Job Search

Grad Life Voices: Hope in the Job Search

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-written by Jennifer, a current graduate wife

Current graduate wife, Megan Lucy, recently finished up a great five part series about finding a job after relocating for your significant other’s academic career. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend that you do. She gave some great advice, all which I would have loved to have had four years ago when my journey as a graduate wife began. She shared some really practical tips, and many times, took the words right out of my mouth.

I started this adventure fresh out of college. I graduated in December and was married in May. That August the hubs and I left Arkansas for Boston, where life in the “real world” truly began.

I searched for weeks for a job before we left for Massachusetts, sending out dozens of cover letters, and praying for an interview. I thought my resume was great for just coming out of college. I had an internship, relevant job experience, and a ton of great volunteer work, but apparently, none of those things were enough. I was naïve and really had no idea how the whole job searching process worked. I was likely applying for jobs that I was under qualified for, and became discouraged after just a couple weeks of searching. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure and was stressed when I wasn’t receiving any positive results. My husband had a scholarship, but only enough to partially cover his tuition. There was no stipend involved for his master’s degree, so we were entering this game with little to no financial security. The pressure was on.

As I had spent a lot of time babysitting during college, I thought that maybe I would give that a try in Boston, just long enough for us to get on our feet. I figured that the job hunt would likely be easier when we actually lived there, and decided to put the search on hold until we made it to town.

A week before we left Arkansas I talked with a family who was looking for some help– full time help to be exact. We skyped before I left, met the day after I got into town, and I then started work a few days later. This changed my plan a bit as it was a full time gig and I had committed to work for the family until the end of the school year. I told myself that during that time I would search for other jobs and begin my career in journalism at the end of the year. Well, the year came and went, and I committed to a second year with the family. Womp, womp….

My two years with this family were lovely. They treated me wonderfully and I learned many great lessons along the way. Some days were incredibly tough, but I truly grew to care for the girls I looked after. While most days I enjoyed what I did, I often felt ashamed when people would ask what my job was. “I am a journalist working as a nanny,” I would often say. I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t doing something greater, something more relevant to my preferred career choice. Despite childcare being a challenging field in its own right, I felt like I had taken the easy road by settling for a job that wasn’t right for me. Searching for a job was hard, and rejection was even harder. I gave up before I ever really started. I found security in a paycheck, and put my dreams on hold.

Eventually, our time in Boston came to an end, as did my time as a nanny. We were headed home to Arkansas for a bit and I was excited to finally begin my career as journalist. I set some writing goals and started to reach out to local publications. After a few months of being in town, I was writing consistently and working part time doing PR. My schedule was chaotic but it felt good to be creative and work a job in the field that I wanted to work in all along.

As happy as I was with the way things were, I knew that they wouldn’t be that way for long. Just like that, it was time to move again, and I was searching for a job once more.

I felt a little more confident about finding a job as we prepared to move to Austin. I had gained a lot of great work experience in Arkansas, and I was sure that I would quickly find a job once we made it to town. Unfortunately, my thinking was wrong. It took three months of consecutive work until I was finally hired. To some, three months may sound like a lifetime, it certainly felt that way to me, but according to research, three months is the average low. Some people search six months or longer before landing themselves a job.

Those three months were three of the hardest months of my life. My emotional state was determined by how well my job search was going. If I got a call back, I had a pretty good day. If I got a rejection, well, that day wasn’t so great. Eventually, even good news wasn’t so good. The whole thing made me feel ashamed and rejected, and very much unlike myself.

I feel okay talking about this now because I finally have a job, but a couple of months ago, you could find me crouching on the kitchen floor crying over our grocery bill. Most days I had to drag myself out of bed, and then there were those days that you could find me sitting in the closet, feeling as if I couldn’t bear the weight of it all. I felt so much pressure and terrified by the unknown.

Sharing with you what I went through isn’t necessarily easily, but three months ago, I needed to read something like this. I needed to know then that I wasn’t alone, and I needed someone then to tell me that it’s okay to crumble. Just because you fall apart every now and then doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means that rejection is tough, and that job searching takes some time, no matter how qualified you are. Things will pan out, it just takes patience, which sometimes is hard to find.

I don’t have any great words of advice on how to get through it, accept to say that you will. It’s incredibly discouraging at times, but hard work does pay off. Don’t get down on yourself when things aren’t going the way you expect, and just keep moving forward. Take breaks when you need them and continue to do things that you love. Don’t let searching for a job rule your life. It may seem like your world at times, but really, it’s only part of it.

Through this all, my dissatisfaction with work in Boston, my work enjoyment in Arkansas, and my stress in Austin, I’ve learned many different lessons about life and myself. Sometimes living life as a graduate wife makes tasks that are already hard, just a little bit harder, but I am learning how to make due. I’d like to believe that this lifestyle helps to make me a bit stronger, and prepares me for what the future may hold. I am more than happy to support my husband during this time; it’s just not easy some days. If you are struggling emotionally like I know I was, hang in there. You are not alone. You’ll figure it out and make it through this, and soon, I guarantee you’ll have a job. Meanwhile, I encourage you to take this weekend to relax. Spend time with the man that you love, and give yourself a break. With my deepest sincerity, good luck! I hope that your job search will come to an end soon!

