by Out-Ac Coach Karen Cardozo
It’s that mid-hiring cycle season when academic job seekers are in limbo, and thus a good time to preach my both/and gospel once again: unless you are in the rare discipline for which it’s a seller’s market, you should pursue BOTH academic jobs AND alternatives as a matter of course. Especially now, as we face 4 years of unprecedented and unpredictable mayhem in the U.S. political sphere that is likely to impact higher ed negatively.
However, the primary reason to keep your options open isn’t job scarcity (although that’s reason enough). Rather, exploring organizations of genuine interest across sectors should be a lifelong career exploration process – one that doesn’t assume that academe is your one soul mate and that you’ll never find true love again. Don’t wait to find out IF you got an academic job to a) ask whether you still want an academic career and, regardless of your answer, b) explore alternatives. How can you know you are really “choosing” academe if you don’t have any other options to choose from?
It’s time to unsubscribe from the faulty sequential logic of first pursuing Plan A (academic career), and then Plan B (backup). To riff off the latter’s association with emergency contraception, many graduate students or postdocs are engaging in risky or unprotected professional behavior by putting all their eggs in the academic basket, and regular methods of professional development often fail when most graduate schools don’t encourage you to explore alternative careers.
At this historic juncture, both the research literature on the new world of work and my ongoing coaching experience reinforce the wisdom of adopting a new Plan A: Authentic career development. Actively pursued, this approach requires no Plan B, ever. If you consistently take your own inventory and explore fitting opportunities across BOTH academic AND other sectors, you can kiss the discourses of emergency, and scarcity goodbye. You will have choices. And you will go from feeling like a victim to being an agent in your own right.
I am living proof: my current tenure track job is the ONLY one I applied to during a 2-year span, and that was after I had quit adjuncting to take a new Alt-Ac position! In this and prior instances, I engaged in a selective search across sectors, applying when I felt affinity for a job description or organization. As a result, the cover letters I write (and teach my clients to write) are genuinely enthusiastic, informed, and customized to convey that sense of fit. While this emphasis on authenticity and willingness to switch fields may not make for a linear career path, it is what today’s shifting employment landscape requires. More importantly, it yields a series of genuine jobs.
So as a New Year’s resolution, why not let go of the academic fiction of a permanent one-way “track” and instead, make like a frog in a peaceful pond. All you need to do is take the next leap. From there, other lily pads come into view, each one bringing you closer to a potentially more welcoming shore.
There’s another benefit to being authentic and selective rather than merely desperate: it adds a certain je ne sais quois to your interactions on the market. It’s pheromonal – just as sharks smell blood in the water, interviewers catch the scent of your calm confidence that you ARE worthy and that you DO have options. But you can’t convey that impression if you’ve done nothing to cultivate any other options!
So don’t wait until it becomes apparent that you need to activate Plan B on an emergency basis. Starting now, replace your tired old Plan A with a new Plan A – a commitment to authentic career exploration across sectors—and watch a host of unpredictable yet appealing options arise. You can start with a free 20 minute consultation with one of TPII’s Alt/Out-Ac experts; no premature commitments or decisions required. We are just another lily pad within reach should you choose to embrace your new plan.