In comments over at Another Academic Bites the Dust's place a few days ago, thedustbiter and I were discussing the emotional process of leaving academia, and how it can be difficult to remind yourself that once you leave the structured path of academia, you're looking for your next job, and not necessarily your forever job.
Here's the thing. As grad students and early faculty members or postdocs, we're (by default) being trained for a forever job. In other words, a tenure-track faculty position that is assumed will become permanent after about 6-7 years. There is really no such thing as an entry-level faculty position. Sure, an assistant professor is considered to be more entry-level than an associate professor and so on, but your responsibilities and duties will generally remain about the same throughout your academic career at that college or university.
And sure, there is some mobility in the profession - many faculty do move from one school to another throughout their careers. But even if you switch schools, you'll still typically be a faculty member with similar teaching/research/service responsibilities. You won't be leaving one set of duties and obligations for a completely new set.
So when you leave graduate school, you are expected to immediately search for your "forever job". You may switch between university employers, but as long as you work your rear end off, you are told that you will be employed in that capacity, as a faculty member, for the rest of your career.
The outside world is going to work a little differently. You're no longer on a defined, structured job market cycle in which all of the jobs will post in the fall, everyone who gets hired to a new position moves in the summer, and all new jobs start in the following fall. Every potential job you could qualify for outside of academe will not consist of different combinations of the teaching/research/service trifecta. Every potential employer out there is not a university or college that works on the academic calendar.
So thinking in terms of your permanent "forever job" as your next step upon leaving is not the way to look at it. It'll drive you crazy, and will likely not get you anywhere. You will see a myriad of possibilities, but you're supposed to be looking for your next career??? You'll be thrown for a loop. Fairly quickly, I started to be consumed by the idea that I needed to pick a new career! Right now!!
But oh my gosh, how could I possibly choose between all of the available possibilities???
But I need to hurry and pick a new career! Time is running out! All of my friends have their faculty positions in hand! Why am I slacking???
It can be discouraging sometimes. You'll have a lot of ups and downs. It's an emotional rollercoaster to adjust not only to a completely new career trajectory, but to a completely new way of looking for jobs.
What I encourage you to do, though, is to try - however you can - to get your mind reoriented a bit. Of course, you do want to think about what career fields you'd be interested in long-term. Absolutely. For me, I am interested in either student advising (which I've never done on a formal level) or applied research in a field I have only a moderate level of experience in.
So I sincerely doubt anyone is going to hire me off the street to do either of those jobs full-time right now, especially not at the Ph.D. or even masters' level. I don't have perfectly relevant work experience, and I don't currently know anyone who works in those industries. It's going to take me a little time to make some contacts and to convince people in those fields that I can do the work.
So what I'm going to have to do - and unless you're looking for an outside job that is very similar to an academic career, what you'll likely have to do as well - is look for my next job. Not your long-term career job. Your next job. Try to keep that in mind.
The next job can take on one of two forms. It could either be something like what I'm doing right now - a completely unrelated job that just pays the bills while you figure out what you want to do next and how to break into that field.
Later on, you can either leave that job off your resume altogether or leave it on as an indicator that you - former grad student - can work in an office setting with coworkers! Buts if you take this type of "next job," you will buy yourself a little financial breathing room and possibly a slightly more manageable work schedule so that you can consider your next step. Don't discount the value of this type of job for helping you do the mental and emotional work necessary to make the leap out of academia. In addition, it could also provide you with the opportunity to gain some volunteer experience in your chosen career field if possible, which can be helpful in ultimately getting that "career job."
Alternately, your "next" job could be an entry-level job in the field you hope to work in long-term. That's what I'm hoping to find next - either a lower-level job to the fields I'm interested in above, or some part-time work in those industries that can lead to a full-time position someday.
Both of these types of "next jobs" will most likely not be at the Ph.D. or even masters' level. But that's okay. You're trying to break into a completely new industry, and you're breaking away from a field (academia) that has some very specific and rigid rules that won't directly translate into outside employment.
And taking a "next job" says nothing bad about you. You're making a big transition here, and it's normal to have to backtrack a bit. It would be surprising if you could, for example, jump immediately from a Ph.D. in history to managing an entertainment marketing firm without first proving to someone that you can handle the low-level work in that industry first. Would you hire a research assistant to take the reins on researching and writing the first draft of your latest paper if you didn't know they understood how to search for journal articles or run statistical analyses? I don't think so. Other industries are going to work the same way.
So even though it might be emotionally difficult, you need to focus on getting the next job in your life journey. If you do that, the career job will eventually come.