Finding Non-Academic Careers

Published: Tues., October 3, 2018

An increasing number of graduate students are pursuing what are broadly called non-academic careers, or essentially any job which is not as a professor or researcher at a college or university. While you might be interested in these kinds of jobs, you may have some questions about where you even start looking for them. This article will help you in the process of finding and applying to non-academic jobs.

Assessing your Skills and Interests

To figure out where you want to go, you have to start with something more than just knowing you don’t want to be a professor. What are you passionate about? Do you like conducting research and running statistical analyses? Or are you more interested in writing or public policy? Or do you enjoy mentoring or teaching? If you are in a more artistic discipline, maybe you are passionate about playing your instrument or producing artistic pieces. You also need to carefully assess your skills and training. What do you know how do? Are there things you can do, but aren’t particularly skilled at doing? Take some time to answer these questions:

  1. What do you like most about what you currently do or have done in graduate school?
  2. What do you like least?
  3. What technical skills do you have? Can you use particular instruments or programs (beyond Microsoft Office)?
  4. How would you rate your more general transferable skills (writing, communication, presentation, etc.)? Are there some that you feel particularly skilled in?
  5. Do you have any additional certifications or training?
  6. Do you like working in collaborative environments?
  7. What is important for you for your future workplace?
  8. Do you want to work in a particular type of organization (e.g. for-profit company, non-profit organization, state or federal agency, etc.)
  9. Are you looking for a job in a particular geographical area?

Once you’ve answered these questions you can move on to thinking about where to find those jobs. These questions should help you reflect on your skills and interests as related to your future work.

Searching for Jobs

Now that you know what kinds of work you are interested in it's time to look for position that matches your skills and interests. While those interested in academic jobs can reliably know that that they only need to go to one or two websites, looking for non-academic jobs might take more time and effort on your part. Where you look really depends on what you are looking for. You may find that you need to look at many different websites to find job options. Start with companies or non-profits you are familiar with in your field. However, you may also want to look at larger organizations (e.g. GE, Proctor and Gamble, Facebook, etc.) because they may hire a a wide range of employees and sometimes in areas you might not fully expect.

Companies and Non-Profits

While some companies and non-profits may post their positions on general job boards, many times they also have their positions posted as part of website as well as the application process. The websites may also be where you'll apply or provide valuable information to help you prepare a successful application. Identifying a few companies that employ people with expertise in your field will help you find other similar jobs in similar companies.

State and Federal Agencies

If you are interested in working at a federal or state agency, most of those positions will be posted on the appropriate state or federal website. This might include positions such as working with agencies that are conducting research in specific agricultural or societal issues, for example. Federal positions are generally posted on usajobs.gov. State positions will generally be posted on the the website for that particular state; Nebraska's website is available here.

General Sources

Did you know that as UNL students or alumni you now have access to Handshake, a career search platform used at over 500 universities? There are job postings for all across the country and from entry level position for undergraduates to more advanced positions. One of the great benefits of Handshake is that because it's used but over 500 schools, a job can be posted easily to students of all of those schools meaning that many more jobs may be list than with the previous system. All UNL students already have accounts in Handshake, you just need to go and sign in to access it. Log in and check out some of the posts available.

Other general job search sites include: Careerbuilder.com, Indeed.com, and Monster.com. While the sites may have lots of jobs, you may have do some searching to find jobs that really interest you or are appropriate for your qualifications. Job Fairs can also be a good source of non-academic jobs, provided they are designed to have not just postings for more entry level positions. Ask the organizers if you are unsure whether there will be postings applicable to someone is a Master's or doctorate degree.

Another way to find job boards or posting in fields you are interested in is by connecting with people in the field. Use informational interviews to learn more about and connect with other in the field you would like to be in. You might find some of these potential interviewees through connections with your professors, professional network, or on LinkedIn. While you do not want to ask any of these interviewees about giving you a job, they may have advice about job boards that only those in the field would be familiar with.

Applying for Jobs

Typically applying to non-academic jobs will require a resume and a cover letter. While a CV can be a long listing of all of your publications, presentations, and teaching or research experiences, resumes are shorter (1-2 pages), more focused documents listing only your work experiences and skills relevant to that career. You cannot simply use your CV to apply for non-academic jobs; you need to thoughtfully create a resume relevant to that position. Depending on the position, you may need to be more specific about how your knowledge and skills match the skills needed for the position as they may not intuitively know how your graduate work links to their company’s work.

Read the position announcement clearly. If they specify that they require a particular skill set or certification, make sure you have that qualification before you apply. Do not lie or assume that your skills are equivalent. Always check with a trusted mentor or the employer if you aren't sure. It's better to ask first than waste your time preparing the application.

More information on job searches is available in this article.