“I know you must be feeling confused, because you’re here [in the job-hunt] and you know that you learned something during your PhD. But you’re not really sure what that something is –or how to use it. But trust me, you know things. And soon enough it’ll all start making sense.” –E.M.S., PhD
You know what’s inspiring? Other post-academics. In-between LinkedIn stalking everyone I know, I have acquired a hobby of researching post-academics who made the switch 3–10 years ago. I guess looking at other people’s success gives me hope for my own story. When I was pondering when to “come out” as a post-academic in grad school, before even starting this blog, reading the chronicles of other grad students was huge. It turned out that I wasn’t the only grad student in the world who felt unfulfilled regardless of how much effort I put into papers. I wasn’t the only one feeling scared of talking to their adviser.
These days I still read these blogs, but I’ve also uncovered online so many post-academic PhDs in the social sciences with (in my view) pretty awesome careers. They’ve climbed the corporate ladder. They’ve started their own companies. They do cool things that matter. So worry not, my fellow post-academic. Success outside of academia happens. From the looks of these people’s online footprints, you just need to know what you want, work hard, and give it time.
I should thank all the great post-academics I’ve met with in person, either having coffee/lunch/drinks to talk about my job search, or at actual job interviews. I promise you I will pay it forward! E.M.S. is a PhD with whom I talked a few days ago. Ze left academia ~6 years ago and after a few jobs has started a new company. Maybe you weren’t moved by the words I began this post with, but I was. I feel like that so often these days –what did I learn during my PhD? Just the answers to the qualifying exam questions? The methodology in my dissertation? This sounds so stupid when I write it/say it out loud, but it boils down to this: I know I’m smart, but I’ve always proven this by writing a paper or acing an exam. There is no equivalent in the post-academic job market interview world. The result is me obsessing over potential interview questions (with answers I’ve memorized by now). I’d just like my résumé to say “Look, I work hard, I learn fast, I figure things out on my own, and any salary you offer me will be more than my grad student stipend. Hire me!”
If I had to give a tip on interview prep, it would be to always have a brief, professional answer to the question “Why are you leaving academia?”
Do (maybe these aren’t the best ones and that’s why I don’t have a job yet, but they could be worse):
- Mention how you like fast-paced environments.
- Talk about “done is better than perfect”
- Let them know how you want your academic research to have real-world applications that could save the world / make tons of money /revolutionize the industry.
- Express your interest in learning-by-doing
- Stare blankly at the interviewer
- Cry/throw things/laugh awkwardly
- Talk about the a-holes in your department or university
- Mention money
- Say this is just temporary while the job market season starts again
- Take more than 1 minute to answer
Preparing this answer really put things into perspective for me. A year ago, graduate school and the transition seemed like a huge deal that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. I probably would have directed the interviewer to this very blog and made them read the whole thing so that they would “understand” what it has been like for me. Today I don’t even think about that question anymore. It’s a chapter in my book, a line in my résumé. Only the start of my career.
The job search has taken longer than I wanted it to. I feel discouraged, and sometimes even out of ideas. But then helpful people come along and give me strength to hang in there. I’m not alone: others have made the jump before me, survived, and thrived. So will I. So will you!