A graduate education can take you many places, including careers outside of academia. The skills and experiences you gain through your graduate career can translate into business, government, non-profits, and more. However, the path is not always as clear cut as the traditional academic route and will require research, exploration, and a bit of creativity. At the Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration, we can help you assess your interests outside of academia, explore career options and gain experience, market your skills, create appropriate application tools, and employ effective job search strategies.
While some graduate students enter a PhD program with the intention of pursuing a career outside or academia, many being their graduate study with the professorate in mind. However, the realities of the academic job market or changes in interests and goals over the course of graduate study can lead students to explore options outside of the academic path. Before diving into career options and job search tools, it is important to define and understand your skills, interests, personality, and values in order to provide a starting place for your career research, intentionally build skills and experiences, and provide focus in your job search.
The Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration offers several resources and tools in order to help you find your fit.
Imagine PhD– Resource for Humanities and Social Science graduate students to explore career options
My IDP – Resource for STEM PhDs in early stages of exploring career paths outside of academic research.
Masters and PhD graduates can be found in almost every field and industry. However, just stating that that fact is not always helpful. You may have to exercise some creativity and strategic thinking to identify how your skills, interests, and values align with potential careers. The Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration has compiled a list of common career fields that routinely hire individuals with advanced degrees.
Higher Education Administration
For graduate students that enjoy the higher education atmosphere, but are looking at options outside of the tenure-track, there are career options in academic advising and career development, writing, tutoring, and other learning resource centers, faculty development, alumni affairs, assessment and compliance, and many other areas.
Non-profits can range from a local history museum to an international relief agency. With the broad, yet mission driven nature of these organizations, they can be excellent places for advanced degree holders to utilize their subject matter expertise. Non-profits hire individuals for a variety of roles, including grant writing, research and analysis, program management, and education and instruction.
Think Tanks and Policy
Private think tanks, non-profits, and government agencies often hire individuals to research and analyze all different types of policy, ranging from science and environmental to human rights and education.
Positions in the government can vary widely. For STEM graduates, there are numerous scientific research roles. Humanities and social science MAs and PhDs often work in program administration and evaluation, in communications, writing, or curriculum development, or in various roles in museums, libraries, and national and state parks. The Presidential Management Fellowship is the federal government’s
Management consultants typically work to help private sector companies and organizations solve problem and improve efficiency. STEM PhDs are typically hired for their analytical skills and technical expertise, although consulting firms also hire PhDs from other disciplines.
You can find consultants working in other sectors, such as higher education and government. Public Consulting Group is one example of a firm dedicated to these areas.
Private and Secondary Education
Private and Independent schools hire individuals with advanced degrees to teach in many of their high school positions. For most of the schools, teacher licensure is not required. Other education related organizations, such as testing services, education focused companies, and non-profits designed to reform and increase access also hire advanced degree holders.
Science and Technology Industry
Individuals with advanced degrees in the STEM fields have opportunities at private companies and industries focused on biotechnology, software development, and the research and development of products.
Market Yourself: Translate Your Graduate School Experiences and Skills
PhD students develop and hone many skills that employers value, such as written and oral communication, research, problem solving and critical thinking, and project management. However, most of these skills are developed through the research, proposal, and writing of a dissertation or through leading and instructing undergraduate courses. Employer outside of academia do not always understand how these skills translate to their positions, so it is your duty to show them!
The MLA has compiled a list of transferable skills for humanities majors
The University of Michigan has created a list of transferable skills for PhDs
Read PhDs Do Have Transferable Skills from ChronicleVitae
It is especially important to consider how the skills you have developed through your research, teaching, and outside experiences translate to the career field you are considering. What examples do you have to demonstrate your mastery of the skills and competencies critical to your career field of choice? How can you talk about these with employers?
If you find that you are lacking experience in an area or having a hard time demonstrating a necessary skill for the industry you are seeking, consider interning, volunteering, or freelancing. For example a history PhD may feel he or she is lacking in digital skills or a chemistry PhD may want to hone their leadership skills.
For more guidance, see the Career Diversity Five Skills from the American Historical Association.
A CV, or curriculum vita, is the standard for many graduate students. However, students interested in pursuing careers outside of academia will need to convert their CVs into resumes, the more commonly used application tool in business, government, non-profits, and industry.
Purpose: Used for academic and research positions.
Length & Format: No specific template, no page limit, usually quite long, includes references.
Content: Focuses on academic achievements, scholarly potential; comprehensive list.
American History Instructor
- Responsibilities included developing syllabus, grading papers, and instructing course on the American experience from Roosevelt’s New Deal through World War II and the Cold War. Emphasized domestic history in addition to military and foreign policy.
Translate Your Experiences from CV to Resume
While converting your CV to a resume, you may need to change how you write about your teaching and research experiences. In some cases, you will want to add detail to the descriptions of your teaching and focus on skills gained from that experience that would be pertinent to what you are applying for. In others, you may delete some of the specificity about your research topics and findings, and focus more on the skills gained from the research experience and the research process itself.
Purpose: Used in industry and the private sector
Length & Format: Specific formats and templates, usually one page, two at the most, does not include references.
Content: Focuses on job experiences and skills (Results and outcomes as they relate to the job you are applying for).
University of Tennessee History Department
Teaching Assistant, Fall 2014-Fall 2015
- Created and delivered lectures on American history twice a week to 45 undergraduates; provided both content and process related knowledge
- Translated topics to students using a variety of pedagogical techniques, including small group discussion, multimedia sources, and a course-specific website
- Developed exams and paper topics; provided qualitative and quantitative feedback on students’ assignments
- Awarded prize for excellence and creativity in teaching by the department
Steps to Creating a Strong Resume
- Scan an example job description, pull out key words, skills, and phrases to incorporate and highlight in your resume
- Identify your transferable and position specific skills. How can you demonstrate that you have developed these skills on your resume?
