Guilty as charged: why career decision-making makes you the prime suspect

In this blog post Dr. Holly Prescott, our PGR Careers Adviser, talks about how to put yourself in a position where a great career can find you…

After six long months of trying to kid myself that I could make my own entertainment, I bit the bullet and bought a TV for my new flat. After a barrage of suggestions as to what I should spend my weekends ‘binge-watching,’ Dexter left me underwhelmed, whilst Doctor Foster Series 2 was five hours of my life I wanted back. Perhaps this whole telly box thing wasn’t for me after all.

That was until I tried BBC police drama Line of Duty. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, the series follows AC-12, an anti-corruption police unit whose mission is to sniff out and bring to justice corrupt officers within the force.  Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott is a diminutive cockney detective-genius with a superlative ability to maintain a single facial expression for five entire series. Detective Constable Kate Fleming makes working undercover look as easy and seamless as riding a bike… if you’re Bradley Wiggins.

As I was engrossed in an episode in series two, Steve and Kate outlined the three criteria that a suspect must fulfil to be convicted of a crime:

  • Motive: a reason/ motivation to commit the crime
  • Means: the ability and tools necessary to commit the crime
  • Opportunity: adequate chance(s) to commit the crime

This was when my chronic inability to switch off from work kicked in. When considering career options, are these not also the very three things we need to establish before ruling a potential career area ‘in’ or ‘out?’ Consult exhibit A from the evidence:

  • Motive: reasons that motivate you towards that option, including your interests, values and so-on (the work ‘ticks your boxes’)
  • Means: the right credentials, qualifications and skills for the job, plus techniques to effectively sell yourself to relevant employers
  • Opportunity: access to jobs/ openings in that career area

If the evidence adds up and you have all three, chances are that’s a realistic opportunity for you. If one aspect is currently missing, you can assess where your gaps are that you need to address before presenting yourself as a prime suspect (or, should we say, candidate):

  • Motive: if this is missing, why are you going for this job in the first place? Perhaps it’s an interim role, or you need a job to earn whilst you explore your options: either way, you will be expected to communicate to employers why you want the job and why you want to work for them
  • Means: Perhaps you’re unsure if you have the skills and experience required for the job. Can you tease out relevant skills from your PhD experiences, and show the employer how these skills would make you effective in this particular role? Or… might you need a bit of additional experience or training first? If so, how can you access this?
  • Opportunity: If there aren’t opportunities out there, perhaps this option isn’t faring too well in the current labour market. Or… are you just struggling with where to look for the right kind of jobs? Or do you need to expand your network to meet more people ‘in-the-know’ about your chosen field(s)?

Pushing the metaphor even further, some crimes are premeditated and planned, whilst others are opportunistic – exploiting and capitalising on chance events or circumstances. Again, it’s the same with careers: yes, you can assess your options systematically and set goals, but it’s also fine to keep your options open, continue to develop your ‘means’ (skills) and put yourself in circumstances and situations where opportunities are more likely to find you.

So, to avoid committing any career-planning crimes, think motive, means and opportunity. DS Arnott would be proud.
Check out UGS’s career resources for PGRs on the web at or contact PGR Careers Adviser Dr Holly Prescott on


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