8 Steps to a Successful PhD Career Change

Leaving academia sucks. Especially when you entered graduate school hoping to become a tenured professor one day. So, if you are considering a post- PhD career change you might feel crushed, to say the least. Or you might be in denial. Or, you might have no idea what on earth you’re feeling.

Regardless of how you feel, changing careers is hard. You’re not only changing jobs, you’re also changing lifestyle. Many people keep doing what they were doing before when they don’t find a tenure-track job and accept adjunct positions with less than ideal working conditions. As a PhD, is being an academic all you can ever be?

I’ve been in the exact spot you’re in now. I found myself at the same crossroad when I decided to call it quits. The good news is that you don’t have to settle for less. Through personal experience, and through my work as a consultant helping countless academics change careers, I’ve put together an action plan that’s not only easy to follow but that can also save you valuable time by cutting your losses right now and moving on to your next exciting adventure:

  1. It’s important to give yourself some time to deal with your loss. The very first thing you should do is find someone to talk to. You might not be in the mood to talk about an experience that might very likely feel like a failure, but speaking with a close friend or relative who is not an academic can help you realize all is not lost.


  1. The next step is to turn your CV into resume. This may take more than a day. Here are a few resources to help you get started:


  1. With your resume sharp and sleek, it’s time to focus on LinkedIn. You can find a few tips on building an awesome LinkedIn profile by clicking here.


  1. Make a list of organizations that you might love to work for. Once you made your list (5–20), identify people that might be able to connect you with these organizations. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to do just that. Do you have first and second-degree connections to these companies? No? No problem! Focus on organizations rather than open positions. Remember, 80% of positions are not posted, and the vast majority of people get hired through networking. So, allow yourself to dream a little. It’s a great way to figure out who you can be! Looking for a way to connect with other PhDs? Join the LinkedIn group: PhDs Without Limits. It’s free.


  1. While you’re exploring potential employers, it is not a bad idea to look for existing positions. You can begin right here by using niche job search websites (don’t forget to set up alerts on each site, they can save you a lot of time and energy):



  1. It’s also time to reconnect with people. As annoying as this might sound, I highly suggest making a list of 10–20 people you haven’t talked with in a while and invite them for lunch or coffee to talk about your situation (no whining!) and ask for advice. I also strongly recommend sending an email to your network to let them know you’re looking for non-academic employment.


  1. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you exercising, keeping a diary of your thoughts, do you meditate? I highly recommend focusing on yourself to keep your mind and body in good health. Studies have shown that thinking positively can bring happiness to the most distressful situations. The PhD career change you’re going through doesn’t have to be all about pain!


  1. Are you already familiar with non-academic interviews? It might be time to start learning about them to be fully prepared when time comes to meet hiring managers. The Quick Guide to Acing Non-Academic Interviews provides all the tools necessary to succeed.


You’re not making progress as quickly as you’d like? Don’t lose faith. Keep up with your new habits. Build your network one person at a time, and keep moving forward. You can do this! Keep your eyes on the things you can control and brush away those you can’t.

My final piece of advice is to treat your career transition the same way you would a temporary job. It can be done only if you’re all in. Wake up every day ready to do the work, get things done and start all over again the next day.

Leaving academia is a big deal. Your life is about to change. And people handle these kinds of transitions in different ways. But sticking to the habit shared above is a great way to land on your feet quickly with very little bruising. And, hey, keep in mind that this PhD career change might be a good one after all. It might be the very best thing that happened to you!



1 Comment
  • mike

    October 10, 2017 at 12:02 pm Reply

    Very useful stuff! Keep up the good work!

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