So when someone reached out to me a month ago, also armed with a PhD and desire to shift to a non-academic role, I shared with them the following advice.
1. Spread cheer: Volunteer.
This advice comes with the disclaimer that you should only do this if your schedule and mental health allow for the commitment - but if you can find opportunities to serve on committees, especially those in the community with governance or oversight duties, accept them. Graduate seminars are not the same animal, where everyone is vying for speaking time to appease the prof nestled in the corner, marking the intelligence of your commentary on a clipboard. (I wish I was joking about that.)
In 2006, our local mental health association was looking for board members, and in particular, for a board development committee. At the time, I was interested in finding a way to support mental health causes, but it was important to my non-academic education. In addition to meeting new people, it taught me about meetings, the kind with formal agenda and minute taking and Robert's Rules of Order. It taught me how to observe meeting dynamics, hear from a real breadth of viewpoints, and communicate effectively with others in plain language.
2. Your sentences shouldn’t have more clauses than the North Pole.
Along the same lines, learning to effectively communicate in plain language is a key goal for your non-academic professional development. Seek out an honest, critical assessment of the quality of your communication. Maybe it's the writing centre at the university. For me, I was fortunate enough to have a professor who taught me how to write better (in my case, more succinctly).
3. It’s okay to regift (your skills).
When you are revising your CV, or are preparing for interviews, you need to know how to sell yourself to the non-academic market. Sadly, your ability to discuss the finer theoretical points of attachment theory will cause employers to glaze over (or, shift uncomfortably in their seats). However, you already have many non-academic skills that simply need to be rewrapped in approachable language. For example:
This isn’t being disingenuous; it’s semantics. At the core of what you’ve done in grad school/post-doc are transferable skills to non-academic settings. It’s up to you to show them!
4. Pass the cranberry sauce, and prepare for awkward questions.
Unfortunately, you should be mentally prepared for an awkward conversation:
"Aren't you overqualified for this position?"
Now, none of us know what lies ahead in a year or two. What gives? At the core of this question is concern on return on investment. The hiring process costs money - running a recruitment campaign, leaving work undone during a vacancy, on-boarding a new employee, and (hopefully) supporting your ongoing professional development. If you leave in six months, the employer may not have recouped any losses/investment in hiring you.
In my experience, the best approach is honesty. Asked this question, I replied truthfully that I was ready to begin my career, that I was genuinely interested in applying my skills to make a difference, and from what I could see on the corporate website, that there seemed to be opportunities for growth. I then asked them about opportunities to support research within the organization. (I got the job.)
I do think it's a question more likely asked of new graduates, or if the position you're eyeing is further removed from research or your academic specialty, but be prepared for the possibility.
More glad tidings for your job search: Resources
This is the advice I shared with my colleague recently, and I hope you find it helpful, too. Additionally, there are great conversations and resources - far more than when I was searching years ago! Here’s a few to start your reflection:
Personal blog for Bryn Robinson, PhD. All opinions are my own.