How you attempt to find a job after graduate school will vary considerably depending upon your discipline and degree type. For some, the master’s degree
is considered a terminal degree and most students will begin job hunting during their final year. For others, master’s level work is more akin to a stepping stone towards a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree, and for most, it is not until the latter is finished that the job search begins. Whenever the time to look for work arrives, however, there are some things every graduate student will need to do to make the transition into the working world.
1. Identify your priorities
Ask yourself what you want most from your job and in life.
– Do you want a specific type of position, or are you open to several kinds of work within your field? – Do you want to work in a particular geographic location, or are you willing to move most anywhere? – Do you thrive in high-pressure situations, or will you perform better in a less intense environment?
Asking yourself these and other similar questions is important because it is unlikely that you will find your ideal job just as you are leaving graduate school. So, you need to know what you are, and are not, willing to sacrifice. To put it another way, you will need to be flexible, but you do not have to compromise on what is most important to you.
If location is more important to you than the type of work you do, for instance, you should apply for several different kinds of jobs in the region you desire. If, on the other hand, you really want to do a specific kind of work, you may find it helpful to widen your search radius and limit restrictions you have on the company or institution for which you want to work.
As you identify and implement your priorities, it is important not to feel that you need to have the same priorities as those around you or that there is a mandatory set of priorities for everyone in your field. Don’t feel that you must sacrifice something simply because the majority of your mentors and friends have done or are doing so. As long as you are willing to be flexible in some way, you can have a successful job search.
2. Look everywhere
Numerous websites are devoted to job searching, and they are a great place to begin. When using them, though, be sure to try various combinations of keywords and search according to different criteria. This is especially true if you are open to more than one kind of job or if you have training in more than one discipline. You might find an appropriate listing in one search and not another.
Also, use the Internet to look for companies or institutions for which you might like to work and check their websites for job listings. Some openings may be cross-listed on other job sites, but not always. This is especially true for smaller companies and for lower-profile positions. And, if you find a company that seems a particularly good match for you, it may be worth your time to submit a resume even if a current opening is not listed. Some companies even solicit general applications.
Many professional organizations maintain websites or subscription email lists that contain job postings; some are free, while others require a membership fee. These can be especially good tools because they are discipline-specific. If you do not know of the relevant sites or services in your field, talk to a mentor or peer to find out about them.
Lastly, don’t forget about older forms of communication. People do still find jobs by word of mouth and by printed advertisements. Be sure to talk to people in your field, check message boards around your campus, look through any journals or magazines that have job listings, and identify any other useful resources not to be found online.
3. Create customized applications
If you are fully committed to one specific type of job, you may be able to get by with a single resume. If you are open to more than one possibility, however, you will want to have at least two or three versions of your professional profile. What you present should coordinate with the job description as much as possible, so take the time to customize it. Reorganize and even restate the information so that the right keywords and phrases stand out. Also, be sure that you are submitting the type of profile desired. Academic hiring committees typically want to see a curriculum vitae, a comprehensive and detailed account of your training and professional activity; most nonacademic employers prefer a resume, a one-to-two page summary of your education, employment history, related experience and special skills. There are exceptions, however, so be sure to send whatever is requested.
If letters of recommendation are required, be sure that they are also tailored to each position. You may, for instance, want letters from different mentors for one application than for another. Even if you are asking the same people repeatedly, make sure you provide them with a description of each position for which you are applying. You cannot control the extent to which they speak to the description in their letters, but most will make at least a few modifications in each letter they write.
4. Apply for more than you think you should…and less
Job descriptions are not jobs. You might be intrigued by a posting, but find that the position is not what you expected when you interview. Alternatively, you might be surprisingly interested in something you initially considered a second or third choice. As such, it pays to apply for more than the advertisements that seem ideal.
At the same time, it is not worthwhile to expand your job search too much. You should be qualified for a position; you should be missing no more than one of the minimum requirements. And, you should see it as a genuine possibility. If you are ill-equipped to do the work or completely uninterested in it, you should not waste your time or that of those viewing the applications.
5. Begin early and be patient
Finding work can take time. Start looking for it while you are still in graduate school, and try not to be discouraged if you do not have full-time employment in your field upon graduation. You may need to take a “pay the bills” job; let your dissatisfaction with it drive you to keep searching. Most importantly, keep developing professionally. Continue activities that will enhance your resume as much as you possibly can, even if they are not ones that generate income. Stay in touch with your mentors and peers and with what is happening in your discipline.
If you continue to struggle, consider how you might adapt your search. Imagine career paths that would enable you to use the skills and knowledge you possess, even if they are not typical for someone with your degrees. You may ultimately end up doing something very different from what you imagined when you began graduate school, and, as long as you are satisfied with it, that’s okay.
Ann van der Merwe is a singer and music historian based in southwest Ohio. She holds a B.M. in music performance and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in music history.