Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Update on My Job Search - Part 1

Giant warning, here: this is a looooooong post. If you're not interested in the minutae of my job search process and all of the options I have considered and discarded, you might just want to skim this one. I'll be back to posting snarky entries about academia soon, don't worry. :)

But a commenter on the last post and someone who emailed me this week have both asked me to post an update on my career change. And you know, an update is long overdue. I've been a little reluctant to post anything, simply because I still feel like a tiny bit of a failure for not being able to announce "Yes, readers, I have landed my Ultimate Career Job after just 30 days of searching, and will be making $300,000 per year while living in my Dream City! Learn from me!!" Yeah ... I'm not there yet.

But ... that's silly of me. I've been open from my very first post here about how leaving academia is a long and arduous process that requires a lot of emotional work, soul-searching, and careful planning of next steps. This is what I've been working on for the past few months, and I think I've finally figured out my next step.

So, I'm going to walk you through my entire decision making process and why I've considered and discarded several common job-seeking tips ... just in case reading about my thought process will help you figure out your next step by comparison. And if nothing else, it can reassure you that I've been doing more than just typing up rants about academia from my living room over these last few months. :)

Okay, so first off ... as you know, I already have the "next job" I've recommended to others as a first step for getting out of of academia - a position unrelated to academia that pays my bills and gives me some breathing room while I plan my next move. My job is in a specialized industry with room for advancement, albeit one that does not require graduate degrees to do. I like it well enough and am good at it ... in other words, it's fine for the time being. However, I don't want to do this job long-term, and I don't want to live where I do now now long-term. It's a smallish college town, and my partner and I want to move to a particular bigger city.

So, I have to do something (1) to get from Small College Town to Ideal City, and (2) to get myself from Bill Paying Job into Future Career I Will Love. This is going to be a complex process - far harder than it would be if I didn't have to move or if I was already in a career I loved. So ... what are my options for making both of these changes happen in the next year or so?

1. Go back to academia and go on the market again, hoping for a job in Dream City
Just kidding! I promise, I'm not delusional. :) And I really am done, and feel great about it.

2. Apply to jobs in Dream City with my education credentials and research training, and find a job similar to academia.
This is the option that would give me the best chance of landing a job with my MA or Ph.D. I'm immediately qualified for applied research and policy analysis, and these jobs have the "proper" education level and are in a field I'd been working in for nearly a decade.

These jobs are what I immediately began applying for in the first month or so after deciding to leave. I thought I'd like research more once I wasn't having to come up on project ideas on my own, and I figured this would be a job worthy of my degrees and that would justify the time I'd spent in grad school. I had two phone interviews, but was completely unenthused about the jobs. And if I'm so unenthusiastic at the interview stage that I can't even think about why I'd even want the job? Perhaps I should look in another direction. So I'm pretty sure Option 2 is out ... for the time being, anyway.

I'm done worrying about what jobs I should take. I want a job that I want to take.

3. Network myself into a completely unrelated career.
Normally, this would work pretty well for me. I'm an outgoing, friendly person who does well in social situations. I've had a lot of jobs in my life and am used to talking to people from a variety of backgrounds. I have little to no doubt that I could network myself into another position.

However, there is one major problem with this approach: geography. I'm not living where I want to end up. It's going to be hard to network myself into a job when I'm not living in the city. And sure, I could network in this town just to get into a particular industry ... but I'm not sure how useful those networks would be if I announced I was moving away after 3-6 months. :)

Also? I'm still not 100% certain of what career I want. I have a couple of ideas, but they're all just possibilities at this point. Over the last few years (even before I decided to leave), I've realized that what is far more important to me than having the "ideal career" is to be living somewhere I love and to be near people I love. Rather than following a job wherever it would take me, I'd rather move to the city I'd like to live in, find a job, and then see what opportunities arise from there. I've liked most jobs I have had, and I am fairly certain that I'll find something great once I'm geographically where I want to be. I'm glad I've come to this conclusion; however, it makes networking pretty tough since I don't know what industry I want to go into.

