There’s been a big ol’ gap here since I last wrote, promising a little piece about getting your first non-academic job. That’s mainly because I’ve switched jobs myself!
I left the startup I was working for and have taken a job at NTT Data Services. This is a dream job, the kind of job I never, ever thought I would achieve, the kind of job I didn’t even think was a possibility for me three or four years ago, much less nine or ten years ago. It has amazing compensation, the kind of benefits package that most people my age don’t get anymore, responsibilities that will challenge me to grow as a professional in ways I probably still don’t foresee, coworkers who are supportive and brilliant and driven, supervisors to look up to, and the kinds of clear goals that I love to work towards. The position is technically “flex,” with some time at home and some in the Plano headquarters, but the company has delayed in-office work until at least January 2022. I have a beautiful home office setup. [Including a huge new desk that I ordered from Pottery Barn when I accepted this job. Highly recommend a big desk. I love having a full computer work station and room for my manual writing stuff.]
Just since my last post here, two more people have reached out to me asking about leaving academic and academic-adjacent jobs (working within the university and college system). I’m sure this is in part due to the big shift that I’m also a part of: workers are changing jobs a lot right now, hiring is up, and people are seeking positions that better suit their COVID-19 comfort levels and their work-from-home preferences. But I hope it’s also part of a shift in academia itself. I hope people are realizing that their skills and their work ethic can be applied in more lucrative, less abusive settings.
I won’t make this post very long, because leveraging your academic experience means something different for every kind of job you might be applying for. What you might emphasize and downplay when applying for a copywriting position is very different from what you might emphasize and downplay when applying for a position in HR. But these tips are universally applicable.
Do your research.
You’re good at research, right? Dig in and learn everything you can about the field you’re hoping to work in. Look at a lot of company websites, competitor websites, and job descriptions. Ask anyone you know who already works in the field if they can give you a quick rundown. Don’t be surprised if you feel totally lost: the way people talk about, for instance, software marketing is completely different from how people talk about teaching undergraduates.
Learn the basics of the industry, and then learn all of the slang words and acronyms that apply to the job title you’re seeking. Then take some time to learn the very basics of any platforms or softwares listed in the job descriptions you see. You don’t need to become an expert at using Excel or WordPress or Figma, but familiarity with them and the terms used when using them will help you talk about your skills and what you hope to learn next.
Aim high, but manage your expectations.
Go ahead and apply for the jobs you want, but don’t be surprised if it takes you a few positions and a few years to achieve those goals. That’s okay. You’ll probably still have better work/life balance and more income in a borderline entry-level position outside of academia than in any position within it. If you land a really desirable job right off the bat, keep in mind that those who hired you probably expect you to focus on your learning curve and get up to speed quickly. You may need to dedicate some time watching Youtube tutorials and meeting with coworkers and mentors so that you can rise to the level if your new position.
Focus on your strengths, but never tell a lie.
Emphasize how your teaching skills can easily translate into mentorship for less experienced writers, but don’t say that you have supervisory experience when you don’t. Emphasize how the dedication and focus you applied to your dissertation research and writing can easily translate into great project management skills, but don’t say that you’ve managed a corporate project when you haven’t.
You can make yourself sound like the incredible potential employee you are without misleading anyone! It can be tempting to dodge these types of questions, but being honest will only help you long-term. You don’t want to end up in a position where you’re immediately expected to display mastery of something you’re clueless about, and you also don’t want a job where there’s no room to learn. If you’re honest with your interviewers, you’ll eventually find a position you can use as a stepping stone, or a position where you can be trained and mentored and invested in. Both options are great.
Don’t use self-deprecation or tell too many jokes about academia, or you’ll come off sounding bitter and hung up on your past disappointments. When I was interviewing, I was very honest about why I didn’t want to teach anymore: I wanted better work/life balance and to feel appreciated in my work. I got nothing but respect for that! Don’t put yourself down or make it sound like this career path is a disappointing second choice.