Have a question about the job search process? It can be something specific to your situation, or a more general question. Submit your question to info at lilligroup . com or use the form below. We’ll answer it in our weekly blog post (published on Wednesday). And, if we don’t know the answer ourselves, we’ll consult with our colleagues, many of whom have presented information at the Beyond the Professoriate conference.
All questions, names, and identifying information will be anonymized.
Q: I recently had a job interview (I didn’t get the job) and the hiring manager asked me, “what’s to stop you from just going off if Harvard or Yale called.” I wanted to laugh in his face, and I didn’t really know how to handle that question. If I get that question again, how should I answer?
A: Aah, yes. Most people have no idea how the academic job market works, and they certainly don’t understand how few real opportunities there are in the academy. The default response is, “Well, they’re not calling me, ever” but that doesn’t really answer the concern underlying the interviewer’s question – what’s to stop you from leaving this position in a few months when something better comes along? They are worried you’re over qualified. They are worried you’re not serious about this new career because you have spent 10+ years in an academic career. If you understand the concern, then you can think of a stronger answer.
Even if leaving the academy was plan B, you need to make the employer feel like this new career is your first choice. Say something like, “I’ve been working as an academic for x number of years and I have decided it is not the career path for me. I enjoy researching, and so much of academic work is actually teaching and sitting on committees. That’s why I’m so excited about this policy analyst position.” Or, “I enjoy the Bay area, and I’m interested in staying here and putting my skills to use in this community. I’m not interested in moving across the country and would not be interested in that type of position.” However you spin it, make them understand that you are very interested in working at their organization, and you’ve tried academia but it is no longer for you.
Q: What do you say when people tell your education makes you overqualified for a position? It seems that I’m overqualified and yet I don’t have enough work experience. It’s driving me crazy!
A: The conundrum both over and under qualified at the same time! Like I mentioned above, you need to think about the underlying motivation behind this question: they are worried you’ll leave or you’ll be bored. The best way to handle this is to admit the truth, but do so in a positive way. “Yes, I do have a lot of education, and I think it shows that I’m able to learn and I’d be able to learn what I needed to be successful in this position. But, I also lack a linear work history, and that’s what I’m hoping to begin building with this position.” You can also add “as I gain more experience, perhaps there will be other opportunities for me to build and grow within your organization.” This last sentence is a bit of a risk – it may sound like you’re gunning for a more senior position, and if it’s a small company, the person hiring you may have to die before you can move up. This last line is probably better used within a larger organization.
Q: I keep getting interviews, but I don’t get hired. The feedback I’m getting is that I don’t have enough work experience. But how can I get experience if nobody will hire me?
A: Well, the good news is, if you’re getting interviews, then your professional documents are in order and you’re getting noticed. You’ll just need to be more creative about getting work experience. Volunteering is a great way to get relevant experience. You need to be careful, though, that what you’re doing is building your career. If you want to be a policy analyst, volunteer with a political campaign, but make sure you’re not answering phones. Make sure you’re actually writing briefs. I know, this doesn’t solve the money problem, but it’s good for networking and it’s good for gaining relevant experience. Remember, on your resume, you can list unpaid positions along with paid.
Another idea is, as you’re networking, ask people about contract work and temporary positions. While the goal is, of course, to land full time work, it’s much less risky for an employer to bring you on in a temporary position. They can see your work ethic, if you’re a good fit for the company, and perhaps hire you on full time at a later date. And, if it only ends up being a contract position, then you’ve gained valuable work experience, contacts, and references, which can help you get a full time job.
Thanks for your questions this week. Have a question about your job search? Ask us using the form below!