Nonacademic Job Search : The #1 Mistake PhDs Make

Are You a PhD without a Roadmap?

You may have already read my blogpost about my career transition story. If you did, you know it was a hard and demoralizing time for me.

And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

When I interview PhDs who now have successful careers, they also highlight how difficult it was to transition — until they learned the formula of a successful job search.

I’ve spent the last 8 years researching how PhDs successfully transition into nonacademic careers. Today I want to share one of Beyond Prof’s key findings with you:

Our research shows that one of the biggest obstacles to a career transition is moving through career exploration and job searching in a haphazard way.

Think about it. Not following a process when job searching is like throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something, anything, sticks. Haphazard job searching is the biggest mistake PhDs make in their nonacademic job search.

And while we can talk about resume mistakes, transferable skills, and all the other tactics all day long – the first and most critical step in your nonacademic job search is knowing what the actual structure of a successful job search is.

It’s not unlike any kind of academic work we do – there’s a structure and a process to everything. We can be creative inside the boundaries of our experiment, or our journal article, or our manuscript, but there is an underlying structure that enables this all to make sense and move forward.

So, what IS the structure of a successful nonacademic job search?

The Beyond Prof Team has conducted hundreds of hours of research on how PhDs make career transitions and we’ve identified 4 stages PhDs move through when leaving academia

4 Stages of PhD Career Transition

Stage 1: Discovery

In this stage the goal is to recognize your optimal career pathway. An optimal career pathway is not one job you’ll do for the rest of your life. Rather, your optimal career pathway is a list of criteria—a metric—by which you will evaluate which jobs are best for YOU. This list is your guiding North Star and critical to effective job searching.

Stage 2: Research

In this stage, there are two goals: the first is to learn proven job search strategies for a nonacademic job search,  like networking, getting active on LinkedIn, and translating your academic work experience into the language of employers.

The second is to use these strategies to gather information and evaluate possible career pathways that align with your skills, interests, and values. Which opportunity will align with your optimal career pathway?

Stage 3: Implement

In the implement stage, your goal is to execute a successful search and use proven strategies to land a job. Our research shows that a job search that is laser-focused on landing an opportunity in one field will be more successful than an unfocused job search where a candidate applies for a range of positions.

Stage 4: Build

Our research shows that at the builder stage PhDs re-visit their career opportunities and seek further advancement and growth. Many are quickly promoted in their current roles, and many change jobs or even career fields within their first 1-3 years. This is why I often say it’s ok to not know with 100% certainty if what you’re doing will be THE career. It probably won’t be – and that’s really quite exciting.

These stages provide a structure to what can seem like a chaotic process. Knowing where you’re at in the process can help you set realistic goals and manage your expectations.

The Beyond Prof team has created a free assessment tool where you can learn what stage you’re at in the job search process.

Take it here.

In addition to helping you identify what stage you are at, the tool will give you 3 steps to take to advance your job search to the next stage.

The #1 Mistake: Skipping steps

I talk to many PhDs every week about their career transition – and truthfully, so many are struggling because they’re skipping steps in this process. We hope this career assessment will help you identify where you’re at, so you can move forward in your job search with strategic steps and confidence.

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