Job Search

Two Careers, One Big Move: Job Searching When Moving for a Partner’s Graduate School – Part 5

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written by Megan Lucy, a current graduate wife

For many of our families, the graduate student is not the only one whose career is deeply affected by the decision to enter graduate school. Partners who choose to re-locate with their student often face a difficult job search of their own. This series brings together tips I have learned from my experiences studying public personnel management, working with hiring and promotion in the university setting, and my own job searches throughout our graduate school journey. The series is in five parts:

Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With

Part 2: Preparing a Solid Resume

Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search

Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search

Job searches involve a special level of frustration. They come with long waits, the knowledge that people are judging you, rejection, and uncertainty. None of these things are fun. None of them are entirely avoidable. However, by the third or fourth time I went through the job search process, I found that while I couldn’t control whether a company rejected me, or how quickly they responded to my calls, I could manage my reactions to the frustrations of job searching. I could put my best work into the search, without it driving me insane. Here are some of the best tips I have:

  1. Keep a schedule. Set a specific day and time during which you will work on your search. It is best if you can set this time during the usual workday, so you will be able to be in touch with potential employers during that time. However, if you are working and searching at the same time, that may not be possible. Perhaps you can set aside one hour each night, or a block of time on Saturday morning. Keep that time sacred, and devoted entirely to your search. More importantly, try not to worry or think about the search outside of that time.
  2. Work on other projects. My plan for my first post-grad job search was to work on it all day, every day until I was hired. This is unrealistic. There may be long periods of time during a job search when there is nothing you can do but wait. If the job search is all you are thinking about, the waiting will frustrate you immensely. Instead of worrying, fill this time with something else. If you are moving, you can be working on sorting through your belongings, learning about what to see in your new town, or planning décor for your new home. Do something fun, binge-watch a TV show, start a new craft, learn to play a symphony on the kazoo. Anything is better than making yourself sick with worry.
  3. Lean on your partner. At the Graduate Wife, we talk a lot about being there for your partner during the ups and downs of graduate school. Sometimes it is a lot easier to give support than to receive it. A job search is a good time to work on the skill of receiving support. Speak up and let your partner know what is frustrating you and let him/her comfort you. Let your partner remind you of how much he/she loves you and that your value to him/her is not tied to your career. This is a time to be thankful for being lucky enough to have a partner to share life’s journey with.
  4. Don’t take it personally. This is a tough one, especially if you are leaving a job you like and are well respected at, especially if this is your first search or first in a long time, especially if you are human. Our careers are important, and can feel like an essential part of who we are. Facing the multiple rejections that are par for the course in a job search can hurt your self-esteem and make you question who you are- but only if you let it. I’ve been on the hiring committee side of job searches before too. The decisions that hiring committees make are really tough. They may see dozens of equally qualified applicants. It could be that they have to choose between multiple people who would be a great fit for the one opening they have. Just because you are not chosen for a job doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have been great at it. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for a career, or that you aren’t a valuable individual. It means one thing- there was one opening, and this time it wasn’t for you. Maybe the next one will be. Maybe the one after that. There will be a place for you to work and contribute. In the interim, your job isn’t the only awesome thing about you. You do a ton of awesome stuff every day that makes you unique. If you don’t believe me- go ask your grad student. He or she knows how amazing you are.
  5. Remind yourself that the search is hard and long, and that’s okay. I’m not a patient person. I’m the type of person who sends an email and then refreshes the screen to see if I’ve gotten a response yet. That’s not how job searches work. Job searches can take many months, and that’s okay. It’s okay because you want the organization that hires you to have taken their part of the search as seriously as you have taken yours. You spent a lot of time, effort, and thought preparing a resume and application. You want the people reading it to take the time to consider your skills and accomplishments and be thoughtful about determining if you are a good fit for the organization. You want to work for an organization that cares about making the right decisions in who they hire, and that takes time.

Best of luck to you on your job journey!

 

Job Search

Two Careers, One Big Move: Job Searching When Moving for a Partner’s Graduate School – Part 4

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written by Megan Lucy, a current graduate wife

For many of our families, the graduate student is not the only one whose career is deeply affected by the decision to enter graduate school. Partners who choose to re-locate with their student often face a difficult job search of their own. This series brings together tips I have learned from my experiences studying public personnel management, working with hiring and promotion in the university setting, and my own job searches throughout our graduate school journey. The series is in five parts:

Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With

Part 2: Preparing a Solid Resume

Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search

Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

Everybody has a story. Our stories are what set us apart and make us unique from everyone else in the world. The story of your career is what sets you apart from others applying for the same jobs. A story often begins with an outline, has a summary that entices readers to read more, and a plot built around a specific theme. In the story of a career the outline is your resume. Your resume hits all of the major plot points- where you worked when, what you accomplished, and characters- your own contact information, and that of your references. Thinking of your resume as the outline of a story will help you see how things go together, so you can find the theme of your story. The summary of a career story is a cover letter or screening interview. Your summary should be engaging, give a good idea of the overall plot and point readers in the direction to learn more. An interview is your opportunity to fully tell your story, develop your theme, and lead to the ultimate conclusion- that you are the best person for this job. Here are some tips I have found to tell a truly engaging story about your career:

