If you’ve already started looking for a job in academia, do you use Google to find available lectureships and research posts? Probably not, since in the UK at least, you’ll go straight to the Times Higher Education Supplement. You can check the hard copy or web versions of the THES for available jobs each week. The pool of academic posts is likely to be small enough for you to carry out a manual search within your area of specialism, or you can have matching jobs sent to you by email.
Starting a non-academic job search can seem quite daunting by comparison. ‘What do I google?’ is the first question most PhDs ask. Something like ‘jobs + PhD + [your degree name here]’?! Well you could try, but unfortunately very few employers will be including your PhD subject area in their job vacancy descriptions! In fact the academic job search method doesn’t suit a non-academic job search, because in the world of mainstream work, jobs aren’t advertised by areas of academic knowledge. Instead they are advertised according to the functional job roles that exist within a business sector or in the public sector. Therefore you initially need to concentrate on two or three specific areas of work that interest you, and note down key words and phrases from these work areas, in order to use them in your subsequent job search.
To take an example from my personal experience: back in the year 2000 I’d begun to develop a career ‘Plan B’, in case my academic job search didn’t work out. I’d realised that I was very interested in how new technologies like the internet could help people to learn faster, better and at a distance from their teachers and trainers. Doing some basic research on Google, I discovered that there was a fast-growing industry springing up in the area of web-based teaching and learning, requiring specialist course designers, software programmers and training analysts who could make learning materials accessible. After my fifth unsuccessful academic job interview, and as the funding for my post-doctoral fellowship ran out, my Plan B kicked in! I took the keywords ‘e-learning’ and ‘web-based training’ from my initial research, and I typed these keywords into some mainstream job site search engines such as monster.co.uk to find suitable vacancies.
After a couple of months of putting in applications, I landed a job in June 2000 as a Content Analyst with the UK start-up arm of a Swiss-based e-learning services company. The company had vacancies for people who could rapidly adapt learning materials for online delivery, within their Education Design team. Our clients hired us to turn their existing classroom-based courses into modules that could be studied online, in areas ranging from basic IT skills for employees, through to the technical details of new products coming onto the market for retailers.
This example shows how, by starting out with a good sense of my personal interests and passions, and through some basic research into specific sectors on Google, I was able to find a ‘niche’ with good employment prospects. Using selected words and phrases from this sector as keywords on job websites, I identified a range of vacancies, one of which led to a job offer. The fact that I had a PhD in Medieval Studies was totally irrelevant to my initial job search!
To show you how it works at the job search engine level, I’ve listed 5 common keywords that I’ve used in the past when looking for work. Click one and explore the vacancies that come up. Depending upon where you’re looking for work, you can filter by country, state and city. Add other keywords to further narrow your search:
Take action now: Use the method described in this post to identify two or three public and business sector areas that interest you. Make notes about them and capture the key words and phrases. Then track down suitable vacancies by taking these keywords and putting them into job search engines like glassdoor.com.
Further reading – choosing your profession
Life after the PhD: 8 inspiring post-PhD interview websites, by Chris
Your job options after a PhD – in a diagram, by Chris
How to research your target job sector, by Chris
How to find jobs advertised at PhDs, by Chris
How to get help and advice when applying for jobs outside academia, by Chris
‘But I don’t really know what I want to do!’, by Chris
Deciding who to work for after the PhD, by Chris
Project Management as a career path for PhDs, by Chris