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Beyond “Plan B”: Crafting Your Career Journey

With today’s careers, it is more common than ever before to change directions multiple times in your life. This can happen in the course of a graduate program where perhaps the career you came looking for now looks different to you as your experiences have grown.  We have an on-going theme in Core Programs of exploring diverse career trajectories.  Below, we emphasize a few lessons shared by Philosophy alums at a recent panel, who are working in very diverse sectors.* Whether or not you are in a Humanities, Social Sciences, or a STEM field, these insights may be of use to you:

Beyond Hoops.  We know there are many obligations and milestones to completing a graduate program.  Rather than (only) thinking of these requirements as hoops to jump through, take some time to reflect upon the career skills you will gain from them over time—transferable career skills you can utilize for many jobs inside and outside of academia.  For example, even when it’s not apparent to you at first, one skill set you develop when completing a thesis or dissertation are project management skills.   Skills under project management can include, organization (outlining and prioritizing tasks that need to be completed), time management (setting up and meeting deadlines that are realistic), synthesizing complex ideas and details succinctly (writing up your project), and communication (meeting with advisors to state, clarify, and/or revisit your goals and expectations).

Beyond Job Titles.  Instead of focusing solely on job titles during your job search, consider the kind of work you want to do and the kind of setting you would like to work within. What strengths do you have, and where are those best expressed? Recruiting expert Christian Lépolard offers these guiding questions to help you think expansively about your job search, “What is your ultimate career goal, inside and outside of your current organization?  What hard skills (practical and theoretical), knowledge, and soft skills do you need to possess in order to get there? What skills do you already have and which ones do you need to acquire?  What skills will this next role bring you?” Read more from Lépolard’s article.  We would also add, what kinds of tasks and projects fuel your passions? What contribution do you want to make? How do you prefer to spend your time? Reflecting on these questions can help you find a range of ways you might be able to do your best work, rather than limiting yourself to certain job titles.

Beyond a “Career Path.”  If we shift our thinking away from the idea of a “career path” (often imagined as linear) towards the notion of a career journey, then we open ourselves up to change, flexibility, and opportunity.  Sometimes you just need to get your foot in the door at an organization or institution.  Start out with a short-term internship (or in other instances, see if there are volunteer positions), as this experience will help you determine if you will enjoy working there and if the work and the workplace culture allow you to thrive. The right kind of entry-level position can open more doors quickly once you shine. It may not be a straight shot through to your dream job, but you increase your professional networks and get to showcase your talents along the way!  Also, think broadly about a range of jobs that match your technical and transferable skills.  Career strengths assessments such as this free one can help you do just that.

Spring can be a job search season for you, or perhaps a chance to line up more growth opportunities once summer arrives.  It can also be a time to consider making a 1-1 appointment with a UW career advisor who can help give you feedback on your resume or CV.  We are cheering for you – let us know how it is going!


Kelly, Jaye, and Ziyan

*Acknowledgements to panelists Summer Archarya, Dustyn Addington, Karen Emmerman, and Ann Owens from the Philosophy Branches Out event.  This event was held on February 28, 2017 at UW Seattle and was co-sponsored by the UW Philosophy Department, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, and Core Programs in the Graduate School.