9 Ways to Find Non-Academic Jobs After Your PhD

If you are transitioning into industry after your PhD, tackling a job search in the non-academic job market can feel overwhelming. Academic job postings are limited and published in specific lists or wikis. The non-academic job market, on the other hand, is so vast and varied that it can be hard to know where to start looking.

Fortunately, there are many online and offline resources for post-ac job seekers. Here are nine resources that can help you find your first post-PhD job:

1. Online job boards and job search engines

Online job boards and job search engines are a quick way to find non-academic job postings. Job boards include positions published by employers, whereas job search engines provide a more comprehensive search. Job search engines include job listings from company websites in addition to jobs listed on job boards.

Non-academic employers do not necessarily list their open positions on every job board, so you need to diversify your approach to online job research.

Online job boards have different filters and options to refine your search. Some leading job boards specialize in a given industry. For instance, Dice is the leading website for tech positions, and Idealist specializes in positions and internships within the non-profit sector.

Some of the most powerful job search engines include:

  1. Glassdoor
  2. Indeed
  3. LinkUp
  4. Google for Jobs

2. A company’s website and careers page

At the beginning of your post-PhD job search, you should identify and research companies of interest. Find each company’s career page on their website and bookmark the sites in your browser for easy access.

It’s best to apply directly for non-academic positions on a company’s website rather than on a job search website because you will be delivering your information in the format preferred by the employer rather than the one used by the external site (e.g. a job search engine like Indeed or a platform like LinkedIn).

In addition to following a company’s career page, you’ll also want to follow them on other platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

3. Google Alerts

Consider setting up a news alert using a search engine tool such as Google Alerts for companies of interest. By setting up a news alert, you can keep track of big changes happening at these companies. News of expansion or a company merger can be signs that hiring will happen soon.

4. Social media platforms

As you customize your professional social media accounts and set up your LinkedIn profile, make sure to follow companies of interest on the platform so that you can engage with their posts. Writing insightful comments on company or employee posts you appreciate can be effective in getting your profile noticed by hiring managers and directors.

Add these companies to your professional Twitter account and consider joining Facebook interest groups if you have a personal account on that platform as well.

5. Professional associations and group digital channels

As a PhD holder, you know that academic positions in your field are often listed on a professional association’s page or circulated in an academic email list.

Non-academic professional associations also publish job postings on their digital channels. It’s up to you to discover which channels and platforms are most active and helpful for your desired post-ac career.

As you build your network by conducting informational interviews, find out which non-academic professional groups you should follow and which ones you should join. Professional associations and professional groups, especially regional ones, will host events, conferences, and/or webinars where you can learn more about your target industry.

Once you have established a connection with the association, sign up for their newsletter, their communication channel if they have one (e.g. Slack), and/or job board.

If you belong to a minority group, find out whether there are non-academic professional groups that promote diversity and inclusion in your chosen career path. For example, many large cities have “Women in [profession]” groups and chapters. These associations will be able to point you to employers who are supportive of their cause.

6. University career fairs

If you are currently still completing your PhD or if you are working at a university campus as a faculty member or researcher, find out when the major career fairs are scheduled (and during COVID many are now online).

Some university campuses use an online system called Handshake that lets you set up a job searcher profile with a university ID. Handshake lets you see which companies will be attending the career fair, so you can prepare in advance.

Note that the positions advertised will likely be geared towards college undergraduates and not towards PhDs. However, there will be recruiters and human resources representatives present. Attending the fair could give you a unique chance to learn about many companies and their needs in a short span of time. When speaking to recruiters, explain what skills you have refined during your PhD and ask them if they have roles at their company that might be a good fit.

7. Job inquiry letter

You would never do this as a PhD applying for academic positions, but in the non-academic world, it’s alright to reach out to employers of interest by contacting them directly. By doing so, you may find out about openings before they are advertised. The company may not be actively recruiting now, but a well-written inquiry letter can help you get noticed.

In a job inquiry letter, you are selling your expertise (i.e. your skills — not your PhD!) and letting the employer know you are looking for an opportunity to be hired.

When sending a job inquiry letter (also known as a letter of interest or prospecting letter), do thorough research on a company and their mission. Tell the employer what caught your attention. Why does the company appeal to you? Include a summary of your experience, skills, and education, highlighting how your background would be an asset for them. Ask for an interview. Inform the employer that you will follow up with a phone call within a certain time window.

Have a resume (not an academic CV) ready to attach or to send if requested by the company recruiter.

You can send a job inquiry letter by email or via LinkedIn InMail (the latter option may require a Premium LinkedIn account).

8. Volunteering

It’s possible to get an “in” with a company of interest and to make connections with current employees by volunteering, even in a role that is not in your specific field.

Once you get to know some employees and they have seen that you are passionate and excited about working at the company or organization, let them know that you are seeking employment there.

If a job does open up, you will have some inside information regarding the company culture and will have had some (unpaid) work history with them.

9. Your personal and professional network

Did you know there is a hidden job market? Non-academic employers don’t always advertise their openings online. They might not even post their jobs at all.

There are many incentives for a company to keep their hiring more private. Hiring privately saves on advertising and recruiting costs. Hiring internally means that the company is already familiar with the employee and can judge whether they are a good fit for the new role.

Current employees can give a referral to job candidates. Sometimes companies offer a bonus to the employee who recommends an applicant who gets hired. The referral system usually works in everyone’s favor because the employee has a vested interested in recommending someone who is a good worker (because they’ll have to work with them too).

Some companies want to keep hiring decisions quiet. In some cases, companies do not want to release information to the public (for example, when they are planning to open a new branch).

The secret to finding hidden jobs is to tap into your network. Expand your network connections beyond your PhD program and academic circles, and share your career objectives with as many people as possible.

Of the nine resources listed above, your professional and professional network is the most important as you search for a non-academic career. Meet other PhDs seeking non-academic jobs, and expand your professional network meaningfully.

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