  1. Get your story straight– Everything you write and say, your resume, cover letter, and interview questions should tell the same story. Make sure your outline- your resume- includes all of the necessary information, and is accurate. Double and triple check it. Then, when you write your cover letter, refer to specific information in your resume, and do the same in your interview. Be sure to bring copies of your resume and cover letter to the interview so you can easily refer to them.
  2. Find a common theme– It is not uncommon for partners of graduate students to have changed jobs multiple times while they travel from school to school with their student. While some may think of this as a liability, tell your story in a way that shows this experience as a strength. Try to find commonalities between your jobs, even if they seem very different at first glance. Maybe you worked as a barista, a telephone operator, and sales representative over the past five years. Highlight how each of these jobs made you better at customer service. Maybe you have been a web-designer, a lab tech, and an engineer. Explain how at each of these jobs you had opportunities to build critical thinking skills.
  3. Be Prepared for Plot Twists- Plot twists are those items in our resume that are unexpected and may confuse or concern the reader. In my own story, I have worked for a specific political party. My plot twist is that a potential employer of a different political inclination may see the name of my former employer on my resume and assume I wouldn’t be a good “fit” for the culture of the organization. I anticipate this and re-route the story back to my original plot- that I’m perfect for this job- by emphasizing the parts of my political work that were non-partisan, like helping veterans get their benefits, and working with people of the opposite party to solve local problems. Other plot twists could be periods of unemployment, time off to raise a family, a lost job, or major career change. Whatever your plot twist is, think of ways to use it to reinforce rather than damage your overall story.
  4. Be The Hero of Your Story- Sometimes it can be hard, or feel wrong to talk about yourself. A lot of times, for me, it is much easier to talk about how proud we are of others- our kids, our partner, our friends- than it is to talk about how proud we are of ourselves. Other people’s stories are awesome, and we should be proud to share them, but it is important to remember that, as far as your career story is concerned- YOU are the hero. Don’t be nervous about sharing your accomplishments, taking pride in your work, or talking about your strengths as an employee. In the setting of an interview this isn’t “bragging,” it is advertising yourself honestly, as the accomplished potential employee you are.
  5. Tell Your Story Over and Over- Some of the best stories are ones we can tell from memory- The Three Little Pigs, Sleeping Beauty, Spiderman’s origin story. We know these stories by heart because we have heard them told over and over again. Your career story should also be a story you know by heart. You should practice telling it, so that even when you are nervous, or caught off guard by a surprise interview opportunity, you are confident in how your story goes. A great way to practice is by having practice interviews with your partner (surely you’ve listened to him/her practice presentations enough that he/she owes you one!), a friend, or someone at a local career center. The feedback you get from practice interviews can be constructive, but just as constructive is the act of practicing itself.

Next Up, Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search.

 

Job Search

Two Careers, One Big Move: Job Searching When Moving for a Partner’s Graduate School – Part 3

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written by Megan Lucy, a current graduate wife

For many of our families, the graduate student is not the only one whose career is deeply affected by the decision to enter graduate school. Partners who choose to re-locate with their student often face a difficult job search of their own. This series brings together tips I have learned from my experiences studying public personnel management, working with hiring and promotion in the university setting, and my own job searches throughout our graduate school journey. The series is in five parts:

Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With

Part 2: Preparing a Solid Resume

Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search

Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

The question that can seem the most daunting at the beginning of a job search is, “Where do I look?” When I was 16 and looking for my first job, I stopped at our local shopping mall, walked into each store, one by one and asked if they were hiring. It took all day, and I didn’t get a single call back from any of the stores I visited. It was an exhausting and demoralizing experience. The next time I looked for a job, I did my research, planned ahead, and ended up being able to choose from three competing and exciting offers in a relatively short period of time. The following lessons I’ve learned can help you hone in on your best chances of finding the right job, and saving your time, effort, and emotional health.

Lesson 1: Have a goal. This might seem silly. The goal of a job search is to get a job, you might say! Yes, but what kind of job and how quickly? Your life circumstances will determine the answers to these questions and help you set your goals. My first job search as a graduate wife was as a newlywed with little savings. We knew it was not possible for us to live off of my husband’s small stipend, so my goal was to find an acceptable job quickly. That turned out to be a short-term gig as a political campaign organizer that only lasted until Election Day. When the campaign job ended, we were more established in our new home, I had more connections in the community, and our finances were in better order. I could take more time for the next search. The campaign job made me realize that I wanted out of politics, and I decided that as we were likely always to be near a university, that university administration would be a better fit for me. My goal this time around was not to take the first job, but the best job. Knowing that a job search involving a change in career paths could take longer, I did free-lance content writing for a website, while I monitored local university job boards for the right opportunities. Within a few months, I had begun a new career helping faculty members gain promotion and tenure.

Lesson 2: Do some research. This is especially important if you are moving to a new city. You can feel even more lost than usual in a job search in a place you have never been to before. Start by reading up on your new city. Look at their Wikipedia page, city government page, convention and visitors bureau pages. Find the names of organizations in the city that employ people in your line of work. If you are a member of a professional organization, alumni group, or other organization, find out if they have a branch in your new town and reach out through those connections. Check with friends on social media to see if you have friends or friends of friends in the new place. These people may or may not know of a job opening for you, but they may be able to help in other ways, like giving you a place to spend the night when you come to town for an interview, or helping you know what streets to avoid during rush hour.

