Sunday, March 18, 2012

Career Counseling Update - and You're Not Alone (#10)

So, I had my career counseling appointment at Grad U this week. I have a couple of other half-written posts in the pipeline, but first I thought I'd do a quick post recapping that visit, since I seem to be in one of my Writer's Block Periods this week. I blame the beautiful weather.

Overall, I was happy that I went to see the counselor. I wrote last week about how I've been dealing with some job-hunting inertia in the last few months, and I'm hopeful that this meeting will help me break out of that funk a little bit.

Part of what was hanging me up was the fact that it's difficult to voluntarily apply for new jobs when you (1) like your current job and (2) have absolutely no idea of where you want to go in the long term, career-wise. Part of me understood that I really needed to spend some time figuring out what career I wanted to aim for in the long term before I would really be excited to apply for jobs ... but part of me was chastising myself for not applying for jobs 24/7.

It's that damn academic mind again - popping in to tell me that every moment spent researching careers was a wasted moment that I could have used to apply for jobs. It's time to get moving!! Work work work!!! Any free time is time you should spend getting things done!!

But all of the mental chastising from my crazy academic brain wasn't making me apply any faster. Deep down, I knew that I had to give myself some time to research careers, but I needed an outside voice to tell me that I wasn't a slacker if I spent a little bit of time doing that. And thankfully, the career counselor agreed with me. She pointed out that since I wasn't desperate to find *any* job (since I have one now), it made little sense to be applying left and right with no idea of where I'm going in the long run. Even if I know that my "next job" will likely be related to what I'm doing now, it makes sense to try to decide what "forever job" I'm working toward in the long run. In other words, it's not irresponsible to think and do research rather than just forging ahead on some poorly-thought-out career path. After all, that's what got me in trouble in grad school!

So she gave me links to a bunch of online personality/skills/values tests that I could take that would link my skills and personality up with a number of career paths. She recommended that I complete those inventories and then spend some time researching the careers (and specific job ads) that fell under each category that the inventories suggested might suit my abilities and personality. So I agreed to do that, and scheduled a follow-up interview with her in a few weeks where we would talk about what I came up with.

So I took the tests today. And interestingly? My skills/personality/values matched up very distinctly with a few career clusters ... but absolutely none that were even slightly associated with teaching, research, or academia. Heh. But what *did* show up as a strong match across all dimensions was the general career field I'm working in now. (Not my specific job title, but the overall industry - so to use a different example, the assessments didn't report that I should keep working as a "drywall hanger," but suggested that my strongest match would be for "jobs in construction.")

So maybe I'm not completely stupid to try to find work in this field in Dream City ... especially if I were to get a job in a large enough organization so that I'd have some room to get promoted or move around to different types of jobs over time. I may not love the specific job I'm doing now, but it is true that I've never hated working in this industry. And according to these assessments, it's quite possible that I would enjoy other jobs in this industry. So that's somewhat encouraging - although I am definitely going to spend some time exploring the other careers that popped up in the assessments as well.

Anyway, onto other things the career counselor and I talked about. She mentioned that she would be able to help me turn my CV into a resume and/or to identify transferable skills from my academic work. I've already done that, so I really didn't need to take her up on that offer (although she suggested that I bring in my resume for review at my next appointment).

However, anyone who is at the beginning steps of thinking about leaving academia should think about this. If you aren't sure how to convert a CV to a resume, your university career counselors (if you have access to them as a grad student) will probably be able to help.

The counselor also pointed out that I might be at a slight advantage on the job market because I already have a nonacademic job, even if it's not something I want to pursue in the long run. She said that not only does my job buy me the financial and emotional space to carefully consider new jobs and career options (something I've acknowledged here before), but also that it might help signal to employers that I am capable of holding down a nonacademic job - something that might be an issue for folks (especially grad students, I'd think) who've never worked outside of academia before. This seemed to underscore the point I've made on this blog that some academic leavers (especially those who don't have a particular career path in mind) might want to focus on just finding a "next job" right after leaving. Find something to pay your bills and to show employers that you are serious about and capable of holding a nonacademic job ... and then keep looking for what you really want to do next while you work that "next job."

(Also, she briefly mentioned that given the news stories in recent years that have indicated that some employers make a habit of throwing out resumes from candidates who are currently unemployed, it is probably better to be employed doing something than unemployed entirely. Food for thought for those of you reading here.)

