Preparing for a Non-Faculty Career – Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of L. Maren Wood’s seven tips for transitioning to a non-academic career. Maren is a keynote speaker at this year’s conference and the founder of the Lilli Research Group.

This article originally appeared on the Chronicle of Higher Education.

4. Don’t rely on job advertisements to find your new position.Learning about academic jobs in your field is fairly straightforward. There are only a handful of faculty job boards. But where do you look for nonacademic jobs?

That depends on what you want to find: Industry jobs are listed on company websites; nonprofits post to The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Indeed; jobs in the federal government appear on its official jobs site, USAJobs; The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae lists academic and nonacademic jobs from various employers; while other organizations advertise only in local newspapers.

It can be overwhelming and confusing to figure out where to begin looking.

The truth is, you shouldn’t be looking just at job boards anyway, unless your purpose is simply to learn about employers in a field or about potential career paths. Richard N. Bolles, author of the best seller What Color Is Your Parachute?, estimates that about 70 percent of jobs are never posted anywhere. Most people, he writes, find their jobs through a network of friends, families, co-workers, and associates.

In other words, if your job-hunting strategy is limited to reading position advertisements and submitting your résumé, that might explain the lack of responses, dearth of interviews, and continued unemployment. Your success in your post-academic ventures depends on your ability to connect with people and build relationships.

5. Networking.It’s your ticket to a new career. You probably have more people in your network than you realize. In the boot camp I run, I ask participants to write a “broadcast email” about their job quest and send it to every person they know. The email should include information about what you’ve been doing (completing your Ph.D., teaching as a contingent faculty member), and describe opportunities you hope to explore. It should be somewhat specific (you’d like to work for a nonprofit or an NGO with a focus on poverty), so that people can forward your message to anyone they know working in that field. Ideally you should include a résumé.

Alumni networks are also key to a successful search. Ask your department administrator or someone at the campus alumni office for a list of people who graduated from your institution in the past 10 years. Look up those people on LinkedIn. The best sources of advice for Ph.D.’s moving from academic to nonacademic work are people who have made the transition themselves. Alumni are easy contacts to make because you share something in common and they are sympathetic to your plight. They’ve been there.

Informational interviews are also important tools in finding openings and connecting to potential employers. You can arrange interviews with people you know or with total strangers. An informational interview is an opportunity for you, the job seeker, to learn about a new career path, about an organization or a company, and about potential employment opportunities. You may have to do 10 informational interviews, or 300, before you land your first real job interview, but in this economy, that is the way it works.

Everyone understands that networking is how people find jobs, and no one will be offended by your request for an informational interview, provided you follow proper etiquette. You will be amazed at how often someone will recommend you for an opportunity or introduce you to new people.

6. Explore alternative career options.It’s critical to explore career paths beyond academe while you are still in graduate school. Doctoral students who don’t do that are exposed to a narrow range of options. Applying for an internship at a nonprofit group or company can help you understand how to use your research and teaching skills in different ways. You may also find that you enjoy that work far more than teaching. Consider applying for a paid internship off campus instead of picking up an adjunct course. You need only so much teaching experience for your academic job applications, so one or two semesters working off campus won’t harm your chances at a tenure-track job.

For those who can’t work off campus for financial or legal reasons (graduate students in the sciences, international students), consider volunteering. Every organization needs volunteers. Match your volunteer interests with your academic areas of specialization: health care, ecology, environment, women’s reproductive rights, etc. That will allow you to build networks outside of academe, add to your skill set, and gain relevant work experience.

7. Take the long view.Even if you were lucky enough to find a tenure-track job immediately after graduation, you would spend five to seven years before you earned tenure. Take a similar “long view” of your post-academic career track. You may have to start working at a small organization, in an entry-level position, with the goal of moving up. Creating a five- or seven-year plan can help take the anxiety out of landing your first position.

At this point, you just need to get started. Say yes to any opportunity that moves you in the right direction. Remember, you don’t have to work in any particular field or for the same employer for life. It is not uncommon for people in the nonacademic world to change jobs every few years or to have more than one major career change. Don’t worry about what you want to do with the rest of your life; just worry about what you’re going to do this year, and consider it a steppingstone toward your ideal position.