Applying for university admin jobs


Anyone got any tips for people with PhDs applying to these type of jobs? Anyone currently working in university administration?

I’ve applied for 8 positions so far and got no interviews. The only interview I have had was for copy-editing for a journal, so more academic.

I’ve tried to play down my PhD and not mention it too much in the application, unless it’s directly relevant eg data analysis skills.

I’ve used examples from previous work in the rest of the examples, which are generally quite generic about team work, working independently, project management, people management etc.

What type of jobs should I be aiming for? (Considering I have 8 years previous employment before my PhD in a variety of admin roles including 4 years managerial experience.) I see jobs advertised in the following brackets:

£20-25k – basic admin jobs (I haven’t applied for these)
£25-28k – ‘officer’ jobs – more technical, independent work involved
£28-35k – Managerial jobs
£35-40k – Senior manager jobs (I haven’t applied for these)

Do you think if you have a PhD you less likely to get interviewed for university admin jobs?


Replying to your question, I think yes it does seem as a barrier for admin jobs, which I personally find this really absurd. But I think their viewpoint is that they couldn't afford paying you the salary that comes up to the expectation of a phd holder. I had the experience of a friend of mine with a Master's degree and she her job applications were declined more than once due to the master's degree. Most of them told her, we are afraid we cannot pay you as you might expect.


Yeah I see what you mean, the thing is though, in my case I was earning £25k plus £2-5k annual bonus before starting the PhD, so really I think I should be earning at least that anyway.

I feel like I have so much more to offer than is required for a basic admin role.


You're doing a postdoc at the moment right? If I've remembered that correctly, it would perhaps be worth seeing if you could arrange an informational interview with someone with a PhD on the administration where you are, and ask how they got started and at what level - if that person would be kind enough to look at a sample application that would obviously be useful too.
I think you are targeting a particular geographical area - one issue might be whether there has been a restructuring / redundancies recently. A lot of the admin jobs where I work are going to insiders on redeployment after their existing posts ended. It would be hard for an outsider to match them in terms of experience. If that is the case, maybe getting in at a lower level might be necessary. I wonder as well whether there are some areas where PhDs are more welcome than others - I have two acquaintances who took this path post-PhD and both started in research administration, although they later both moved to other areas.


Out of interest, what is your reason for wanting to apply for university admin jobs? If you would be happy doing that kind of work then you could also widen the net to other organisations e.g. charities/policy organisations where your topic knowledge may be of relevance.

I think you're right to rule out the top and bottom grades. Regarding the second top, you would probably need to prove you had some kind of supervisory/managerial experience or at least training to get those. By all means play down the highly technical bits of your PhD, but do play up stuff that might show a convincing narrative of why you are applying for this job (e.g. "When I organised my department's journal club I discovered how much I enjoyed co-ordinating events...." etc)


Thanks Bewildered, an informational interview is a good idea, I will look into that. I haven't heard of any redundancies in the places I am applying to, but I will be checking on who gets the jobs I have applied for so that I can see whether they are going to internal staff, or if external, how I compare.with the people that got the job.

HazyJane, I guess I like universities at the moment because they feel familiar, plus I like the holidays and the benefits they give, which I know can be hit and miss with other companies.

I would be interested in working in a policy role, yes, I'm looking for those type of jobs too.


Quote From TreeofLife:

Do you think if you have a PhD you less likely to get interviewed for university admin jobs?

I think so, but nowadays that is true for almost all jobs :D

They don't like to hire people that are overqualified for a job. Mostly because people leave as soon as something better comes up and see that job rather temporarily. You probably don't want to be a basic admin for the rest of your life, while others might be fine with that and don't even try to climb up the career ladder. Generally your experience in the exact field should be an advantage. On the other hand, the fact that you left admin/managment related jobs to do the PhD and the Post Doc might give the impression that this is not what you initially wanted but rather something you do out of a lack of opportunities. They easily put you in that Failed-Scientist-Drawer. It depends how you "sell" this change from admin to research to admin.


like bewildered i have seen admin roles going to insiders. two people i know got admin roles directly after their phd, sort of via whom you know, influential supervisor and so on, i think something between your first and second tier of jobs. they are overqualified and it does look indeed like the failed-scientist-drawer and it is clear to everyone they only do those jobs due to lack of alternatives/other good jobs. in the office they are resented bc it feels to the 'normal' admins that they steal the jobs from 'normal' people. well it's a problem we can't do anything about it.
from my experience it might be easier to get into a policy role. i had one like those at a previous uni and it always was regarded as an asset and maybe the policy direction makes it also easier to avoid the failed-scientist-drawer....and your previous experience would strengthen this, you already did the admin stuff and now you want to do something else...
anyway it's not easy at all, good luck....


Quote From Dunham:
They easily put you in that Failed-Scientist-Drawer.

Actually, I'm in the 'there are no suitable research jobs within a 1.5 hour one-way commute but I still need to pay the mortgage drawer'.

It probably does look like I'm just applying for them because I've no choice but it's really hard for it to not look like that.

Oh well, I will just keep applying, and if I don't find a job in the next few months I will just leave and go on benefits for a while...


I think everyone is put in the Failed-Scientist-Drawer that applies for non-research jobs after a PhD...inevitable. You can try to explain the shift and some explanations are better than others but in most cases they probably don't buy your explanation of how you discovered area xy during your PhD. Maybe the motives doesn't even matter that much. We are all humans and know that you somehow have to pay the bills.
You have absolutely no possibility to move somewhere else in England? Anyway, hope you are not giving up ;)


Quote From Dunham:

You have absolutely no possibility to move somewhere else in England?

Nope. I have weighed up my priorities and family comes first over everything else.

I won't give up. I've got nothing to lose but my time spent writing applications.


TreeofLife, I think I will probably be in a similar position to you when I finish my PhD. I am also bound to a certain area due to family, but I'm also looking for something part-time and flexible, which makes it even harder, maybe even impossible! I haven't really had a look at jobs yet, but I'm really hoping it wont be too difficult to get something. My plan is to either get an admin job or get a research assistant post (so there's less/no pressure of publication and applying for funding).

Good luck with your search! Please keep us updated on how it goes.


Thank you Hugh, I will.

I've still got two jobs I haven't heard back from yet and three more to apply for over the next two weeks, so fingers crossed!

I hope you find something when you start looking as well!

Avatar for Eska

You could try temping. Recent experience is always valuable.

I rang my local university's HR department and asked which agency supplies them and then signed up. ThevPhD background helped because it meant I understood the working environment and proecesses. I've worked in four different areas of the same University over a number of years. Just one of the ways I supported myself through part-time PhD'ing. It's fine, you get a good idea of what places are like to work for this way, and how they recruit. Mostly people are taken on from the inside. Temps, people on short term contracts, secondments and people making sideways or upward moves within the university. I think it would be really hard to get a job cold as an outsider.

This suits me now, keeps the pennies rolling in and I'm learning about a side of universities I hadn't seen before. But I'm determined to get a lecturing post - no family ties. Am going to send CV out for associate lecturing soon too eeeeeek need to get back into teaching again.

I found colleagues really nice about the PhD. Some of them really understand the trials of it. Most people take you on face value, if they're half decent.


I will have a look into the temping side of things.

I have also seen a generic admin advertisement at my old uni, where it looks like it is recruiting for a bunch of different roles because it doesn't give a specific department and says that there are three rounds of selection (application form, online test, interview) so this different from the other things I have seen. I will have a go at applying for that I think.