March 16, 2016
I took little time off after earning my bachelor’s degree and continued my course of study in English literature. Graduate school was a great experience for me. In addition to my coursework I was a teaching assistant, served on an educational committee, wrote a thesis and presented a paper at an academic conference. By the time I graduated I felt prepared for the job market, and I was eager to see where my career path would take me next. Only, “next” took me a long time to reach, and when I got there it was not what I was expecting.
It took me over a year to find a job in my field. I made it to the final round of four interviews, but I didn’t get any of those jobs. The other candidates had more professional experience. I finally got a part-time grant writing position at a non-profit organization. Luckily, it quickly became a full-time gig, and it gave me the professional experience I so desperately needed.
I’m sure other grads find themselves in this position, with a lopsided resume that includes impressive educational achievements but little professional experience. If you are stuck in that rut, hang in there. Finding a good job is doable. And there are advantages to having an advanced degree early in your career.
Have Realistic Expectations
A graduate degree can lead to a better job and greater earning potential, but that may take time. Many professionals go to graduate school as they advance in their careers, which is beneficial because many employers offer tuition assistance, and employees can be purposeful in orchestrating their academic work around their professional needs.
Although it made it difficult for me to get my foot in the door, doing my graduate work was good for me. I had time to dedicate to the project. As a result I was able to fully engage and get some valuable professional experiences, such as teaching. Although it didn’t have the weight I was hoping it would when I hit the job market, it made me a more astute professional in ways that continue to benefit me. I will always consider it among my most valued professional experiences.
Doing your graduate work upfront may not get the return on your investment until your professional experience catches up to your academic experience.
Do Your Time
I mistakenly believed that my experience as a teaching assistant would be viewed as professional experience. I didn’t earn educational credentials, and I wasn’t applying for teaching jobs. So it was regarded positively, but it wasn’t viewed as professional experience. I was basically a well-decorated, entry-level candidate. I needed a touchstone job to bridge the gap between the academic world and the professional world.
University life is not like professional life. When you leave the university you take your place in a new reality that has a different structure and operates from a different set a values. So you have to do your time there, too.
Reaping the Rewards
Once your professional work catches up to your academic work, it pays off. I found myself quickly advancing once I had acclimated to the professional world.
I have been so impressed with my colleagues who balance graduate school with full-time employment. I am also very thankful that I had already completed this work. I use what I learned in graduate school every day of my professional life. Grad school refined my research and writing skills. It taught me how to conduct classes and interact with students, professors and other professionals. It taught me to advocate for myself. I will always be deeply thankful for the experience.
If you are in the same boat as I was, hang in there and look for that touchstone job that will help you get started. It may not be what you were expecting, but make it work and it can lead you to better things.