I have a PhD but can’t even get an interview for a job in academia – or elsewhere
I am 39 and have recently completed a PhD, which I undertook with the aim of becoming a university lecturer. My academic work has been well-respected and I was complimented particularly on my hard-working attitude and writing and teaching skills. I have applied for numerous post-doc jobs – and related jobs outside academia – yet have never even been invited to interview.
When I’ve asked for feedback on why, I have always been told that whereas I undoubtedly have the knowledge and skills necessary for the job, my age and work history very much count against me. I spent most of my 20s and early 30s unable to work due to health challenges, and what employment I did I hold was usually part-time, short-term and in manual or voluntary jobs unrepresentative of my abilities and aspirations.
I’ve approached the Jobcentre and employment brokers for help in improving my CV and self-presentation skills, and have been advised to “lower my expectations” and pursue careers in the admin, retail or care sectors. I don’t want to spend the next 30 years in work that does not suit me. But have I any hope of gaining work as a lecturer or in an associated field?
As regular readers know, I often find myself advising people to resist being too general in their approach to job-finding and be more specific. There is often resistance to this approach on the grounds that, by narrowing your focus, you greatly restrict the number of positions for which you might otherwise be eligible – and that’s true. But I firmly believe that it’s usually better to present yourself as particularly well-suited for a small number of jobs than be seen as no more than averagely qualified, along with many others, for maybe five times as many. Your failure since completing your PhD to gain even a single interview makes me think you may have been spreading your appeal too thinly.
You write about your ambition to be a university lecturer, for example – but give no hint of what your specialist subject(s) might be. If you’ve followed this same pattern in your job applications, you won’t have come across as being an out-of-the-ordinary candidate. Emphasise your particular enthusiasm.
And then, although you may find this next suggestion surprising, there are those years when you were unable to work due to health challenges. I wonder, rather than hoping to gloss over this time as unobtrusively as possible, if you’ve entertained the possibility of turning at least some of this experience to your advantage? Without knowing the nature of your health problems I can’t be specific, but it’s almost certain that you encountered real-life predicaments, bureaucratic bottlenecks or insensitive treatment, for example, that will have given you real and helpful insights into a number of different fields of work. It’s first-hand experience such as this that, to a potential employer, might mark you out from the crowd.
• It’s all about publications and grant applications now. I’m guessing you haven’t published or you’d have mentioned it. In which case, if you can afford it, offer to work in research in collaboration with your supervisors in an unpaid capacity, or go for a research assistant position. Another option is going for universities close to the bottom where they might accept someone without the research profile.caramel10
• Teach abroad. You’ll often find better pay and conditions, more respect and more sunshine. And getting to grips with being an expat will help you find reserves of self confidence and belief you thought you never had. heavenairport
• Not being called for interviews rings a warning bell. A common mistake is to use a standard application, only tweaking it for each new position. Those will almost always be trumped by a letter that someone has spent a week or two on to get that particular job. Quality over quantity when it comes to competitive jobs in my experience!. Gustaf Rydevik
I’ve achieved a great deal in public health –must I accept being on a lower play grade?
I switched careers about four years ago to work on health policy and public health. For the past two years, I have held a position of middling seniority in the public health team of a local council. In terms of hierarchy, I’m on the third level, behind the director of public health and public health consultants. After such a short time in health, I consider this to be a great achievement.
As a result of health reforms, public health moved from the NHS to local authorities. Those who transferred from one to the other kept their NHS pay. People who joined public health after the move in 2013 are on local authority contracts, which are lower paid and always have been.
As a result, my pay is lower than that of colleagues on the same level. That’s just how it is and I can accept that. However, as part of a restructure I’ll likely be pushed down a rank. I do the same job with the same duties and responsibilities as colleagues on my level but who have higher pay (who get to keep their titles and positions), and will be expected to continue to do so in the future. While I keep the pay, I can’t help but think that this will look like a demotion (it isn’t – my recent appraisal did not raise any issues in terms of performance) and hard to explain on my CV.
If this is the outcome of the restructure, should I accept this or resign? Should I not worry too much about the title and emphasise the things that I’ve done, bearing in mind that public health can be snobbish and job titles can play a huge role in establishing credentials? I’m leaning towards resigning, although jobs are not that easy to come by.
When departments restructure and work units merge, anomalies in grades and salary levels almost invariably follow. They tend to even out over time. A more important consideration is work satisfaction. Though you don’t say so specifically, I sense you enjoy your job and take pride in doing it well. If so, you should count yourself lucky – and your only concern would seem to be whether you will appear to have lost status in the eyes of others. I’m sure, on reflection, you’ll realise that that is a poor reason to resign. And if you go on enjoying your job, and doing it well, by the time you’ll think of showing your CV to prospective employers it will have sorted itself out.
• Look around; is there another job with the same security, salary and pension as the one you have? Probably not. It’s a brave man who moves from public sector to private sector. thriftynot
• Could you come to an agreement about your job title? Express your concerns and request that a word like “senior” or “consultant” be added to your title, even if it’s (to anyone else) meaningless. Apologies if this seems trite, but in my industry it happens all the time. Green123
• Don’t do anything hasty. Even if you want to look for another job it’d make sense to stay where you are until you have something else lined up. Talk to your managers about your concerns before the restructure actually happens/decisions are made? FatherChewyLouie