Dating Your Next Career: A Step-by-Step Guide to PhD Career Exploration 

BY: THOMAS R. COUGHLIN, PHD; SWATI KHARE, PHD

Note from the authors: We aim to consolidate in an efficient manner, available resources and provide you with a step-by-step career exploration guide.

Now’s the time to take control of your PhD job search. Pair this article with our All-In-One Checklist and make a big step in pursuing your next phase of life!

What to do after your PhD

Dating and career exploration are similar. I know what you’re thinking, PhD Source you’re really wonky! 

Okay, we are…But trust us, career exploration and dating can be really fun! It’s exciting! And you’re not alone!

So what are we talking about? Spaghetti dinners and bottles of wine? No, no, we mean, in order to date effectively, you have to know yourself and then meet some people with criteria in mind! You have to have an idea even more so of who you are and what you want.

If you’re at the end of your PhD or Postdoc, that means you’ve made it through all of the crazy ups and downs (which we’ve described at length here). If you are choosing to forgo the postdoc or are at the point of leaving a postdoc, and are not pursuing academics, you’re ready to start dating your next career move!

You only need the next step. Let’s get into it! A step-by-step guide with tips to change the way you think and use wisdom gathered from those who have gone through this.

Here we’ve broken down the career exploration (dating) process into 3 steps:

  1. Getting to know yourself (strengths, values, talents, interests)
  2. Dating some careers (what’s out there, collect some data, make friends)
  3. Putting yourself out there (resumes, referrals, interviews)

1. Getting To Know Yourself

So, let’s start with some facts.

Fact #1: You are smart. 

Fact #2: Intelligence will help you, but in this case, it’s not the quality that will help you with the career exploration process.

Read these articles to realize that your intelligence may be your greatest challenge in this next step.

  1. Overthinking Is Killing You: Science Confirms You Need To Get Out Of Your Head
  2. Smart People, Dumb Decisions
  3. Smart Folks are Most Susceptible to Overanalyzing and Overthinking
  4. Science Says This is What Happens to You When You Overthink Everything
  5. 6 Surprising Downsides of Being Extremely Intelligent

If you don’t think this is enough proof that being really smart here will not help you decide, then, go to google.com and type in the key words: smart people decisions.

Fact #3: Perfection doesn’t exist.

To continue reading you must accept that you are handing over the reins. This journey is more like hopscotch, but in order to start you have to take that first “hop.”

Knowing Oneself

Well, there are multiple ways to find that out. Do you find yourself in the middle of the room talking during parties or are you against the wall wondering how so many people have so much to say? Are you drawn to extroverts or introverts? It’s pretty easy to figure out what you like more. Planned time with people and not large groups, or large groups and a bit of spontaneity. That’s what they call introverts and extroverts, respectively, but these aren’t too important. We suggest just know which way you lean because there are grey areas in terms of personalities.

A lot of people would suggest taking the Myers Briggs to know your strengths and weaknesses, which can help, but it is not 100% necessary. It can also make you think there’s a perfect solution, but we already know… there’s not. Here’s the link to: www.16personalities.com

It’s important to know what you enjoy doing. If you’ve worked in enough groups you may already know what brings you satisfaction and fulfillment. Here are a few questions to help: are you creative, analytical, detail oriented, persuasive, good in front of audiences, a good-communicator to multiple audiences, do you work well under pressure, do you like deadlines, do you like reading, do you like writing, do you like checking things for mistakes, do you like numbers, do you like motivating, would you rather get a bunch of work done for the group, or be the face or presenter of the group, do you like structure, or free-form?

Foundational Questions

With the above figured out, you have laid a good foundation for the next step. Before you go on, we suggest opening a blank file in Microsoft Word and answering the following prompts:

  • What’s motivating the next step?
    • Is it stability? Working in a startup? Leaving the bench? Making money? Work/Life Balance?
  • What are the talents that I will bring?
  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What kind of contribution do you want to make?
  • What kind of purpose do you find motivating?
  • Do I want to work at the research bench?
  • Work in more idealistic work like non-profits?
  • What do your colleagues and friends suggest?

Putting down a rough answer will help give some direction to weigh certain careers against each other.

2. Dating Some Careers

This next step is low risk and high reward. Exploring careers is a low-risk endeavor.

To find out what the careers are like and to find out what jobs are available does not commit you to a path, it only shows you what the path looks like and where they might go.

One of the best tools to evaluate careers is – My Individual Development Plan (myIDP) https://myidp.sciencecareers.org.

myIDP allows you to explore career possibilities using questionnaires that assess your transferrable skills, interests, and values. Taking this test will rank careers that most align with your skills and interests.

