I CAN'T BELIEVE IT, I DID IT!! I AM A DOCTOR NOW!
That's me being ridiculously happy on the day of my PhD defence:
A special mention goes to the AWESOME PhD hat
my colleagues and friends prepared for me.
After a small celebration - in accordance with Corona regulations - I find myself at the end of a challenging but incredible journey and at the beginning of a new one. But what now?
When you are a kid everyone asks “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A variety of more or less realistic answers usually causes amusement in the grown-ups posing the question “I want to be the mayor of the world! An explorer! A teacher! A hairdresser! A surgeon! A dancer! A Noble prize winner!”
Now I find myself a grown-up, I spent quite some time and money on education, but still I struggled for some time in answering that question. You might be in a similar situation, maybe at the end of your PhD or Postdoc, or maybe you are following your plan and want to make sure that you are going in the right direction.
In any case, you are in the right place!
In this series of articles “How to job search effectively and having fun” I will share my experience in looking for a career path outside academia, collecting in one place all the information I learned through the Career Booster Program with Amani Said and the advice and tips from many professionals I interviewed in the last year.
Before getting started, you should be prepared to invest time and energy in the job search, as this process might take from 2 to 8 months, depending on the kind of job you are looking for and if you are transitioning to a different field.
When is it a good time to start looking for a job?
A group of US economists in 2017 showed that it is more likely to get interviews and job offers while still employed. Therefore do not wait until the end of your contract to start thinking about the next step! Especially if you need to figure out exactly what career to pursue, now is a good time to start.
However, sometimes the recruitment process might go from application to hiring in one month if you are lucky and already have the experience needed for the position. Timing is key and you have to balance it out, but as a rule of thumb, it’s better to start earlier, as it might be possible to negotiate a later starting date if needed.
Where to start?
Start figuring out who you are and what you want to do.
For me, it was frightening to stop and reflect on my deepest essence and most ambitious goals in life. Sometimes it felt like a waste of time. But no good plan can be set up without a clear direction. To avoid wasting time later on in the process, it’s essential to define a clear picture from the beginning.
Then, following Amani's suggestion, we can just do what we know best as a scientist: collect data!
Answering these questions:
a) What are your values?
b) What are your skills and passions?
and analysing the answers is the beginning of the process to identify the best career(s) for you.
a) What are your values?
Values are the beliefs, the inner motivations that drive you throughout your life and determine your decisions. Since they are a big part of who you are and they have an impact on your actions, they constitute an essential piece of the career planning puzzle. I like this definition from Dawn Rosenberg McKey because I love puzzles, but especially because it conveys the image of solving a complex picture piece by piece, having fun in the process but also being patient in discovering what fits in your life and career. To me, it also means that every piece is important to build the complete image, and in this metaphor, the values would be the frame of the puzzle: the first thing that you need to figure out, and put the focus on the big picture.
In the article she explains why you need to know your values to achieve job satisfaction and divides them in intrinsic and extrinsic values.
Intrinsic work values are the ones related to the activities and tasks of the job itself.
They are connected with personal preferences and fulfillment obtained through everyday tasks. Some people might prefer a higher degree of freedom and creativity while others enjoy repetitive tasks, for example. Intrinsic values are also strongly connected to personal development and personal growth achieved through the job, like developing leadership or applying problem-solving and analytical skills.
Extrinsic work values refer to the effect or result of a certain job.
They can be associated with benefits or privileges connected with the position, such as salary, prestige, and stability, or can reflect the effect of a particular job or company on the society, such as providing a service you consider important or aligning with ethical production processes.
Starting your job search by clarifying your values will allow you to fit your long term goals, both professional and personal, in the bigger picture. In this way you can define priorities that will help you to decide among different offers, to find joy in your everyday work when your values align with your career, and avoid wasting time with jobs you would quit soon after due to misfit.
Moreover, it’s important to have your values clear to communicate them to your future employer.
It’s crucial for the hiring company to recruit candidates that align with the company culture, as the recruitment and training of new employees are very expensive for the company. Indeed, a 2018 survey shows that 91% of the hiring managers consider the fit with company culture equal or more important than skills and experience.
In the next articles, we will see more in detail how to show in your CV, cover letter, and interviews that your values match with the values and mission of the company and that you are a good fit. In the meanwhile, in this article you can find a list of values you can use to identify your five most important intrinsic and extrinsic values.
For me, the critical step was, to be honest with myself and prioritise the values that are truly important to me, without thinking about how other people would judge my list and even more importantly without judging it myself.
b) What are your skills and passions?
Now that we have identified our five most important intrinsic and extrinsic values, it’s time to collect data on another very important piece of the puzzle: skills and passions.
In a book I read as a teenager, the journalist Beppe Severgnini enumerates 8 characteristics, that he defines as “keys to open the doors of the future”. The very first one is Talent. I like to think about Talent as a combination of skills and passions that makes you unique. Unique as a human being but also unique as a professional, because no one else can bring to the job market what you have to offer. But first, you have to recognise your Talent and nurture it. One very important suggestion that Beppe gave me - when I was a teenager reading his book and that I want to share with you now - is to be honest with yourself. This helps to avoid two traps: (I) to be distracted by some strong passions that you don’t have the skills to bring to a successful level and (II) those skills you have that you are not passionate about.
To approach the research, you can observe the tasks you perform daily at your current job and group them into thematic areas that represent different skills - for example, organisation, teaching, or data analysis.
Then you can ask yourself two questions:
Am I good at this?
Do I enjoy doing this task?
And remember: be honest. Not falsely modest and not unrealistic.
In this way, you can identify what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. And you can extend your analysis to the activities you do in your free time, like sports, music, or volunteer work, to name a few. Determination in training in one sport or learning how to play an instrument shows that you can pursue a goal, and creativity or organizational skills that you use to manage your extracurricular activities are essential in career transition, and you need to be well aware to leverage them in your job search.
Another useful way to become aware of your Talent is to get an external opinion: ask colleagues and collaborators, friends, and family about your most striking skills. You will collect information about how others perceive you, which will be important to approach interviews and make sure to convey a true first impression. Moreover, comparing your own conclusion with an external opinion can be a good tool to validate your objectivity and to assess if you have been too modest or too confident.
When I asked a friend of mine, who worked with me on several projects during her PhD, to describe me in three words, she said:
"Capable, caring, energetic."
And she added this picture:
"This reminds me of you so much! You love food and yellow and it makes me happy."
It might not be my opening line when I introduce myself at an interview, but knowing that the impression I make on people leaves them with a smile on their faces was the most valuable feedback I received.
This process helped me to clearly individuate strengths and weaknesses, and areas where passions and skills do not match. I also found areas I am passionate about but where my skills are not at a proficient level yet: this is my space to grow!
At this point, you should have plenty of material for your analysis and you should be able to paint your ideal career picture. But you might wonder: “Will I find this ideal career in the real world?”
Stay tuned for the next article about “How to identify your ideal Career(s)”!
But first, are you ready to start looking for a job?
Start taking action TODAY!
Comment below with the 5 intrinsic and extrinsic values that will drive your career and your top 3 skills!
Resources on these topics:
“Clarifying Your Work Values Leads to Job Satisfaction” by Dawn Rosenberg McKay
“How to Assess Your Career Values” by Alison Doyle - here you can find a list of values to start your exercise.