Contributor, Ben Thomas
Time spent gathering data on potential career options is time well-spent. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power”, and a clearer view of the non-academic job market, along with a few encouraging emails from scientists in other sectors can serve as powerful motivators to start making your own career upgrade.
As described in Part 2 of this series, seeking new professional connections, retooling your résumé and facing comments from some of your peers can set you on the right path, but you might have to face some unintentional internal barriers.
In this third and final post, Rebecca Anderson, author of the books Career Opportunities in Clinical Drug Research and Nevirapine and the Quest to End Pediatric AIDS, and Sherry Marts, life and career coach and co-author of The Book of How: Answers to Life’s Most Important Question describe techniques they’ve discovered for moving from the world of “should do” into the world of “want to do.”
As you strike out on your own, you’ll find that securing a job in a new field requires you to be able to “sell” your skills. Just as you wouldn’t buy a car that has never been road-tested, an employer will expect to see proof of your skills in action. “What many people don’t realize,” says Anderson, “is that they have to use their current work to demonstrate that they can do the next job. I know this from years working as a manager responsible for hiring new employees, you’ve got to prove you can do the work before you’ll be considered a good candidate for the job.”
An effective way to explore your skill set is to compile a list of the concrete skills you have. Start by writing out some of the major tasks you perform in your current job and consider the skills involved in each one. Planning and reviewing daily research, for example, involves administrative organization, goal-setting and retrospective analysis. Keeping a project on-budget involves cost projection and financial management. All these skills are highly valued in corporate environments. You’ll also gather more ideas as you write or rewrite your résumé, and talking to your friends about your current job can also help you notice skills you might’ve otherwise missed.
“Scientists aren’t always aware of how many transferable skills they have,” Marts says. “Just completing a graduate degree proves that you can think strategically, set a long-term goal, and achieve that goal despite repeated setbacks.” What’s more, you’ve learned to work both independently and as part of a team; to convey information graphically, in writing, and aloud; to think analytically and critically. If you’ve written grants and helped keep projects on-budget, you’ve got skills in fundraising and finance. All these will score you points in a job interview.
Confidence arises from experience and familiarity, which come from taking the initiative yourself. Start this process in your current job, even if it’s not particularly fulfilling. “Take advantage of opportunities when they emerge,” Anderson says. “Say ‘yes’ when somebody asks you to do something that you don’t want to do or don’t feel qualified to do. Treat it as training for your future.”
You may find that your peers and superiors may disagree with your choice to leave your current role, whether you’re in the academia bubble or not. One trick for disarming the internal effects of this is simply to reframe the comments others are making: this change is about your life, not theirs, you’re the only one who knows what you’ll find satisfying. “Ignore anything that includes the words ‘should’ or ‘ought,’” Marts says. “That includes the things you tell yourself. If you can escape the prison of ‘should do’ and ‘ought to do’ and reach the place of ‘want to do’ – or, ideally, ‘love to do’ – you will be on your way to a satisfying career in science.”
Whenever you face a crossroads in your career, anything can appear weighted against your progress. Staying focused on your reasons for making a change, tackling external barriers in a rational manner and remaining honest with yourself about your internal doubts will help you get ahead. “Every new job situation will have good things and bad things associated with it,” Anderson says. “So accept those things and move forward from there.”
The willingness to confront the facts and a readiness to change will carry you all the way through the process of launching a better career.. What’s more, the techniques you’ve learned from this process can be used the next time you find yourself looking for a career change. So start reaching out to interesting new employers and clients. The door to your career path is wide open, just waiting for you to walk through.
Ben Thomas writes articles about a variety of topics for the Riley Guide, an online repository for career and education resources. As a freelancer, Ben also covers scientific research and technological breakthroughs as well as social issues involving the sciences. A regular contributor to several leading science news websites, Ben helps scientists and academics connect with the general public by explaining their latest discoveries and controversies in clear, down-to-earth terms. You can follow Ben on Google+.