How to get ready for the non-academic job market while in grad school

If you are in graduate school and planning on an academic career, congrats! That said, I assume you know the statistics about how many more PhDs are granted in your field than academic jobs are available, which means you also know that you may need to look for a non-academic job. A little preparation over time will make that much easier later.  Here’s how to get ready.

  1. Treat everyone well. In academics, very few people can help you get a job: your dissertation director / doctoral committee chair and a couple other key people. Grad students tend to treat those people with deference and respect, but sometimes don’t treat everyone else the same way. Many people, however, can help you get a non-academic job or refer you to someone who is hiring. Treat everyone – your department’s support staff, coffee-shop staff, janitorial staff, your landlord – as someone who can hire you or refer you to a good job.
  2. Join LinkedIn. You don’t need to post a résumé to join (and shouldn’t, until you have yours reviewed by someone outside academics) but you can join and invite people to become connections.  Invite everyone to connect with whom you have positive interactions and respect: high-school, undergrad, and grad-school classmates, people who provide you services (dentist, landlord, hair stylist), people whom you meet at conferences with whom you interacted well.  Join groups that make sense for you: alumni organizations, interest groups, professional societies in your fields. LinkedIn will recommend people based on whom you invite; add them if you know and respect them. Don’t accept invitations from random people you don’t know, no matter how many connections they have; don’t connect with anyone whom you would not introduce to someone whose good opinion of you you value. Put a tickler on your calendar to add a couple names a week.
  3. Keep a work diary. You are learning more than you realize in grad school: not only your subject matter and its research and scholarship but its analytical tools, research methods, teaching skills, time management, and team leadership.  You’re also learning skills in other organizations, like grad school teams, interest groups, and political organizations. Take five minutes once a week to note down what new thing you learned or did and what the results of you work were, and when it comes time to write a résumé you will have a pile of skills and achievements to write about.  Here are some non-academic equivalents for what you do in grad school.
  4. Write a short piece based on your work for an audience of interested, intelligent non-specialists. In many non-academic jobs you will have to write more often, more quickly, and for a wider range of readers than you do in grad school. Most of those readers will be non-specialists, and you must be able to explain complex, difficult topics clearly to them, and to their bosses, and to their bosses’ boss. To get hired, you will probably need a writing sample. Think about all your writing – not only your seminar papers, research papers, articles, and conference presentations – and pick one that you think has broadest interest or application outside academics. Write a 250-500-word piece explaining why, and have a non-academic friend read it. Have them call out field-specific jargon. Above all, realize that many, many people outside academics consume interesting, demanding material, and that your ability and training in processing information quickly and distilling it will help you speak to them.

If you do all this while you are in grad school, you will be well prepared should you need to enter the non-academic job market, and you will be much less likely to have these common problems as an applicant. (Are you nearly ready for the non-academic job market? Do this stuff first. Here’s a checklist to use before you apply to a job.)

Good luck!