Grad School, Professional, Resources + Tools

How to Sell Out: Tips on Finding a Non-Ac Job You Love

So you’ve created a budget and you’ve stuck to that budget like white on rice. But the debt’s still piling up, you’re stressing about funding for school, the dismal job market is lingering in the back of your mind, you live in a run-down slum on campus, you can’t afford to even travel to and share a room with 10 other people at a professional conference, and no one seems to have a clue why you’re at the edge of a nervous breakdown. You know what would help?


But, in the academic world, wouldn’t that make you a–*gasp*–a sell-out??

Contrary to popular belief, selling out isn’t always a bad thing.

This is NOT to say that you should quit your PhD program entirely, but if you decide to branch out and look for a full-time job, you will need to consider how this will affect your educational and professional trajectory. Initially, I thought I would find a different full-time job with more security because–seriously–the one I had while in school completely sucked. It probably had to do with the fact it was an agency connected to the university that routinely exploited its students. My plan was to get a different job and finish my PhD at my own pace with more financial security, which was a pretty good plan at the time.

But what did I want to do?

I had so many interests and I didn’t necessarily have to stay in anthropology (there also aren’t usually jobs with “anthropologist” in the title). It was probably a good idea not to limit myself to a specific industry, considering the current job market. Branching out could only improve my chances of finding a position, but I had no clue where to start–HOW DO I DECIDE WHAT KIND OF JOB I WANT?

Being a graduate student prepares you for the job market in more ways than you could ever realize. The problem is that NO ONE WANTS YOU TO KNOW THAT. I shouldn’t say “no one”–there are some programs out there that make it their mission to produce successful professionals to carry on their good name. I earned a Master’s degree from one such program. Georgia State University offers a terminal Master’s degree in applied anthropology and, to this day, I will sing their praises because I learned more about the job market and marketing myself as a professional from the professors there than anywhere else. Initially, this is where I began preparing for my job search, with the knowledge I took away from Georgia State’s anthropology department.

Things to Consider…

First thing’s first…What are your priorities? What aspects of life do you want to plan for? (e.g. a family, travelling, maybe your career is your life, investing, early retirement, etc.) This will be important once you narrow down what kind of job you want. For example, work-life balance is important to me, so this was something I discussed with potential employers I interviewed with.

Narrow Down What You Want to Do…

The first step is to decide what you’re interested in. What do you do now? If you’re in school, do you volunteer, have a part-time job, internship, or work-study? What do you like and dislike about it? What skills or accomplishments have come from this position? What kind of job do you aspire to have or what kind of industry do you want to work in? What other interests do you have? What knowledge can you apply to these interests? Before beginning your job search, you have to have an idea of what you’re even looking for, so think long and hard about what you like to do.

Remember–you don’t have to end up with your dream job right away. Depending on your situation, you may just be desperate for a consistent paycheck! However, you can still use this to your professional advantage. Often, the first step is getting your foot in the door and gaining that initial industry experience to put you on the right path.

Sometimes it Helps to Draw a Picture…

Yeah, I’m taking you back to 2nd grade right now. So get out your magic markers and focus up! You’re going to draw a venn diagram.

The Venn Diagram

You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been. It’s time to take inventory of your past experiences and decide what can benefit you in the future. Believe it or not, even the most mundane of experiences can give you a leg up on the competition! You can be an Adobe Illustrator expert, but if you suck at communicating and working with others on a team, you probably won’t make it very far in the long run. Once you decide on a broad area or industry, you may still feel a little stuck, especially if you don’t already work within said industry. But that’s OK! This should not deter you from using your knowledge and talents to change your career trajectory. Even if you lack major skills in your chosen area, consider the following:

Why do you want this new job?

We all need money, but you need more of a reason for future interviews. What is drawing you to a specific position or industry?

What qualifications do you lack for the position you want?

Sometimes, the best qualifications are your personality and work ethic. Other more specific job skills can be learned, as long as you show the potential and enthusiasm to learn. What information or training do you need to bridge this gap? For other qualifications that are still important to your chosen industry, are there ways you can acquire this knowledge through studying, volunteering, mentoring, etc.? Experience from volunteering or interning, for example, can be your first foray into an industry and open doors to further opportunities for learning and advancement.

Who can you reach out to for more information about the position you want? 

These can be websites, forums, or your social network, including reaching out to people you don’t know on LinkedIn. Ask about the training, qualifications, and day-to-day aspects of the position/industry you’re interested in. The best information will come from actual people who are DOING IT.

Hopefully this has given you a starting point if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and applying for a full-time job (or at least a new one)! At times, it’s stressful and even terrifying, but I promise you–it’s nowhere near as stressful as financial insecurity. Take some time, reflect on the questions above, and really consider in what direction YOU want your life to go!

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