Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Early Observations On the Real World Job Market

So in the few months since I've made the Big Decision (tm) to leave academia, I really haven't applied for too many jobs. I've spent quite a long time putting together resumes and doing some soul-searching about the type of work I'd like to do, where I'd like to live, etc.

But I have sent resumes out for about 8-10 jobs that sounded particularly good, as well as a few that didn't sound like perfect fits (but for which I figured it couldn't hurt to apply for, just to get into the routine of writing resumes and cover letters).*

Last night, I got an email from one company that I applied for, telling me that they had filled the position I had applied for, but that the hiring manager thought I would be a good fit for another position in their company ... and was I interested in having a phone conversation about that position this week?

Now, obviously, this may turn into absolutely nothing ... and from the way the job was described in the email, I'm not sure it's really something I'd want.


Having just gone through the academic job market, I cannot even tell you how nice it feels to have had someone look at my resume and think "well, they're not right for this job, but might there be another job around here better suited to them?"

Needless to say, this does not happen in academia. You apply for the one posted job, and if you don't get it, your CV gets pitched - even if you were a finalist. No one looks at an academic CV and says "well, s/he has a ton of teaching and advising experience and seem to really want to work at this school - maybe I'll email them to see if they'd be interested in the advising position we have available." Or "their research interests in Snail Anatomy don't fit our needs, but maybe I'll toss their resume over to our Interdisciplinary Snail Anatomy Research Lab to see if they might have a spot for them." Or even, "Well, they didn't get our job, but I know that my friend at X School is looking for someone who does research on contemporary African literature - maybe I'll forward their CV over to them to see if they're interested."

Nope. You either get the posted position, or you're rejected. Full stop. 

When I got the email from this company, I instantly remembered reading multiple stories from other "academic leavers" describing similar experiences. Either they get called within a few days for a job they applied to, or they get a call from someone else in the company who received their resume and had a potential job opportunity for them. Certainly not for every position ... but enough people have written about it that I'm starting to notice a pattern.

It seems like the job market in the nonacademic world is about attracting the best possible employees to their company, and is one in which departments share information about good candidates with one another and move quickly to get the people they want.

In academia, it seems like departments/universities understand that they have a pool of qualified, captive, and often desperate candidates, so there is no need to rush or to try to avoid letting a qualified person slip through the cracks. If they missed one qualified person, there are 50 more behind them in line who would do just as good of a job.

Of course, that's a perfectly legitimate way to operate the job market in academia, with its focus on specialization and departmental divides. If you have a captive labor pool with a tremendous number of highly qualified applicants, and you know that your new hire won't be starting at the job until the following fall, you can be a little bit picky and take your time making decisions. Meanwhile, other types of companies/agencies may need to move a little bit faster to make sure they're not understaffed or that they don't hire unqualified people.

Both job markets are perfectly legitimate ways to seek employees, but I can tell you which one is better on the job applicant, and more respectful of their qualifications and their desire to work for a given company.

I applied for probably 50-60 academic jobs, with 6 phone interviews and two campus interviews. And I've now applied for 8-10 nonacademic jobs, with no interviews yet but two leads on alternate positions that people thought I'd be a particularly good fit for.

I may not have a job yet, but I can tell you which job market I prefer.

*I recommend this strategy, by the way. Writing these resumes/cover letters is tough for academic types, so rather than applying first to jobs you'd LOVE to have, pick out a few jobs that you're qualified for and could tolerate but that you don't love, and send out some applications. In the process, you'll wind up getting some rough drafts for cover letters and resumes, as well as a basic comfort level and familiarity with applying for jobs outside the academy. But definitely don't send your very first resume/cover letter to a job you'd kill to have...


  1. I can second your thoughts here, for the most part. My current teaching job actually *did* come about by my sending in a c.v. for an online teaching opening and being asked to consider the on-campus, full year job instead. But that is seriously rare.

    I'm just starting on my non-academic job search and have sent out 4 resumes/cover letters/applications so far. For one of the jobs, I wasn't entirely sure the position was still open or that it would be the best fit, but I sent in a letter & resume anyway. A week later, I got a call asking me to come in for an interview because there might be a few different openings that I might fit. My interview is on the 17th!

  2. Wow, that is fantastic news!! Good luck on the interview!!

    I actually had a phone interview for the job mentioned in this post last week. Now that we've done the interview, I'm not sure it's a position I'd necessarily want ... but it gave me a much needed self-esteem boost and some valuable experience interviewing for nonacademic jobs. Hopefully, it will only get better from here.

    Good luck again on your interview!

  3. I stumbled across this site yesterday which searching for how to break it to my advisor that I'm leaving grad school, and have been reading from the very first post since then. I decided to go to grad school after undergrad because I was offered a spot on a project that sounded really cool and I felt that I'd be foolish to pass it up. Throughout this first semester though, I've realized that even though I can appreciate how exciting my project is to everyone else, I just don't have any desire to spend hours a day trying to interpret what one slight difference between two results might mean. I've noticed that the people in my department get so excited over the tiniest things that seems nearly inconsequential to me, probably because they get so focused on such narrow topics that even a small thing seems huge. Sorry, but that just doesn't seem like a rewarding way of life.

    Fortunately, I've realized I hate grad school and research early on, applied for a few jobs during the semester, and will be accepting an offer on Monday. Coincidentally, the job I'm taking is not one I applied for. I applied for a certain position at a company, went through a phone interview, and when I was called back to schedule my in-person interview, I was asked if I'd be interested in meeting with someone from a more specialized niche in that department. This worked out well because I ended up being more interested in this other position which pays significantly more money, and is what I will be doing starting next month!

    This got long-winded, but I'm really glad you wrote this article. It underlines a major difference between academia and the rest of the working world. I'm also very thankful for this whole site; it's really helped to alleviate some of the stress I've had about leaving school, and I'm sure it will help me handle any criticisms that might come from my classmates when I finally tell them.