Application Tips for Doctoral Students

Are you in the middle of your doctoral studies or about to complete your doctorate and are looking for a career outside the scientific field? As a scientist*, there are a few points you should consider if you want to present yourself and your application in the best possible way.

Applying in science vs. applying in business - the focus makes the difference

Career paths in and outside science can differ significantly depending on the position and field of work. Tasks outside science may also require different skills than those you need for your research.

While an application in a scientific field requires, in addition to your specialist knowledge, e.g. scientific success (including the number of scientific publications), experience in teaching or functions in the scientific community, an application outside the scientific field should highlight the skills relevant to the company and adapted to the industry and of course the desired position. 

In general, when applying for positions in the business world, the focus should be on those aspects of your personal career that demonstrate that you are able to act professionally in a different, non-scientific environment. In addition to specialist knowledge, important skills for a career in business include application orientation, project management experience, implementation of skills, communication skills, market orientation, teamwork, entrepreneurial thinking and leadership skills. 

Application Documents

The same principles apply to doctoral candidates as to students or graduates for application documents (e.g. cover letter, curriculum vitae). In order to present the personal career path as interesting as possible for business enterprises, the KIT Career Service recommends to consider some special features when preparing the documents.

The curriculum vitae forms the core of an application. Recruiting managers usually check it first and an initial assessment is made on this basis.

With regard to the structure of a CV, there is no fixed standard in Germany. The following outline points can help to structure your career path in a logical way:

The structure is similar as for the career path of applicants without a doctorate

The following outline points are useful additions to the curriculum vitae of doctoral students:

Work experience

Doctoral students should refer to their tasks and responsibilities during their doctorate as "professional experience" in order to be recognized at a glance as a professionally experienced applicant. This is particularly important in order to highlight practical experience relevant to the job description.

For example, the following points can be mentioned here:

  • Scientific activities during the doctorate
  • Project work / project management experience
  • Research Collaborations
  • Management responsibility
  • Budget responsibility 


Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Applied Materials, Karlsruhe

Research assistant

  • Development of materials for XYZ
  • Project manager "XYZ" in cooperation with Example AG
  • Budget responsibilities
  • Coordination of the project team members
  • Personnel responsibility: Supervision of master students
  • Close cooperation with industrial partners 

At this point, the title of the thesis or the doctoral topic and, if possible, the final grade and the supervising person are mentioned.


Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Applied Materials, Karlsruhe

Doctorate on the topic "ABCDEFG

Grade: Magna cum laude

  • Modelling and optimization of materials
  • Participation in and presentations at international conferences

Alternatively, you can also combine the points "Doctorate" and "Study" under the point "Education". 

(Selected) Publications

The mentioning of selected publications is optional - unlike in science- when applying for a position in business. The extent to which publications are presented depends on the type of position you are applying for. In general, the closer the position you are applying for is to basic research, the more important it is to specify publications. Especially when applying for a position in a research department, the specification of (relevant) publications is expressly desired. In most cases, the staff members of these departments have a doctorate themselves and can assess the relevance of publications very well.

You can name a maximum of 3-4 publications directly in your CV. If you have other relevant publications, it makes sense to present them in a separate document (e.g. with the title "Publications"). Again, it is important to mention only a selection of relevant or interesting publications - an excessively long list of all publications in irrelevant papers is a no-go.

The selection of publications should be based on the criterion of professional relevance or the relation of the topic to the desired position. Publications that may be of limited professional relevance, but have been published in renowned journals, can also be listed. 


References are optional when applying for a job in the business world, but can be a real advantage there too, especially your reference person is known in the company. They are usually expected for applications abroad and for a careers in science.

The reference itself can be made in various ways:

  • Provide the contact details of the person giving the reference, if he/she has agreed to this procedure
  • Name, title etc. & "on request" or
  • Name, title, etc. & include a letter of recommendation (comparable to a certificate) 

Who can be a reference person? For example:

  • Former supervisor
  • Supervisor of the doctoral thesis
  • Cooperation partners

Important: Make sure you clarify in advance whether the person is willing to give a reference about you.
Sample CVs for doctoral students and post-docs can be found here.

When writing an interesting cover letter, doctoral students can use the general tips on the topic of cover letters.

The aim of the cover letter is to show that your personal profile fits the profile of the position perfectly.  Before you write a cover letter, you should therefore analyse the job description and work out which professional, personal and social skills are required. Then look for concrete examples from your personal career to prove the competences listed in the job description.

It is important to consider which aspects of your personal career are relevant to the position. Doctoral students should not only consider the academic topic but also their overall tasks.

Examples from your personal career can be helpful in proving that you are able to act competently in a different, non-scientific environment. Important skills for a career in business are, in addition to technical knowledge, for example application orientation, project management experience, implementation skills, communication skills, market orientation, teamwork, entrepreneurial thinking and leadership skills. Pay close attention to which of the points mentioned are relevant for the job and are listed in the job description. When describing the technical knowledge, you should also check in each case which technical depth is appropriate in the cover letter.

The aim of the letter is to demonstrate suitability for the position in a brief and clear way. The cover letter should therefore not be a simple repetition of the CV. The basic message of the Cover Letter is essentially that you have understood the desired profile and that your knowledge and skills, as demonstrated by concrete examples, correspond exactly to this profile.

A sample cover letter for doctoral candidates and post-docs can be found here.

The Karlsruhe House of Young Scientists offers further services and advice for doctoral students and post-docs.