Lesson 3: Narrow your search. General job posting websites like monster.com and indeed.com may seem like the obvious place to start a search, but I have found them to be exceptionally frustrating and unproductive. Vacancies posted to these sites are often out-of-date, so that by the time you apply, the position has already been filled. Additionally, the sites are often not the method the hiring organizations prefer applications be sent through. Finally, it can be frustrating to sort through hundreds of vacancies you are not interested in to find one that applies to you. I have found that it is much more efficient to use your research to narrow your search to specific organizations you want to apply to. For instance, if you are looking for a job in a hospital, find the names of the hospitals in the area you are moving to, and look for postings on their human resources websites. The postings you find on an organization’s own website will more than likely be up-to-date and include the best information about what the company is looking for. Another place to look is field and region specific websites. Search for your state and field of work to see if there is a network of employers in your field with a job board targeted to your region. Examples of this would be the Kentucky Non-Profit Network, Ohio Museums Association, and the American Library Association. Others who work in your field may be able to give you tips about organizations like these that maintain field specific job boards. If you do find an opening on a job board, whether general or field specific, I suggest doing a follow up search on the hiring organization’s website to confirm that the vacancy is still open.

Lesson 4: Keep good records. Keep a list of vacancies you want to apply for, their deadlines, and where you are in the application process. Keep copies of email correspondence related to your job search, and take notes during any phone conversations you have. Staying organized will keep you from missing out on opportunities because you forgot to apply or lost track of the paperwork.

Up next, Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

 

Job Search

Two Careers, One Big Move: Job Searching When Moving for a Partner’s Graduate School – Part 2

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written by Megan Lucy, a current graduate wife

For many of our families, the graduate student is not the only one whose career is deeply affected by the decision to enter graduate school. Partners who choose to re-locate with their student often face a difficult job search of their own. This series brings together tips I have learned from my experiences studying public personnel management, working with hiring and promotion in the university setting, and my own job searches throughout our graduate school journey. The series is in five parts:

Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With

Part 2: Preparing a Solid CV or Resume

Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search

Part 2: Preparing a Solid CV or Resume

Anyone who has seen a graduate student spend hours pouring over journal articles and staying up into the wee hours of the morning writing a dissertation knows the power that a paper can have over lives. The day my husband hit send on his doctoral program applications was the day I started revising an important paper of my own- my resume. Considering the importance a document such as a resume or CV plays in our lives, it is no wonder there are so many competing opinions on what makes a killer resume stand out. Should it be one page or twenty? Should you include every job, or only the most relevant ones? Should it be creative or standard? Enter a search for resume advice and you will get all sorts of conflicting answers to these questions. The truth is, that while confusing, I have found all of that advice to be correct, just not for everyone. The best way to make sure your resume is solid is to make sure it is a good fit- a good fit for the field you are wanting to enter, a good fit for the way the document will be reviewed, and a good fit for you as an individual. Here are some questions to consider to help you find that “fit.”

1. What do the resumes of others in this line of work look like?

Different careers require different types of resumes. Academics often have 15-30 page long Curriculum Vitae, while careers in business may require short 1-2 page resumes. A graphic design firm may value an artistic resume or a tech company may be “wowed” by a resume with an online component, while such extras might get overlooked or looked down on in another field. To figure out what is expected of a resume in your line of work, look at the resumes of others in your field. If you have friends in your line of work, ask if you can see their resumes. You can also find examples by looking at sites like LinkedIn, but remember to search specifically for people in jobs similar to the one you want.

2. What is expected for a specific job vacancy?

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is only having one resume that they use to apply for every vacancy. This is a mistake because what is valued by one organization for a specific vacancy, may not be what another organization is looking for, or even what the same organization is looking for in a different vacancy. You should read job ads carefully to find out what that specific ad is asking for, and tailor your resume to fit that specific ad. In the previous installment, I mentioned keeping a long form CV from which you can cut and paste different experiences. This is where that comes in. A summer job as a barista might not be helpful if you are applying for a web-design job, and could be left off that resume. However, if you are applying for a job in sales, the barista gig could demonstrate good customer service skills, while the fact that you know C++ might not be as relevant. In most cases, especially where space is concerned, it is okay to pick and choose what to include on your resume.

3. What format does the document need to be in?

There are a lot of different ways to apply for a job these days. Some organizations will still accept paper resumes mailed to their P.O. box or hand delivered. Others want applications attached to an email to a specific address. Still, others won’t accept your pre-written resume at all, and will require you to paste information from it into their web form. It is important to look in the job ad for this information, and follow it as closely as possible. Chances are, if you do not submit your resume via the preferred method, it will not be considered.

4. Are any additional documents needed?

Depending on the job you are applying for, you may be asked for additional documents. You may need to provide transcripts, licensing paperwork, proof of car insurance, letters of recommendation, or other field specific documents. Check the job posting for this information and be sure to provide all of the required documentation, all at the same time so nothing gets separated. One additional document that may or may not be mentioned in a job ad, and is often controversial is a cover letter. When I worked in politics I was told to never include a cover letter, because it would be ignored. When I moved to university administration, and was seeking jobs where writing skills were valued, my cover letters became very important. If you are unsure if you need a cover letter, ask others in the field, or look for examples from your field online. Remember, like the resume itself, it is essential that cover letters be unique for every application you submit.

