University of Cambridge (Professional Services)

University of Cambridge logoThe University of Cambridge has over 11,000 staff, 31 Colleges and 150 Departments, Faculties, Schools and other institutions. There is a central senior administrative team, responsible for the management of the University. Academic, research and support staff work throughout the University and Colleges; they are crucial to the University’s success and reputation. The mission of the University is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

Is there a different entry point for professional services employees with a postgraduate degree? 

No. Candidates with postgraduate degrees can compete with other candidates for any advertised posts. They would also be eligible for the graduate trainee scheme, but that is principally for recent graduates from a first degree.

What are the benefits to you in hiring professional services employees with a Masters or PhD?

We principally favour candidates who can demonstrate intellectual acuity, skills in research techniques, and those with cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence. It may be the case that candidates with higher degrees will be able to demonstrate these attributes from their experiences.

Do you encounter any challenges with employees with a Masters or PhD?

No, except that the best, we hope, will rapidly be pressing for advancement and work that stretches them.

What skills, knowledge and expertise do you look for in applicants with a Masters or PhD? 

If the Masters degree is in a specific skill or vocational subject, then we would want to understand what the applicants have learnt and how they would apply that skill to our work. If the Masters degree is less skill-based and more an entry point to an academic career (e.g. an MRes that might lead to a PhD), then we would be looking for the development of critical thinking skills, research skills, and analytical skills in particular.

From a PhD, we would want to test similar skills and abilities but at a higher level. We would also expect higher skills in communication, both oral and written and being able to test that by, for example, asking a candidate to explain the importance (and relevance) of their subject and research to a non-specialist.

The key is that the additional knowledge and skills derived from the postgraduate degree is married with the softer skills so that the employee can communicate and bridge between their specialism, the wider community, and colleagues in other professional service areas. Major initiatives and developments require multi-disciplinary teams and being able to contribute in that environment, while bringing the insight and reassurance of expertise to the team.

One of the advantages for candidates with higher degrees who can demonstrate these skills is that they can inhabit and be empathetic to the world of academic colleagues in a highly research-intensive environment. This helps the creation of a common culture and mutual understanding.

Thinking about the direction your organisation is heading in and changes in the wider sector, how do you envisage your hiring strategy changing in the next 10 years?  What skills, knowledge and expertise will you be looking for in new employees/postgraduates? 

The hiring strategy is likely to be bi-modal. On the one hand, we will increasingly be seeking senior professionals with commercial or wider public sector experience and knowledge to lead specialist areas where deep insight and technical skills are key (this already happens in for example investment, financial strategy, commercial property development, information systems). The test for such hires is their ability to understand the environment in which they will be working, their resilience to different governance arrangements which are more inclusive and contested, and their subscription to the values and purpose of the University.

The other mode will continue to emphasise the softer skills referred to earlier but also seek to test for genuine entrepreneurial and creative ability in a world where information is commonly shared but how it is used and interpreted for advantage will be at a premium. Universities will continue to need people who exhibit:

  • Complex problem solving ability
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Team-working
  • People management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Judgement and decision-making
  • Service orientation
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Negotiation skills
  • Values-led commitment


Thank you to Dr Jonathan Nicholls, previous Registrary for this case study.


Professional Services