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Navigate the Unique Job Search Concerns of Grad Students

Navigate the Unique Job Search Concerns of Grad Students

But grad students typically confront unique barriers to job search success, especially if they're seeking opportunities outside academia.

By Peter Vogt

March 18, 2009

Earning a graduate degree is a big accomplishment — one many students hope will clear a path to a great job. But grad students typically confront unique barriers to job search success, especially if they’re seeking opportunities outside academia.

Be ready to work around these internal and external roadblocks, either alone or with the help of a school career counselor, with this guide.

Internal Barriers

  • Overconfidence or Underconfidence: You might feel your graduate degree is a ticket to a job with a great salary and outstanding benefits and perks. Unfortunately, your undergraduate degree offered no guarantees, and neither does your grad degree.
  • Conversely, you may feel you have little to offer a prospective employer, or that your academic experiences have no value in the workplace. And you may lack confidence in performing basic but critical job search tasks like writing resumes and cover letters and interviewing, especially if you went straight from your undergrad days to a graduate program.

  • Hazy Career Goals: “Some graduate students lack a clear career focus,” says Sharon Goodyear, assistant director of career development at the William Mitchell College of Law and former director of career services at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. “I am continually surprised when I meet law students who don’t know what they want to do with the degree, but they think that a law degree would be useful even if they’re not sure they want to practice law.”
  • Difficulty Identifying and Selling Transferable Skills: If you’re like many grad students, you may not know you have probably developed valuable skills in research, analysis, writing and verbal communication that transfer nicely to the workplace.

You might also be prone to giving prospective employers too much detail about a topic you’ve studied in depth instead of highlighting the important skills you developed along the way.

“Many employers…are not as interested in the details of a project as they are that job candidates possess the skills that enable one to complete an independent project — research, writing, curiosity, collaboration, persistence, persuasion, self-motivation, etc.,” says Briana Keller, PhD, a career counselor at the University of Washington who works frequently with graduate students.

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