- Choose a resume format that best displays your skills and experiences and connects them to the position you are interested in.
- Write the resume using bullet points that begin with action verbs. Remember to avoid complete sentences and focus on what you can DO for the employer.
The same principles apply when writing a cover letter for both academic and non-academic positions. To review the format for cover letters, see our guide. For graduate students applying for careers outside of academia, there are a few key things you want to consider when crafting your cover letter.
- Although academic cover letters may be 2-3 pages, you want to limit your cover letter to one page for positions outside academia.
- Remember to use the language of the field you are applying to. This may involve some translating of experiences, or a move away from traditional academic or scholarly language to verbiage more common in the industry.
- Take time to explain the skills you gained through your research and teaching and spend time connecting these skills with the requirements of the position.
- What is your “hook” or value added? You may have the required skills, experiences, and education, but what is something you are bringing to the table that would be especially helpful in the role? Think beyond just possessing an advanced degree. Maybe it is a specific skill, knowledge area, or experience that you gained as a result of the degree that you could leverage in the position.
You would prepare for a non-academic interview in much the same way you would prepare for an interview for an academic position. However, there are some differences in what you can expect from the interview structure and the kinds of information you will want to highlight in the interview.
Length: For final on campus, on to two full days, including presentations
Content: Focus is on your research and teaching; your ability to produce scholarly work
Prepare For: Job Talk (research presentation)
Interviewing Outside Academia
Length: For final on-site, varies widely – can be a couple of hours or a full day
Content: Focus is on skills (transferable and job specific); your ability to do the job well
Prepare For: Behavioral Interview Questions (share examples of your mastery of soft and hard skills)
Graduate students, potentially even more so than other job seekers, should employ multiple strategies when job seeking. A successful job search first begins with developing a plan of action.
Create Your Job Search Strategic Plan
- Before you begin searching you must identify your priorities, values, and goals – both long and short term. See FIND YOUR FIT to get started on this!
- You also have to research and understand your audience. Think about the industry you have chosen. How do they typically hire candidates? Is there a specific time of year they hire? What kind of skills and experiences are typically required and how can you demonstrate your competency in those skills? What is the language of the field? Are you comfortable using that in your resume, cover letter, and interview. This kind of information must be garnered before beginning your job search. Consider conducting information interviews, volunteering, and doing online research to answer these questions.
- Set Goals for yourself. Job seeking can be a time consuming process. Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound) to keep you on track and motivated.
- Employ multiple job search strategies – networking, online job seeking, and campus career events and resources are all important in a successful search.
- Track and Record your Progress. Document the jobs you apply for, the people you meet, and the interviews you complete. Evaluate where you have success where you don’t. What types of jobs do you seem to be receiving more interviews? Any patterns you can recognize? Use these to inform your search.
The truth is, most jobs are ultimately secured through networking of some type. Building a strong network really begins when you start your graduate program, and not when you start your job search. The individuals you meet throughout your graduate schooling at conferences, through academic endeavors, and even socially are excellent potential sources of job leads. Graduate students typically seek careers that are in niche fields, ones that don’t hire en mass, and even careers that may represent a departure from their previous academic and practical experience. These factors all make networking particularly critical in job search success. Don’t despair, though. It is never too late to start building your network.
Networking IS NOT schmoozing or asking for a job. Don’t start a conversation or email with someone you have recently met by asking for a job. This shuts the conversation down immediately.
Networking IS establishing AND maintaining mutually beneficial connections. You can begin a conversation with someone you just met by asking for advice, insight into a career field, or contacts. For more information on networking, see the Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration’s networking page.
Job Boards and Online Searching
Job boards and online listings can be particularly helpful in understanding the types of skills and experiences needed in a particular industry. However, it is important to remember that 60-80 percent of positions are never posted online. In practical terms, this means that you want to use online postings in conjunction with other, more active, job search methods. Selected websites are listed below.
Career Shift – CareerShift is a set of integrated applications designed to help job seekers find opportunities. It is a job aggregator that searches the web for job postings. This tool is a general job search source and requires some experimentation with powerful key word searching.
Professional Associations – Most professional associations maintain job boards and databases. These can be good sources of opportunities in niche fields. Brainstorm a list of relevant professional associations using your previous experience or utilize this resource from Career One Stop.
Industry Specific Job Boards – You can find examples of industry specific job boards (e.g. non-profit jobs, international development jobs, consulting jobs) using the College and Industry-specific Coaching pages.
Explore the industry resources found under your own college page. However, you may want to look outside your specific college at the industry resources found under other colleges, as these options may be more in line with your interests.
The Center for Career Development & Academic Exploration hosts several events specifically for graduate students each year. Past events have included:
- Beginning with the End in Mind: How to Come Out of this With a Job, featuring Don Asher
- Interviewing for Academic and Non-Academic Jobs
- Career Options Outside of Academia
- Resumes and CVs for Graduate Students
- Not a Bad Gig: Teaching Careers in America’s Two-Year Colleges, featuring Rob Jenkins
Additionally, we have many industry specific events throughout the year open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Periodically check our event calendar (link) for upcoming events. Past examples have included:
- Networking at Neyland
- STEM and Engineering Job Fair
- Arts and Sciences Career Conversation series
- Spring Job and Internship Fair
- Careers in the Foreign Service