Welcome to PhD Career Services

MSU PhDs are leaders and trailblazers in the US and abroad, pursuing careers in universities, government, nonprofit, industry, and K-12 education. PhD Career Services, together with the MSU Graduate School, provides multiple online resources, as well as workshops and advising, to support the many paths graduate students choose to pursue.

The primary web resources for career exploration and professional development are located on this website and in other sections of Career Success, including the PREP Matrix, the career planner and professional development model for graduate students.

Handouts to Help

Quick links

 Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

What are the six main competencies that employers look for in PhDs? Find the answer by reading the MSU Graduate School's Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan!

Career Support

Career SupportWhen you landed on this page, was your first instinct to look for job postings? While searching for jobs is part of the preparation for your future career, it is not everything. On this site you will find resources for many aspects of your professional development. Please take time to explore the variety of career paths open to PhDs and the ways that you can prepare yourself for a life and career that best match your own unique skills and interests. When you are ready to apply for a job, you will find focused job search support at The Graduate School and PhD Career Services through events, MySpartanCareer, the Career Success website, and one-on-one and group advising.

You can begin exploring the site through the following sections:

International Student and Scholar Resources

As an international student, you will use many of the same strategies for career and professional development as domestic students. We highly recommend that you examine all sections of the PhD Career Services site and not just this section. On this page we list resources for aspects of your professional development that are different than those of domestic doctoral students; this includes where you can work, English language proficiency, and networking and professional culture in the US. For all questions related to visas and residency, please contact the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).

If you are not a native speaker of English and would like to improve your communications skills in English, check out these opportunities for networking and public speaking:

Networking resources for international students

Public speaking & outreach experience for international students

Where you can work

Resumes, cover letters, and interviewing

Frequently Asked Questions

There are many career options for people with PhD-level education. PhDs from both the humanities and STEM disciplines frequently go on to successful careers in government, marketing, K-12 education, non-profits, industry, consulting, entrepreneurship, university administration, and many more fields. To get a better idea of possible career routes for PhDs beyond the professoriate, we highly recommend visiting Beyond the Academy on our Career Success site and Versatile PhD (note: first time users will need to log in with their MSU NetID and password). The “Discover Interesting Career Paths” page on Versatile PhD is a fantastic resource for discovering the many career options available to PhDs. In addition, the site features stories and the actual resumes and cover letters of PhDs and ABDs who successfully made the transition from academia into a career outside the academy.
 

At PhD Career Services, we offer one-on-one advising and are more than happy to help you explore career options and strategize your job search, whether you are looking for career in higher education, industry, non-profits, government, or are unsure where you’d like to work. We now offer online appointment booking as well.

In addition, we highly recommend conducting several informational interviews as you begin your job search. An informational interview is a brief meeting (typically lasting around 30 minutes) with someone working in a field you are interested in. Alumni from your department or research group, MSU alumni, alumni from other colleges and universities you have attended, friends, colleagues, former teachers, and anyone working in a field you are interested in are people you should approach for an informational interview. They can be conducted in person or over the phone, and are an excellent opportunity to ask questions like:

  • How did you become interested in the work you are now doing?
  • What are your major responsibilities in your current position?
  • What skills are necessary to succeed in this field?
  • What steps did you take in order to successfully break into this field?
  • How do people new to this field like myself break in?
  • What is your favorite part of your job?
  • Do you recommend talking to anyone else?

For more information on informational interviewing, read the PhD Career Services handout on networking. The independent website Branching Points also has an excellent how-to guide on informational interviewing geared towards PhDs.

We also recommend the use of LinkedIn to build a network of individuals who will be of assistance to you in your job search. For more information on effectively using LinkedIn, see the handout we developed.

As discussed in the previous question, reach out individuals who have jobs at companies or organizations that interest you for an informational interview. This is a brief meeting (usually 20-30 minutes) in which you gather information on the work someone in your field of interest is doing. Besides contacting family, friends, or professional colleagues, do not be afraid to reach out to people you have never met before since informational interviews are one of the best ways to grow your professional network. In addition, since informational interviews can be done over the phone, do not limit yourself to professionals working your geographic region.

