As you may have noticed, I’ve taken a hiatus from the blog over the past few months. Mostly because I’ve been busy learning the lay of the land in terms of the non-academic job market, the application and interview process, and getting my footing in a new job. There is a lot I have learned and a lot I want to share. First, I want to talk about the length of the process. I went in a bit optimistic, thinking that it wouldn’t take me that long to find a non-academic job. And in the grand scheme of things it didn’t. The average time it takes to get a job is 6 months. And it’s not just the time it takes to find jobs you are qualified for and interested in but also the application and interview process is becoming increasingly longer. Here’s a good article that describes some of the new trends of the job market and almost all of these I experienced as well. What's different about job searching in 2015.
One of the biggest differences between the academic and non-academic job market, and one that was particularly frustrating, is that it is exponentially harder to get a job in a town or state where you do not live. Unlike the academic market, where relocation is expected and allocated within universities’ job-search budget, the corporate or government sector does not usually allocate funds for relocation, and it’s considered extremely risky to hire someone who is not local. The best advice I received when applying for out-of-state jobs was to use the local address of a friend or relative. You may worry, like I did, “what if they call and want to interview me the next day?” Trust me they won’t. For the hundreds of jobs I applied to, this only happened once. The usual process is this: 1) you find a job that you are both qualified and interested in (a list of job boards is at the end of this post), 2) you apply through either the job board or company’s online application, 3) you wait and apply for more jobs, 4) you wait and apply for more jobs, 5) seriously you do a lot of waiting and the number of jobs you apply to is more than you would expect, 6) you get an email, or even a cold call from a company you applied to.
Usually this first point of contact is a recruiter. Unlike in the academic scene, where the initial reviewers of your application are other academics and the people you will be working with, this is not the case in most non-academic jobs. Of course it’s different for different fields or companies, but most of the time the first step in the process is getting the attention of recruiters. Most of the time the recruiter’s job is to find qualified applicants and pass those on to the hiring manager for further vetting. The hiring manager can either be a more senior recruiter (someone you will not be working with) or a project manager (the person who would eventually be your supervisor). The recruiter, the first person you have to impress, vets applicants by first looking at your application materials and then sometimes sets up an initial phone-screen interview. Sometimes they will email you first, sometimes they won’t. I learned very quickly to answer every phone call from every unknown caller. When applying to jobs on another coast, this meant I sometimes got calls at 6am. I also received calls on the weekends and after normal business hours. One time the president of a company called me on a Sunday to set up a face-to-face interview the next day, which happened to be a holiday. The point is, there’s not a standard application or interview process and you should be prepared for almost anything.
A lot of times there are multiple interviews, the initial phone-screen interview with a recruiter, another phone interview with people you would eventually be working with including the supervisor, and then there can be multiple face-to-face interviews. The initial phone screen interview is mostly to ensure that you are still interested in the position and to find out your salary requirements (more on this later). Sometimes they literally have a list of questions they have to ask you, and a lot of them are yes/no questions. More importantly they usually ask you to articulate why you would be a good candidate for the position. This portion of the phone interview took me a long time to master. This is the “selling yourself” part and it’s crucial to have a well thought out answer and be prepared for those cold calls you will sometimes receive.
I struggled with this part, not because I wasn’t qualified for the positions I was applying for, but because as an academic in the field of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, I felt I had to hide a lot of things about my education and experience. (FYI, on my resume I shorten my degree to Women’s Studies, in order to be a little less “scary” for recruiters. People are OK with “women,” but words like “gender” and “sexuality” tend to set off alarm bells.) I kept thinking about all the things that I couldn’t say, like the classes I taught and what my research was really about. It took me a long time to realize that the interviewers weren’t really concerned about the subjects I had experience with. What they really cared about was the skills I had. Curriculum design, story boarding, collaboration, project management, research, technical writing, conflict resolution, training/teaching strategies, computer and software skills—these were the skills they wanted to know I had. And yes you do need to be able to provide specific examples of your experience using these skills, both successfully and unsuccessfully. These examples do need to be specific, but I learned it’s about the way you word it and the way you tell the story. As graduate students and PhD’s we know how to frame a narrative in order to make a successful argument. This is what we’re trained to do. The thing that took me a long time to cultivate, was a sense of confidence while framing a narrative about my skills.
For example, one of my selling points for my skills was that I had six years of experience teaching and training individuals in complex and technical subjects. I was successfully able to translate technical and analytical information or skills into easy to understand and relatable language. Interviewers often asked me to give an example. I would then say that the subject matter was within my field, but I taught about big theoretical concepts about the world and I would bring those concepts down to earth and relate them to students’ everyday life. If I was asked directly what classes I taught, which I think I was only asked one or two times out of the countless interviews I had, I would say that I taught writing for two years in my master’s program and in my PhD program I taught introductory courses that focused on critical thinking, research, and civic engagement.
Depending on what type of company or organization you are interviewing with you can chose to divulge more information. For instance, I interviewed with a non-profit that had a strong commitment to diversity and social justice. It was a panel type interview and one person asked for an example of how I had taught concrete and practical skills. In that case, I talked about how I taught disability studies in my courses and the big picture of how it affects the way we think and act and the spaces we live in. When first teaching this subject, I had a sense that my students were anxious about simply interacting with people with disabilities. So I provided them with a handbook or guide on best practices in social interaction. And I also mentioned that the students really appreciated this guide and often mentioned it as one of the best parts of the course because it gave them practical skills.
I’m not suggesting that you make stuff up. It’s simply about the way you frame yourself and your skills. As academics applying outside our field, we have to be a bit savvier and put a little bit more thought into how we present ourselves. It doesn’t mean we aren’t qualified for any number of non-academic jobs, or that we are trying to trick anyone. We simply have to be able to translate our skills and experiences into language employers understand and demonstrates the most important thing—we can do the job we are applying for.
There are a lot of different job boards out there. So much so, that it can be a bit overwhelming. It helped me to stick to a few and receive daily email alerts based off of specific key words or job titles. (Next blog I’ll talk more about finding and applying to jobs).
USAJobs (government jobs only)
Idealist.org (more non-profit focused)