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Exit Strategies: Seven Steps to Begin Searching for Jobs Outside the Academy

Exit Strategies: Seven Steps to Begin Searching for Jobs Outside the Academy
Non-traditional students need to keep their eyes open for job opportunities both inside and outside of the academy; this guide will help get the job search off the ground.
Seeing my byline, you might wonder what value might lie in a job-hunting article written by someone still in graduate school. As someone who has reinvented herself from a construction worker to a high school math teacher to a history PhD candidate to a construction business and project manager, I am no stranger to career changes. The suggestions and advice shared here come from my own experience, but also dozens of articles, informational interviews and suggestions I’ve received in my own quest to reinvent myself again.

So, to address the main question, what does it take for students to find jobs outside the Academy (Alt-Ac, to those in the know)?

1. Soul Searching

To begin with, you need to do some soul searching to find out what kind of work you would most enjoy, and that you are best suited for:

  • What transferrable skills do you currently possess?
  • What interests you?
  • What motivates you?
  • What types of work do you find meaningful?

 2.  Consider your Constraints

Along with the endless possibilities, you need to be mindful of the reality of your situation, especially as a non-traditional student.

  • Do you need to be mindful of the location and schools for your children?

  • What income range is acceptable?

  • Is there a particular geographic region you want to be in?

  • Is your partner looking for a job or do they have a position they would like to remain in?

  • What sort of lifestyle are you looking for—a cozy small town with great hiking, a cosmopolitan city, family-friendly suburban living, or something in between?

  • How much of a commute is acceptable?

  • Would you like to drive your own car or use public transportation?

  • What housing costs fit in your budget?

  • How many hours per week are you willing to work?

  • Are you willing to travel?

Keep all of these things in mind as you begin your search.

3.  Find Out What’s Out There

You need to build awareness. What jobs exist? If you’re unsure where to start, check out:

  • LinkedIn – Create a profile, include your work history, education, publications, skills, your photo, and links to any digital work you’ve created or other public profiles. Build your network and begin searching the job ads.

  • Versatile PhD’s Career Finder. Provides information about career paths in both the humanities and STEM fields, what types of specializations are preferred, how to get started in the field, advancement options, the personality type best suited for it, and what you need to do to prepare for such a career.

  • “The Alt-Ac Track” by Brenda Bethman and C. Shaun Longstreet

  • How to do the Search” by Brenda Bethman and C. Shaun Longstreet

  • #alt-academy, a MediaCommons Project

  • David Drysdale’s List of Alt-Ac Resources

  • Your field’s professional organizations.

  • 10 Career Websites Every PhD Student Should Visit: Provides links to a number of helpful resources, including sites where PhDs share their own Alt-Ac career paths. These stories are both encouraging and provide great ideas for jobs you may never have known about or considered!

  • The U.S. and Canadian Governments list thousands of jobs each year from diverse fields. Check out what is currently available for U.S. and Canadian government positions at and, respectively.

4. Keep an Eye on Job Announcements

Check out sites like Higher Education Recruitment ConsortiumAcademic KeysLinkedIn Jobs, or Career Builder and narrow it down by geographic location or industry. Search and sign up for listservs in your field that periodically send out job announcements. What stands out as you read through the job descriptions? What sounds exciting?

Begin to create a list of keywords you can use for your job search.

5. Open Up to Networking

Don’t neglect the importance of talking to people in fields you’re interested in. Ask your campus career adviser, former employers, adviser, or committee members (if you’re comfortable and feel supported in your Alt-Ac pursuit) about what types of jobs you could apply for with your talents and abilities. To learn more about jobs you think you might like, arrange informational interviews with professionals who have those jobs and ask about the positions themselves, how they entered the field and what skills you will need to demonstrate to land similar positions.

6. Keep your Resume Fresh

Transform your CV into a 1-2 page resume for different categories of positions. Be sure to highlight the skills you have developed. Not sure what to focus on? Take notes as you read through job ads for similar positions. What words keep coming up? Is project management experience important? Look up the field’s buzzwords and use them to ensure you catch the attention of an automated system or HR person. (Check out Bethman and Longstreet’s article, too: “Sharing Success in New Ways”.)

7. Dare Greatly

You cannot get a job that you don’t apply for. Get out there!

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