Next up, Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

 

Job Search

Two Careers, One Big Move: Job Searching When Moving for a Partner’s Graduate School – Part 1

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written by Megan Lucy, a current graduate wife

For many of our families, the graduate student is not the only one whose career is deeply affected by the decision to enter graduate school. Partners who choose to re-locate with their student often face a difficult job search of their own. This series brings together tips I have learned from my experiences studying public personnel management, working with hiring and promotion in the university setting, and my own job searches throughout our graduate school journey. The series is in five parts:

Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With

Part 2: Preparing a Solid Resume

Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search

Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career

Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search

Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With

Moving from between cities, states, even countries, is a common part of the graduate school life. The letter of acceptance that marks the end of an anxiety ridden search for a graduate program for one partner can mean the beginning of an equally stressful job search for the other. I’ve had to move twice, and switch jobs three times in the short three years my husband has been in graduate school. Each time was frustrating and scary, but it has gotten better along the way. In this part of the Two Careers, One Big Move series I cover ways to prepare for a job search long before it happens, so you aren’t overwhelmed when it is time for the search to begin.

Tip 1: Document your career as it happens.

Pulling together a career history right before a job search is much more difficult than cultivating one throughout your day-to-day life. I recommend starting a file folder (either hard copy or on your computer, your choice) each time you begin a new job. In that folder, place your job description, any evaluations you receive, and examples of projects you worked on. Additionally, anytime you receive a complementary note, add it to the folder. Later, when you are searching for a new job, you can refer to these documents for evidence and inspiration.

Tip 2: Cultivate skills during periods of unemployment or underemployment

At different times in your life, you may find yourself out of work either by consequence or by choice. Likewise, a difficult move or other circumstances may find you in a job that doesn’t realize your full potential. It is important to still consider these periods as part of your long term career and be building skills throughout. Taking classes and volunteering are two excellent ways to learn new skills and keep old skills sharp. Likewise, try to stay up to date on current trends in your field by reading websites, professional journals and magazines related to your line of work.

Tip 3: Maintain a good relationship with potential references

If you are considered a finalist for a position, the organization looking to hire you will call your former employers to ask their opinion on your work. You want these people a) to remember you and b) to give you a glowing reference. The first step to maintaining good references is to avoid making a bad one. When you must leave a job, do so respectfully and in a way that causes as little damage to the organization as possible. The second key to having good references is to keep in touch. Email or call your former employers and coworkers from time to time to say hi, so that when you call to ask them to be a reference, they will remember you. When you are entering a job search, you should prepare those who will serve as your references. Send them an email explaining your job search, and politely ask them to be a reference for you. Attach a copy of your CV or resume so they will have it to refer when your potential new employer calls.

Tip 4: Keep a Long-Form Curriculum Vitae

Some fields, perhaps your partner’s academic field, require a career spanning Curriculum Vitae, that lists every job that person has had, every responsibility she has had in those jobs, awards won, courses taught, papers published, and the list goes on. For a professional with a decades long career, a CV may reach 30 or more pages. Other fields of work require a much shorter resume, sometimes only one page long. No matter the field you are in, keeping in mind the idea of a long-form CV can be very helpful. Keep one long document that lists everything you have ever worked on, including volunteer work and all of your responsibilities and achievements. Later, when you are deciding what makes the cut for a shorter resume, you can cut and paste from this much longer list.

Tip 5: Seek out opportunities to develop new skills

Versatility is a very useful tool for the partner of a graduate student, especially one who must move frequently. Try not to limit yourself to what your current job description says. When opportunities arise to be part of a different project, join a different committee, or receive different training than you normally would, seize these chances. Through saying yes to something different, you may discover a career path you hadn’t considered before, become qualified for positions you previously had not been, and demonstrate your value as an employee willing to be a team player and learn new things.

Up next, Part 2: Preparing a Solid CV or Resume

Dear Laura

Dear Laura: Losing Hope

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

Numerous job rejections can lead a grad to feel useless and like a failure. How can one feel better about their self-worth, and get the motivation back to apply for more?

Sincerely,
Losing hope

Dear Losing Hope,

I so deeply wish we were in the same place, sharing a cup of something delicious, so I could lean over and give you a big hug.  And I’m not all that hugg-y, this is just one of those times….

I’m going to speak in a language those of us in the UK know all too well this time of year: viruses.  Have you ever been really ill, with chills, headache, cough, sore throat- the works!- and finally after you feel it’s lingered too long, you go to the doctor or GP and he or she says, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do to treat you; it seems to be viral, so the only thing that will help is rest, liquids, and patience.” Well, I’m about to sound just like that doctor. There is nothing I can do to make this season of waiting and disappointment go away – you have to take care of yourself and wait it out and know it will not last forever.  There will be a breakthrough one way or another and I can guarantee you will not live this way for the rest of your earthly days. So, here’s my version of vitamin c, herbal tea, and a fleecy warm throw blanket:

1.  Don’t narrow. Broaden. Our tendency in the face of rejection is to either quit and walk away, or refocus our efforts and try again;  fight or flight, so to speak. Desperate to avoid feeling that sense of dejection ever again, we either jump ship or redouble our attention to every detail, disciplining ourselves to perfect the application/ job talk/ interview responses.  Inevitably our anxieties, insecurities, and uncertainties build.

