Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Job-Hunting Inertia

So, in late January and early February I wrote about how I'd been applying for a few jobs and had had a phone interview. I never got a call back after that interview, so it looks like they hired someone else ... which is actually okay with me, since the interview went well but I wasn't overly excited about the job. It would've been nice to have been considered further, of course, but I'm not upset that I wasn't.

Since then, however, I haven't accomplished much on the job-applying front. I've sent out maybe one or two resumes in the past 4-6 weeks. Mostly, I've just been working and hanging out with my partner and friends and dog. It's true that I was pretty sick for about a week and also had to make an unexpected trip out of town for a funeral, so some of my inaction has been justified. But more generally, I just haven't been doing much of anything on the "trying to get a new job" front.

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but as I've written before, I want this blog to chronicle both the ups and downs of leaving academia. I've talked endlessly about the good stuff I've experienced since leaving. Now it's time to write about one thing that's been tough for me - actually getting off my rear end and sending out resumes at a rate that might get me a job sometime in the next year.

Of course, my situation is a little different than the other postacademic bloggers who are writing about sending out resumes and starting new jobs. I have a nonacademic job already, and have had one since I left last year. So the fear of being completely unemployed in the near future isn't hanging over my head, and I can take a more casual and/or more careful approach to looking for jobs. Rather than just trying to find "any type of job so I can pay my bills" like many people have to do when they leave academia, I'm past that point now and am instead looking for "a job that I really want." And I'm having a little bit of a hard time.

On a concrete level, it's been hard to motivate myself to send out resumes when I'm working a full-time job. I just spent nearly a decade of my life working constantly as an academic. I treasure my "off-work" time so much now that I really balk at spending time "working" (researching jobs and updating resumes) when I'm not physically at work. I keep hoping this feeling will disappear so I can get more resumes sent out ... but it hasn't so far.

But more abstractly, it has been really tough for me to decide what jobs to apply for.

As a Type 1 academic leaver, I feel like I'm in a weird situation. There are jobs that, based on my graduate training, I'd be immediately qualified for - primarily jobs with titles like "research analyst." But as a Type 1 leaver who doesn't like academic work anymore, I am finding that I cannot bring myself to apply for those kind of jobs. Even though I consciously realize that nonacademic research jobs are far different from life as a grad student or faculty member, I just see the words "statistical analysis" or "dataset" or "reports of results" and my brain starts screaming "Abort! Abort! Run away! You'll hate this job like you hated your academic work!!" And I can't bring myself to apply.

I guess I sort of feel like this is my one chance to really make a clean break from academia ... and that taking a job involving "research" isn't a clean enough break.

So, like I wrote a few months back, I've decided to concentrate first on getting my partner and I to the city we want to live in - taking whatever decent job I can get, most likely with my experience at the job I currently have - and then work on figuring out what I really want to do, long-term, once I'm there. I could go back to a more academic-like job, or I could go in another direction entirely.

On the surface, I understand that this is a good, sound strategy for getting to the right city and getting myself into a good career in the long run. It'd be much easier to change careers if I'm living in the city where I'm trying to work and can get to know people there, rather than trying to convince someone to take a chance on my out-of-state resume on a whim.

And yet, I've sort of hit a wall. The thing is, I like the job I have right now just fine. The work is reasonably interesting and fulfilling (the industry is kind of soul-suckingly awful, but in my particular job I'm on the good side, where I actually help people), and I work for a fair and flexible boss for a fair salary, and I enjoy my co-workers. If I could guarantee that I could find a company like this in Dream City, I'd move in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee of that. And the possibility that I'd leave this perfectly acceptable job to take one that I'd hate scares the hell out of me.

Also, while I like my current job well enough, I don't love working in this industry and do not want to do it for the rest of my life. I started working in this field by chance just after I graduated from high school - my cousin got me an entry-level job at her company, and I was quickly given more responsibility until I was doing the same job as the people who'd been working in the industry for decades. Even back then, I thought the work was okay - nothing terrible, but nothing awful either.

So when I was in grad school and needed to find some part-time work to help pay my bills, this field was a logical one for me to look in. I still didn't want it to be my career, but I had a lot of experience and didn't hate the work. So I got this job. And then when I needed to leave academia, my boss was eager to bump me up to full-time with benefits.