Appropriate questions to ask during an informational interview include:

  • How did you become interested in the work you are now doing?
  • What are your major responsibilities in your current position?
  • What skills are necessary to succeed in this field?
  • What steps did you take in order to successfully break into this field?
  • How do people new to this field like myself break in?
  • What is your favorite part of your job?
  • Do you recommend talking to anyone else?

For more information on informational interviewing, read the PhD Career Services handout on networking. The independent website Branching Points also has an excellent how-to guide on informational interviewing geared towards PhDs.

We also recommend the use of LinkedIn to build a network of individuals who will be of assistance to you in your job search. For more information on effectively using LinkedIn, see the handout we developed.

After a series of informational interviews, we recommend pursuing volunteer work, internships, part-time jobs, and interim employment to gain the experience you need to succeed in a search for a full-time job. Employers are more apt to interview and hire candidates who can demonstrate real-world work experience outside of the required work for your degree.

A great place to start is LinkedIn and social media. Search where family members, former mentors, classmates and colleagues are working, and see if any work in positions that interest you. Reach out for an informational interview (see below), and at the end of the interview, ask if they have other colleagues where they work who you should also speak with. This is one of the best ways to grow your network. In addition, it is OK to also reach out to people who work in a field that interests you even if you have never met them. In fact, through requesting an informational interview instead of asking for a job, it shows a sincere interest in learning about a certain line of work and a dedication to learning all the relevant skills.

Never heard of an informational interview? This is a brief meeting (usually 20-30 minutes) in which you gather information on the work someone in your field of interest is doing. Besides contacting family, friends, or professional colleagues, do not be afraid to also reach out to people you have never met before. In addition, since informational interviews can be done over the phone, do not limit yourself to professionals working your geographic region.

Appropriate questions to ask during an informational interview include:

  • How did you become interested in the work you are now doing?
  • What are your major responsibilities in your current position?
  • What skills are necessary to succeed in this field?
  • What steps did you take in order to successfully break into this field?
  • How do people new to this field like myself break in?
  • What is your favorite part of your job?
  • Do you recommend talking to anyone else?

For more information on informational interviewing, read the PhD Career Services handout on networking. The independent website Branching Points also has an excellent how-to guide on informational interviewing geared towards PhDs.

We also recommend the use of LinkedIn to build a network of individuals who will be of assistance to you in your job search. For more information on effectively using LinkedIn, see the handout we developed.

In addition, attend networking events in your area, such as a local Versatile PhD meetups. There is even a Versatile PhD meetup group here in the Lansing area that you can join, and information on meetups is regularly posted on the Mid-Michigan Versatile PhD LinkedIn page. You can also use the People Finder feature in Versatile PhD to reach out to other PhDs you would like to network with. Attend job fairs with opportunities you are interested in, and join an association of professionals who work in the field you want to break into. In addition, contact the administrators in your college or department to see if they keep data on where alumni from your program currently work.

For doctoral students, a resume should be limited to 1-3 pages, whereas an academic CV has no page limit. A resume is a document that is tailored to the position you are applying to (whereas an academic CV is a comprehensive listing of all your professional and academic achievements). Carefully read through the description of the position to which you plan to apply, and be sure that your resume focuses on the experiences that are most relevant to the position to which you are applying. Essential components include contact information, education, employment history, internships, languages, research, presentations, publications, and volunteer experience. Optional sections include a professional objective, a skills summary, qualifications, or awards. Be sure that your resume includes a variety of action verbs and that you avoid non-essential phrases. Include accomplishments, transferrable skills, and projects on which you took the lead. Your resume should not simply be a record of all the jobs you have held or a list of the duties you performed at each job. For more information on how to write a good resume, see our PhD resume handout. Since it's always a good idea to submit a cover letter along with a resume, we suggest reviewing our cover letter handout, as well.
 

To find salary information on large organizations, glassdoor.com has a large listing of salary information available for nonprofits and companies. They also have company reviews written by real employees as well as information on the interviewing process by actual interviewees. Websites like payscale.com provide national salary averages for certain position types as well as salary averages for certain geographic areas, but unlike Glassdoor, you cannot search for salary information at a specific company.

