Thursday, October 28, 2010

Consider the Source

Yesterday right before statistics class started the guy who sits across the aisle from me turned to me and whispered, "Dr. Hirta, can I talk to you after class?" And I'm like, "Sure." He's an alumnus of the math department, having studied algebra or number theory or algebraic number theory or somesuch and graduating at the end of the summer. He's semi-employed, teaching one course for the math department.

Turns out that he was asking me for career advice! He's looking for a job, any job. He's not really optimistic about finding academic work, reporting his friend's recent job search in which his friend applied for three hundred jobs and got one interview (and no jobs). (See, humanities people, the job market in other fields is just as bad.) Not really happy with those odds, he's mostly applying for non-academic jobs (hence the statistics class), but most companies don't seem that keen to hire people with degrees in math but no business experience. He reports that what they're mostly looking for are people with undergraduate degrees in business and who have had business internships.

And so he was asking me for career advice and how to land a non-academic job. I rattled off a few places that he could consider looking. But deep down I could think of nothing other than a comic from the 1980s. In Matt Groening's collection School is Hell the rabbit asks his guidance counselor, "If you know so much about career choices, why are you a guidance counselor?" I'm definitely not the person to be asking if you're looking for good advice on landing a quality job outside of academia. In fact, I'm probably not the person to be asking if you looking for advice at all about landing a job -- unless "know the right people" is considered good advice.