Just like an artist’s work, the academics’ publications, conference presentations, and research are personal, an expression of the inner workings of their hearts and intellect. So, it feels personal when one places one’s work in someone’s hands, that someone reads or reviews it, and decides it’s not good enough.  In that case, it feels like * you* are not good enough – not true, but I get it- and you just want to work harder so you can be deemed good enough.

Of course, yes, we need to refine anything that might increase chances of success in future applications.  However, I think it’s best to avoid becoming obsessive about it.  Talk to your advisor or mentors, do what you can to increase your application’s strength, then press save, close your computer and walk away for the evening or the afternoon or whatever period of time you can wrestle yourself away.  If a painter or photographer or sculptor created pieces that again and again were rejected by critics who didn’t share their vision, style or aesthetic sense, would it be advisable for them to lock themselves in a dark room day after day and simply by sheer force of will, drive themselves to create something beautiful? No. They’d need to be out in the world to be inspired, they’d need to be part of something larger than themselves in order to generate anything worthwhile (and not totally depressing). They’d need encouragement to continue to produce their own style of art – critics be damned- and to just keep working toward finding the right buyer or market or audience.

Same to you, Academic.  Resist the urge to sit in front of your laptop pounding and pounding the keys trying to create something brilliant and worthwhile. Get out there and interact with the world, with other disciplines, with strangers and friends and loved ones and nature, and be refreshed.  Then, and only then, get back to pounding those keys and let’s see what happens next.

2.  Do something for someone else, even though you don’t feel like it. It’s me, the seemingly unhelpful doctor again, telling you to drink fluids. I know you think it won’t make any difference to how you’re feeling, but just hear me: it will. Take five minutes, thirty minutes, one hour, four hours – anything!- and go do something to serve someone else.  Get out of the muck of academia for just a second. Buy someone flowers and leave a note of encouragement. Send a card to someone.  Buy a coffee for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop. Pick up litter. Donate a bunch of household goods to a homeless shelter.  Serve a meal at the soup kitchen.  Bake something and give it away. Call someone who would love to hear from you. Clean for someone. Help someone with their groceries.  Anonomously do something nice for someone, somewhere.

Prescription: Do one such thing every day during this time of waiting and you’ll survive with your heart, your mind, and your sense of self in tact.

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com

Dear Laura

REPOST: Dear Laura: Baffled

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

What if you follow your spouse to grad school to support their dream, and after years of support through school, when they struggle to find a job they say you’re putting too much pressure on them to be the one with the career and why can’t you find something and be the breadwinner?

Sincerely,

Baffled

Dear Baffled,

It was a bright, crisp winter day and as I walked through our neighborhood, I came across a towering, solid oak bookcase – free to a good home –  which seemed like it might serve as a great central piece in our teeny (think grad student budget on a diet) apartment. I briskly padded home, begged my brawny hubby to come help me, and we wrestled the monstrous piece of furniture four blocks home and then up the steep, treacherous staircase to our flat. (Can you see where this is going?)  Need I say: it didn’t fit in our place?  But how long did it take for me to come to that realization, and how many times did I (gently?) instruct my husband to try this possibility and that, and how long until we muscled the @#$% bookcase back down those steep stairs and out to the street with a “Free” sign reluctantly stuck to its solid back?   I have no idea how much time elapsed, but I know the way the story ends: though I had said nothing about not having enough money for a nice bookcases, and though in the wrestling I never mentioned that we were grown adults living in a postage-stamp-sized apartment because my husband was a graduate student, this scene closed with him yelling out “maybe you should have married a doctor or a lawyer!!!” and stomping off.  Thus began a cold silence between us that lasted well into the next day.

I was baffled. What had happened? All I did was try to fit a bookcase into our flat, and it ended in an explosion (one that has become a great joke between us, and between friends who were privy to the story), but I could not understand how it got there, because I didn’t feel it was a commentary on my husband’s success or potential; it was just a bookcase.

What I know now is that when one is married or partnered, the graduate journey is a supreme exercise in risk and vulnerability, for both spouses.  The vulnerability flows in and out of seemingly benign conversations, it creeps into moods and thoughts, it certainly shadows daily decisions and conversations of life’s challenges.  The vulnerability is sometimes painful, sometimes debilitating, and much of the time, can be terrifying.

The graduate student him or herself has chosen to take a very public risk, to invest resources and life capital into a dream, knowing that it may amount to nothing; he or she might have to bear the shame of having risked and lost, with nowhere to hide.  The student’s spouse is asked to counterintuitively place complete trust in the other person’s dream, but with no control over the journey itself; the quality of work, the decisions made every day at the office, the job interviews which form the path for future career development are completely out of the spouse’s hands.  The sacrifices are deep, the mutual support required is intense, relational and spiritual resources are often tried by fire.

And so, to answer your question:  First, let me say that I am making two assumptions. 1) I choose to believe that you are smart enough not to have said something to your husband like, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get a job already?”, and 2) For various reasons, I am assuming that he did not literally mean what he said. Unless he did, and then that is a different discussion. (Do let me know if I’ve assumed wrongly; this requires a different response.)

