As I present to PhDs on college campuses and conferences, graduate students express their concern about the lack of job security in nonacademic careers. The academic career path comes with a sense of job security because job options are clearly set. You either get a postdoc fellowship, visiting professorship, lecturer position, research position, tenure track job, or the dreaded adjunct or contingent position (but that’s another topic for another day). Take note of the ratio of temporary to long-term positions among these options. Perhaps what PhDs are really saying is that academic careers come with a high level of job predictability, rather than job security.
Nonacademic careers are the vast unknown for many graduate students who may not have spent much time in career planning, career exploration or out-of-classroom/department/university experiences. When beginning to look at careers outside the academy, PhD career changers tend to be distracted by the news that traditional job security and career ladders no longer exist. The fact that the traditional career ladder no longer exists actually creates an opportunity for PhD career changers. You can approach your new job thinking about the skills you want to acquire and exercise there, the job functions you want to fulfill, and the industry or topic you want to work on. Instead of making your career choice based on the next logical step in a predetermined rung on the career ladder you can make the case for the skills and interests you bring to and how to gain from this new job.
Check out career coach Jenny Blake’s take on smashing the traditional career ladder approach with the smartphone approach. Interested yet, here’s the YouTube video. Let me know if you think this analogy and approach to nonacademic careers might work for PhDs.