Thursday, February 9, 2012

Finding a non-academic job isn't any easier than finding an academic job, but at least you have more options

It's been over 2 months since my last paying gig. I am getting really good at cranking out job applications.

But here's the thing - transferrable skills still don't match up to the competition who have EXACTLY the experience/training/skill set that organisations are looking for. I have heard this waaay too many times by now.

The ironic thing is too, that this is EXACTLY what looking for an academic job is like.

It's always "Oh, we deemed you appointable, but there was another candidate who matched what we were looking for a little better. We'd like to keep your details on file though, as we thought you were an excellent candidate and you interviewed very well. We'll be in touch if we have other positions come up in the future".

Okey dokey, you do that then. Thanks for calling.

I know what this means from an academic point of view - better "fit", an internal candidate, or someone who is way more senior than you applying for crappy jobs below their rank because they're in the same boat as you (ie unemployed in a crappy market).

I am now convinced that it is exactly the same in the non-academic world too.

Changing careers is not necessarily the answer to the problem of chronic underemployment, but you sure have a lot more options with almost any other career than academia. You don't have to relocate, you don't have to wait 6 months for a rejection letter, and there are a lot more jobs you can apply for. At the end of the day though, the competition is steep because the world is in a recession. It's not the fault of individuals, and no more uptraining/ reskilling, reviewing your resume, thinking positively, etc etc is going to change the fact that there are increasingly more willing workers per job available.

I would also add too that former academics who want a "normal" job are also facing the uphill battle of employer's prejudices and status anxieties. All those people who think along the lines "Oh, if you're an academic you must be so smart" don't always see you as another candidate happy to turn up on time, be agreeable to work colleagues, take initiative, work hard and do what you're told by your boss. All those undergraduates intimidated by their Professors and teachers are the ones who are going to be employing you. They're the ones who have the status anxieties that you have to overcome.



  1. I actually think this is one way that I've benefited from NOT finishing my Ph.D. (yet). Sending out a resume with a masters' on it rather than a Ph.D. seems to be keeping me out of the "you're overqualified" trap.

    One other thing to consider when looking for a postacademic job with the Ph.D. on your resume is that employers may not necessarily think you're "so smart," but they might think you just want their job as a stopgap until you find your *real* PhD-level job. I interviewed for a nonacademic job last summer in which the interviewer kept pressing me on whether I wanted to ultimately pursue a career as a professor. Since then, I've included a couple of lines in my cover letters about how "I was pursuing a career as a professor but over time decided that I didn't like the lifestyle anymore and would prefer a career in _______." (Worded a little more eloquently, of course :).

    I've gotten some bites from resumes where I've acknowledged that outright, so it might be something you'd want to consider doing. Just acknowledge that you have the degree but you don't want that life anymore and you want to do what they're doing instead.

    Good luck! As you say .... there are eager applicants everywhere, so most of the rejection is structural and not based on you, individually. But there ARE a lot more jobs ... and they are constantly coming out, so you're not tied to a specific "season" when you can apply. That's been a breath of fresh air for me.

  2. I agree with the recent poster experiences, here and at Post Academic in NY, about seeming overqualified for positions. The few application letters I've sent out always contain something along the lines of what JC suggests--"the academic lifestyle doesn't suit me any more." I've found geographical concerns to be a good thing to pin-point, as most people outside of higher ed wouldn't want/understand an explanation of the poor market's impact on quality of life.

  3. In fairness to employers, not all phds are agreeable folks happy to turn up on time and do what they're told. We just let one go at my workplace because he thought actually doing his job was beneath him. By being a self-important tool,he made it harder for people like me to get hired. That's the sad truth.

    1. Oh i know so many of those too! That's also a big part of convincing employers to hire you - that you are most definitely not one of those types.

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