That said,  I think that the comment made by your husband is likely fueled by complete terror and exhaustion over the weight of the vulnerability mentioned earlier. His success or failure is swiftly becoming public knowledge – one must report back to family and friends how one fared in recent interviews and with various job prospects – and his worst fears are starting to become a reality; he has nothing to show for his risk, and what is worse, he feels responsible for having asked you to sacrifice to the extent that you have.  So, like the insecurity expressed in the “you should have married a doctor or a lawyer” comment I heard long ago, you may have been having a benign interaction, but the vulnerability is rising to the surface and it is threatening to swallow your husband’s sense of who he is, who he will be, and whether it all was worth the cost.

Maybe he is begging for some relief from the pressure of having to make this career a success and hold up the pillars of your family. Maybe he had a bad interaction with his advisor or heard that his colleague was just hired for the most lucrative, most highly sought after job at one of the schools with the most ivy climbing the brick and mortar. Maybe you said something that made him feel you didn’t understand his efforts. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he was being whiny and immature. I don’t know; it’s all conjecture on my part. But, I can tell you that neurologically, we experience separation, rejection (including job market rejection), and exclusion in the exact same way that we experience physical pain, and that contact with a loving partner literally acts as a buffer against shock, stress, and pain. He is in pain, you are in pain.

So, hold his hand. Ask him to hold yours. Hug each other.  Hold each other. Stand together, literally and metaphorically.  It mediates distress and enlivens positive hormones, it increases one’s immune system, and cements you together.  Sit in silence or allow music to fill the background, pray if that’s a part of your lives, look each other in the eye, and prop each other up against the terror of academic uncertainty.

Then, tomorrow or next week, after you have built and re-built the foundation beneath you, then you can talk about who is going to work at Starbucks and who is going to start a pie making business. It won’t be quite so terrifying if you are facing it together; really, truly together.

Baffled, you know that the circumstances of your email and the question posted here include depth and history, to which I am not privy; do let me know if based on the limitations here you would like more discussion or if I’m way off the mark, or otherwise.  If so, maybe you should have emailed a doctor or a lawyer. :)

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com

Inspiration

REPOST: To Dream or Not to Dream…..

Recently, my husband and I attended a dinner, and one of the attendees I spoke with asked me about our journey to Oxford, my husband’s dissertation topic, and what he planned to do now that his PhD was finished.  I lumbered through her questions, desiring to give as little detail as possible, while still being polite. She then looked at me and said, “What are your dreams?”

Admittedly, I froze when this question was presented to me, especially coming from a complete stranger. However, she is one of several people who have asked me that question in the past few months. I have been grappling with that particular question for the better part of the last 6 years but it surely gave me reason to pause: What was I created to do, exactly? Or better yet, am I already doing it? And, what does ‘it’ look like in this graduate wife season of life?

As I think back on my own journey of the last eight years, those questions have become more difficult to answer. If you’re like me, sometimes you might find yourself lost as your spouse’s personal assistant, doing laundry, housework, working a job to pay the bills, caring for children, etc. until you have no idea who you are or how you even arrived there. You might find yourself thinking, “I know she’s in there somewhere, but where is she? What happened to her desires, goals, and dreams before this graduate journey?”

I am surrounded by beautiful, clever, thoughtful women who have made abundant sacrifices to allow their other halves to pursue a dream. I am inspired by their ability to keep moving their own dreams forward even if for right now, it is in the smallest of increments. I love when we hover together over candlelit dinners and drinks, those dreams are spoken of in rich, present, endearing terms, like old friends coming for a visit. I love that in the midst of transitions, these women are finding their place in their cities, homes, marriages, family, jobs.

On the days where I lament some of my dreams being put on hold, I am reminded that the work I am doing now is very important, as it will play a part in helping me define and refine those dreams. When I start my daily commute, and spend long hours in the office, it puts things into perspective. I’m not working just to support my husband’s dream. I’m working to support ‘our’ dream.

My friend, Julia, who has put one of her dreams on hold at the moment, phrased it so eloquently below:

I’ve come, however, to understand that waiting to pursue one’s dreams doesn’t have to mean that they diminish, ‘dry up’ or even ‘explode’ as Langston Hughes famously penned. Rather, the waiting has refined my goal, changed its direction and enriched its beauty. The dream deferred can turn into an aging wine rather than a raisin in the sun. And in this space of waiting, I’ve seen other aspirations blossom and flourish: having children and starting a family, establishing traditions of our own, getting to know another culture.

So what was my answer to the question posed by my dinner partner? I told her that I love helping people. I want people to know that I love them, but that God loves them even more. Although I love being an administrator, having a life long career in administration does not interest me. I want more children. I’m learning that I really like to write, and I want to develop that to see where it might go. I am passionate about this blog, and I love the women that I’ve connected with in this season of life. I want to continue to support my husband on this incredible journey that our family is on, and more than anything, I want us to be successful at it. I know he could do it without us, but I like to think that because we are here with him, he’s better at it.

It was probably more of an answer than she was looking for, but nonetheless, my answer. As I walked home thinking about our conversation, I realized that in a way, I am living my dreams, although they look a lot different than I thought they would at this stage of my life. Yes, there are still many of them unanswered, but when the time is right, those planted seeds will grow. All the experiences currently taking place in this season of life is part of that cultivation.

