Graduate News February 24th Feb 2002

Get That Job!

Getting to the end of your graduate degree? Interested in taking a graduate career, but not sure if it’s worth it? This week we take a look at graduate careers – and most importantly how to get them.

Resume Building – It’s not just about the GPA

Graduate school is a great place to build up your resume, – to develop skills and abilities that are desirable in the workplace. School is a place to get an education but that education can go beyond taking classes and examinations. Sometimes a good GPA isn’t enough.

Academic qualifications are all well and good but for most employers a degree or GPA is a requirement – that gets you a foot in the door. But what distinguishes you is what lies beyond your classes and credits.

Team Players

One thing that almost all employers look for is an ability to work with others. The phrases “team player” and “leadership ability” appear in almost every job description. It’s difficult to prove you are a “team player,” especially if you’ve spent most of your adult life in school. Many academic departments want these skills – no one wants an employee who can’t work with others.

If you can demonstrate that you’ve worked in a group, either as a leader or part of a team, then you can satisfy this “requirement”. Clubs and student organizations are a good place to get this kind of experience – you’d be surprised how few people volunteer to be club President, Secretary or on a committee. This is precisely the sort of stuff that employers want to see.

Experience

Some employers like to see a well-rounded individual. As a graduate student it’s easy to get labeled as a bookworm – overeducated but underexperienced. No matter what kind of job you’re going for, experience is an asset and by this I mean relevant experience. Its easy to get stuck working in a bar, a diner or in some other job just to pay your way through grad school. If you don’t want to take out large loans, or sponge off your parents then a job while a grad school is tempting indeed. The problem with these jobs is that they might provide hard cash, but they provide little in the way of relevant experience.

If you’re going for a professional job, you’d be better off working as (even an unpaid) intern or trainee with a local firm, rather than earning a little more working in a bar or store. The same goes for academic jobs. Helping a professor with classes can provide good teaching experience, even if there are no teaching assistantships available in your department or discipline.

References

To get a job you need references – and people to write them for you. This means you need to get to know your faculty, and if you’re in a job outside school, your boss. You need to be able to find people who are willing to write good things about you and who know enough about you to make relevant comments. A bland reference is no good. You need your referees to be enthusiastic about you – to “sell” you as a candidate to a prospective employer. This doesn’t mean you have to schmooze your faculty or employer, but it does mean that you need to make friends or impress people with your professionalism, personality and abilities.

The Resume

A good resume can make or break an application. There are books aplenty on the subject of resume writing and a host of companies online and in the phone book providing resume writing.

Academic Jobs

Looking for jobs in academia is often tricky. Your first port of call should be your advisor, who should know something about the academic career path. Your advisor is one of the most significant people to ask about this – not only is he or she the best informed about your graduate activities but your advisor will also most likely be writing your most important reference. Your committee members, plus anyone else in your department who has recent experience of either hiring or applying, should also be able to help.

Faculty and department chairs are also involved in the hiring process, which means they’ll have some insight into what they are looking for in a prospective hire.

Journals are one place to look for jobs: major journals sometimes advertise vacancies. If you want to find a job in your discipline a journal might be the place to look. Major journals like Science, Scientific American, Nature etc. have job pages, as well as jobs on their websites.

Professional associations also advertise vacancies, in their journals, newsletters and on their websites. This is another place to look for jobs relevant to your discipline, rather than having to wade through listings of irrelevant positions.

You may also want to check out some of the academic jobsearch websites: www.academic360.com is a good meta-site (containing links to many other academic job sites) which also contains links for those seeking administrative positions.

Another good site is the Chronicle of higher education (www.chronicle.com/jobs) which has thousands of vacancies in academia and beyond. You can browse or search for jobs, and there are a lot of other useful articles discussing issues in academic job hunting.

The Academic Employment Network (www.academploy.com) is another search service but this one has the added benefit that you can post your resume up there. When you search or browse for jobs, you have the option to email a cover letter to the advertiser and send your resume along as well. While it can save you dollars in stamps, most recruiters want you to send application forms, letters of recommendation and transcripts as well as the vita.