So this job (and this industry) has given me a lot, and I'm grateful for it. But there has been no point in my life at which it was supposed to be my career. And I'm sort of afraid that if I move to a new city for a new job in this industry, I'm going to get sucked into working in this industry for the rest of my life. I guess there are worse things that could happen to me ... but, this industry? Meh.

But as PostAcademic in New York has been writing recently, a lot of jobs really are just "meh." There is no "outside the factory." In most jobs (including, increasingly, academia), you're just a cog in the wheel of the factory, doing your job for the good of the larger organization with no larger purpose for yourself. And you know, I seem to be okay with that right now. Maybe I can be even happier with another job in this industry, if I'm at least in a city I actually want to live in.

And yet, I feel like I owe myself something better after all of this time spent in academia, working toward some "larger purpose." Am I really ready to just give up the idea that there's a career out there that I really want? Am I really ready to just continue along in this "meh" job that I just fell into at random 15+ years ago?

So with all of these thoughts swirling around in my head, I've been doing a lot more thinking than applying for jobs recently. Unanswered, unknowable questions keep running through my head. What if this job is worse than the one I have now? Will I be happy if I stay in this industry forever? What if I always regret this next move?

In some ways, I'm still such an academic - forever overthinking and overanalyzing everything. :)

So here's where I'm at right now - I'm still looking through job listings and hoping to get a couple of resumes  for industry jobs sent out this week - trying to force myself to believe that I'm not going to work in this industry forever.

But more importantly, I finally made an appointment to talk with a career counselor at Grad U this week. Yay!!* Along with general career counseling stuff, I am planning to ask the counselor about careers in student and career advising. It's an industry I've been interested in since I first decided to leave academia, but it always felt like a pipe dream. I may have taught college, but there's no way I would be hired as an advisor. And with my full-time job and my separation from Grad U, there was no way that I'd be able to take on an internship or anything like that that might put me in a better position to be hired as an advisor in the future.

But of course, I'd never actually asked anyone if these assumptions were true, or more general questions about how to get into the industry. Perhaps I'm wrong ... or at the very least, I'm sure that the counselor will have advice for how I might better position myself for such a career. And if she can give me hope that I might be able to get into a career I really want in the long run, I think I will be more enthusiastic about applying for "just for now" jobs ... because I would know that it was just one step on the path to a career I actually want.

So I'm very optimistic about the meeting this week. Hopefully I will come away with some concrete advice and encouragement. And if nothing else, it's nice to feel like I'm actually doing something for a change this week, rather than staring at job ads and talking myself out of applying for them. I'll report back and let you know how it goes. Wish me luck!

*If you're wondering why I haven't yet seen a career counselor, it's because career counseling was not available to graduate students at Grad U until this semester, when the university got a grant to fund a counselor for humanities and social sciences grad students. I'll reserve my thoughts on that for a later post. For now, I'm just happy I finally have access to a career counselor like all of the undergrads and business students do.


  1. You've articulated exactly the feelings I'm experiencing with wanting to make that clean break but not being qualified for anything other than research.

    I see that you're interested in student advising, but have you actually checked out the salaries for those types of jobs? They are LOW! So low that I'm afraid that even if I continue to apply for those types of jobs (I've applied to a handful), I won't be able to make ends meet as the primary bread winner of my multigenerational family if I land one. It also doesn't help that I am sick of dealing with students (granted, these are of a particular variety that I may not have to interact with at an institution that has it's own student advising office staffed with academic professionals).

    Anyhow, I really appreciate your posts and look forward to learning the outcome of your meeting with the grad career counselor this week.

    1. Yeah, I've seen the salaries for advising jobs...they're not terrific, but in the geographic area I'm looking they're no worse than what I would have made as an assistant prof in Nowheresville, Idaho. :)

      And for me, my interest in advising isn't due to a desire for a lucractive career, but more of a desire to stay somewhat involved with students. Some of them bothered me, of course ... but on the whole I enjoyed teaching and interacting with students. Hence, my willingness to consider jobs working with students while I run screaming from research jobs.

