Each new job should achieve two goals

Guest blogger Victoria Schulman focuses on the two goals of any new job outside of academia as part of her career exploration series.

Academic researchers who wish to leave academia often look for their ideal jobs. However, when you’ve only known one thing (i.e., academia) for so long, it’s hard to know what your ideal job is, let alone how to find it. Thus, trying to find your ‘dream job’ straight out of academia is somewhat of a futile effort.

Instead, look for a great stepping-stone that can serve as a platform or foundation that will ultimately lead you to your dream career. And keep in mind that your ‘dream job’ may change and evolve as you gain experience in the non-academic field.

Moreover, looking for a transitional position takes some of the pressure off of your job search. You don’t have to find the ‘perfect’ job right away, and, in fact, it’s highly unlikely that you’d find your dream job right after graduate school or your postdoctoral fellowship anyways.

Finding your ‘dream job’

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average person changes job 11.7 times in their life, so while you may get close to your ‘dream job’, you probably won’t find your ‘forever position’ right after your training period.

In some ways, it’s actually better to accept a transitional position, especially at the start, because each new job should be a learning experience that accomplishes two goals:

  1. Diversify your skillset
  2. Expand your professional network

First, with each new position, you should learn a new skill that will teach you something about the field that will better prepare you for your ultimate career.

Additionally, this new skill may teach you something about yourself and your aspirations – i.e., do I like this skill? Is this this skill necessary for my desired career? If so, do I still want that career path based on what I know now about this skill? These types of questions can help guide your career search.

Second, with each new position, you will inherently gain a larger professional network as well as the opportunity to exponentially increase the size of that new professional network using your new contacts.

As with the first goal, you should use your new network to learn more about the field you’re currently in, related fields, opportunities within these fields, and so on, and see where conversations with these connections take you… because they might just take you to your next position.

Learn along the way

Learn a new skill and expand your network – to get even closer to your ideal position.

By combining your new skill(s) and your newly expanded professional network, you will undoubtedly be in a better position to secure your next job, which may be closer to your ideal dream job than your current position.

Use your new network to not only help you find the next (possibly also transitional) position, but also to recommend you for this next job based on their ability to see and attest to your growth (i.e., those new skills you’ve developed) in this first position.

Then, after accepting the next new job, repeat the cycle. Apply the same rules as before – learn a new skill and expand your network – to get even closer to your ideal position and/or dream job because a career path/search is a constantly evolving journey.

Accept the opportunity

So if you’re looking to leave academia, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find the perfect job right away. Be willing to accept a position that will afford you plenty of opportunities to learn something new and meet a lot of people. Even if those jobs are slightly outside of what your current vision of your dream job is, accepting these roles can eventually lead you to the perfect career.

Keep an open mind when performing your first non-academic job search following your training period.

Additionally, given that you have only known academia, consider the fact that your view of a particular career path may not be accurate. As a result, you may secure your dream job and later realize that it is completely unsatisfying.

So keep an open mind when performing your first non-academic job search following your training period. Apply to variety of types of job within a given field of interest, and after being offered a position, ask yourself if you could learn something useful and meet a large amount of new people in that role. If the answers to both questions are ‘yes,’ then that position, even if it’s not your ‘dream job’, is worth accepting.

The bottom line: At every transition in your career, take the opportunity that provides you with the most potential for professional development and career growth. It may take you 11.7 tries, but eventually, this tactic will lead you to your dream career.

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