So, maybe I’ll issue a challenge today – What are YOUR dreams? Are you living them? Or have you let them go? How will you cultivate them during this graduate season of life? Don’t stop dreaming!

-Mandy

Dear Laura

Dear Laura: Baffled

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

What if you follow your spouse to grad school to support their dream, and after years of support through school, when they struggle to find a job they say you’re putting too much pressure on them to be the one with the career and why can’t you find something and be the breadwinner?

Sincerely,

Baffled

Dear Baffled,

It was a bright, crisp winter day and as I walked through our neighborhood, I came across a towering, solid oak bookcase – free to a good home –  which seemed like it might serve as a great central piece in our teeny (think grad student budget on a diet) apartment. I briskly padded home, begged my brawny hubby to come help me, and we wrestled the monstrous piece of furniture four blocks home and then up the steep, treacherous staircase to our flat. (Can you see where this is going?)  Need I say: it didn’t fit in our place?  But how long did it take for me to come to that realization, and how many times did I (gently?) instruct my husband to try this possibility and that, and how long until we muscled the @#$% bookcase back down those steep stairs and out to the street with a “Free” sign reluctantly stuck to its solid back?   I have no idea how much time elapsed, but I know the way the story ends: though I had said nothing about not having enough money for a nice bookcases, and though in the wrestling I never mentioned that we were grown adults living in a postage-stamp-sized apartment because my husband was a graduate student, this scene closed with him yelling out “maybe you should have married a doctor or a lawyer!!!” and stomping off.  Thus began a cold silence between us that lasted well into the next day.

I was baffled. What had happened? All I did was try to fit a bookcase into our flat, and it ended in an explosion (one that has become a great joke between us, and between friends who were privy to the story), but I could not understand how it got there, because I didn’t feel it was a commentary on my husband’s success or potential; it was just a bookcase.

What I know now is that when one is married or partnered, the graduate journey is a supreme exercise in risk and vulnerability, for both spouses.  The vulnerability flows in and out of seemingly benign conversations, it creeps into moods and thoughts, it certainly shadows daily decisions and conversations of life’s challenges.  The vulnerability is sometimes painful, sometimes debilitating, and much of the time, can be terrifying.

The graduate student him or herself has chosen to take a very public risk, to invest resources and life capital into a dream, knowing that it may amount to nothing; he or she might have to bear the shame of having risked and lost, with nowhere to hide.  The student’s spouse is asked to counterintuitively place complete trust in the other person’s dream, but with no control over the journey itself; the quality of work, the decisions made every day at the office, the job interviews which form the path for future career development are completely out of the spouse’s hands.  The sacrifices are deep, the mutual support required is intense, relational and spiritual resources are often tried by fire.

And so, to answer your question:  First, let me say that I am making two assumptions. 1) I choose to believe that you are smart enough not to have said something to your husband like, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get a job already?”, and 2) For various reasons, I am assuming that he did not literally mean what he said. Unless he did, and then that is a different discussion. (Do let me know if I’ve assumed wrongly; this requires a different response.)

That said,  I think that the comment made by your husband is likely fueled by complete terror and exhaustion over the weight of the vulnerability mentioned earlier. His success or failure is swiftly becoming public knowledge – one must report back to family and friends how one fared in recent interviews and with various job prospects – and his worst fears are starting to become a reality; he has nothing to show for his risk, and what is worse, he feels responsible for having asked you to sacrifice to the extent that you have.  So, like the insecurity expressed in the “you should have married a doctor or a lawyer” comment I heard long ago, you may have been having a benign interaction, but the vulnerability is rising to the surface and it is threatening to swallow your husband’s sense of who he is, who he will be, and whether it all was worth the cost.

Maybe he is begging for some relief from the pressure of having to make this career a success and hold up the pillars of your family. Maybe he had a bad interaction with his advisor or heard that his colleague was just hired for the most lucrative, most highly sought after job at one of the schools with the most ivy climbing the brick and mortar. Maybe you said something that made him feel you didn’t understand his efforts. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he was being whiny and immature. I don’t know; it’s all conjecture on my part. But, I can tell you that neurologically, we experience separation, rejection (including job market rejection), and exclusion in the exact same way that we experience physical pain, and that contact with a loving partner literally acts as a buffer against shock, stress, and pain. He is in pain, you are in pain.

So, hold his hand. Ask him to hold yours. Hug each other.  Hold each other. Stand together, literally and metaphorically.  It mediates distress and enlivens positive hormones, it increases one’s immune system, and cements you together.  Sit in silence or allow music to fill the background, pray if that’s a part of your lives, look each other in the eye, and prop each other up against the terror of academic uncertainty.

Then, tomorrow or next week, after you have built and re-built the foundation beneath you, then you can talk about who is going to work at Starbucks and who is going to start a pie making business. It won’t be quite so terrifying if you are facing it together; really, truly together.

Baffled, you know that the circumstances of your email and the question posted here include depth and history, to which I am not privy; do let me know if based on the limitations here you would like more discussion or if I’m way off the mark, or otherwise.  If so, maybe you should have emailed a doctor or a lawyer. :)

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com