Career knowledge

Plan your career

Explore career options including academia, non-profits, government, and industry. Gain awareness of typical requirements and degree of competitiveness. Understand the hiring cycle in different sectors.

Jump to section: Understanding Career Knowledge | Cultivating Career Knowledge | Quick Guide to Career Knowledge |Taking Action | Resources | References


Understanding Career Knowledge

As a graduate student, choosing a career can seem like a daunting task – especially in a world where the job market is highly competitive and ever-changing. There are a multitude of paths you can take, so how can you be sure which is the right one for you? Knowing yourself and what you typically excel at is a crucial part of the career planning process. It is extremely beneficial to keep in mind your evolving skills, values and interests for the most fulfilling outcome. By expanding your career knowledge, you will be able to pinpoint exactly what you will need to accomplish in order to become the perfect candidate for the job of your dreams.

Why does it matter?

Most graduate students may not have a clear idea of what exactly they want to do after completing their degree. Although some end up pursuing a career in academia, many graduate students will choose a career outside of academia. Taking the time to consider your career options while you pursue your graduate degree will help you to have a sense of purpose and to overcome challenges when they arise by enhancing motivation. This does not mean you have to know exactly what career path you will pursue after graduation, just that investing time to think about it throughout your degree will facilitate the transition from graduate school, even if your career ideas change (which they probably will!) many times.


Cultivating Career Knowledge

Finding Your Match

The self, search, and synthesis model proposes that individuals gather both information about themselves and information about the world of work relevant to their current career development needs, then use this information within their own framework [2]. Once career information is accepted into your personal framework it becomes career knowledge. Before you dive into career research, you must dive into yourself. First and foremost, a fulfilling career is a career that ensures your happiness. Ask yourself some fundamental questions: What has made you happy in the past? What do you enjoy in your life right now? What would you like to change? [3]. Your answers to these questions will likely brush upon your skills, values and interests. Determining what these are for you can be done using self-assessment tools. Additionally, you can refer to the self-knowledge page for guidance or make an appointment with CaPS to speak to a career counsellor. When you begin to research career options you will find that your skills have a role in what you do, your interests have a role in where you do it, and your values have a role in why you do it and who you do it with or for [4].

Dissecting Your Values

Our values typically fall under five categories: personal, social, moral, practical and lifestyle; as seen on the tentacles of the octopus in the diagram [5]. Career research involves a balancing act of these five tentacles. While social values spark your ambition, your whole career should not be a ploy to prove yourself to others. Leaving your personal values unfulfilled can result in a lack of happiness. Lifestyle values often teeter between challenge and ease as many individuals will put in the heavy work short-term to achieve a stress-free, flexible life long-term. You may also evaluate your moral values which could be building for yourself, loved ones and the future of the world. At the end of the day, your practical values are the ones that make sure you have the basics down-packed: food, somewhere to live and financial security. When considering a career, make a list of priorities. Unpack your values to find out why you are really interested and see where each fits on your list.  

Career Requirements. The world of work can be broken down into 4 sectors: Academic, Industry, Non-Profit and Government [6]. Within each of these sectors, there are many fields. Get to understand the qualifications you will need in order to work in the field of your choice. You likely chose your graduate degree to pursue some advanced positions. Examine the professional certifications that could help you thrive in your field of work. What licenses are required? Make sure you find out how to legally obtain such licensing in your area. Canadian universities typically have two streams for academics: research and teaching; both of which require a PhD. Faculty positions in colleges usually require only a Master’s degree. However, academic careers are not restricted to becoming tenured faculty [7]. Post-secondary institutions have a wide array of positions working in academic advising, student engagement, teaching and learning centres, alumni relations etc.  

Using Transferrable Skills to Transition Out of Academia. The academic sector is not for everyone and that is totally okay. While academia places importance on knowledge, freedom, focus and independence, you may not. If you value influence, ambition, fast-pace and teamwork, you may want an industry job. If you value positive impact, variety, initiative and teamwork, you may want a non-profit job. If you value planning, balance, security and structure, you may want a job in government. [8] The first step in finding career options outside of academia is to identify skills you have acquired as a graduate student inside of academia. More often than not, these skills can be transferred quite smoothly into an industry setting. Some skills learned in academia include writing, critical thinking, reviewing and reporting. Other field specific skills may include data analysis, statistics, programming, and oral presentation [9]. Where do your strengths lie? In the IDF Networking & Job Search Handout, we discuss finding job opportunities that play to your strengths. If you believe there are some skills you need to work towards, consult the SKILLSETS website for skills building tips, tricks and workshops. 

Academic Recruitment Cycles. University Affairs is a website that posts academic job listings. Further, it is advised that you regularly check for postings on the websites of institutions you believe are a good fit for you. Most full-time faculty positions begin July 1st with job listings being posted a year in advance, while contract positions are typically posted 3-6 months before the beginning of a course [10]. Likewise, recruitment cycles can be monitored for non-academic careers. The cycles can be divided into quarters with certain times of the year such as, summer and holiday season being the most active [11]. Keeping a strategic eye on these will give you an edge over the competition.  


Quick Guide to Career Knowledge


  1. Know yourself: ask yourself fundamental questions about your happiness. Determine your skills, values and interests by taking self-assessments online.
  2. Prioritize your values: use the five value categories: personal, social, moral, practical and lifestyle - to weigh your priorities. An ideal career for you is a career that matches your priorities.
  3. Examine career qualifications: once you are familiar with your own passions and priorities, find out what is required of you to get where you want to be in your career: academic or non-academic. Figure out how to obtain the right licensure.
  4. Set SMART goals: comprise a list of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals [12]. It is much easier to start with a short-term plan that will contribute to your long-term achievement as time progresses.
  5. Create a realistic timeline: your timeline will help you navigate the SMART goals you set in a timely manner. If you are unsure where to start, you can refer to the CaPS Career Development Timeline for Graduate Students and Postdocs.
  6. Reflect: regularly reflect on your current areas of expertise and what you need to work on for self-improvement.

Taking Action

Professional Development & Training 


Gaining Experience 

  • Participate in Program for the Advancement of Career Exploration (PACE): A series of three workshops that will help you understand your personality type, skills, interests and values and how they relate to various occupations 

  • Visit myFuture: Portal for promoting job opportunities and career education on and off campus. Participate in career events, workshops and company information sessions. 



Books & Articles 



[1] How to be Proactive in Your Career Planning. Ababon, M. (2016).

[2] From career information to career knowledge: Self, search, and synthesis. Bloch, D.P. (1989).

[3] [4] Identifying Goals. Yale University. (2020).

[5] How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You). Urban, T. (2018).

[6] [8] Researching Career Options. Yale University. (2020).  

[7] [10] Job Search Strategies for Graduate Students. Snowden, K. (2018). 

[9] How to Switch from Academia to Industry. STUDYPUNK Team. (2017). 

[11] Understand Recruitment Cycles to Give Your Job Search an Edge. Rossheim, J. (2020).

[12] How to Make Your Goals Achievable. Mind Tools Content Team. (2020). 


As a McGill student, your participation in activities such as training workshops and volunteering are tracked on your Co-Curricular Record (CCR)! Having your co-curricular activities listed in one document can help you revise your CV or cover letter, prepare for interviews, and explore career options. Learn how to leverage this important document through myInvolvement, and make your training count!
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