How a non-academic job found me

There are a few difficulties just about every academic faces when considering a non-academic career move. The first is probably deciding whether to make the move at all; as I have written about extensively on this blog. Once you have started to consider that possibility, there are many potential opportunities for finding overlap between academically acquired skills and non-academic jobs. But one of the most daunting problems to content with is what non-academic possibilities are out there and which of them might suit you. With that in mind, I am sharing the main steps on my journey into a non-academic job.

1. I talked a lot

The first main step in my transition was to talk about the possibility of doing something different. Talking about my worries and doubts helped me to explore my own feelings and realise that it was OK to have ambitions other than a professorship.

2. I got visible

Taking this conversation online by blogging and tweeting about my thoughts helped me to get my opinions seen and heard and opened up conversations beyond my usual network. In particular, taking part in #ECRchat and the Guardian #HigherEd chats exposed me to a wide variety of opinions and provided a safe place to get feedback on my own thoughts.

3. I said yes

This new exposure opened up lots of new possibilities, such as participation in online debates, writing guest blog posts, and invitations to speak at conferences. It is usually important to be mindful of saying yes too often, in case it takes too much time away from research. But, when you are not sure of your options, doing a variety of new things away from your day job is a great way to find out about and explore other possibilities.

4. I talked some more

I made the most of these opportunities as much as possible. I am a naturally shy person, but I got out of my comfort zone and introduced myself to people. I took the chance to ask people about their experiences of leaving academia and what it is like to work in various other careers. It was extremely reassuring to hear lots of positive career move stories. The piece of advice that sticks in my mind the most it is that the hardest move is the first one out of academia, but once you’re out, you can go anywhere from there. It was a good reminder that the first non-academic job I took didn’t have to be a job for life, but it was a chance to get acquainted with a new way of doing things and might open doors to other opportunities that I couldn’t have heard about before.

5. I got a job application buddy

My office mate and I were both coming to the end of our contracts so we decided to team up and help each other get through the job application marathon. The first step was to update our CVs and then swap them for feedback. This was an extremely useful process that I wish I had considered before. Both reviewing someone else’s CV and having feedback on my own helped me to come up with something stronger and more coherent. We also reviewed each other’s cover letters for specific jobs and provided moral support, especially for that nail-biting period between applying and hearing something back.

6. I trawled the job websites (and assessed my priorities)

At first I spent a lot of time looking for jobs that might match my skills, but after some great conversations on Twitter I came to realise that it was much more important to think about my own needs and wishes. I spent a long time reflecting on what I liked and disliked about being a postdoc and what parts I might like to keep or change in a future job. I realised that one of the most important things for me was location. The next job, above all, would have to allow me to live together with my partner. The aspect of my postdoc that made me most unhappy was feeling like I was putting the rest of my life permanently on hold while I waited for a permanent job to come along and the next job would have to help me get away from that feeling.

7. I heard about the perfect job

Although I was keeping a regular eye on the job websites, somehow when the perfect job finally came along, I didn’t see it. But, because I had been so vocal about my job search and had been widening my network, I was extremely fortunate to get an e-mail encouraging me to apply.

8. The pieces started to fit together

Because I hadn’t seen the job advertised, by the time I heard about it I didn’t have long to prepare. Fortunately, all of the background work I had done up to this point meant I was already in a good position to be able to apply straight away. My CV was almost ready to go. All I needed to do was re-order the sections to tailor it to the post. I wrote a cover letter to match the job specification, which my job application buddy reviewed and helped me to finesse. Having recently attended a relevant conference, I already had a good knowledge of the organisation and had met some of the key players in the field. I also had an informal chat with someone at the organisation before I applied, which gave me the confidence I needed to write my cover letter.

9. I asked questions

Once I got to the interview stage, I asked a lot of questions of my interviewers. In previous job interviews I have always concentrated on trying to impress the interviewer and to show how I would fit what they were looking for. This time was different. I came to the interview prepared with questions that would help me assess whether it was the kind of job I wanted, and whether it was the right organisation for me. These questions will be different for everyone, depending on your priorities. But for me, it was important to find out about the kind of professional development and mentoring opportunities there would be, and how the employer would help me to settle into the new job and get up to speed. I liked what I heard.

10. I got the job

The day after the interview I was over the moon to get the call that they would like to offer me the job. And I accepted!

That was a few months ago. This week I finally started working in my new job as a project manager with Vitae. I’m really excited about all of the possibilities and really pleased to have found something so close to the work I have been doing with #ECRchat. It ticks all of my boxes so far and I look forward to keeping you up to date with future developments.

  • Anne Cameron

    Hi Katie

    Great post – really encouraging to hear your story. It does strike me that the title maybe isn’t quite accurate. As you say, your job only ‘found’ you after you’d done the ground work of making yourself known and building relationships. I really like an approach to career development called ‘planned happenstance’, which is all about how can create opportunities through networking and being curious and open without having a specific plan in mind.

    • Katie

      Hi Anne. Thanks for commenting and thanks for that link. I hadn’t come across planned happenstance before, but I agree that it is a great strategy for career development, especially when you are not sure of your options. I think it is a particularly good approach for early career academics who are facing smaller odds of progressing with each rung of the academic ladder, but possibly with limited knowledge of other careers.

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  • James Harlan

    They say, we need to wait for doors of opportunities to open but with your experience I’d say, “we create our own opportunities.” I think you really deserve to be out there taking some non-academic adventure (should I say).

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