Entering my sixth month of post-PhD unemployment, I can state pretty emphatically that employers aren’t buying the package that I am attempting to sell. This is the crux of the problem that I have been grappling with for months now: How can I reinvent myself in a way that will make an employer want to hire me?
There are some things I can’t change. I can’t hide my PhD. And if employers are hesitant to hire candidates with many fancy letters for positions that require fewer fancy letters, there’s not much I can do about that. Quite a few well-meaning people have suggested totally omitting my PhD from my resume, but this seems like a terrible idea. How, first of all, would I explain a four year gap in my resume in an interview? And secondly, the third result if one were to Google me, is a link to my dissertation. Any HR department worth its salt will easily sniff this out and discard my application.
I’m not sure there’s much I can do about my experience deficit, either. The experience that matters most to employers is job-specific or industry-specific experience. So unless a job seeker is lucky enough to find a volunteer opportunity or a part-time job that dovetails nicely with their professional aspirations, I suspect hiring committees will be unmoved.
At this time, I can most easily address my skills and credentials shortfall and I have started, hesitantly, to do just that. I brushed up on my Excel skills, which by the looks of the class I attended, is what everyone does when they’re unemployed. I have taken some introductory seminars in SPSS (a statistical analysis computer program) at the University of Toronto, so I can claim with a straight face on my resume that I have some knowledge of statistical analysis and quantitative research, skills that I very stupidly neglected to develop during my PhD. For similar reasons, I have toyed with signing up for further seminars in survey design and statistics, which would represent my first rigorous mathematical training since high school. Scary!
I have even begun to think very, very tentatively about going back to school and obtaining yet another set of credentials. “Retraining”, it’s properly called. Oh, don’t worry. I’m not thinking of doing another PhD or anything in that vein. Many universities and colleges offer a plethora of post-graduate certificates made for people like me who are working toward a career change. These programs are geared specifically to preparing students for the workforce, so they seem like the most straightforward way to address my skills deficit. I have also contemplated longer commitments, such as teacher’s college and, in crazier moments, a more lengthy and expensive exile, such as law school.
What’s stopping me? Well, for starters, there’s the small issue of being utterly sick and tired of being a student. Next, there’s the problem of money. I know that the cost of a six month postgraduate certificate, compared to what I’ve already disbursed for my education, is a pittance. But you must excuse me if I’m a little nervous about spending yet more money, no matter how little, on my education. After all, as I know too well, an educational credential isn’t an iron-clad guarantee of employment. Also, choosing a program of study would mean, at this point in my life, choosing a career. Though I have targeted specific sectors in my job search, I have simultaneously applied elsewhere as well. Jumping into an intensive career-oriented program means closing off these other options, and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that just yet.
So to recap: I still have school fatigue, I would prefer to make money rather than spend money right now, and I don’t have the clearest idea of what I want to do with my life. That almost sounds like where I was a month or two ago. Almost, but not exactly. All things considered, I think it’s a significant step that I have even considered going back to school for retraining, talked about it with others, and written about it here. Though a step toward what, I wish I knew.
Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.
Now that you’ve been introduced to blogger Terry Gitersos, we invite you to stay tuned for his periodic HEQCO blogs, which will describe his efforts to crack the labour market. His blog will continue until he finds that post-doctoral job, or until he tires of writing about it…