Career experts say that finding a full-time job is, in fact, a full-time job in and of itself.
If you’ve spent the bulk of your career (and thus adulthood) in academia in any form (graduate school, adjuncting, professoring, administering), you may have no idea exactly how job searching could fill eight hours a day – unless they mean sending out resumes for eight hours straight every day. As my nephew used to say, no thank you!
It’s true that finding a new job – especially if you’re changing careers – can be a full-time occupation. And it’s also true that it involves far more than sending out copies of the same resume.
What you already know probably doesn’t help
Transitioning out of academia brings up all kinds of questions. Where do I find job openings? Why would anyone want to hire me? How can I explain the experience and skills I actually do have? How do I actually go about searching for and applying for a job?
Because we’ve all either been trained in, or absorbed by osmosis, the process for academic job searches, that tends to be where we first turn when we want to apply outside of academia. It should be the same, right? You find an opening, you send your materials, you wait.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people crash and burn with this strategy.
It’s the differences that get you
There are some key ways the non-academic job search is different from the academic job search.
The materials are different. We often talk about CVs and resumes as though they’re interchangeable, but a resume created by reformatting an academic CV isn’t going to answer the kinds of questions companies have when they’re hiring – especially when you’re switching careers.
The focus is different. Because we share so many assumptions in any given academic field, applications tend to focus on differentiating factors: publications and other intellectual engagements. Outside of academia, job titles and duties are so varied from company to company that applications have to focus more on skills than they do on direct experience.
The process is different. In my academic field, there was one list every department advertised openings in every fall. Everyone did first-level interviews at the national conference, then brought the finalists to campus in the late winter or early spring. Outside of academia, hiring goes on year round, there’s no central location to list openings, and there’s no standard process for applications.
And finally, the relationships are different. When you graduate with a PhD, you can (usually) rely on your dissertation director to reach out for you, work their networks to find out what’s really going on in various searches, and put in a good word for you. Outside of academia, no one is in any position to do that for you. You have to do it for yourself.
All of those differences mean that you can’t rely on what you know.
Even reading books about the non-academic job market has probably only gotten you so far, because while they can give you some clues about how the non-academic job market works, they aren’t able to answer all the questions you have about how to translate your experience into a persuasive argument for a new career.
3 keys to a successful transition
In order to move out of academia into a non-academic job, you have to understand three things.
First, employers have a lot of preconceived assumptions about – we might almost say prejudices against – academics. Unfortunately, these preconceptions are strongly held because in some cases, they’re absolutely true. In order to mark yourself as a different kind of academic, one they might actually want to hire, you’ll need to understand what they fear and how you demonstrate that they have nothing to fear from you.
Second, if you don’t know what you have to offer, you won’t be able to convince anyone else you have anything to offer. Academia is great at focusing on content knowledge instead of skills, but there’s no way you made it to this age without a lot of very valuable, very useful skills. Once you know what they are, you’ll be able to use them to connect what you have to offer with what different companies need.
Third, the wide world of non-academic employment is just that – wide. Very, very, very wide. In any given academic field, there may be between a dozen and two hundred job openings in a given year. In academia, it’s entirely possible to apply to every single job opening you’re qualified for. Once you’ve widened your prospects to the whole rest of the world, though, that’s no longer possible. Now you need a system to narrow down your choices, focus your research, and keep multiple balls in the air on multiple schedules without losing your mind.
Please learn from my experience
I’ve switched careers twice since I left academia. And it’s not because I chose wrongly the first (or second) time – it’s because I’m just one of those people who like poking at new and different fields every so often.
But it means I’ve gotten very adept at translating fields and careers into the language that hiring managers need to see in order to be convinced that I’m a good risk.
In my dayjob, I also hire 6-8 people every three months who are changing fields to become freelance writers. I see hundreds of resumes each time trying to convince me they’re a good risk, but most of them don’t make it very far into the process, and many of them make similar mistakes.
In other words, I’ve got experience in this from both sides of the interview table.
This 90-minute free teleclass took place on Thursday, August 4. By signing up, you’ll receive the recording of that call.
What do you get through the recording?
- 5 primary ways academics are misunderstood and how to demonstrate your difference
- Strategies for identifying and translating academic experience into non-academic skills and accomplishments
- 6 steps to running a successful job search outside of academia
I’ll also tell you a little bit about an upcoming six-week teleclass that will help people create a post-academic job search process for themselves using those six steps. (You can read more about it by clicking here.)
Ready to join?
Registering for the class requires two steps. First, enter your information in the fields below and hit submit. Second, open the email that will then land in your inbox asking you to confirm your registration. That will ensure that no one has signed you up without your knowledge or permission.
Once you do both of those things, you’ll get an email with the link to the recording.
If you’re ready to join us, just fill in this form to get started!
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