on topics falling within the Rule of Law program and the regional focus areas;
  • Contribution to the development and implementation of the substantive long-term program on Rule of Law;
  • Coordination and management of projects and project staff;
  • Publishing in academic and policy orientated journals and other outlets;
  • Representation of The Hague Institute in public debates and in (inter)national media;
  • Development activities in cooperation with the development office;
  • Setting up and maintaining relevant networks of national and international stakeholders.


  • A PhD or JD in public international law, international relations, political sciences, conflict studies or economics.
  • At least 3 years of work experience in one or more of the following fields: rule of law, governance, peacebuilding, conflict prevention/resolution.
  • Demonstrated affinity with the mission and objectives of The Hague Institute.
  • An entrepreneurial attitude and a demonstrated experience in obtaining funds.
  • The capacity to manage and embrace the opportunities and challenges of an innovative and growing institution in an international environment.
  • Demonstrated experience and affinity with initiating and carrying out international academic/ policy research in the field of Rule of Law.
  • Demonstrated experience in setting up, leading and coordinating interdisciplinary and international projects and research groups.
  • Demonstrated managerial and interpersonal skills, including a track record of successful project management.
  • A track record in building and developing relevant international networks.
  • Knowledge of and experience with international organizations and the international courts and tribunals located in The Hague.
  • Knowledge of the English language (fluent) and of at least one and preferably two other official languages of the UN.
  • Excellent diplomatic and communications skills.

How to apply:

Please send a completed application package consisting of (1) a cover letter and (2) a CV to Please include the words “Senior Researcher Rule of Law” in the subject of your email. Due to the high volume of applications, we will only contact candidates whose applications meet our requirements.

Terms and conditions of employment:

The appointment will be in accordance with Dutch law; The Senior Researcher will be appointed for a period of one year, which, after an evaluation of performance may be extended into a permanent contract. The duties and responsibilities will be laid down in performance agreements. Salary and Terms of Employment are comparable to the salaries and terms of employment of the Dutch universities (

The Hague Institute for Global Justice is an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to sex, race, age, disability, religion, national origin, color or any other protected class.