You’re considering leaving academia — but which job would be suitable for you? How do you know what else is out there, and how do you choose among the many different industries and options? And, once you have an idea of what you want to do, how do you create a compelling application?
Here, find out how to tackle finding the right non-academic job to fit your goals.
First, know what types of jobs are available.
To learn what types of jobs you might be interested in, try:
- Joining career events.
- These are great opportunities not only to know which jobs you could qualify for but also to meet other people who are thinking of leaving academia.
- Your professional scientific network is vital to exploring a new career path. Meet as many people as you can, and ask them what they do and how they got to this point in their career. Something may spark your interest!
- Online webinars or other virtual events allow you to engage with the community and explore your options.
- Talking to your institution’s academic advisors or career center.
- Doing this will often give you access to trained professionals, experienced in guiding people who are transitioning between career paths or unsure what to look for.
- They may know about job boards, volunteer opportunities, or other ways for you to browse potential future careers.
- Academic advisors are there to give you tools and resources to tackle this exciting but sometimes overwhelming challenge. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help!
- Utilizing your social media.
- Social media has a vast array of opportunities for job postings.
- In the pre-digital era, job ads would mostly be in newspapers, on local radio, or on TV news. But with the ease of access to the internet globally, the use of social media has become a major means of advertising vacancies in various organizations. Therefore, there is a need to:
- Create a social media account, e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc., and build a strong professional profile.
- Follow organization(s) that look interesting to you on social media. Engaging with the organization or company online could enlighten you on their core values. This will also keep you informed on ads for the latest positions in the organizations to be filled.
- Follow some members of staff in a related profession or organization. Spark up a conversation, send an email, or simply introduce yourself as potentially interested in their field to keep growing your network.
Then, research how you could prepare for a specific type of job.
Preparing for a new job is exciting and confusing. Resources may seem limited, and you might feel you can never be prepared enough. You may also question yourself over and over again on whether you are ready to take the challenge.
You do not have to panic, as this is very usual when taking on seemingly new tasks. Here are tips to guide you in your preparation for the new role.
- Get to know your personal interests. This will be very instrumental in identifying the areas you feel you can be very productive in. Interests are great drivers of exploration and productivity.
- Look for resources such as videos and articles from the web or library on some jobs of interest. This will help you familiarize yourself with the structure, roles, and operations and also help you shape your skills to fit the position.
- Meet people on the job. Meeting and talking to people who are already in the job you are looking at helps you decide if you would like the job or not. And if you do, it helps you identify what you need to learn. Make time to attend events or conferences that will offer you the opportunity to build such connections. Don’t feel shy about sending a friendly email or message on social media to them if you are not already friends. You could also ask to be introduced by a mutual friend. Be clear about what you would like to learn from them, and take note of their responses.
- Meet like-minded individuals. Meeting individuals who are also considering leaving academia for non-academic jobs is a great way to connect and share ideas. This helps you to not feel alone and gives you the confidence to take a step. Maintaining such a circle could be very useful for knowledge sharing and personal development.
- Offer to do internships, join projects, volunteer, or do community services. These are ways to help you identify potential jobs. If you have already decided on the job of interest, having these activities in the area will offer more experiences and drive interest.
- Also remember to always learn new skills while on your academic job to make yourself “future proof.” This way, you are always prepared for all the possibilities.
Write a compelling application letter.
This is a way of introducing oneself to the hiring personnel of an organization. This needs to explain what you can bring to the company given the listed position and how you plan to do it. But, in order to introduce oneself through an application, it is necessary to understand what the personnel want to know about the applicant.
There are a few ways to find out what the hiring team might want to know about you:
- Research more about the position.
- Make the essential research into the precise work requirements prior to applying for a position. For instance, your expertise in literature reviews or statistical analysis from your doctorate would be a bonus for gathering information to make an informed decision for your industry if you were applying for the position of consultant in a firm.
- Emphasize transferable skills (Cranna).
- Highlight the unique skills and experience gained in academia. Interpersonal skills, such as student advisory and mentoring, conference planning, presentation (i.e., public speaking), project management, research collaborations, and problem-solving abilities like research conceptualization could come in handy depending on the job you are applying for. Other examples include transferable skills such as leadership, project management, communication, teamwork, decision-making, and dependability, which are highly valued by employers in the business world.
- Ask for feedback on your application.
- Seeking a career in any field requires you to walk with people who have walked the path before you. Identify people in your desired profession and ask for application reviews and feedback to make necessary amends and position yourself for the job.
Prepare as much as possible for interviews.
If you made it to the interview round, congratulations! Your task now is to learn more about your future employer and your next role.
Below you will find a few tips on how to ace your interview.
- Learn as much as possible about the people who will interview you.
- Check their profile on social media or the company’s website. If you know someone working at the company, reach out to them and ask if they like working there. Try to understand the company’s values and see if these fit yours.
- Read the job description and your cover letter again.
- Write out any questions you might have about the role. Remember to ask them during the interview. Do the opposite exercise: which questions do you think you could be asked? Write those down. If you feel uninspired, check online.
- After mapping your questions and those that you will likely be asked, it is time for a “test run”.
- Practice your answers out loud using the STAR method (NHS Career, 2023). “STAR” stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
- For example, when answering a question such as “Tell us about the time” or “Give an example of how,” give an example of a situation or challenge you experienced, the task you had, the action you took to overcome it, and the result of your action. It is always better to give examples of your skills than simply state that you have done them.
- You now know everything about your interviews and company and have practiced what you will most likely be asked out loud. There is nothing else that you can do now but relax.
Last but not least, having an exit strategy will help make a smoother transition out of academia and into a career that is rewarding and exciting for you.
- Cranna N. Career moves: 5 insights on moving from academia to industry. Linkedin.com. 1637706260000 [accessed 2023 Mar 21]. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/career-moves-5-insights-moving-from-academia-industry-cranna-phd-1c/
- Hankel I. How to leave academia (6 tips from A PhD who made the switch). Cheeky Scientist. 2021 Apr 16 [accessed 2023 Mar 21]. https://cheekyscientist.com/how-to-leave-academia-6-tips-from-a-phd-who-made-the-switch/
- Gould J. Beyond academia: Planning the perfect exit strategy for a scientific career move. Nature. 2022 [accessed 2023 Mar 21]. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00198-0. doi:10.1038/d41586-022-00198-0
- ApS N. 35+ job interview questions and answers [full list]. Novorésumé. 2018 Mar 7 [accessed 2023 Mar 21]. https://novoresume.com/career-blog/interview-questions-and-best-answers-guide
About the Authors
Dennis Baffour-Awuah is a science communication enthusiast who has many years of experience practicing broadcast journalism in Ghana, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. He loves to be referred to as the pop scientist because he loves to blend pop culture and science as a lifestyle. You can find him on Twitter at @dennisgameplay.
Idowu Obisesan is currently lecturer at Bowen University Iwo, Nigeria, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. She is interested in legume sustainability (the effects of abiotic and biotic stresses on plants) and medicinal plant research. You can find her on Twitter at @IdowuAobisesan.
Maria Constantin holds a PhD in Plant Pathology from the University of Amsterdam, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. She is working on an online platform called The Green Leaflet, which focuses on sharing plant science stories. You can find her on Twitter at @meconstantin001.