This process has been “interesting”. It’s been a long ride since I actually started way back in July. Some things I learned along the way:
1. Don’t undervalue yourself. Though it’s hard not to when you’re getting no interest. The fact that I got no interest with 15 years of experience behind me rattled me no end. I entered the PhD thinking I had an escape route if the academic career didn’t work out, and I was stunned to realise that the door might have slammed shut behind me.
2. In the event, it turned out it hadn’t. It was a question of timing. Companies put out an ad and they like you to available in a month. I was applying two to three months in advance. Frankly, the entire process from start to finish (joining date) does take two months so I don’t know why companies are stuck on candidates who can be available in a one-month frame. Their loss I guess.
3. If you’re at the mid-senior level or above, you should use personal connections. Well, I guess at any level but at the mid-senior level, the field narrows. I don’t know how HR screens, but they’re doing something wrong.
4. Be persistent. Keep emailing the concerned person, especially if you have the line manager’s contact. You’d think people hiring would be eager to find someone, but especially in busy companies they sometimes don’t have the time. Both the offers I got, I nudged and nudged. It surprised me that this works but it does.
5. If you have a PhD, hide it. I started off explaining the PhD on my cover letters, then I stopped. I tucked it away in my resume, and I realised that several of the people I interviewed with hadn’t even noticed it. Heh. I don’t know if putting the PhD upfront in the beginning was the reason for me not getting any interest, but it well could be. There are people, especially academics, who think that having a PhD raises your stature in the job market – it does not, unless it’s related to the job in question. In the worst case, it will doom your chances because potential employers will question whether you can function in the real world, not to mention the insecurity of having a lesser academic degree themselves. I don’t have a superiority complex because of my PhD but it is assumed I do.
6. Try not to rush into the first offer your get. I tend to do this, because I want closure. The job hunt process is exhausting in a way. It is time-consuming and emotionally draining with it’s incessant highs and lows. When the last invitation to the next round of interviews came in after I had decided on the newspaper offer, I melted down for the exact opposite reason that I used to lose it at the beginning of my job search – now I had too many choices and I just wanted to pick one and be done with it. The tendency is to pick the first one. Ideally, I should have had the grit to stick it out for as long as possible and see what was out there until you get something that suits you best. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
7. Headhunters are pretty useless. I don’t know what they do. Okay, I know they’re supposed to screen, but they don’t seem to do anything much different from a typical HR. Moreover, they recruit for a job and once done, they don’t maintain contact at all. Okay, maybe I’m supposed to contact them, but wouldn’t it work two ways. I find it weird, that of all the headhunters I’ve been in touch with, none really followed up after the one job fell through. It is strange that when they work in a field, they won’t have other opportunities coming up that the same candidate could apply to. I had one useful conversation with a headhunter about salary scales and where I should be pitching myself, but other than that, I found them pointless and an extra step in the process that was a waste of time for me.
8. On the other hand, online recruitment websites are great. I found LinkedIn particularly useful. I should do more with my LinkedIn profile, but I don’t. I did upload a photo though. Get on all the online job aggregator sites and see what’s out there. I was on two sets of keyword alerts, the academic one and the editing one. Every morning after I’d open my eyes, I’d screen to these jobs, shortlist some and apply. I’ve lost track of how many I applied to. I wrote cover letters like a machine. I could start a side business in this. In fact, I actually polished the bios of all the employees of a friend’s company for a fee after she was impressed by mine.
9. When I signed up for one of the online sites, I could offered a free resume consultation. I took the offer, expecting it to be some generic comments. Turned out they sent me a personalized and detailed critique of my resume, obviously offering to polish it for me for a fee. I turned them down, but I took some of their critique on board. I barely acted on it, however, because I just didn’t have the time to overhaul my resume. I landed the offers I did with my sub-standard resume and networking and straight out cold applications. So there’s that.
10. When you have two possible career paths before you, you have to be clear what you want. I wasn’t for a longest time, until my unhappiness brought it to a head. Even then, I thought out my options clearly given my current situation. I talked to career starters in academia and got a realistic idea of what my life would be life and the money would be like if I stayed in the game. I talked to people in academia in India, and realised that given my need to restrict myself to one city at the start of my career, my options were limited. I wanted out of academia for emotional reasons, but I thought it through rationally. The fact is I don’t have the energy to gamble my reserves of time, money and EQ (what little of it I possess) on a career that would take at least two years to get reasonably started, if at all. If I was enjoying the work at the moment, it would have made the gamble more appealing and probably I would have stuck with it. In the event, it wasn’t and I found I didn’t have the stamina. I won’t say that this is the end of academia for me – I still have to do my defense and formally get my degree, and if a fulltime job opens up, I might apply. I might beef up publications which will help that, something teaching gives me no time to do. I plan to write more about my academic interests online (including here), again something I’ve wanted to do for ages but haven’t had the time to.
11. The reason you need to be clear about what you want is because everyone you talk to will have an opinion, and
many most opinions, though well meaning, are based on that person’s own need not your own. A lot of people found it hard to accept me dropping academia after a PhD. I had to comfort them and explain (I do have a tendency to overexplain that I need to curb). I got their objections, but I had already been through that process and was beyond it. A lot of it is tied up to a preconceived idea of what should happen and status. I won’t say I’m immune to the prestige of certain jobs, but it’s never been my primary motivation. I like tangible things like how happy I actually am in the job – can I do it without losing my mind and my life outside the job – and money. Yes, their reaction contained disappointment on my behalf, but tinged with their own mixed up feelings. Many well meaning people liked the idea of having a friend who is an academic, just as when I was with the newspaper, they liked the idea of a friend who was a hotshot (kinda) reporter. Even when choosing between the newspaper job with its cool brand and the more stable corp comms jobs, people had a stake in telling me what to do, which is influenced by their own biases towards certain jobs that have a higher status. I can see this because I also hold those biases. But I refuse to act on them, at least not to the detriment of the two things that I really value in a job.
12. Particularly in academia, which frankly is cultish, there is this feeling if you choose to opt out you failed. I won’t say this doesn’t affect me but a) I have already have a very clear view of life outside academia and can compare the two somewhat more objectively than people who have never been outside academia (the case with most academics). People in academia bitch and moan about the neoliberal takeover of universities but if you cite these very things as reasons for leaving, they look at you strangely (or sympathetically, as my supervisor did at lunch yesterday). b) I came across this post on The Professor is In (which is a great resource for grad students and young academics) on ‘recovering academics’ (I can’t find the exact one I read which was brill so not linking to it, but just google and you’ll find many). I knew I was likely going to be one – a person outside academia who thought like an academic in her free time – and it gave me comfort that were people out there in the same boat.