Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Successful Pilot Project targeted at career development for PhDs

Six PhD candidates from the Institute for History took part in a pilot project targeted at career development. Between September and December 2016 group meetings and individual coaching sessions helped them position themselves better on the job market outside of academia.

Many PhD candidates defend their dissertations successfully every year, but not all of them can or want to continue working in academia. The majority of graduates eventually finds employment on the regular job market. The Institute for History selected six motivated PhD candidates for a pilot project that offered  them tools to better understand the labour market and improve their employability outside of academia. In a series of meetings the group set a goal to identify their talents, skills and ambitions and they received insights in their personal preferences concerning a future job. The grand finale was a pitch in front of three HR professionals.


PhDs discuss skills with former Leiden PhD candidate

Personalities and skills

The three group sessions that took place between September and December were led by trainer/coach Hugo Suidman. In the first session, the personalities and values of the participants were discussed in order to gain better understanding in the kind of careers that would fit them. They learned how important it is to find an organization of which the culture fits your preferences and personality type. During the afternoon session, specific skills developed during the PhD trajectories of the participants were formulated, with which each candidate’s CV could be improved. Former Leiden PhDs later talked about their careers outside academia. After the first day, candidates were able to present a better image of themselves, not as students but as professionals with valuable assets for the job market.

Visiting future employers

A discussion at the Ministry of Justice

The second meeting took place in The Hague, where the participants visited several organizations to get a first impression of the kind of work environments they could find employment in. NWO, TNO, KPN and the Ministry of Justice all warmly welcomed the group and offered extensive company presentations and Q&A sessions, providing tips and tricks, and do’s and don’ts when applying to their organization. With what they had learned during the first session, participants could ask critical questions to assess whether the organization would possibly fit their profile. This led to interesting and unexpected reflections.

The final pitch

During the last session all participants were asked to work on their personal narrative, based on what they had learned about themselves, their skills and the job market in the months before. Focusing on personality and talents, everyone presented a short pitch to the group trainer and three HR professionals who had been invited to evaluate their work. The final session came to a close with valuable feedback on the participants’ pitches and advice on the steps to take next.

Sharing connections and advice

Individual coaching

In between the group meetings, individual coaching was offered by Sofieke Suidman to dig deeper into motivations and aspirations, and to help with tough (personal) assignments, like networking with a stranger whose job you want to know more about. The coaching sessions were individually designed to meet the needs of each of the participants. Further feedback was provided by HR professionals that critically assessed each candidate’s CV.


The pilot project became a great success. All participants expressed their excitement about and the usefulness of the training. One of the candidates said that the project gave her ‘the courage and confidence to approach the labour market from a different perspective: what do I want from the labour market, instead of what the labour market wants from me. And what can I contribute to the labour market instead of what does the labour market has to offer me?’ Another participant emphasized that by offering the training, the Institute had taken the future career of their PhD candidates seriously and by doing so, created a positive and forward thinking work atmosphere. In conclusion, the group believes that not only PhD candidates connected to the Institute for History but also faculty graduates from other institutes could greatly benefit from this training. The group recommends the pilot project to be developed into a permanent job market course.

(Report by: Inge Ligtvoet, Kaarle Wirta and Prof. Cátia Antunes)




This website uses cookies.  More information.