*Disclaimer: I’m writing this post on the go so I will return later to fill out the piece in a subsequent post. I’ve gotten lots of questions about career exploration (aka, how do I know what I’d do outside the academy).

Chances are if you’ve been in academia for years you are not very familiar with sectors outside of education. Heck, most PhDs don’t really consider education beyond higher ed and the professoriate. So when you get curious about what else you’d do besides becoming a tenure track professor, the options ahead can look unclear at best.

If you’ve asked “if not academia, then what?”, you are really asking a question about how to determine which career or job is right for you.  There may be no one “right” career or job for you. However, when exploring your options you want to look widely then narrow down to two to three viable options after you’ve done some research. (These recommendations take for granted that you’ve already done your “who, what, where and how” exercise. This is the first step to beginning any career transition.  If you aren’t clear on “who, what, where and how,” you could get stuck in an endless, unfruitful cycle of career exploration and sheer overwhelm from all the possibilities.)

Go Broad

1.  Familiarize yourself with job sectors so you understand the job landscape.  Here’s a list of sectors  under which most work is categorized.

  • Human resources
  • Management
  • Marketing, public relations, communications
  • Government
  • Business
  • Nonprofit
  • Technology
  • Art & design
  • Travel
  • Fashion & beauty
  • Health, healthcare
  • Food
  • Finance
  • Law
  • Sales

Resources:  www.onetonline.com, http://www.themuse.com/careerpaths

Look at common job functions within those sectors to get a feel for what’s out there, how work is organized within that industry, and the most sought after skills.

2. Ask others about what they do. Typically we call this informational interviewing.  If you’re like me, that terminology kinda makes me nervous. I like to think about informational interviewing as connecting with people in my circle in a new way and meeting new people who do interesting things.  Your circle is broader than you think — roommates from undergrad, members of sorority or fraternity, family friends, alumni from your undergrad or graduate institution, your friends’ friends and so on.  Try making a list of everyone you know.  Yes, I said everyone.  These people are all potential leads.  Write down their names and what they do or have done for work.  When you come across something interesting, reach out and learn more about what they do.  

You can also ask others who know what they think you might be good at.  Ask them about your strengths, a time they’ve witnessed you excel, and what fields they could see you in.  I did this exercise several months ago, and was totally surprised by what my best friend, mentor and former colleague had to say.  You may think you know how others see you or what you’d be good at, but it doesn’t hurt to crowd source new ideas and fresh perspectives, especially in a career transition process that is so introspective and potentially lonely.

3. Look for pain. Organizations and companies hire because they have a pain point that needs to be addressed.  There is a job that needs to be done to help the company do something their staff cannot currently do or needs additional capacity to do more of.  When you see a program manager position open at your favorite non-profit, it’s because that non-profit needs to organize, grow, and manage the programs it offers.  Perhaps the non-profit recently received a huge grant that needs to be established, managed, publicized and overseen.

4. Explore your past and present interests — blogs, books, organizations, art, magazines, radio, and any topics that appeal to you. What is the economy surrounding these topics?  For example, if you have an interest in fashion, you’ll find that there are fashion designers, photographers,  promoters, PR& media, bloggers, magazine editors, product managers, merchandisers, trainers, sales, event production, customer service, and so on.  There’s an entire economy that supports this industry. By digging deeper into an industry of interest you’ll learn more about job functions and where they fit into the job landscape.  It’s key to get a sense of the various functions within an industry BEFORE you start looking at job sites like www.indeed.com, www.simplyhired.com, or www.idealist.org. It gives you a way to sort through tons of job ads and focus on what’s of interest to you.

These activities taken together facilitate your career exploration search. There are ways to dig even deeper from here, but this is a great start to the exploration process. Let me know which of these you plan to try first or if you have other strategies for learning about career options.

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