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Lunch and Learn: Non-Academic Careers

Date: January 19, 2016

Invited Speakers:

  • Julie Swaner, PhD, Director, Alumni Career Programs
  • Gregory Hughes, Recruitment Coordinator, Univ. of Utah Division of Human Resources
  • Francine Mahak, PhD, Graduate Career Counselor, Univ. of Utah Career Services

Summary: Our panelists packed a lot of advice on non-academic careers into our one hour Lunch & Learn. Topics included identifying a job, the application process, negotiation, and lots of helpful resources.  A summary of key discussion points are provided below. Remember this is a summary of a panel discussion. As such, each comment does not necessarily represent the viewpoint or opinion of all panelists. Following this advice cannot guarantee you success on the job market, but we hope it helps.

Preparing for a Non-Academic Career during Your Postdoc:

  • Think about your ideal job. Find postings for that type of job, and then work during your postdoc to build the skill necessary for that job. Skill building could involve taking a course, getting a certification, or learning a software program.
  • Informational interviews can be helpful in identifying your ideal job. Contact individuals in local companies and ask to meet with them in-person or to talk on the phone. Use these conversations to learn how they successfully got their job as well as the pros and cons of their career path. Ask whom else you might talk with. Follow up with a thank-you note and update them periodically. (Do not ask for a job; you are exploring and relationship-building.)

Applying for Jobs:

  • Be persistent! After you submit online, follow-up to verify that your materials were received. If you contact an individual person with a question, send a follow-up e-mail until you get a response.
  • Network! Many jobs are filled through referrals from current employees.
  • Start applying for jobs early. Applying will help you focus your current effort on key skills. Additionally, there is a learning curve to the application process, so you will get better at applying the more you do it.
  • Protect your identity. Do not provide social security numbers through online job application portals. Consider only including your city and state on your resume, instead of your full personal address.
  • If you are not a U.S. citizen, research which companies have the ability to hire internationally. Whether a company can sponsor your visa is often determined by Human Resources policy.
  • Do not be offended when HR personnel do not follow-up with you. Hearing back from companies is a courtesy, which occurs infrequently.

Resume & Cover Letter Tips:

  • Tailor both your resume and cover letter to the specific job
  • Emphasize transferable skills. As a postdoc you are an excellent candidate with desired skills. Emphasize your strengths whether they are computational, analytical, interpersonal, managerial, or all of the above.
  • Start your resume with a professional summary. This summary should be concise and utilize terminology from the job posting. There is no need to add a “Summary” header: simply bold a definition of yourself and your main qualifications, followed by a few bullets addressing their main requirements.
  • Remember application materials are scanned. People reading your materials do not have time to synthesize. They may only be spending 6-10 seconds on your resume.
  • Leave things out of your resume. Focus only on the skills and accomplishments most pertinent for the job. This could mean deleting your conference presentations, your teaching experience, unless your bullets show specific skills and accomplishments that would transfer to the job, or all but selected publications that relate to what they do. You can provide a link to your LinkedIn profile in the header of your resume, so people can see all of your accomplishments if they’re interested.
  • Include specific information regarding when you are available to start a job and that you are willing to relocate.
  • Think about a business mindset. Academia is about “what we know”, while industry is about “what we can do.” Focus your resume on your accomplishments. When you interview, lead with your main point.

Negotiating a Job Offer:

  • Remember jobs offers are not just about the salary. The benefits package, location, team dynamic, work environment, and quality of the job should all be considered.
  • Do your research (see resources below). Understand what people in comparable positions receive in terms of salary and compensation package.
  • Salary negotiations can be tricky, and it is better that they name a number first. Go into an interview with your salary research information in mind, but if you are asked to name your target salary, try to deflect the question. For example, ask for the salary range that the company was considering, and then negotiate from there. Alternatively, indicate that you need a better understanding of the job responsibilities and the whole compensation package before you can evaluate a potential salary.
  • Several good books provide helpful information on how to successfully negotiate, such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg or Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Online Resources:

  • Job Search
    • – comprehensive database to search for jobs as well as to identify people to contact at companies; University of Utah has an institutional license, but you must be a member of the Alumni Association and pay $35 for the product for six months. This gives you access to all the UCareerPath online resources.
    • – free database for searching for jobs; useful for identifying keywords associated with jobs and browsing possible career opportunities
    • – database for national and international job search
    • – Utah Business provides lists of top companies by sector, growth, size, and more
    • – provides interactive tools for browsing occupations and identifying careers that showcase specific skills
  • Career Advice
  • Salary

In-Person Resources:

  • Headhunters are hired by employers to identify and vet potential applicants. Although you may find a job through a headhunter, the majority of positions are not filled through headhunters.
  • Career coaches work with you to identify potential jobs, craft your resume, coach you on interviewing and negotiation, and polish your application materials.
  • University of Utah Alumni Association – The University of Utah Alumni Association offers career advising and coaching to alumni, faculty, staff, and non-U of U graduates (That includes postdocs!). Joining the University Alumni Association requires a small fee. Benefits include a one-hour consultation to critique a resume, prepare for an interview, or get career advice; access to two half-day workshops on the job market; access to the webinar series; and a subscription to their job e-newsletter.  To sign-up visit Questions can be directed to Julie Swaner at

Career Fair – The University of Utah sponsors career fairs annually, in the fall and spring semesters. To help you navigate the career fair, download the Utah Career Fair Plus app. Upcoming career fairs are advertised through Career Services:

Last Updated: 9/25/23