Finding a Job

Don't Sell Yourself Short! Retail Is NOT the Answer

While in graduate school, most students avoid questions about what they will do after grad school. Instead of planning for their professional futures after grad school, many graduate students bury themselves in their studies and put off worrying about employment until they absolutely must. A lot of graduate students naively think that they will easily find and secure tenure-track positions in academia after graduation. When they finally realize that finding jobs in academia is not as simple as they had hoped it would be, many graduate students often become so stalled by decisions, directions, distractions, and questions in their career searches that they abandon their career searches and turn instead to menial employment, such as retail work or food service. Graduate students can avoid this stressful fate by networking and seeking out career advice before they graduate and by being confident in themselves and their abilities.

Networking and Seeking Career Advice

During the school year, everyone in academia is so busy with the immediate, pressing needs of schoolwork that one barely has to time eat and sleep, much less to think about and plan for life after grad school. Because of the hecticness of academia, most graduate students do not receive much career advice for their professional lives after graduation unless they seek it out on their own. Therefore, it is crucial that graduate students begin networking in academia and making use of career resources while they are still in graduate school. Graduate students should visit their universities’ career centers and should attend job fairs whenever possible. To increase their chances of getting a job after grad school, graduate students must improve their active listening skills, which will benefit them not only after graduation but also while they are still in school. Graduate students can also increase their career potential by asking to shadow professional mentors in their chosen career fields.

Being Confident

Many graduate students become very discouraged and somewhat frightened when they think about careers after grad school. However, allowing discouragement and fear to take control can be disastrous to successful career searches. Students should be confident about their skills if they want to acquire and maintain successful careers. Students should not feel ashamed if they can’t find jobs as easily or as quickly as they expected to, and they should not feel like they have failed if they change their initial plans after graduation. Students should be flexible and adaptable in their career searches and should learn to frame themselves and their skills in the best way possible.


So You Don't Want to Be an Academic: What Are Your Options?

You have completed your graduate program, and now it’s time for you to look for a job. You know that you don’t want to be an academic forever, but what other options are out there? After being in academia for many years, you may feel overwhelmed by all the employment options in the professional world, and finding a nonacademic job may seem daunting. However, you can simplify your job search in the professional world by knowing the difference between private and public industry. Below is an explanation of these two types of nonacademic industries.

Private Industry

Private industry generally refers to commercial industry and comprises many types of jobs from the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, including business, finance, information technologies, etc. Private industry definitely has a lot of positive things to offer as far as employment is concerned: more available jobs, more money at those jobs, and more job security. However, private industry also requires more office time and has more individual responsibility than do jobs in the public sector. In the private sector, profit motivates everything. If you like tangible, well-defined goals and timelines, all of which are based on the quickest way to make the most profit, then you might like a job in private industry. However, if you prefer to move at your own pace and to base your work on something other than profit, then a job in this type of industry may not be for you.

Public Industry

Public industry generally refers to government jobs and comprises many types of jobs, such as teaching, healthcare, social work, and public administration. In the public sector, the number of available jobs is dictated by government spending; therefore, fewer positions are available in public industry than in other sectors. Competition for these limited positions is fierce, especially when members of the government increase their efforts to reduce government spending. Any major reduction in government spending can threaten job security in public industry. However, jobs in the public sector do have many positive aspects: (a) the salary is comparable to that in the private sector; (b) many employers in the public sector offer reliable and affordable options for childcare and healthcare, a variety of work options (part time, full time, telecommute), and plenty of vacation time (most major holidays); and (c) many employers in the public sector provide training opportunities that could lead to promotions, especially because employers in public industry prefer to promote from within their organizations.

Choosing Between Private and Public Industry

When you are trying to choose between working in academia or industry, you must consider yourself before you consider anything else. What is your own work personality like? What do you value in a position? Once you answer these questions for yourself, you should answer the same for the industry that seems to fit best with your personality and values. Before you definitively decide on either the public and private industry, you should further develop your sense of commercial awareness about that industry and familiarize yourself with specific companies in that industry. Developing commercial awareness about these two industries, and familiarizing yourself with specific companies will not only help you write your CV or resume but also will improve your chances of securing a long-term job that you actually enjoy.

Applying For Academic Jobs: A Timeline

The following timeline was designed to help graduate students apply for academic jobs while they are still in graduate school.

During Graduate School

Publishing, networking, and postdoctoral training are a few important elements of finding a job in academia. First-author publications are more favorable than are co-authored publications, but either type of publication will suffice; the point is to get published before you graduate. If finding an academic job is your ultimate goal, in addition to publishing, you should begin networking by attending conferences, serving on committees, and volunteering. Don’t hesitate to ask your advisor or other professors if they can introduce you to faculty at other universities. You may be competing with a large group (including junior faculty from other institutions) for available academic positions, so you should also consider postdoctoral training before you apply for tenure-track positions.

12-10 Months before Semester

Seek out jobs through journals, publications, websites, and other networking forums, and start completing applications. Applications typically include your cover letter, CV, research statement, teaching statement, and/or writing sample. Polish these items to the best of your ability, and ask for a lot of feedback before you submit them.

10-7 Months before Semester

You may start receiving requests to schedule interviews, so now is the time to prepare and rehearse your interview skills to sell yourself successfully. You’ll want to discuss the significance of your previous and current research as well as your future research goals. Interview structures vary depending on individual schools and departments, so practice diversifying your interview skills. Also, anticipate lots of mini-interviews with faculty by familiarizing yourself with faculty research and by finding ways to link your interests with theirs.

