Planning for life after grad school when you’re about to graduate

25 Mar 2021 5:00 PM | Manager GPDN (Administrator)

Don’t worry, there is still time to set yourself up for success.

Whether you are a master’s student about to enter the job market or a PhD candidate thinking of paths outside the professoriate, graduation can be a time of not only great satisfaction but also great concern. A common observation among career educators is that students do not think about life after graduation until their studies are coming to an end. While it is always better to consider your career path sooner rather than later, it is never too late, and if this is your situation, there are some concrete actions you can take now.

Don't panic, plan

It is important to note that panic and stress can undermine decision making and act as a barrier to your  next steps. If this applies to you, there are strategies that can be used to respond to career anxiety and allow you to move forward with confidence. A key element is to take ownership of what you do have control over, and a great way to start is to develop a plan. Some initial elements of that plan may incorporate self-reflection, information gathering and leveraging available resources and supports.

Take stock of your skills and experience

The ability to understand and articulate one’s unique set of skills and qualifications is an integral part of career exploration and action. Take some time to think about all the work and volunteer roles you have held up to now. Your current resume or CV can (and should) be a solid base from which to build upon. The initial instinct for many in this exercise is to simply list their responsibilities. Listing duties or responsibilities is a good start, but you can make it even better by applying a lens of accomplishment. For instance, “responsible for” becomes “contributed to,” “managed,” “provided,” and so on; rather than tasks being imposed upon you, you were an active participant.

By using action verbs, as well as quantifying and applying details, will allow you to fully embrace the scope and impact of your experiences. This is a great way to build confidence, because you will most likely discover that you already possess a full, proven array of transferrable skills that are in universal demand. This exercise also helps provide clarity in identifying any gaps in skills or knowledge that may need to be addressed for you to reach your goals.

Apply those research skills

As a trained researcher, you are well-versed in accessing information. Your expertise is especially helpful under these circumstances, for at its most essential nature, career exploration is engaging in research. This is an excellent opportunity to apply your skills in a new, exciting manner; and there are a variety of means in which you can collect relevant information in your search. LinkedIn is a great way to see the types of roles within organizations, and by exploring the platform’s alumni feature, you can learn about the often-winding career journeys of people with graduate degrees from your institution. Allow yourself to investigate further and look beyond job titles, focusing instead on the activities being performed.

Networking and informational interviews are also powerful forms of research that allow you to gain direct insights from the lived experiences of others. It is also your way of learning how to access the “hidden job market,” which is underpinned by professional relationships and referrals. As you conduct this research, continue reflecting upon your own interests and challenges you would like to address in your work, as this will help guide future directions.

Use available resources

Do not hesitate to reach out to others when you need assistance. From the support of friends and family to available on-campus resources, your career journey does not have to be a solitary endeavour. Whether you are a current student or a recent graduate, career services professionals at your institution can provide guidance and constructive feedback to help you refine your plan.

Keep the future in mind

Your current situation may very well dictate your immediate plans. With student loan payments, rent, and other expenses looming, it may be necessary to simply gain employment rather than identify and act upon an intended career path. If that is the case, you can still achieve meaningful progress taking a job en route to the job. Keep taking stock of the skills and experience you want to continue to develop. You may even discover exciting new interests and paths as you move forward in your career journey.

This article was first published in University Affairs  


About the Author:

Kris Gies is a career advisor at the University of Guelph’s experiential learning hub, focusing on students in Ontario Veterinary College programs. He completed a PhD at the University of Guelph in 2010.
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