At PhD Source, we advise you focus on the top 5 results from myIDP. Copy these 5 into a blank page, step 2 questions:

  • What is the role?
  • Does it meet my need for what is motivating my next step?
  • Where does it fit in with the world? – is it in pharma, government, scientific dissemination, teaching, research, startups, venture, fund-raising, grant evaluations, big data, etc.
  • My transferrable skills that I would use?
  • Subjects in this area that are new to you?
  • Subjects I find interesting?
  • Informational gathering?
    • What is the day-to-day?
    • Do you work on teams?
    • Is it remote or office or lab-based?
    • Does it have a career trajectory? (yes/no)
    • What are the hours?
  • Most appealing part about the job?
  • Least appealing part about the job?

With these questions in mind, it’s time to get some informational interviews. In order to obtain informational interviews, you’ll need to use your network of people you know and people you don’t.

There are multiple people/networks that can be of help with this.

It may take multiple emails to get one informational interview. Here is an article that suggests an email template – The Email Template That’ll Get You a Meeting With Anyone You Ask. The article may be true, but still expect some failures, however, this article has the right format.

We recommend seeking out help in how to conduct an informational interview. There are many questions that can be used to assess. Here is a list of questions that can be used to gather information – Informational Interview Questions. Must-have questions are:

  • What is a day-to-day like?
  • When do things get busy?
  • What are the skills that you use from your scientific training?
  • Do you work on a team?
  • Do you work with people from multiple backgrounds?
  • What is your career goal?
  • Can we stay in touch, by connecting on Linkedin (if you haven’t done so already), and sharing email, or perhaps there are any networking events you can recommend I attend?

This article, 3 Steps to a Perfect Informational Interview, has some advice for getting ready for an interview and this article has a format for

Information gathering takes time, therefore, it’s important to give yourself enough time to do this effectively. The time-limiting step is the informational interviews.

At PhD Source, we think, conducting informational interviews with at least two people at distinct places per career path is sufficient. Interviewing people who are  relatively new to the field as well as people who are in senior roles is very valuable.

Utilizing Your Institution

It’s important to check out what is actually out there. No one else will. So use this time to actually check out some of the programs that are available within your University or Institution. In some cases neighboring institutions will be able to help as well. So broaden your search and consider programs run internal and external to your institution.

Utilizing Networking Events

The networking events are vital to your success. They will expose you to multiple career paths and allow you to meet people who may have already transitioned out of the PhD and into a career path.

To find networking groups, you can utilize MeetUp.com, or simply google groups in your area.

Having a Foundation

Once you have your informational interviews finished, you can compare the answers against your Foundational Questions.

3. Putting Yourself Out There

After you’ve narrowed down your career prospects it’s time to apply. Similarly, after you’ve done the informational interviews, you are in a much better position to apply.

At this point, you’ll need to be close to the end of your PhD or in a postdoc, ready to move on. Timing of this can be rather tricky, but it’s of course do-able, now that you’ve pointed your feet in a direction you want to go in.

Resume

Once you have that idea, start researching the companies in the area you want to transition into. Identify your geographical concerns, and begin contacting people at these companies over Linkedin. Simultaneously, you’ll want to start working on your resume.

Job Alerts

In addition, you can use this time to set job alerts on LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster. However, at PhD Source we recommend waiting to use this until you are certain of the positions you are going for. Because these companies will pile in the emails, which can be helpful but it is is also not necessary if you are deliberate.

Resume Design

For ways to transition your scientific experience into a resume, you’ll want to use some sources. We recommend this one: “Job-search basics: how to convert a CV into a resume,” posted on www.nature.com/articles/ni.2453, by Derek Haseltine. The suggestion is to keep the resume to 1-2 pages, with Selected Publications on the second pages if they apply.

In the end with a connection to get your resume to the right person, the resume serves as a validating list of your accomplishments. In addition, you will want to make it an expression of yourself.

There are many new ideas about formatting resumes and people are experimenting with Photoshop and Illustrator to combine neat ways of organizing the resume. A traditional approach blended with some flares should be enough to garner cold reads considering how well you tailor the resume.

In addition, it is vital that you read the job posting carefully and craft a lot of the action verbs and descriptive words into your resume. If they ask for “clinical trial experience” and a “self-starter” mentality, then it’s important to have those keywords in your resume. Taking a job description and converting it into a resume is a key to getting the resume noticed.

Although it’s fairly common knowledge now, most companies use programs that match keywords from your resume to a job listing. Without key words, your resume may not get noticed, even if you meet the company’s qualifications

Avoid the Spray and Pray

Therefore, it’s better to work through connections and referrals than it is to work through just “spraying” your resume and “praying” it gets noticed. Using your actual connections is more fruitful.

Time to Dance

Once you get an interview it’s time to dance, and get ready for that first date. This is no blind date, you actually like this opportunity. This job is one you’ve sought out. Your talents will be valued and a relationship will form, one that let’s you grow in it and meets your needs.

Sources we suggested in this article:

Additional Resources:

At PhD Source, we want to deliver the most help possible! If this article was helpful or related to you in a particular way, please reach out via email or leave a comment below!

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