7-4 Months before Semester

Interviews for academic jobs usually last two days and can occur in many settings. In addition to meeting with faculty, you could be asked to have lunch with students or to demonstrate your teaching skills. Particularly for academic jobs, the job-talk portion of your interview (if applicable) may include tough questions, so practice delivering your presentation with confidence. Remain respectful at all times. Don’t forget to send thank-you notes after your interviews.

4-1 Month before Semester

This is when callbacks for second interviews typically occur. You may have a general discussion about course load, equipment, space, and salary. If a university offers you a position, take the time you need to think about it, and negotiate. Be mindful of a school’s budget so that you don’t make unrealistic requests. If you do not receive any offers, don’t despair; rather, start the process all over again for next year.


Cardinal Sins of Interviewing for an Academic Job

There is so much to remember to do when interviewing for an academic job, but is there anything you should remember to avoid? Below are a few examples of things that you should avoid doing before, during, or after interviews for an academic job.

Scheduling interviews late in the season.

This is a bad idea because interviewers may have already made their hiring decisions before they even get to interview you. Additionally, interviewers could be fatigued from interviewing all of the candidates before you and could have possibly switched to autopilot by the time you arrive for your interview.

Acting inappropriately before or after interviews.

Don’t listen to your iPod, text, or play games on your phone while you are waiting to be interviewed for the academic job. Imagine that your academic interview actually starts from the moment you approach the campus, and present yourself appropriately at all times. You never know who you could run into in the elevator or just outside of the building, so practice professional etiquette and hold doors for people.

Not having multiple copies of your job talk.

Equipment failure happens, even if it is not your fault. Bring a soft copy of your talk on a thumb drive, save it in your e-mail, and have a back-up hard copy, such as handouts and written notes, just in case. If there is a problem in which you are unable to use technology in your presentation, you still must present your job talk. How you handle a situation like that will show your interviewers a lot about your character and your ability to work under stressful conditions.

Bad-mouthing colleagues or employers.

Mentioning university or office politics could cause interviewers to perceive you as unable to be discreet or to handle work pressure. Additionally, you might actually be bad-mouthing a friend or colleague of the people interviewing you, so remember that the world of academia is not that big.

Not having questions prepared to ask.

Interviewers may judge you by the questions you ask, so choose both generic questions and specific questions that are unique to each school. Choose your questions carefully.

Not sticking to the schedule.

Don’t miss an appointment. If an interview with one individual is running late, discreetly check the time, and about 5–10 minutes past the scheduled end time, explain that though you’d love to keep talking, you don’t want to keep your next appointment waiting. Don’t depend on others to manage your time.

Not sending a thank-you note after the interviews.

You must show gratitude for the time your interviewers took to meet with you. A thank-you note doesn’t have to be a hand-stamped card on homemade paper; a thank-you e-mail is sufficient.

These are only a handful of things not to do during an interview for an academic job. Other things to avoid include asking about salary, lying, and using slang; however, this is true for all interviews—not just for those in academia.


Asking for Letters of Recommendation: Professional References

Regardless of whether you would like to pursue a career in academia, research, or elsewhere, you will likely need at least one letter of recommendation to apply for your first job out of graduate school. You may have some fuzzy memories of requesting letters of recommendation from previous professors way back when you applied to grad school, but you may need a reminder about how to ask for letters of recommendation.

Whom to Ask

You can ask professors, employers, and colleagues for letters of recommendation. Choose professors who know you from courses in which you performed well. Professors must not only know your name but must also have spoken with you outside of class. It helps if you have taken more than one course with professors whom you choose to ask. Ideally, you would like your professors to write letters with specific information that is unique to your accomplishments and personal characteristics. If you ask employers or colleagues to write letters for you, be sure to select people who hold professional expertise in a field relevant to the position to which you are applying.

When to Ask

Make sure that you give those who are writing your letters plenty of time to write their references for you. You do not want rush your references, so don’t wait until the last minute to ask. If you can, send your requests for letters of recommendation 5–6 weeks before you must receive the letters. If you do not have that much time, certainly send the requests as soon as possible.

How to Ask

Tell those you’ve asked why you are requesting letters of recommendation from them. Most likely, you chose them because you recognized their roles or contributions to your field and because you value their opinions of you. You should provide the people who are writing your letters of recommendation with a current copy of your CV so that they can incorporate some of your accomplishments in their letters. You should conclude your recommendation requests by giving people the opportunity to decline writing your letters of recommendation for any reason and by offering further assistance with the task if they do agree. If they agree to write your letters, do not forget to thank them for their time and efforts.

Requesting letters of recommendation will be much less daunting if you have already developed a positive rapport with the person over time. Hopefully, you have been building an academic relationship with several of your professors and other academic administration since you started your graduate program, which could reduce some of the pressure of asking for letters of recommendation.


More Articles on

  • Default
  • Title
  • Date
  • Random
load more hold SHIFT key to load all load all

  Still can't find what you're looking for?

Post your question to the forum where grad students, faculty, & more can respond.

Receive instant access to the forum when you create your free account on
Become a member today and join an exclusive academic network to connect with other students and faculty.

Sign Up Now

  Still can't find what you're looking for?

Post your question to the forum

Sign Up Now