Posts Tagged ‘non-academic job search’


Career Change – Your Next Project

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Reflection

Does the phrase “career change” terrify you? Do you think “former academic” is a special kind of slur? Does the idea of the non-academic job search make you want to hide under your bed?

If you’re at the point where you want to make a non-academic contingency plan, or you think you’re ready to admit that academia isn’t the life for you, you don’t need to plunge in to the depths of managing your career change all at once. You just need to understand the nature of what you’re taking on. As it turns out, academics are actually uniquely well-positioned to embark on the process of a career change because so much of what’s involved is about creating and executing a research plan. That’s right, smartypants career changer — you’ve just stumbled upon your next research project.

Like any other project, it’s good to get a sense of what needs to be done before you dive in. So here is a list of 10 components to check off on your project plan as you go about doing your research.

  1. Begin with basic research. The first thing to do is a preliminary assessment of the existing material in the field of non-academic career change. Lucky for you, the small amount of info that’s out there is slowly growing. There are the books you can buy (starting with Basalla and Debelius’ So What Are You Going to Do With That?). But the bulk of the advice and insight can be found online: Alexandra Lord’s Beyond Academe, Paula Chambers’ WRK4US listserv, Julie Clarenbach’s Escape the Ivory Tower are three great places to start. And of course, there’s the Leaving Academia column I write here, plus my blog (where you’ll find links to a social networking site).
  2. Expand your research to human subjects. In other words, sniff out former academics for advice, encouragement and potential contacts. You can use alumni databases to find out where graduates of your university have gone, and of course, you should be using the requisite social media platforms. But the best way of finding academic expats is word of mouth. As I’ve said many times, once you start looking for former academics, you can’t go to a single social gathering without finding five of them. Ask them about their experiences. Find out how they made their way into their next career. Ask them if they know anyone you can talk to.
  3. Start thinking about what you can offer the world beyond your disciplinary boundaries. This, to me, is a critical, critical step. Many academics I’ve talked to get hung up on the question, “But what kind of job can a Ph.D. in [insert your discipline here] get?” Don’t limit your imagination to jobs that seem to spring directly from your disciplinary background (oh, you’re a poli sci Ph.D.? Get a government job! You’ve got an English degree? Go into book publishing!). God forbid Rachel Maddow would have chained herself to a desk job inside the State Department, or that David Duchovny would have restricted himself to being an adjunct English lit professor for the rest of his life. Instead, do what they did: get clear on what your skills are (then see #4 on following your passion). Your path into the non-academic world will likely not be through what you know but what you can do: planning, organizing, writing, research, presenting, liaising, chairing a meeting/committee, translating complex ideas into simple ones, organizing a presentation or conference, etc. Spend lots of time — like, lots of time — figuring out what your skills are. Don’t know how to do that? Start with Google and go from there.
  4. Reflect on what your beliefs and interests are and what you’re really passionate about, then focus on your key research problem. Focus in on the area where you want to conduct your career search the way you set out the parameters of your research. One way of doing this is to zoom in on what you care about most. The former academics I’ve talked to who are happiest are the ones who found work that aligned most with their values, even if it had little to do (on the surface) with their area of research.
  5. Identify the obstacles the way you identify gaps in the literature, and then develop strategies to deal. OK, so you’ve figured out that you really want to, for example, turn your gardening hobby into your main gig. Let’s say you want to open a flower shop. You’ve got the planning skills, the knowledge about plants and you worked at Wal-Mart for a few years during your B.A. But are you lacking basic bookkeeping skills? Take a night course. Volunteer for an organization that needs office help. Ask a local florist if you can job shadow him or her for a day.
  6. Plunge in. After that period of reflection and rumination, the point comes when the fingers hit the keyboard and the feet hit the pavement. Attack the execution of your research with the zeal you attack your scholarly hypotheses. The tricks you used to get your dissertation written can be the same you use here — time management, balance, knowing when you feel most capable to tackle a big problem, etc.
  7. Crank up your networking machine. This aspect of your career research never, ever stops. Find out ways you can help others. Talk to anyone and everyone you know who has an interesting job and find out how they got into that line of work. Get a volunteer job for an organization or cause you really believe in and make yourself useful. Make a spreadsheet of your contacts and incorporate this into your research. Keep being open to meeting new people and developing new relationships.
  8. Know that there is going to be a lot of healing and grieving to be done. There is a lot about career change that is fun and exciting, but making the decision to leave academia is not just about switching jobs. It’s about shedding an entire identity that you built up over years or decades. You can’t move out of that situation without feeling some amount of loss. It’s like a breakup: you know that you don’t want to stay in a relationship with that person, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to go through a period of mourning.
  9. Consider enlisting the help of some professionals — a life coach, career coach, psychotherapist or counselor. I’m going to plug my friend and colleague Jamie Ridler because she is amazing at helping people from all over the world open their eyes to new paths their lives can take (plus she’s a former academic, to boot, so she’s a coach who knows where you’re coming from). You could also hire a résumé coach or other professionals who can help you with identifying your skills and crafting your résumé.
  10. Rinse and repeat. And, like with your research, celebrate a job well done.

