Question: I've got a background in X and am interested in jobs in Y. Attached is my C.V. Can you please critique it and advise me on my job search?
Mary: We love getting mail from our readers, but we are not able to give detailed answers to this kind of question unless it comes from students or alumni of the institution where we both work full time. However, we hate to send people away empty-handed, so we would like to devote this column to finding sources of good individual advising.
Julie: Start with the faculty at the institution where you received your doctoral (or highest-level) degree. They certainly can and, in most cases, want to help you with a search for a faculty position. If you are looking to work in a field different from that in which you received your degree or if you are seeking a position off the traditional career path, they still may be able to help you.
Most faculty members want their graduate students to follow in their footsteps and become academics within the discipline in which they're trained. Because of that, some will not be willing (or able) to help with different career plans. But others will be understanding and willing to take the time to help those looking beyond the traditional paths.
In addition to faculty members who have been your advisers, you might try others whom you don't know as well. As with everything, you will need to use your experience with these people and your instincts to determine who might be able to help you.
Mary: In addition, nearly every institution of higher learning in the United States provides some kind of career services. Some have one career center that serves the entire institution. In large institutions, services are often available for students in each school.
Find out what's available at your institution. Is individual advising offered year-round or only at certain times? Are there walk-in times to see a career counselor, or should you make an appointment? Look at the Web site. If you are not physically located near your institution, can you talk to a counselor by telephone or e-mail?
As an alumnus, you usually are eligible to use the services of the career center of any college that granted you a degree, so check out that possibility, as well. For example, our own institution offers extensive career services for doctoral students, so we also do a lot of advising of individuals who got their undergraduate degrees here and then went on to get a Ph.D. at an institution that provides minimal doctoral career advising.
Julie: That said, we do need to acknowledge that not all career centers, alas, provide services to people with doctoral degrees, or at least to those who have doctoral degrees and are going on the academic market. Make sure that a career center has experience with doctoral candidates and faculty searches if that's your career goal.
Mary: For some time, scholarly associations have provided their members with career services like job listings, conference placement resources, and data on employment. A recent trend among scholarly associations is to provide information on alternative careers for its degree-holders. That can include profiles of people who are working at a variety of jobs. Such resources are often available via the associations' Web sites. Some Web sites provide opportunities for career "chat rooms" or for individuals to pose questions about careers via e-mail.
There also are cross-disciplinary career sites for Ph.D.'s. A good one is the Career Planning Center (CPC) for Beginning Scientists and Engineers, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. More informally, four people who describe themselves as literature Ph.D.'s who have moved into business have put together an excellent site called Ph.D.'s Work This site is particularly humanities-friendly.
Julie: Also look for a variety of career workshops at professional meetings. Some associations hire consultants to speak about alternative careers. Some associations provide the opportunity to participate in small groups led by college faculty members who conduct mock interviews and lead discussions of successful interview strategies.
Mary: Speaking of consultants, if you truly have no options for career assistance through an institutional affiliation, you might consider a professional career counselor. Most university career offices can suggest an individual or a center that provides such services. Be sure, however, before you sign on, to find out if the counselor has some experience with your discipline, field, or people with your career goals.
Julie: If the career counselor doesn't have experience with your field but is very clear about the limits of her knowledge, she still may be helpful to you, and you can seek out other advice to fill in her gaps. This brings us to the question of what you can expect a good career counselor to do for you, and how you know a good one when you see one.
Think of a career counselor as someone from whom you can solicit a second opinion and perhaps get help in organizing your thoughts to form the most important opinion, which is yours.
Mary: Good career counselors tend to begin answers to career questions with statements like "Usually," or "Sometimes," or "If." They rarely make categorical statements, because the more experience they have, the more likely they are to have seen for themselves that there are exceptions to almost every reasonable generalization.
They are aware of the ways things frequently do work, even when they are not the way things "should" work. They are more likely than the average person to suggest probable outcomes of specific actions you might take. They can point to data that support their advice. When they learn of data that support another way of doing things, they are willing to change the advice they give. Even when they have to deliver information you'd rather not hear, they are able to do so in a way that leaves you feeling like a well-qualified person who has something to offer, and with ideas about how you can proceed.
Julie: You are the only person who can find yourself a job, and you are the person who can best write your own C.V. or résumé. However, a career counselor can help you by providing an experienced second opinion, giving suggestions you might not have considered, help you focus and organize your search, and aid you in mustering confidence in yourself and your abilities.
It's your responsibility to research a career field, read job listings, determine which employers might be good contacts, and draft written job-hunting materials. A counselor can help you practice interview questions, provide résumé or C.V. critiques, and advise you on how best to present yourself.
Mary: This may sound like a lot of work, and typically it is. It takes research and effort to find a good job in your own field, let alone to change fields. A good career counselor can help you to work at job hunting or career changing more efficiently and productively, but can't eliminate the effort that's required. The old saying comes to mind that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stick with professionals who make only reasonable claims about what they can do for you.
Unless you check them out very carefully with several personal references, avoid individuals or firms that demand a large up-front payment before services are offered. Many professionals will simply charge you an hourly rate. Thus, you can determine as you go along whether you are receiving a service you find worth paying for. Expect to pay approximately the going rate for a psychologist in private practice in your area.
If working with a career counselor helps you to get a good job even a few months earlier than you would have on your own, those few months of extra income often far outpace what you've paid in counseling fees.
Julie: Wherever you seek advice, remember that it is just a second opinion to what your own research, instincts, and priorities suggest. Listen to lots of people, and then do what you think is right.