Anyway, I didn't leave the appointment thinking that all of my job-seeking problems were solved ... but neither did I think it was a huge waste of time. I feel much better about taking a little bit of my job-hunting time to research other careers and to plan for the long-term rather than just looking for my next "next job." It might take me a few extra months to get out of here and into my next job, but I'll probably be better off in the long run, since I'll know where I'm headed.

It was also, frankly, just nice to talk to someone who seemed to believe that - at the risk of sounding cheesy - I can do anything I want to do, even though I left academia. It was nice to hear that even if I decided I wanted some career that was a far cry from what I'm doing now, there are steps I can take (informational interviewing, networking, volunteering, part-time work) that could eventually get me to that career, even if it doesn't happen overnight. In other words, it was nice to hear that I hadn't flushed my entire future down the toilet by leaving academia.

Hearing that "the whole world is my oyster" is a far cry from the "academic jobs or bust" attitude that my graduate department took. I don't know if my job-hunting inertia is going to stop tomorrow, but if nothing else I feel a lot more positive about the future. So, readers, if you have a career center on campus that sees grad students, it might be worth it to stop by. Best-case scenario, you get a little bit of advice and affirmation. Worst-case scenario, it's kind of useless and you go home no worse off than you were when you walked into the office. Either way, it can't hurt.


Also, I finally caught up via the phone with one of my oldest friends in the world, who happens to live in Dream City. I hadn't mentioned that we were planning to relocate to that area to him yet, but when I mentioned it today he was super excited. And immediately had ideas for companies I should research and started asking about when I would be arriving in town. Ha!

It was great that I talked to him today, because now I'm even more excited about the future. I was left thinking that even if I don't land a Super Awesome Job right away, it'll still be pretty awesome to live so close to my pseudo-brother and his family. Something to look forward to!


Also, this week's You're Not Alone reminder ... search terms bringing people to this blog this week.

-academia is pointless
-depression in grad school
-feel like a failure hate my phd
-i am a grad student and i miss having a life
-graduate student feeling worthless
-what to do when you hate grad school

....Remember, all. You may feel alone, but you're not alone. Lots of people don't like grad school or the academic life, and it's okay to explore other options. If your university has a career counseling department, try making an appointment. You certainly don't have to go through with leaving right now, but it might be helpful for you to see what other options you have or to get some help identifying your transferable skills.

And if you're not ready for that step yet, then just keep reading in the postacademic blogosphere until you feel ready. It really is possible to leave and be happy. I promise! Despite my job-hunting inertia and occasional Overactive Academic Mind, I really am far happier now that I've left.


  1. All those career planning tools always tell me teaching and/or research. Ha. I do have a kind of educational role in a different industry now, so not too radically removed.

    1. Ha, that's funny!

      Most of the careers that came up were (unsurprisingly) careers related to helping and interacting with people. So things like teaching and educational administration were on the list, but somewhat further down the line.

      I definitely am keeping one eye on higher ed administration jobs when I'm looking at job ads, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that I'd stay in higher ed in some capacity. I'm just trying to be careful so that I don't wind up sucked back into an academia-related career that will make me miserable. We'll see...

  2. Out of curiosity, were the personality tests printed or are they available online? I remember doing career testing in 8th grade, but I imagine my personality, goals, skill sets may have developed since I was 13. I have done Myers Brigg tests more nearly, but they tack on career recommendations, rather than focusing on them specifically.

    1. They were online, at Grad U has a subscription to it, so I was able to take the tests for free. If you don't have a university subscription then I think all but one test costs a little bit of money. But maybe your university has a login that you can use before May?

    2. there are stacks of tests online, some free, some not. Some helpful, some not. There's a really famous career planning book called "What colour is your parachute?" that goes into all this in more detail. (actually, it's American, so it's 'color', not 'colour')

    3. Yes, I highly recommend "What Color is Your Parachute" for anyone who's considering leaving academia. I'm actually in the middle of re-reading it right now, since I think I was too new at leaving to get much out of it the first time.

      There's also a great book called "So What Are You Going to Do With That?" that is aimed at Ph.D., ABD, and MA students who decide to go the nonacademic route with their careers. I highly recommend both books.

  3. I am very keen to soak up any good reading recommendations around this topic. I've just had a little browse around about these books and ordered them for my Kindle. Thanks for the tip JC.