In addition, the Negotiating Your Job Offer Page on our website is an excellent resource on how to negotiate salary and benefits once you’ve been offered a job, in addition to negotiating research and travel, start date, vacation time, signing bonuses, etc.

If you are interested in working in academia and would like to find out average salaries for faculty at US colleges and universities, visit the Inside Higher Ed website for information from the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) on compensation for university professors from 2014-15.

While there is not “one stop shopping” for careers outside the academy, there are many online resources that list jobs relevant to PhDs seeking a career outside the Academy. For those seeking a position in higher education administration, we recommend:
For those in the STEM disciplines, recommended job, internship and postdoc boards include:
If you are interested in non-profit careers, be sure to follow:
If you are interesting in working in government, job boards include:
In addition, My Spartan Career is another fantastic resource for your job hunt and opportunities are available to all MSU students. Visit the MSU Career Network website to login.

If you are an unknown candidate, employers will be less likely to take an interest in you. While you might have the right education or background to do the job well, employers tend to favor candidates who are known to them and who they know through personal experience could do the job well.

You may be asking, “how do I get to know people at a workplace where I don’t know anyone?” The best way to do this is to conduct a series of informational interviews (see below). A good place to start is by reaching out to graduate alumni from Michigan State who work at the organization you would like to work at. Second, identify the positions that would be the best fit for you and reach out to people currently working in these positions, stressing you want to learn more about the work they do. The best resources through which to find potential informational interviewees is through browsing the staff page of company’s website (if available) and also by using LinkedIn. If you’ve never used LinkedIn and are unfamiliar with how to use this tool to build your network, please read the handout on using LinkedIn that our office has developed.

Once you identify who you want to reach out to, compose a note requesting an informational interview. If you have never heard of an informational interview, this is a brief meeting (usually 20-30 minutes) in which you gather information on the work someone in your field of interest is doing. Since informational interviews can be done over the phone, do not limit yourself to professionals working your geographic region.

Remember: an informational interview is about gather information, and the purpose is not to ask for a job. Appropriate questions to ask during an informational interview include:

  • How did you become interested in the work you are now doing?
  • What are your major responsibilities in your current position?
  • What skills are necessary to succeed in this field?
  • What steps did you take in order to successfully break into this field?
  • How do people new to this field like myself break in?
  • What is your favorite part of your job?
  • Do you recommend talking to anyone else?

For more information on informational interviewing, read the PhD Career Services handout on networking. The independent website Branching Points also has an excellent how-to guide on informational interviewing geared towards PhDs.

In general, it’s better to focus on quality, not quantity, of job applications. We recommend that you customize your resume, cover letter, and other requested materials, for each position you apply for. This requires more time and research, but also makes you a more attractive candidate to employers.

Another reason why you may not be getting interviews or offers is a lack of experience in the field you are hoping to break into. If you cannot demonstrate that you have developed the correct skill set or the required experience for the position to which to you are applying, consider gaining additional experience through volunteering, an internship, a temporary job, or part-time work. If you have built a professional network through informational interviews (see previous question for more information on informational interviews), tell your connections you are looking to gain more experience in their field and would love to be of service to their company or non-profit as an intern or volunteer, or through performing any available part-time or temporary work. Doing this shows that you are willing to learn to do the organization’s work well, and you will stand out from your competition with your increased level of experience. Check out our page "Getting Experience" for more ideas.

Advising


Click here to schedule an advising appointment


Advisors:

John VasquezJohn Vasquez - Doctoral Fellow, handles office communciations, social media, and conducts general advising, including CV, cover letter, and resumes; career exploration; job search advice; interview preparation; networking.
  
  

Have other questions? Contact our office by emailing hireaphd@msu.edu.

Employers

Are you interested in hiring Michigan State University graduate students in your company or organization? Email hireaphd@msu.edu to find out how to partner with us!

We also recommend taking a moment to listen to the interview "Why Should Employers Hire PhDs?" with Dr. Julia McAnallen and Paul Artale.

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