Taking the leap from academia into industry is a daunting one. However this does not mean you have to start from square one. The skill sets you develop and knowledge you acquire from university courses can set you up for starting an industry career. This summarizes how I got a job within market research in Berlin, Germany after I got my degree, along with some tips on finding your next gig.
As someone from a social science field (shout-out to my fellow linguists), I found myself the most engaged during my statistics classes and enjoyed working with R. This developed into a deeper interest in statistics. From there I did some quick googling on what sorts of careers I could go into that involved statistical analyses. I found myself aligned with the career path of a data analyst, but I lacked programming experience.
Jobs in data analytics often require experience in SQL and Python and while I had little to no experience in either languages, I found some resources from Kaggle and Codeacademy on Python and SQL for beginners, and both sites not only teach you the basics, but also provide small project opportunities to apply your newly learned skills. From there I found some sample datasets from Kaggle that I could do exploratory data analyses on and ideas for side projects that would be relevant to my ideal career path.
Ultimately, I found that many of my skills matched better with market research, which involves using Microsoft Excel (by way of Pivot Tables) and SPSS. With “research” in the name, a background in the social sciences prepared me for a lot of the same processes that happen in market research. For example, empirical research methods and market research overlap in terms of data analyses, experimental design, and reporting results.
I was lucky enough to have a few internships and job experiences under my belt by the time I graduated. The "softer" skills such as networking, interviewing, and learning about ways of working prepared me to jump into a career right after I defended my master thesis. If you're still figuring out what you'd like to do after university, the following outlines some suggestions on finding inspiration from your own experiences and from what others have done.
Marketing Your Skills
If you don’t know what skills to highlight on your CV, find some job listings for positions you might be interested in. Pay attention to the skills required for the job (especially the top few), and match them to your set of skills. If you’re at a more advanced level, it would be good to also note that. Having those keywords will have your CV noted in the applicant tracking system and should at least get you an initial interview.
If you don't remember exactly what you did in past jobs or classes, now would be a good time to start a "brag sheet". This is where you write down things you've done in the past, the tools you used, the skills you brought to the table, and the outcomes. As the name implies, you have to "brag" about yourself; even though it's often used by those who are applying to university for the first time, a brag sheet is very helpful and should be updated every now and then, when it's once again time to apply for a new position (oh, you thought this job would be your first and last? Think again!), or for getting a raise/promotion. Read this helpful post on brag sheets to get started (a lot of brag sheet resources are for those applying to university, but this one on MBA admissions is pretty applicable for professional situations).
Nowadays, many interviews are held virtually on platforms like Google Meet or Zoom. As you would in an in-person interview, at the very least, wear something presentable on top (you can keep the pajama bottoms on as long as the camera stays up!) Don’t be afraid to talk about some class projects or extracurriculars that would be relevant for the job. Use the STAR method to clearly and concisely respond to questions about, for example, a time you failed or your greatest success. Remember that the interviewer is human too and that the interview should be a conversation between both parties.
Playing the Waiting Game
After an interview--especially the 2nd one or when you’re talking with a hiring manager--it is never a bad idea to send a thank-you email for the interviewer’s time and consideration. This could put you ahead of the other applicants and keep you in the interviewer’s mind. Plus, who doesn’t like a nice little thank-you?
By now you’re probably twiddling your thumbs hoping to get some feedback and find out the outcome of that interview. It’s best to avoid asking the interviewer 2 or 3 days afterwards (after all, they have other tasks too!), but if it’s been a week or more, it doesn't hurt to gently nudge them with an inquiry if they haven’t given you an estimation on when to expect feedback. It's easy to use this time in limbo to worry about your interview, but take it from me--a fellow overthinker, that performing mental gymnastics affects only you, and often negatively.
Even if that opportunity becomes a bust, at the beginning stages of your career, think of that past interview as practice, for when the next big thing comes your way. This won't be your first and definitely won't be the last one, and throughout your career and life in general, rejection is going to be a huge part of it. If the interviewer was gracious enough to provide constructive feedback, make note of it and sharpen your skills, or apply it to the next interview. And if you move on to the next round, then congratulations!
Some Parting Words
Lastly, remember to take time for yourself! Breathe! Finding a job is hard, and it’s even harder when you’re still juggling other responsibilities. Starting a career in a new field is tough on its own and it’s fine to take a step back and figure out what you want to do (or don’t want to do). There are only 24 hours in a day and it’s hard enough to study on top of looking for a job. You don’t have to have everything figured out by the time you graduate, but it is nice to have something lined up by the time you enter the real world.