5 tips for searching a non academic job

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Is 2020 the year that will mark the end of your PhD or postdoc? Are you in two minds about continuing in academia? Then, it’s as good a time as any to start thinking about your future career. Changing career tracks and shifting to a non-academic job is a hard line to walk. Here are 5 practical tips for searching for a job outside of academia. These tips are written assuming that you are already informing yourself about non academic career paths, e.g. by attending career events or reading blogs and articles in the career sections of scientific journals.

1. Be sure about this change of career path: Before you start looking for a job outside of academia, think carefully about it and make sure it is the right choice for you. Maybe you want a stable job instead of moving from one short-term contract to another; or you don’t find working at the bench exciting anymore; or you need a more family-friendly job; or you would just like to earn more money than academic research allows. No matter what the reason is, just make sure that you are ready to take the leap. Once done, it could be difficult to go back.

2. Think about your skills & expectations: Each job comes with a set of required skills, which we may or may not have. Non academic jobs for PhDs are also very different from each other in terms of remuneration, working hours (including the overtime you most certainly face in some jobs), responsibilities, business travel, creativity and repetitivity. Take some time to sit down, check job ads for careers that interest you and compare their requirements and offers with your skills and expectations. Write down a list, mark the “must have/must be” and the “can have/can be”. It will help you get an idea of which jobs you can access more easily as an entry level position and which skills you lack. It might also help you find new career opportunities you may not have considered.

3. Keep on learning & get involved: If you notice that you lack a certain skill, you might still have time to learn it. Nowadays, almost every university and research institute offers professional training in a wide array of skills, including project management, writing skills and many others. If you don’t have access to such courses at your institutional training programme or in your campus, you can always resort to online courses e.g. on Coursera or edX or Udacity. Beware that attending a course is not enough, as you still need to proof you picked up that skill! Getting involved and doing something outside of the lab will go a long way, in case your research work doesn’t help you to exercise these precise skills. Get out of the lab and write for a blog, or join an organisation as a treasurer or an event’s organiser, etc. There are plenty of opportunities out there, keep your eyes peeled for them!

4. Build a professional network: Once you decide to leave academia, it is of utmost importance to talk to people who already took the leap. If you don’t know anyone, start from a career event; at such events, speakers are keen on giving advice to young researchers on how to shift from an academic career to a non academic one. Professionals presenting at booths at career fairs might also be helpful, but be aware that the majority of them are recruiters who don’t really do the job. If there is no chance to talk to someone during the event, you can also find them on LinkedIn and get in touch with them; you will receive more replies than you think. Don’t forget your friends and ex-colleagues who left academia after their PhD; ask them for advice or possible contacts. You could also consider organising some career talks yourself. Put yourself out there, this will help you and others like you.

5. Start early: If your research employment is finishing in a couple of months, it is already too late to start thinking about your future career. An early start, around 6-8 months before the end of your contract or stipend is ideal, if you want to spend little or no time without employment. Consider that the average time required to find a job is about 6 months. Nevertheless, it might not be easy to keep up with the re-directioning of your career while you are writing your PhD thesis or preparing your last paper. If you can’t start thinking about where to steer your post-research career early enough, I suggest being prepared to take some time off, and work hard to build a professional network.

Instead,if you want to keep both career options open, take a look at our tips for finding a postdoc. Good luck for your career development in 2020!

Written by Chiara Galante; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image by NGC/Design.

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