5 Networking Strategies

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Reflection

Networking is a word that can strike fear in the heart of even the mightiest wanna-be academic ex-pat. It’s something you know you’re supposed to do, but aren’t sure how to do it. You’ve heard it’s not the sleazy activity that the word connotes anymore, but you still haven’t got the faintest clue where to start. Not only that, you might feel especially behind the 8-ball if you’re one of those academics who claims not to know anyone outside of academia. How can you network your way into a non-academic position if the only people you know are other academics?

I’ve got five straightforward steps you can use to start plugging in to non-academic jobs (including that whole “hidden job market” hoo-ha) today. Think of them in a pyramid formation — steps that you take moving from the bottom of the pyramid to the top.

1. Tune in to your existing contacts. The best place to start with networking is not by signing up for an impersonal networking event or by starting a cold calling campaign. It’s by reaching out to the people you already know. These people form the base of your networking pyramid.

Here’s an exercise that will appeal to the truly Type-A among you (and will begin to appease those who insist they don’t know anyone who works outside an academic institution): take out a piece of paper, an Excel spreadsheet or a contact management tool like Plaxo. Make a list of every person you know. Yes, every person you know is a contact. I’m talking family, friends, former profs, former co-workers, your massage therapist, online friends, Facebook buddies, staff at the gym, people you play sports or Scrabble with, the concierge of your building, your department’s administrator, that cutie-pie librarian, the director of the cat shelter where you used to volunteer, the health food store clerk you chat with every Saturday morning, and so forth (there — you still think you don’t know anyone outside of academe?). And don’t forget: your academic contacts (grad students, this includes your supervisor) also have non-academic contacts, so don’t leave them out (if you’re emotionally ready for that).

Reach out to those people (in person or electronically) and let them know you’re job hunting. Yeah, that might feel really weird, depending on how deeply entrenched you are in your academic career. But people these days will understand that most scholars need to be making backup plans.

Plant the seed in the brains of folks who know you that you’re looking for a job, and ask them if they would keep you in mind if they hear of anything. Be prepared with some kind of answer when they ask, “What kind of work are you looking for?” And then, once you’ve had that conversation, look for ways you can give all of those people a helping hand.

2. Take to your online networks. Moving up your networking pyramid, you go from the people you know in person to the people you know online. Let your contacts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn know that you’re job-hunting. But heed the advice that most social media folks are espousing these days about not looking desperate. Instead of updating your status to, “Am desperate for a job in MegaDesirable Town. Any leads?” try to write updates that demonstrate your initiative in the job-search process. “Just had a great conversation with @thejobsguy about a potential consulting job in Austin,” or “I love how makes job searching so easy,” will convey the right message. While you’re at it, use those same online tools to start connecting with people who are in the line of work you want to get into.

3. Next, move from the people you know in person and online to people you haven’t met before. This means reaching out to any names you collect from your existing contacts, or responding to introductions to third parties that your existing contacts have extended to you. This usually means entering the land of the information interview. There is lots of material online (and, of course, in books like So What Are You Going to Do With That?) about how to set up and what to say in an information interview. Don’t forget: an information interview should be brief (20 – 30 minutes) and it should be a chance for you to shut up and listen, not talk about yourself (unless you’re invited to). Ask for names of other contacts you can reach out to, but don’t expect anyone to be doling out job offers. And for the love of Eagleton, don’t forget to send a thank you note afterward (both to the person who referred you and to your new contact).

4. Next up: make yourself useful. This means reaching out to strangers in a capacity where you can actually do good and show off your skills at the same time. In the online world, this means contributing to listservs, showing your expertise on a blog and providing good links on Twitter. In the real world, this means volunteering, getting on a board of a worthy organization, offering to take notes at a convention where people in your desired sector will be, and look for opportunities to solve problems.

5. At the top of the networking pyramid is good old cold calling/e-mailing. Have an organization in mind where you’d love to work? Know of a sector or role where you’d jump at the chance to use your skills? Get on the horn and explain your situation. Like with the info interview, be brief, be gracious and don’t expect anything other than a chance to chat and learn. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how frequently people are generously willing to talk to you about their own career paths into the job they’re doing. If there’s a good connection there, keep in touch. Ask for more contact names. Return the favor.

Networking often doesn’t yield immediate results. It can take a long time of you moving your way up and down the networking pyramid for you to land in front of the person who’s going to hire you. You are going to want to develop your elevator pitch, and come up with a friendly, brief answer to, “You mean you don’t want to be a university professor anymore?” (and its variants). It’s true that including fellow academics in your non-academic job search can mean suffering through some potentially awkward moments. But don’t be a Hector Projector (“He thinks I’m a failure that I’m quitting teaching!”) and keep your purpose (viz. switching careers) foremost in mind. And remember, networking is just one more component in your new research project — the one that will land you in your next career.