Recently, I read a post on the Chronicle where the author had listed all the excuses she could come up with, to justify her decision not to pursue a fulfilling and rewarding career. The author claims that, “rational people have good reasons for staying in a system that has failed them”. I don’t aim to argue for or against an academic career, however, I hardly agree that staying in an unfulfilling job is logical. Change is always hard and scary. Not just for PhDs but for everyone. Was it an easy decision for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard to pursue a dream? How about Noble Laureates, who developed counter-intuitive studies that others thought were stupid at the time? My personal favorite is the story of Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. He didn’t want to leave his stable job at HP to go and build the largest tech empire ever!
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, Neale Donald Walsch.
This is true whether we are in academe or any other profession. It’s scary, hard and confusing but it will be rewarding. So today, I decided to write this post to obliterate any claims that finding your favorite job is out of reach. Yes, it will take some work, but it is a fairly simple and straight-forward process. This is the methodology that top career consultants and PR firms will charge you 5 figures for. If you are looking for an excuse to stay in your comfort zone, this probably won’t help you. But, if you are ready to take action, follow these steps and you will get results. So let’s begin.
1- Know your options. Find the skills you have acquired and the career paths available to you. This is important since you will be taking steps to prepare yourself for the job you want. Make sure you know what a job entails, and that you really want it. One way of doing this is to start at the end. Think about 5-10 years in future and imagine where you would want to be. List your qualifications and also the jobs you find interesting.
2- Choose your desired career and research all its requirements. There are tons of resources online, but one way to find the requirements for a job is to look at the actual job ads. List the required qualifications and think about how they match your qualifications from the previous step. Recruiters are looking for people who can fit in right away. So relevant work experience is very important. This is a fact. Don’t try to fight it or you will find yourself applying to many positions without success. Understand it and start positioning yourself for the job you want. We will be talking more about this in future posts.
3- Develop a plan for getting the qualifications needed for the job. You have been investing in yourself during your studies. Don’t quit now. Whatever the qualifications, you can develop a plan to properly position yourself for it. For example, if you want a career in web development, you need to have a portfolio of relevant projects. If you already know programming, this is not that hard. You need to position yourself as a web developer and show the employers your ability to write code.
4- Overhaul your Resume to reflect you as the ideal candidate for the desired job. The most common mistake PhD graduates make is to send their academic resumes to recruiters. Why should they care about our shiny publications? The truth is that they don’t. However, they do care about our accomplishments, qualifications and relevant experiences. We have to tailor our resumes for them to reflect our expertise in domains that are important to them.
5- Optimize your online presence to reflect a coherent message across all online channels. Recruiters will look you up, so don’t overlook this. A good start is to just google yourself. See what comes up. The lowest hanging fruits are your social media profiles, like Linkedin and Twitter. We will discuss how to make your online presence reflect you as the ideal candidate for the position you are seeking in future posts.
6- Network with people in that industry. Here are 4 ways you can do this.
a) Reach out to gatekeepers and cold call (email) them. The gatekeepers are the decision makers. Try bypassing HR departments to directly connect with hiring managers who make the decision.
b) Contribute to discussions where people in that industry hang out. e.g. linkedin or twitter. For example, if I am looking for a job in consulting I will start joining all Linkedin groups related to consulting, ask questions and contribute to the conversation. People will notice you after a while. You’ll get to have a relevant online footprint for when hiring managers look you up as well.
c) Meetups are a great way to meet professionals in an industry and network. Each industry has its own meetups or conferences where recruiters hang out. For example if you are looking for a job in marketing, maybe think about joining the American Marketing Association and attend their events.
d) Reach out to your school’s alumni in that industry and maybe buy them a cup of coffee and ask to meet them. You’ll be surprised at how helpful and responsive people are.
7- Prepare for the interview. There are certain common questions that hiring managers ask in each industry. For example, if you are in finance, they might ask your opinion about recent acquisitions to see how much you follow the news in that industry. Use your time with people in the industry to ask about interview intricacies. You can also find these questions online in forums related to that type of job.
There are a lot of tips and hacks that you can use in each of these steps, but as I mentioned, it is a simple process. You have to know the requirements of the job you want, and position yourself accordingly. For the sake of brevity, I tried to be as short as I can in this post, but I know you probably have many questions on your mind. Write them in the comments and I will answer. I also plan to explain each of these steps in the coming posts, so tell me which one you want me to write about first.
Good luck job hunting!