Dr Valerie Caines

Valerie Caines

Photo credit: Arran Will

Valerie is the Founder of Third Act Consulting and Managing Director at Cognitrix HR Consulting. Valerie is highly sought-after as a consultant, advising government departments and corporate clients on strategic human resources-management and change-management issues. She has also served in a range of senior leadership roles across Australia in professional services, fast-moving consumer goods, and defence organisations.


What is the demand of PhD/MPhil graduates in your industry and field?

For a career as an academic, a PhD is essential. In the corporate world (in Australia) there is less recognition of what someone with a PhD can bring to a business. However, in fields like consulting and policy development, a PhD is becoming more common and sought after.

What skills you developed during your PhD/MPhil time are particularly important for a successful industry career?

  • Attention to detail
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Statistical analysis and interpretation
  • High level written communication skills
  • Ability to research problems

What are your tips for a successful private sector application and interview?

The challenge for an applicant with a PhD and limited work experience outside of academia is to translate the skills and knowledge they have to the business context. To successfully achieve this, I recommend applicants think about skills and behaviours rather than the context. For example, a PhD, is really a 3- or 6-year project. Think about the skills and behaviours you have developed for managing that project. You can also think about challenges you faced managing the project and how you overcame them. Also, think about the relationships you needed to manage, the most critical one being with your PhD supervisor. This relationship is like the relationship you will have with a manager. How did you manage this? Through this lens you have a lot more to talk about that is directly transferable to the workplace.

Almost all selection processes will utilise the behavioural approach. It is important to practice using the STAR (situation, task, action, results) approach to answering a behavioural question or responding to selection criteria. You can anticipate behavioural questions you will encounter by carefully analysing the position description for the role. It is important to focus on depth rather than breadth when approaching these interview questions.

It is also important to think about the audience when answering interview questions. I recommend communicating ideas using professional business language. Remember, you are not trying to prove how smart you are but how you can use your smarts to help them solve practical, complex business problems.

Click here to read more about Valerie's career story.