      More accurately, though ... my life could go in one of two directions at this point - deeper into the industry I work in, or back to the university in some type of administrative position. I'm not sure which one I want, but as of right now I'm only working in one of them. Before I make a final decision, I think I owe it to myself to make sure that I am sure I don't want to go the other route after all...

  2. Good luck, JC! I'll be curious what the career counselor says. I know some people who have hired postacademic-oriented career services and have found them useful too (just in case the U career counselor is less than helpful).

    I have just begun sending out more applications in the past week or so and my biggest reason for talking myself out of doing them is that it's SO time-consuming! Since I'm looking for that Next Job, and am flexible about a few cities for relocation, I feel like I'm writing about 10 gazillion totally different resumes and cover letters!

    *Reality says it's more like 10-14, rather than 10 gazillion, but whatever.

    1. Yeah, I'm optimistic about the Grad U counselor, but I'm also aware that it could turn out to be a disaster as well. Still, she is someone with a Ph.D. in humanities who specializes in graduate counseling, so I'm hopeful. If it doesn't pan out and I'm still struggling, I'll probably seek out some career advice elsewhere. One of my biggest problems has always been *asking for help* when I need it. I always want to figure everything out on my own and do everything myself. I have to kind of fight against my instincts on that right now, since I can't conjure myself a job or career out of thin air. :)

      With resumes, I also have found it soooo time-consuming. I've tried to cut back on the amount of time I spend revising every resume - reminding myself that they're not academic jobs and I'm not doing a full binder-thick application packet for every job - but it's tough. You have my sympathy, looking for jobs in multiple cities. I had to give that up in the first few months, because it was just unbelievably overwhelming to be working and looking for jobs around the country. It's crazy.

      Still, I guess all we can do is keep on moving forward. Good luck!

    2. Thanks! I think our goal is to stay where we are, but we're open to a few other city locales. Even though it's a pain in the butt looking at all these different cities for jobs, at least it's nice to have some *choice* in the matter!

  3. Sell Out Your Soul has some good career development strategies that I have found useful. The career counsellor who specialises in graduate careers sounds very promising! I recently applied for something where I promised to do just that, but no interview resulted. Probably due to my lack of professional career development training, but I do confess to never bothering to call and find out. (actually they didn't offer a phone number to call...)

  4. Yes, "Sell out your Soul" has some good advice. I think that once we're out of that grad school environment we must think differently about what we've gone and obtained in gradschool which is a bunch of skillsets - project management, teamwork skills, analytical skills (ie we can synthesise vast quantities of info from articles), public speaking skils, writing skills, etc. I suspect that we ought to be selecting possible jobs based on the skills that they require..and what we have.

  5. I just started reading your blog, and I primarily wanted to tell you that it is immensely helpful, especially because I feel that we have many similar values, and you have addressed a lot of my concerns about leaving and going onto the job market. (I'm a 4th year PhD (1 year ABD) seriously considering leaving and more than anything, I just need to garner my courage to quit).

    In terms of this post, I started seeing a career counselor a couple weeks ago at my university and she has been extremely helpful. She's been helping me step by step through the process of locating careers that would better suit my interests and values, informational interviews (where I am now), finding internships, and eventually putting my materials together for apply for jobs. Most importantly, the counselor is helping me see how I can search for new careers in a more careful fashion, how I can "dip my toe in" without committing entirely. I think that one large mistake I made in applying to grad school was that I didn't think critically enough about what career I wanted out of it, what exactly getting the PhD would entail, and what my other options were. I'm trying to do this more carefully the second time around :).

    1. "I think that one large mistake I made in applying to grad school was that I didn't think critically enough about what career I wanted out of it, what exactly getting the PhD would entail, and what my other options were. I'm trying to do this more carefully the second time around :)."

      Oh this, this! Me too. I am definitely trying to be more careful this time around ... although sometimes it makes me feel like I'm slacking off since I don't have my next career path chosen yet.

      I had the career counseling meeting this morning, and was going to write about it this weekend. My experience sounded a lot like yours! Overall, I think it was a good experience. Now, I just need to take their advice and start trying to figure out what comes next. Unfortunately, things like full-time internships are out of the question for me since I need to work (and currently have a job). Still, I'm hopeful that there will be other ways to break into a new career for me.

      Anyway, thanks for reading! I'm glad you were able to find something useful among all of my rambling. :)