The Worst They Can Say Is No: Escape From Academia
Stage 1: Figure out what you need
So your postgraduate degree is coming to an end, and you’ve probably reached the uncomfortable stage of wondering what to do next. Whether you’re finishing up a PhD or a Master’s degree, you’re now more qualified than you’ve ever been before and, in all probability, have no idea what you want to do with said qualifications. If you do know: congratulations, you’re lucky and pretty unusual. If you aren’t sure, you might want to consider taking some time off (if money permits) to figure it out. This applies particularly to those who have done a PhD: your brain needs some downtime from the relentless demands of the last four years. Try and find a non-academic job to cover expenses while you sort yourself out and think about what you want.
If you can’t afford either the time or the money to take a small job or a break for a bit, then you’re going to need to gear up for job-hunting right about now. Yes, I know that means you’re job-hunting while writing up your thesis or finishing your degree but unfortunately things cost money. The rest of this post will chart the way out of academia, as that’s what I have experience with.
Soon you will (probably) be leaving Coventry behind
Stage 2: Before job-hunting
You won’t get a graduate scheme this late in the year, but most other jobs will recruit all year around. Indeed.co.uk is your new best friend: set up some job alerts, and upload your CV. Your CV should be skills-based, it should be two pages long, and it should have been checked by someone who knows their stuff. Whether that’s the university careers people (who do CV drop-in sessions) or your aunt who works in HR doesn’t matter. Get it done and get it done now. You should also upload your CV to CV-Library and other websites. Yes, I know it sounds pointless and you may think (like I did) that it’s just for part-time jobs, but trust me it’s really really not. I got seven calls from recruiters the day I put my CV up. Go upload your CV.
Stage 3: Applying for jobs
When job-hunting, it’s also important to be aware of your own worth. You’re probably in the most qualified end of the job market, but you’re also lacking in experience. However, this isn’t as important as every single job advert would like you to think. If it asks for less than 2 years’ experience, it’s well within your ability to catch up on. Apply for it anyway, the worst they can do is say no. Teach yourself to write good cover letters and (politely) bully people who reject your applications until they give you feedback on why you weren’t suitable for the position. You should also be aware that Imposter Syndrome is common among postgraduate students, particularly female ones. You’ll automatically think that you’re less qualified and less suited for a position than you actually are: ignore the annoying voice in the back of your head and apply for the job you want anyway because the worst they can do is say no. Talk to your postdocs and supervisor to get an idea of the salary you should be asking for: my starting bid was £26k for lab-based jobs, which was what all the recruiters I talked to said they expected. You need to have an idea of the expected salaries for your industry: glassdoor.co.uk is great for that, and will also show some past interview questions from people who’ve interviewed there before.
Me on my way to another job interview
Stage 4: Interviews!
When you do start getting interviews, try and prep for them as much as possible: use beta.companieshouse.gov.uk for past accounts and current board members, Linkedin for research into the company itself (make sure you have a Linkedin profile and that it’s up to date!) and Glassdoor for any role-specific interview prep. Try to be as enthusiastic as you can, and make sure you have questions to ask at the end (I asked a couple of interviewers what their least favourite thing about the company was – I didn’t get the job due to bad technical interview performance but their looks of surprise were fun).
I’m leaving Warwick in a few weeks to start my new job in Sheffield, after two to three months of job hunting and more rejections than I can remember. Don’t get discouraged if the job you really like rejects you: something else will come along. Good luck!