Career Advice

How to Set Long-Term Career Plans After a PhD: 13 Actionable Tips  

If you’ve just gotten your PhD, or even if you’re still working on it, now is a great time to think about your long-term career plans after a PhD. How will gaining a PhD fit within your career plan?

If you have long-term career goals in research, a PhD will obviously help prepare you for your future career since you will be participating in research as you pursue your PhD.

Long-Term Career Plans After a PhD

When making long-term career plans, you should try to project at least the next five years. You may even want to go out ten years if you have big career goals. As Antoine de Sanit-Exupery once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Even if you don’t need a PhD for your desired career, you may find that your after-PhD salary will be high enough to justify the additional education. 

The Conversation used data from a national survey to determine that those students who planned to get more education than necessary for their careers ended up earning 7% more than those who planned to get just the right amount of education for the job.

Tips for Long-Term Career Plans After a PhD

According to Alan Lakein, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” So, to be successful, you must plan. Here are some actionable tips to help you plan your long-term career.

1. Plan to change jobs quickly

You’ll likely start your career at the bottom of the ladder–in an entry-level position. The sooner you can move on from that entry-level position, the faster your salary will increase.

Try not to stay longer than a year or two in your first job and two to three years in successive jobs in order to maximize your after-PhD salary.

2. Plan to network your way to a better job

Build a strong LinkedIn profile and update it regularly. Engage with your contacts, especially those who work in companies you’d like to work for.

Having a contact on the inside can give you a huge boost when you’re looking for a new job.

3. Set a big career goal

Remember that “No one has ever achieved greatness without dreams (Roy Bennett).” Set a big goal and visualize yourself achieving it. Make this goal the culmination of your 5- or 10-year plan.

4. Consider industry jobs after your PhD

When making your long-term career plans after a PhD, think about the industry you want to be in at the end and try to start out in that industry.

You will be gaining industry experience as well as job experience, which will increase your chances of landing your dream job in the end.

5. Find an advisor or mentor

Check with your school to see if they offer academic advising or mentorship. Find an advisor or mentor who works well with you and ask them for help in planning your career.

6. Evaluate your network

Every year, evaluate your network to see where it is strong and where it is weak. Are there certain companies you want to work for where you have no contacts? If so, try to make contact with influential people within those companies.

7. Set up informational interviews

Informational interviews are interviews with an employee of a company you think you’d like to work for. These interviews give you a chance to learn more about the culture of the organization and determine whether you might be a good fit.

8. Join professional organizations

Often, you can use these memberships as networking tools to help you find and meet contacts within the industry. You may even be able to find local peers you can meet up with and form real-life friendships.

9. Attend conferences

Attending conferences for your industry or profession is a good way to meet new people and expand your network. Be sure to take plenty of business cards and exchange cards with everyone you meet.

Make an effort to follow up afterward by sending an email or DM to tell them you’re glad you had a chance to meet them at the event. If they include social media URLs on their cards, be sure to follow them there.

10. Attend networking events

You may find these through your university or through a professional organization.

Everyone who attends a networking event seeks to make new connections, so you’re in the right place for trying to find peers who work in your industry in a similar position, or even those who may be in a position to make hiring decisions.

11. Create a resume

Make sure to include any relevant experiences you’ve had, even if you haven’t worked at a job before.

Try to craft your resume so that it is targeted toward a specific position. As you gain work experience through the years, update your resume to add your most recent work experience.

12. Get a part-time job during school

If possible, get a job during school so that you’ll have some work experience to put on your resume when you’re ready to look for an entry-level job in your field.

Even working at McDonald’s part-time shows future employers that you have a good work ethic.

13. Avoid unpaid work

Unless it’s all you can find, avoid unpaid internships. Accepting these positions shows employers that you are willing to work for free, so they can get away with a lowball salary offer. If you feel that you must work for free to gain experience, volunteer for an organization you care deeply about.

PhD Career Plan Example

Here is an example career plan to give you an idea of what your long-term career plan after a PhD should look like.

Year One: Work an entry-level job for one year. Toward the end of the year, start looking for a position that is at least one step up from your current position:

Years Two and Three: Work in one job for two years. Toward the end of the second year at this new job, start looking for another job that is a step or two up the career ladder.

Years Four and Five: Work this new job for two years. Near the end of the second year, start looking for your next job. Try to get one step away from your ten-year career goal if possible.

Years Six, Seven, and Eight: Work in a job that is one step away from your ten-year career goal. Toward the end of year eight, start applying for the job you’ve been working toward.

Year Nine: Start working your dream job.

The above plan gives you nine years to reach your ten-year goal, but it may take a little longer than planned to find each new job. In that case, you’ll still be right on track to reach your 10-year goal in 10 years.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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