Saturday, August 23, 2008

Words of Wisdom...

I have had a couple of requests through comments on here and through email asking for advice about finding a non-academic job (both in general or specifically with a Psychology PhD). Here are some thoughts I've had brewing, they're sort of in an organized fashion but forgive me if it feels a bit like I jump around.

First, it's important to keep in mind that I was specifically looking for research positions, there are lots of other jobs out there for PhD's but I've always known that even if I did not go into academia that I would do research.
  1. I will readily admit that I think one reason I was lucky enough to land my job was that I live in a city busting with research opportunities. If you live in (or want to live in) a small town in the middle of nowhere, be prepared to have very few options.
  2. There were 3 non-academic jobs that showed specific interest in me, one of them is my current position with a non-profit doing program evaluation research. The other two were research organizations affiliated with universities thus, one piece of advice I have is not to rule out looking at Universities for relevant positions.
  3. I applied for another 20 or so non-academic jobs that I was either rejected from right off the bat or never heard from so I can't say whether they were at all interested or not but I can say just like the academic market it's a numbers game so the more apps you can put out there and the more flexible you can be the better off you will be.
  4. The CV I used for non-academic jobs (because I was applying for research positions) was not all that different from my academic CV. I made sure my research experience was highlighted and moved my teaching stuff to later in my CV (but let me touch on this later).
  5. If you need letters of recommendation, stay on your letter writers. The non-academic world is much less forgiving of missing deadlines. They don't give a shit that your advisor was working on a grant or writing a paper and forgot, if you stuff isn't in your application you miss out.
  6. I always sent my letter writers the job ad and the cover letter I wrote for any non-academic job and pointed out to them things they should include in their letters. You have to be careful how you do this so you don't piss them off, but my letter writers really appreciated this. They wanted to know how to help me and having only applied for academic jobs themselves, they needed me to show them the way.
  7. I primarily looked for jobs on nationwide job search engines, careerbuilder(dot) com and monster(dot) com. I searched for a pretty inclusive list of keywords (which I'm leaving out for some anonymity reasons), which gave me a lot of stuff I preferred weeding stuff out than having only a few jobs in my search.
  8. I checked the job search engines everyday and applied for any new jobs that came up ASAP (most of them do not have deadlines/closing dates). I also searched on the career pages of APA and APS, and the chronicle of higher education. Finally, I looked on the career pages of local research universities and hospitals.
  9. Try to think creatively about the skills you've acquired along the way. The things that make you a good graduate student, post doc or professor can also make you a success in other areas.
  10. I also want to point out that it took me pain staking hours to come up with a cover letter format that sold myself appropriately. People who I've showed my materials to all say how impressed they are because it looks easy, but it's not so don't be discouraged if it takes you a long time to write these things. It's not any easier for non-academic jobs, and I actually found it harder.
Finally, keep in mind that all of this is based on my own personal experiences. I do not know many non-academic PhDs so take this advice for what it's worth based on the N = 1.

This is my rather general list of advice. I will have future posts (as soon as I have some time) on selling your graduate student skills in the non-academic world, how to use your teaching experience to sell yourself, and finally some advice for what you can do while still in graduate school to make yourself more attractive in the non-academic world.


jess said...

Thanks for this post! This is very helpful advice.

thenextfish said...

Your line about academics being more flexible on letter deadlines had me laughing. It really is odd how flexible deadlines become. I've got an academic interview lined up the other side of the world at the end of the month and another potential one in the works so things are looking up.