Nine Things to Do before (or Right after) You Graduate: Tips for Career Building from History PhDs

Our institutions of higher learning will soon release upon the job market thousands of eager graduates, many of them with degrees in history. Since we have been talking to, and publishing essays by, history PhDs who found satisfying careers beyond the professoriate, we reached out to three of them to see if they had any tips for early career job seekers. We also recommend their essays in Perspectives on History’s Career Paths column (linked below).Graduation

Joshua Wolff, engagement manager, McKinsey & Company

1. Update your resume, not just your CV.

If you even have an inkling of applying to nonacademic jobs, you’ll need a nonacademic, one-page resume at hand. Since your resume is one of the simplest ways to explain yourself not only to potential employers, but to contacts in your network who don’t know you well or to whom you just want to speak, it is a good idea to have a resume at the ready.

2. Update and upgrade your network.

If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn. If you have a profile already, update it and be sure to include a recent photo. Spend some time clicking through the “people you may know” to broaden your reach. Any professional you speak with is likely to preview you on LinkedIn or look there to follow up with you.

3. Talk to as many people as you can in jobs that might be interesting to you.

Graduate students all know what a junior professor’s job is like, but what about all the related academic jobs (administration, library, or archives) and semi-academic jobs (historical societies, historic sites, government agencies, grant-making institutions)? Reach out to people you know, cold call people if you must, and schedule lots of 15-minute calls or coffee chats about what they do and how they forged their career path. Don’t restrict yourself—you never know what job might be a surprisingly good fit for you.

Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, institutional research analyst, University of Texas at Austin

4. Commit to self-care.

Good habits will help to get you through your job search. At the University of Texas at Austin Liberal Arts Dissertation Boot Camp, in addition to work with writing mentors, we include sessions with counseling and mental health experts, a nutritionist, and sessions on meditation and yoga. These tools for managing the stress of dissertation writing will work during any demanding job search and into your career.

5. Join a writing group.

Don’t stop writing just because you’ve graduated. A writing group will make you accountable to others. You will produce pages. And it is another way to maintain a good habit that will help you in your career, whether you join the faculty or pursue a different path.

6. Thank your departmental staff.

They have worked hard for you, and it’s always a good idea to show the people who help you that you appreciate it.

Camille Henderson, HR consultant and coach

7. Think about what you’ve accomplished.

When you put your resume together, focus on the results and accomplishments you’ve achieved; don’t just list tasks and responsibilities. For example, “Developed organizational system for project teams which improved information flow” not “filed paperwork for ongoing projects.”

8. Use LinkedIn to research your contacts.

If you have interviews or informal meetings lined up, research the people you are meeting on LinkedIn. They will expect you to know their backgrounds. The advice from Joshua about polishing your profile on LinkedIn (above) is really important. Most companies start looking for candidates there. That said, your LinkedIn picture should look professional. This isn’t Facebook.

9. Have great questions for everyone you meet.

The questions you ask potential employers, or people you connect with as part of your network, tell them as much about you as your answers to their questions. Focus your questions on them and their organizations. People (especially interview teams) can quickly turn off if all you talk about is your needs.

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