How to Start Your Non-Academic Job Search

Tuesday, 06 March 2012 20:53

A dear friend of mine – who also has a PhD – has begun thinking through her next career transition. Towards the end of her degree, she did what many people do: started a family. While she has been working in a research support position at a university for the past few years, she confided to me recently that she is interested in finding other employment. Naturally, her first thoughts have turned to applying for professorships as she is still very much interested in researching and teaching in some capacity. Of course, give the difficulties of the academic job market, this has created a certain amount of stress.

I proposed to her that she might satisfy her desire to engage with those academic job skills in other forums. Her response, like so many other Humanities PhDs coming out of the broken system, was: “But I don’t know what else is out there.” I told her that I would put together some advice, so she can start exploring the many career options – as a sole proprietor or as a member of an already established business – that are available to smart, creative, and hardworking people like ourselves. I realized while composing the email to her that this would make a useful blog post for those PhDs, who, like my friend, have been out of grad school for a few years, are raising children, working unsatisfying jobs, and are now wondering where their degrees can take them.

Identify Your Work Interests

First off, identify what is that you want to do. What is it that you miss about being in academia? Equally important, think through all of the things that frustrated you about being in academia too. Resist the temptation to nostalgize your experience of higher education. Be specific in your answers. For example, if you say that you miss teaching, do you mean that you miss lecturing or is it that you miss working one-on-one with a student? By clearly defining the elements of work that you are interested in pursuing further, the easier it will be to figure out what kind of job position will fulfill your aspirations.

Create Your Dream Job Title

Second, come up with your ideal job title. If you are stuck for ideas, I recommend joining a business networking site like LinkedIn and perusing the job titles that people use there. Many professionals allow anyone to view their page, so you can also get a good idea of their past work experience and education. Don’t worry if your own history differs – part of the transition process from academia to the wider-world of work is learning to how to translate your existing skills into language that the business community will understand. The point of this exercise is to expose you to the possibilities of work that exist for you. Dare to dream big – remember, you are more than researching and writing!

Start Networking

Networking is fairly key to landing yourself a new position or establishing yourself in the market (if you choose to go the sole proprietor route). Get on social media. Use LinkedIn (it’s free and easy). Twitter is particularly useful for making quick and painless contacts with people in the field you want to work in (and they often will post links to articles about their professional community). Set up “informational interviews” at businesses that you want to learn more about – sometimes an informational interview can even lead to a job, but its practical benefit is getting you out of the house and connecting with an established professional to whom you can ask questions. Also, learn what networking events are going on in your city and attend them. Most large communities have innovation centres that assist entrepreneurs get their businesses going – approach them for resources and contacts. Get some business cards - they don’t need to be fancy, just make sure your contact information is on them (and that job title your after, i.e. if you want to be an copy writer, put “copy writer” or “freelance copy writer” on your card).

Take Risks and Believe in Yourself

For most people, transitioning into a new job is scary. For those who have been in academia for most of their adult life, it can be difficult to picture yourself doing other kinds of work. But it is totally possible. Talk to people. Be straightforward about your career aspirations. Reach out to old contacts and ask for references and referrals. Speak positively about yourself and recognize the small successes (from making a new networking contact to landing your first client or interview). Remember that there is no one way to a career – many people take different paths to end up in the same place. If you can survive the PhD process, you can survive (and succeed in) the job search!

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