Myths About Career Planning

I'm at the beginning of my Ph.D. studies and don't need the Career Center yet.

Career planning is about more than getting a job, whether it be academic or non-academic. If you want to be the most prepared and competitive candidate possible you need to start developing yourself well before going on the market. Ideally when you go on the market you want to have options, but it takes time to discover and prepare for those options. You may want to consider having backup plans in case your Plan A hits a snag. Maybe you entered graduate school knowing your ultimate goal, or perhaps you assumed it would come to you during the course of your studies. But it is not unusual to find that as you gain more life experience your early plans change.

If you who entered your program hoping to discover your dream career along the way, it might be helpful for you to have an individual coaching session. In the session you will explore your career needs, wants and values so you can actively shape your career path rather than hoping it appears before you.

If you who entered your program knowing exactly what you want to do, you might find exploring other options a good exercise to help you see your path more clearly. Or you might find that at some point during your program your career needs, wants and values change. It takes between 5-10 years to earn a Ph.D. and during that time a lot of life can happen.

Career planning is about more than the end game, it's about the important choices and activities along the way that help you reach that final goal. We offer a workshop called "Early Career Planning" designed to get you off to a strong start.

I'll come in when I'm on the market.

Before you get to the point of sending out applications you have to prepare your materials and that takes time. Experts suggest you should begin the academic job search process at least 18 months before you hope to be employed. For a non-academic job search, it takes between 6-9 months to land a position after you begin actively searching.

If you are looking at academic positions you must create a CV (you may want a couple of versions), statement of research interests, teaching philosophy, teaching portfolio (depending on institution type), cover letters, writing samples, sample syllabi, teaching demonstration, and research talk. Additionally, you need to network effectively, prepare for interviews and learn how to negotiate an offer. And while you're on the market you'll also be trying to finish your dissertation. And the academic job market is increasingly competitive, each year there are fewer tenure track positions available and in some fields more than 200 people apply for each open position. On average it takes three job cycles for a candidate to land a tenure track position, in some fields it's closer to five. Those who land jobs sooner are those who have planned well from day 1 of their graduate program.

If you are looking at non-academic positions you need to identify your transferrable skills, determine which jobs/fields you will apply for, create resumes (you'll want to have multiple versions targeted at specific jobs/industries), cover letters, practice your interviewing skills and learn how to effectively negotiate a job offer. You may even want to conduct informational interviews with people in your fields of interest to discover what jobs and companies are right for you. You'll need to learn how to network effectively since 65% of jobs are secured through connections made while networking, these jobs are never advertised. All that work needs to be done before you can begin a job search.

I heard the Career Center only helps people with academic jobs searches.

We help people discover and search for the career they want. We offer many programs designed to help Ph.D.'s market themselves to non-academic employers, such as our "Transferrable Skills" workshop. We help you repackage your academic experience to meet the needs of business/industry employers. We also have contacts in business/industry who have Ph.D.'s and can serve as mentors.

You don't have anything for my specific field.

That's why we suggest you see us and mentors in your field. We focus on the big picture issues related to the career development and job search processes, your mentor can help with the specific details. No matter your field you need to know how to effectively network, create your job search materials, know how to find jobs, know how to effectively "market" yourself to employers (whether academic or non-academic), how to interview effectively, and how to negotiate a job offer. These activities are the same no matter what your field or area of specialty.

Further once on the job you'll work with people who have different areas of expertise so it might be useful to develop the skills to talk across that divide while still in graduate school. During our workshops you'll have opportunities to talk to graduate students in a variety of fields and perhaps people you wouldn't meet any other way. You may also meet others in your field who have more experience in the program than you, and you will be able to benefit from their experience.

I don't know what resources you have.

We have a wide range of workshops in both the academic and non-academic arena to give you a broad overview of the concepts you need to know and the opportunity to put theory into practice. We offer individual coaching/counseling appointments, practice interviews, a variety of panels where people share their career paths/advice, a well developed website with information about all aspects of the career development process, an academic job search guide, a non-academic job search guide, an interview strategies handbook and informed consultants who can direct you to the resources that best meet your needs.

My advisor will give me all the help I need.

Advisors are content experts in their fields, but not content experts in career development or job search strategies. If you plan to seek employment outside academe, your advisor probably has little experience in that area as most professors have never worked, or applied for work outside academe. And within academe, you might need more knowledge about different institution types than you can get from your advisor(s).

Your advisor might also be too busy to give you the individualized attention you need to address your concerns. At the Career Center you can meet individually with a consultant who will address your concerns and help you develop a plan that meets your needs.