Plan Your Next Steps

As you approach the finish line in your graduate degree program, you should be thinking about your ultimate career aspirations. Develop a strategic vision and a solid plan for your career.


Evaluate your strategic plan for career success

As you anticipate graduation, reexamine and update the career objectives that you developed during your initial years of graduate study. If your objectives and career goals have changed, create a new strategic plan.

Think of your strategic plan as a bridge from your graduate degree to your next career step.

Understand your core values and work preferences when updating your plan. Ask yourself what activities you have most enjoyed during your graduate years.

Analyze your personal strengths and weaknesses, your passions and interests, and your own personal definition of success.

Increase your understanding of trends in the economy and how they impact careers in your field.

Detail your strategy and timelines for your next career steps along with the resources you will need. If you have been evaluating many alternate career paths, it is time to narrow your list to one or two career options.

Discuss your plans with your research supervisor and seek his or her advice for your objectives.

Recognize the skills that you have developed during your graduate education

Consider how the skills and capabilities developed in graduate school can be applied more broadly. Recognize how your acquired skills enhance your qualifications for various jobs. Graduate students can underestimate the breadth of skills they have developed. You may view some skills as commonplace when in fact, those skills qualify you for more jobs than you realize.

Conduct a thorough skills inventory based on your graduate experience. You may not be fully aware of the full range of intellectual and management skills that you have developed as part of your graduate work. Consider how your graduate training has helped you to develop the following skills:

Research /Analytical Skills

  • Ability to locate and assimilate new information rapidly
  • Ability to break–down and understand complex content
  • Ability to reach and defend independent conclusions
  • Problem–solving tools and experience
  • Intellectual maturity

 Communication Skills

  • Ability to convey complex information to non–expert audiences
  • Ability to write at all levels: brief abstracts to book-length manuscripts
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Ability to speak before large groups

Entrepreneurial Skills

  • Ability to work independently and in self–directed manner
  • Ability to acquire funding and write successful grant proposals

Interactive Personal Skills

  • Persuasion
  • Strategic leadership
  • Ability to cope with and manage complicated personalities
  • Ability to work effectively in a competitive environment
  • Ability to navigate complex bureaucratic environments

Project Management Skills

  • Ability to set goals and targets
  • Ability to identify and develop resources
  • Ability to manage people and resources
  • Monitoring project progress and outcomes
  • Delivering a completed major project in a timely manner

Negotiating Skills

  • Ability to negotiate with others the terms of research and written documents (thesis/dissertation)
  • Ability to articulate a distinct intellectual position or opinion and to reach consensus with others

Team–Building and Collaboration Skills

  • Ability to build synergy when collaborating with other researchers
  • Ability to organize people around completion of a common goal

What it Takes to Advance to Candidacy (for doctoral students)

  • Exceptional intellectual horsepower
  • Track record of achievement
  • Ability to perform under pressure
  • Ability to learn and adapt at a high level
  • Ability to meet high expectations

What it Takes to Finish

  • Focus, tenacity, stamina, discipline
  • The ability to close the deal

Update your CV (curriculum vitae) or professional resume

If you have goals for pursuing an academic career, you should prepare a curriculum vitae (CV) by the spring of the first year of enrollment and keep it up to date. Your CV should list all of your publications, conference presentations, and other evidence of professional activity.

Ask your research supervisor for a copy of his or her latest CV.

Seek advice from your supervisor on designing your CV to reflect your professional accomplishments and long-term career objectives.

An excellent online guide to developing and organizing the CV is provided by the UC Berkeley Career Center.

If you are pursuing a career outside of academia, learn how to write the type of resume expected in those career settings. Pay attention to details such as the level of formality, format, and amount of detail expected.

Develop a long-term plan

Create a “planning window” of five years or more for your career objectives.

Consider what your ideal career situation would look like, what additional skills you may need, and what career steps you would have to follow in order to reach your ultimate objectives.

If you are completing your PhD, be sure to examine postdoctoral fellowship opportunities available for graduates in your discipline.

Conduct a comprehensive job search

In order to build a satisfying career, your job search needs to be as comprehensive as possible. Landing the job of your dreams involves many different steps:

  • Locate and evaluate relevant job announcements
  • Find information about employers that interest you
  • Write effective and persuasive cover letters
  • Create and update your CV or resume
  • Polish your interview and presentation skills
  • Obtain letters of recommendation
  • Update your teaching and research portfolios
  • Learn how to negotiate job offers

Review the full range of career opportunities in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors available from these sources:

  • Professional organization newsletters
  • Internet job and career sites
  • Magazines, journals and newspapers
  • Job fairs
  • Academic conference job networks
  • Employment agencies
  • Other professional associations
  • The “hidden” job market (including professional networking)

Weigh the costs and benefits for your short-term and your long-term career objectives of positions inside versus outside of academia.

Discuss your job search goals and options with your partner and other members of your family.

Visit these major sources to focus your academic career search and to obtain valuable advice regarding academic career development:

View the Graduate Career Development  section of this website for more resources and information.