I am not sure though that I have anything much to add to the already well-documented issues that everyone who is struggling with the question of what to do next will have already encountered. There is an oversupply of graduates for the number of jobs; graduate programs are not honest about the job prospects of their students because Universities are focused on recruiting more students who finish more quickly in order to increase funding; governments are spruiking an innovation policy approach that is increasingly deregulating any caps on student numbers in order to enhance competitive advantage in the global knowledge economy on the premise that 'a clever country is a lucky country'; there is a rise in so-called 'creditionalism' that means that for even the most generic job you need a qualification; and, here's a new one that I heard at my last aca job interview: there is a decline in student numbers as the demographic profile associated with the baby boom means less new students each year, and thus, correspondingly, less staffing requirements (ha! tell that to the overworked and underpaid responsible for teaching those students).
Here are a few other random justifications I have heard for why there is no job security in higher ed: international students are being put-off by perceptions of racism so we don't have enough demand for teachers (yet internal documents show inreased numbers of international admissions); providing first-class facilities is a first-order priority necessitating budget cuts elsewhere (the argument currently used by the most prestigious university in Australia); and, of course, that tired old line about the looming skills shortage when all the baby boomers retire (who are, in actual practice, never replaced).
However, the single biggest hurdle for any graduate of any discipline at any level is this: the job market sucks right now. The global financial crisis, the European debt crisis and rising levels of unemployment globally are chronic, systemic issues that are having an impact on everyone, everywhere.
Thank you corporate
So that means that competition for those few jobs that do exist is extremely fierce. The people who have gotten jobs over me in the past have track records that are unheard of. They have better track records than many a tenured Professor. This means that where once upon a time (ie the late 1970s, when most of our PhD supervisors would have been appointed) you might have been able to get a job with just a PhD in hand, these days you need a PhD, at least one book, a long-list of peer-reviewed publications, an established record of successful competitive external grant applications, significant experience in undergraduate teaching, including, preferrably, a qualification in teaching as well as exceptional student evaluations, ideally, experience in attracting and training postgraduate students, significant experience on committees, excellent interpersonal and relationship-building skills and outstanding expertise in community engagement.
I am sure I don't need to mention that the ability to build many of these skills is dependent on actually getting a job in the first-place. Which is of course a typical chicken-egg scenario - how do you get the experience you need when you can't get a job?
I have heard recent PhD graduates talking about how it will take them around 5 years to get a proper job. In the meantime, they can expect to work on short-term teaching contracts at most and spend their 'free' time writing publications. If you factor in 5 years as the average completion time (for a full-time student) and then another 5 years on top of that, then you've got ten years of marginal pay, fractional employment and working for free. In any other industry, it would take you 2 years for a postgraduate qualification, and 5 years out from graduating you would be well-established in your career and earning a respectable salary.
I would also like to add here that the post-PhD years are in actual fact the most critical. No-one cares what you do during your PhD. Ever. What you do post-PhD is going to make or break your career.
So for heaven's sake, don't go and have a baby in those critical first few years after a PhD. That way you will be "throwing it all away". Quotable quote from the arsheholes of the year. This is what happens when competition is so tough that things considered quite normal in other professional contexts are regarded, not just as, (the equally abhorrent) "mummy-tracking" but as "Throwing. It. ALL. Away." As though child-birth is equivalent to having your brain removed and that the only job worth having is an academic one.
I am beginning to rant...
To conclude: this is what every potential graduate student needs to know:
-the market sucks and there are no jobs
-competition is so tough that it will take you more than 5 years post-PhD to get a job
-the post-PhD years are the most vital so do not think that you can have a life once you finish your PhD
-you would be better off doing a trade instead.