If you are a graduate student contemplating careers outside the professoriate, you can take several steps before graduation to prepare for that transition. You should match your interests and experiences with potential careers, learn to translate academic skills into the vernacular of your target field and look for opportunities to build your résumé while you are in school. Various career paths will require more specific skills and job search techniques, but here are some brief general guidelines.
Determine what you like best about academic work. Is it teaching others? Leading projects and solving problems? Writing and researching? Do you enjoy solitary work or do you thrive on the company of colleagues? After identifying your interests and preferred work styles, start to imagine the day-to-day activities and long-term goals that fit your strengths and preferences.
Discover how your experiences align with nonacademic positions. Use Inside Higher Ed’s job listings as well as job-posting websites like LinkedIn as research tools. Generate a list of prospective job titles by searching for general terms that describe your interests and skills. Job listings will also indicate which skills you may need to become a more competitive career candidate. Finally, network with alumni, colleagues, friends and family members who might already be working in similar fields to further identify your career goals and find unadvertised job openings.
Translate your academic experiences into the language of your target career. Every job has its own way of describing skills, experiences and responsibilities. For example, an academic conference presentation could also be considered public speaking or communications. You will need to identify how potential employers use field-specific keywords to match your skills with their requirements. Use these keywords in résumés, cover letters and interviews.
Look for opportunities to gain relevant nonacademic experience. Although most employers will recognize the value of your advanced degree, you will bolster your chances of employment by demonstrating that you can excel beyond the academy. Identify volunteer or freelance positions where you can either use your current skills or begin acquiring those needed for your target career. You will also develop valuable relationships with people who can provide nonacademic references and will gain nonacademic experiences to discuss in cover letters and interviews.
Keep an open mind. You never know which companies, nonprofit organizations or government agencies may have openings that fit your skills. Look for positions that move your overall résumé in the direction you hope to go in the long term. Likewise, job descriptions are helpful but do not always represent positions precisely; you may find an excellent fit in an unexpected place. Be flexible and explore all the options.