Don't Ignore These 5 Factors When Exploring Career Options After Your PhD

You should begin your post-PhD career exploration with a thorough examination of your needs, values, priorities, strengths, interests, and skills. Your desires, experiences, and unique traits are what set you apart from other job seekers, and it’s essential to take them into consideration when exploring which step to take next in your non-academic career.

Besides these past experiences and personal attributes, there are other external factors at play that you should consider as you determine the next step in your career path.

Each PhD in career exploration has personal circumstances that could potentially limit their job search. It would be unwise to follow your interests and passions without considering external factors that influence your choices. For instance, you might want to be an astronaut to apply the knowledge you gained over the course of your astrophysics PhD, but you might not meet the height and vision requirement set by NASA.

Or, for those job searching right now during COVID-19, external factors that may have a significant impact include the growth or decline of hiring in certain industries. Make sure to do your research and ask informational interview contacts about hiring trends in their sector.

When exploring careers after your PhD, you need to balance what you want with the reality of today’s job market and your personal circumstances. You may be caring for a family member, have health concerns, need an optional practical training (OPT) or work visa (H1B) sponsorship, or have a large student debt to repay. These situations along with others, could be conditions that impact your post-PhD career exploration.

Here are five crucial factors that you should not ignore when exploring your career options after your PhD:

1. Your current and your desired location

Before you begin searching for job openings online, you should determine where you can and/or where you would like to live. Are you able and willing to relocate absolutely anywhere? Are you wanting to move somewhere else and conduct a job search remotely? Are you able to do in-person networking in your city of choice? Are you living in the countryside or in a small town and need to look for remote positions only?

Once you have chosen your desired job location, look for open positions in the roles that interest you. You can find postings online using job boards and job search engines for this initial exploration. It is important to know whether your desired location has a healthy job market and whether there are openings in the type of job that you seek. If you are looking for a position in the fashion industry, you may have to live in a large city. If you are interested in remote work, you could find out that there are no advertised remote roles in your targeted industry and have to change your search parameters.

When you have found a good fit for your desired role and location, begin networking in that city. If you are currently living somewhere else, request and conduct informational interviews with professionals working in that region.

If your PhD funding gives you flexibility as you complete your dissertation or if you are not teaching a class over the summer months, consider spending some time there to establish connections in-person before you move. Spending some time in your desired location will help confirm your choice and will boost your networking efforts.

2. Industry hiring trends

It’s important to know what the hiring trends are in your industry of interest. In your informational interviews, ask professionals who have years of experience in your chosen field about hiring patterns. These professionals with breadth of experience will be able to tell you how the industry is shifting and what that means in terms of opportunities and the marketability of your skills.

Find out whether industries are struggling during COVID-19, if they will recover, or if there are new areas of growth emerging. Similarly, ask whether an industry might be declining due to the advancement of technology. Be strategic in your career exploration and try to stay on the cutting edge if you can.

The workforce is becoming increasingly agile and adaptable worldwide. Organizations (universities included) are hiring more and more contingent workers and independent contractors to meet their needs. Some companies prefer to hire independent contractors because they don’t get pensions, benefits, paid vacations, or sick days. Contingent workers can be let go at any time.

Perhaps you don’t mind working on contract for some time, or perhaps you want to work as a freelancer. Determine your risk tolerance and plan accordingly.

Put your needs first and don’t be afraid to change jobs as needed. Remember that you owe loyalty to yourself, not to your company.

3. Your need for work-life balance

As a PhD holder, you are used to long, but somewhat flexible, work hours. In the non-academic workplace, the work requirements may differ greatly.

What work hours are you able to commit to? Are you seeking a part-time position? A position with flex time or with the possibility of working remotely? How will your potential commute impact your work day in terms of time commitment? Does the type of position you are seeking require a lot of traveling?

Some industries are known for imposing long work hours. For example, many consultants work 50 to 80 hours a week. Is this something you can do or that you desire?

If work-life balance is important to you, ask about it during your informational interviews. Read employer reviews on job search engine websites such as Glassdoor.

4. Your knowledge or skill gap

As a PhD, you are used to receiving and to giving formal instruction, so wanting to pursue another degree, like a Masters in Library Science or a JD might seem like a good idea. Don’t fall into this trap!

Before committing to another costly degree program that may not be worth it for you, find out what your knowledge and skill gaps are for your desired career path. Ask the people you interview what additional knowledge and skills you need to be taken seriously as an applicant, and ask them how they suggest you fill this gap.

Sometimes you may need to complete a short certification course, do volunteer work, or create a portfolio. Ask several professionals who are working in your desired field what they would do (preferably academics who transitioned to that role), and then follow the advice of the majority.

Be wary of costly bootcamps and industry programs. Save money and time by searching for alternate training opportunities that may be just as worthwhile.

5. Your compensation needs

As you explore your career choices post-PhD, make an honest assessment of your financial needs. You might have to support a number of dependents, have to relocate to an expensive city, or have to pay off six-figure student loans.

Figure out what your salary needs are and which benefits are non-negotiable for you.

Benefits to consider may include:

  • paid time off
  • flexible work hours
  • professional development opportunities
  • health and wellness programs
  • moving costs (if relocating)
  • paternity or maternity leave
  • 401(K) match
  • health, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance
  • commuter perks (e.g. reimbursement for parking, tolls, gas, or use of a company car)

If you are considering a move, use a cost of living calculator and research the housing market. Think about your commute and whether you will have to pay for mileage, tolls, gas, parking, and other expenses.

During this current economic down turn, you may find more contract or temporary work positions open. If you are thinking about accepting one of these roles, factor in needs not covered by the employer or agency, like insurance coverage or sick days.

Next, learn what your skills are worth in your industry and what companies are willing to pay for those skills. When you start looking for a position, recruiters and hiring managers might ask you what your salary expectations or requirements are. It’s important to find out what salary ranges correspond to your desired role, location, experience, and qualifications.

To find out about salary ranges in your desired industry, ask about entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level salary ranges during informational interviews. You’ll want to inquire about the typical promotion path, especially from academics who have transitioned. How quickly can you expect to be promoted when starting out in this new industry?

You can also learn about salary ranges by using Glassdoor and online salary calculators. Moreover, some industries publish salary survey information on a yearly basis.

How each of these 5 factors are prioritized will be unique to each PhD job seeker, as each will have their own circumstances and factors to consider when examining non-academic career paths. These are just a few areas to consider as you explore non-academic job options right now.

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