Exploring the job market can be an overwhelming experience, and it’s hard to know where to start. Luckily, it involves something that graduate students are already good at: methodical research. If you treat exploring the job market as a research project, you will make headway over time and gradually expand your knowledge. It’s a slow process, but it’s far more productive than sending out dozens of applications for jobs you know little about.

Here, we’ll provide some tips on beginning this process of exploration.

The structure of the job market

The job market can be broken down into sectors at the highest level. Jobs within the university fall within the sector of Education, for example. Other sectors might include Healthcare, Energy, or Information Technology.

Within each sector there are various industries. For example, the Semiconductor industry is situated within the larger Information Technology sector.

Within each industry there are various occupations. These go under a variety of job titles within particular organizations.

Although it is possible to gain a high-level understanding of the job market using these categories, they may limit your search if you focus too much on them. For instance, if you love teaching, you might imagine that you are only cut out to work in the Education sector. But what about becoming a corporate trainer, which uses many of the same skills? You shouldn’t limit yourself to particular sectors or industries without considering how positions in multiple sectors or industries may involve the use of similar transferable skills.

Think horizontally, not vertically

To avoid getting stuck, don’t think “vertically” about employment sectors within the job market as if they are exclusive silos. Think “horizontally” by considering those professions or skill areas that exist across sectors. This is especially important if you are looking for work within what is often described as the “knowledge economy”, which will be the case for many graduate students. You can become a public relations officer for a mining company, for example, without knowing how to operate the equipment used in mining, and without a degree in geology. And you can then move to a position of public relations officer within a university, using many of the same skills but in a new context. The future of work is horizontal!

Generally speaking, there are two broad skill areas that are especially well-developed in Master’s and PhD holders which are also professional fields that exist horizontally across employment sectors:


Under the banner of communications is everything from grant writing, technical writing, and editing to advertising, public relations, and social media management.

Under the banner of research is everything from research and development, research facilitation, and policy analysis to UX design and market research.

Why not start your exploration of the job market by looking into professional fields for which you, as a graduate student or postdoc, are especially well-suited?

Explore the environment(s) you are familiar with

To make things even easier, why not start your exploration in the industry you are most familiar with? Even if you are not pursuing a faculty position, there are plenty of non-faculty positions within the higher education industry that you can investigate.

Alt-Ac (Alternative Academic) work is any non-faculty (or non-teaching) work inside academia. Alt-ac jobs are particularly well-suited to Master’s and PhD graduates because they exist within an environment with which graduate students are already well-acquainted.

Many graduate students don’t realize how BIG universities are as organizations, and how many staff members are required to keep them running. There are a large number of alt-ac career options which can be fulfilling in themselves or provide the experience required to transition into fully “non-ac” careers.

Some of the broad areas of employment within the university, apart from teaching itself, are in the following areas:

  • Research Facilitation
  • Teaching Support
  • Administration
  • Student Services
  • Recruitment
  • Fundraising and Donor Relations
  • Communications and Media Relations
  • Library Services
  • Career Services
  • Awards and Financial Aid

The easiest way to get started is to check out the job listings with Carleton’s Human Resources. And remember, there are universities all across Canada, and in other countries, as well. The alt-ac world is very big.

Other general tips

  1. Look beyond online job databases, which are of very limited value. It’s much more productive to visit the sites of particular organizations to look for employment opportunities.
  2. Find out where graduates from your program are working. There are types of employment out there that few people are aware of, and which can only be found by doing some in-depth research.
  3. Don’t be afraid to contact people you don’t know, to see if they would be willing to provide an informational interview. You’d be surprised how many people are happy to talk about what they do.
  4. Do not be intimidated by the language used in some job ads to describe the duties involved in particular positions. What sounds like a very specialized duty in a job ad may be less daunting in reality.
  5. Be humble. Whether you have a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, or a PhD, you will need to gain experience in a field in order to climb the career ladder. Do not shy away from considering entry level positions, but also don’t rule out the possibility of entering an organization at a higher level if an opportunity arises.

Identify one or two areas of professional interest

In your exploration of the job market, you will likely come across at least one or two sectors, industries, or professions that seem particularly interesting to you. You should note these down, and spend extra time looking at job ads in these areas of professional interest. It is important to set some long-term career goals, even if they may change over time.

Create a list of skills to develop

As you peruse job ads, take note of the skills that employers are looking for that you are lacking. These are the skills you can focus on when you make your one-year action plan in response to Question 3 of this IDP.