4. Send out resumes and cover letters blindly to jobs that sound interesting.
So perhaps the solution is to send applications to every job in the city I'd like to live in. Find something, get there, and move on from there! I'm doing this now ... I send out at least one application per week to a variety of jobs. But let's face it ... in this market, when I live in a completely different city and may have no experience in the particular field? The chances are slim that I'll get a call. I'm going to continue sending out resumes, since you never know what will happen. But this clearly cannot be my only job-seeking strategy.

5. Position myself for a better job in my "next job" industry, and once settled geographically, start pursuing steps 3 and 4.
As it turns out, my "next job" has set me up very nicely for finding a new job in the city my partner and I want to live in. I've been doing some version of this job at least part-time for almost a decade, off and on. I've got more than enough experience to advance to a higher-level position in the field, and would see a significant pay increase for doing so. It's also a stable industry in this economy, so I could be pretty sure I'd stay gainfully employed until I found something new. Sure, I don't want to do it long-term, but it's okay for now. Perhaps it would be okay for a first job in Dream City as well?

I've applied for a couple of higher-level jobs in the industry just to test the waters, and have gotten interest from both places I've applied within a few days. I'm missing a critical certification that will take me about three months to get (so I won't get either of the first two jobs). But this early interest is encouraging. Very encouraging.

I don't want to do it long-term, but in terms of getting me into the city I want to live in so that I'd be free to network and figure out what career I want? Well, I admit it ... I think this is the best strategy for me. Instead of finding any entry-level job in Dream City, I can find a higher-level position there. Once we move, I can start networking and dropping off resumes and generally doing all of the things I will need to do to get into a career I'll love. Getting to that city, though, feels like the critical next step. And if working in "next job" industry for another year or two will get me to that city? I'll take it.


So, that's where I'm at right now. I'll be pursuing Step 5 (after 3 months), while still throwing out a few random resumes (Step 4), to get myself over to Dream City. Once I'm in Dream City, Step 3 will take over while I look for my "real" career, perhaps with an eventual shift to Step 2. Step 1 is gone forever. But it feels good to have a plan. I can't make everything happen in one fell swoop, so I'll do what I can at each point along the way to get closer to where I want to be in the end.

Everyone's individual situation obviously differs, with mine providing unique options/opportunities because of my current job and my desire to live in a specific geographic location. If you have a particular career in mind or don't need to relocate, for example, your choices among the options will obviously be very different than mine.

But at the risk of sounding totally cliched? The world is your oyster. Try to stay focused on what your long-term goals are, and what next steps will be most likely to get you there. And remember ... only you know what will make you happy. Your adviser doesn't, your parents don't, and certainly a random blogger like me doesn't. Just think about who you are and go from there.

So there you go. I'll keep you posted more regularly now ... and in the meantime, I again refer you to Escape the Ivory Tower, Versatile Ph.D., and the original Leaving Academia site for far better career advice than I'm capable of giving at this stage in the process. Good luck!


  1. Thanks JC! Very honest and useful :)

  2. Thanks! I'm nothing if not endlessly willing to self-disclose. :)

  3. Thanks, JC! This is very useful. Especially to hear how level-headed you are about the job search. I take things too personally and get all "why don't you love me?!" every time I send out a resume that does not result in a job. It sounds like you have a really health attitude about all of this.

  4. You know, I think that this is one way in which going on the academic job market once was good for me. Sending out a few resumes here and there while more job listings are appearing every week seems downright reasonable in comparison. I cringe at how much time I spent carefully crafting 60+ cover letters and application packets ... 90% of which probably never even got glanced at.

    After doing that, seeing the sheer quantity of jobs out there, along with the knowledge that you're not confined to a small "application season?" I'm finding it very calming, actually. If I got a few interviews and one (crap, temporary) offer from the horrifying academic job market? I will figure this out in due time.

    (The "for now job" also helps with this, I admit.)

  5. Thanks for sharing. I haven't made it yet to the 'next' job, but your post has given me hope that it is doable especially if I keep in mind that the 'next' job isn't necessarily the same as the 'forever' job.

    Best of luck in making it to your dream city!