Going to enter the non-ac job market? What to do second: the interim job

So, you have decided you are ready to enter the non-academic job market, or try it in parallel with your academic job search.  Good for you!  If you haven’t already done so, please read the first part of this three-part post.  I assume that you have finished or started the items in that post.  If you have, here’s what to start doing next.

You need to start working on two kinds of job searches: one for interim jobs, in case you need one before you get the kind of job you really want, and one for the kind of job you really want.  The good news is that you search for those jobs the same way and you can do them in parallel, so no preparation is wasted.

Can having an interim job hurt your main job search? Sometimes grad students and postdocs worry about taking such a job, fearing that it will peg them as a low-wage worker to potential future employers.  It depends on how you discuss it in interviews: if you say “well, I took it because it was all I could get at the time,” you will indeed peg yourself that way.  If you say “I knew it wasn’t a career, but I always want to stay engaged and productive, and it gave me insight into a new filed / boss / workplace / industry” you will sound like the kind of person bosses want to hire.  Few people are put off by describing forthrightly the need to pay the bills to enable the hunt for a different job; every employer wants people who want to work.

Why spend any time at all looking for an interim job? If you have the financial resources to not do so, great!  But if there is any chance you will need at least some money before you land the job of your dreams, or the next job on the way to the dream job, it’s worth starting your search.  You will also find that having any job helps you when you interview for the job you want, by giving you confidence that you are employed and bringing in at least some money. You will also be far less likely to give off the panicked vibe that often comes from unemployed job-searchers. You may find your spouse or partner quietly appreciative that you are pitching it to do whatever to make your bills. Finally, you will avoid the powerful bias against hiring unemployed people.

What is a good interim job?  Ideally an interim job lets you stay where you currently live, leaves you some free time to make progress on your main job search, is flexible enough that you can get a day off to interview for another job, and doesn’t require a great deal of new training *before* you take the job (it is fine if it teaches new skills while you are getting paid).  I worked as a bartender before landing at Amazon, and food service and retail are common jobs for people on that situation.

What is a good interim job for me?  A good interim job for you, or at least one easier to get, will likely be the same job as ones you have already had or jobs like them, since that makes it much easier to make your case to an employer that you are worth hiring.  Look at your secondary school, college or university, or during graduate school and catalog all your paid and volunteer work experiences, and look for those jobs again.

Once you have mind your entire work history (not just your academic one) for previous jobs and current skills and have created a skills-based résumé (not a CV), you can start to look for an interim job.  The most commonly successful start to such a search is to search online with keywords describing your skills in the area where you currently live: “tech writing Toronto” or “garden stores Seattle”

Good customers usually make great employees.  If there are retail stores you have patronized and you can show you have some skills they need, you can approach the owners: “I’ve always really liked shopping here for your excellent selection of [goods], and I saw you have an opening for [job]. I’ve had [relevant experience], and I’d like to apply.” “I’ve always really liked shopping here for your excellent selection of [goods], and I am interested to know if you have employment opportunities available.” [later] “If you don’t, could you let me know when an opening comes up / if any seasonal work becomes available?”

Temp and contract agencies can help you.  Temp and contract agencies have short-term work available, and you should contact every agency reasonably near you if you need interim work once you have assembled a list of your skills.  Many companies use contract work as an extended interview period, and many offer permanent employment to their contract workers if they do well.  It’s also a good way to learn about a boss, a job, a company, and an industry.  In many of these contract jobs, you will meet new people whom you might not have met as an academic, and they are also potential new connections and information about jobs.

Interacting with people outside academics before you interview for your dream job helps you interview for your dream job.  In academics, only a tiny number of people can help you get an academic job: your dissertation director and a couple people who have supervised your work or your teaching.  But outside academics, many people can tell you about jobs, describe their jobs to you, refer you to their connections and friends, and generally be helpful.  It’s worth interacting with all those people, and learning how to learn from them and to be helpful to them outside the context that has dominated your world and work for the past several years.

Remember, everyone you talk to may refer you to your next employer, and everyone you talk to may be or refer your next great employee, once you are a hiring manager.  Treat everyone you meet, at every level in every job, with respect and professional courtesy.

Next: searching for the dream job (coming soon)