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Find Your Dream Job in One Hour per Week | Issue 296

Summary: Start creating your future dream job in as little as one hour per week—we show you the concrete steps.

Estimated read time: 5 minutes that can calm your career anxiety and catapult you into action.

Find Your Dream Job in One Hour per Week | Issue 296

By Susan Martin, Ed.D.

Do thoughts and questions like these keep you awake at night? 

I'll never find a tenure track job. 
What kind of work do I really want to do? 
I don't have any skills that employers outside of academia want. 
How do I start to find a "real job" when I've never job searched before? 
I'll never get hired because I'm overqualified [or underqualified].


Ruminations like this can lead to a downward spiral of negative thinking resulting in procrastination and missed career opportunities. 

Many doctoral students postpone career exploration and job searches because they feel overwhelmed by the dissertation, teaching duties, their current job, and/or family obligations. They assume that identifying a meaningful career path and landing a post-graduation job is a massive project that is undoable given their responsibilities. 

This is a grave mistake that can cost you dearly.

Stop telling yourself that you don't have time to figure out what you want to do with your PhD or launching your job search. Dedicating as little as an hour per week as your "career time" could make a dramatic difference in your future job prospects. 

You can be successful by scheduling as little as one hour a week toward your career. Begin by reframing career exploration and landing a job into a priority project with three small, doable phases: 

Phase One: Know Yourself 
Phase Two: Research Careers of Interest 
Phase Three: Apply for Positions

Tackle only one phase at a time—and resist any temptation to skip a phase. We show you how to break each one into bite-sized tasks that can be easily accomplished during the "career time" slot you have reserved, whether it is one solid hour or three twenty-minute chunks. Think in terms of actions, not outcomes. 

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." ~ ConfuciusTweet this



Here we focus on Phase One: Know Yourself, with complete details for accomplishing each step. (Future articles will address Phases Two and Three.) 

Begin with a deep look at yourself. Developing greater clarity about your assets, skills, and aspirations leads to a more effective search and meaningful result. What matters to you now? Graduate school can be a time of deep change; your career aspirations may have evolved, perhaps drastically. 

The first step to landing your dream job involves identifying (or confirming) your top values, strengths, skills, and interests. You will save a lot of time and reduce frustration by beginning with some simple self-assessments. Armed with information and language that describes you at your best, you will be able to craft highly effective application materials and later ace the job interviews. 

Begin with two free and quick online assessments. Each offers useful data to integrate into your career project. 

1. Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (15 minutes)

Positive psychology research shows that aligning work with your values, strengths, and purpose can lead to increased life satisfaction and well-being. The VIA Survey of Character Strengths will give you a free downloadable profile that ranks your personal strengths. Free resources on the VIA website can deepen your understanding of your personal strengths, including how to leverage them in life and at work. Review your top strengths carefully and consider how you have already used them to achieve important goals, complete projects, and overcome challenges. 

Knowing your VIA strengths can guide your research in a meaningful direction. For example, you can develop questions for informational interviews that uncover how your strengths might be an asset in potential careers. Furthermore, you can prepare for interviews by reflecting on times in which you leveraged your strengths for success. Employers love it when candidates can clearly articulate their strengths. 

2. Explore the Imagine PhD Site (20 minutes)

This easy-to-use online career exploration and planning tool was developed for PhDs in the humanities and social sciences, but it is also useful for those in STEM disciplines. After you create your free account, complete the interest, skills, and values assessments. Your results will identify how each of 16 job families aligns with your interests and skills. 

Your ImaginePhD results will illuminate how your skills translate to careers outside of academia, helping you quickly identify areas to explore. Additionally, the values assessment results include lists of questions you can ask during informational and job interviews that help you determine if the career or specific position is aligned with your most important priorities. 

"Emphasize your strengths on your resume, in your cover letters and in your interviews. It may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people simply list everything they've ever done." ~ Marcus Buckingham 

3. Tap Free University Resources (time varies)

Make sure to take advantage of these services early. Access to Beyond the Professoriate and to individual career appointments and workshops are usually free for current students, but alumni access is often limited to one year after graduation. 

You do not need to do all of these at once. Simply build them into your ongoing schedule so you don't miss out on the valuable resources your campus provides, e.g., career information, exploration opportunities, and networking. 

a. Ask your advisor and/or check out the career center and graduate school websites to learn more about services and events aimed at doctoral students and alumni. Is there a program coordinator for career resources at your institution? 

b. Be proactive. Make an appointment in the next two weeks with the career center or a graduate school staff member to discuss possible next steps. Discuss your VIA Strengths and ImaginePhD assessments with them. 

c. Ask the above resource persons if your campus subscribes to Beyond the Professoriate, a career training platform for PhDs and postdocs. 




Now that you have reframed your career exploration and job search into a doable project, it's time to act. Which of the following small steps in Phase One will you take today? 


  • (10 minutes) Schedule regular blocks of 20 to 60 minutes of "career time" in your weekly calendar. 

  • (15-20 minutes) Take the free VIA Strengths and ImaginePhD on-line assessments. ​

  • (15 minutes) Explore your career center and graduate school websites to learn about career resources for PhDs. 

  • (10 minutes) Schedule an initial appointment with a career center or graduate school professional. 

One of the best ways to reduce career anxiety is to focus on just the next step, not the mountain. Notice the increasing sense of control and optimism as you design your desired future while you complete your dissertation. The future "Dr. You" will thank you. 

"The future depends on what you do today." ~ Mahatma GandhiTweet this

Discover how positive psychology dissertation coaching can facilitate your dissertation completion and career design by requesting a free consultation here.


Susan Martin, Ed.D. provides specialized career, dissertation and life coaching to people pursuing and with doctoral degrees. Before launching Smart Career Design, LLC, she supported thousands of diverse graduate, undergraduate and adult learners to achieve their educational and career goals. Dr. Martin also designed and delivered career services for doctoral students in 80 academic programs at the University of Maryland. View her LinkedIn profile or contact her at or (410) 596-0510. 

An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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