While academia has long been considered the traditional career path by master’s and PhD students, today’s job landscape offers many opportunities beyond the ivory tower. When I was a graduate student, my knowledge of potential careers after graduation was limited. By using LinkedIn, I learned to network with non-academic professionals with graduate degrees and learned about different career paths. In this column, I will focus on how to explore these fascinating non-academic career options with LinkedIn and informational interviews.
1. Building a LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn enables you to showcase your professional history and connect with other people with the same backgrounds and career interests.
Start by focusing on the three essential sections of a LinkedIn profile:
- Profile picture – include a professional-looking photo of yourself, with a close-up of your face;
- Headline – create a headline by including what you do and/or what you want to do;
- Experience section – dive into detail about your roles and responsibilities in your career so far in the Experience section.
As you build your profile, further refine it by adding to the sections About, Education, Licenses and Skills. I found this LinkedIn post on a simple formula to write the About section very useful.
You can add links to your projects, talks, posters and publications in the work or volunteer experience sections, which can demonstrate the impact of your work.
Expanding your network
To grow your network on LinkedIn, start by connecting with people you know – friends, family, colleagues, classmates. Having connections in your profile increases your credibility and the chances of people accepting your invites.
In addition to your acquaintances, you can search alumni and professionals whose career paths you find fascinating on LinkedIn. You can search by job title (like I did with “UX Researcher”) or by company, university, location or degree. You also have the option to filter the results by the same categories, like company, university, location and degree.
If you are trying to connect to someone outside of your immediate network, the connection message is critical. I recommend that you personalize each connection using this formula:
Your name + how you found them/common link between you and the invite + your intention to connect + action. Here are two examples of invites I have sent.
2. Informational interviews
Informational interviews are a great way to gather information about a role, company and required skills. You can ask for informational interviews with people you already know, by asking your connections for referrals and from your contacts. Express your interest in learning about people’s careers and request a short chat (15-30 minutes). It is essential that you prepare for the informational interview by researching the interviewee and crafting a few relevant questions.
The informational interview can start with your two-minute pitch about your background and motivation for the interview. This will also help your connection to tailor their responses to your needs. Then, you can move to the questions that you have prepared. I have included some examples of questions below. For my interviews, I usually divide my questions into two categories: questions about the role and the transition to the non-academic role.
Prioritize four to five important questions during the talk. You might not get a chance to ask everything in a 30-minute chat. The key is to establish a relationship with the interviewee so that you can follow up with more questions or advice in future, if both sides are open.
Send a follow-up note to thank the person for their time, and mention something you learned or found interesting in the chat. Also, promise to stay in touch and make good on that promise in the near future.
Creating a LinkedIn profile and requesting informational interviews are important parts of exploring careers. But remember, the journey doesn’t stop there. When you connect and network, you’re creating links that might change your path, learning things that could change how you work, and discovering opportunities that could change your career path. So, use these strategies because every connection and talk can guide you on a personal journey towards a better and more meaningful professional future. Tell us about your career exploration journey in the comment box below.