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Careers Toolbox

for Undergraduate Physics Students*

Solving difficult theoretical constructs, mastering hands-on experimental techniques, wrangling data acquisition and analysis, and developing skills in error analysis, technical writing, and computer programming are hallmarks of the undergraduate physics experience. These skills and abilities make physics students excellent candidates for a wide variety of jobs. If you are considering entering the workforce after earning a bachelor’s degree, the eight tools in the Careers Toolbox can help you discover your options and prepare for success.

The Careers Toolbox focuses on undergraduate physics students entering the workforce after graduation. But even students who choose to go to graduate school will eventually be looking for a job! Many of these tools can be applied to finding internships, research positions, or even entrance into graduate programs.

Examining the Data

About 40% of physics bachelor’s degree recipients go directly into the workforce, the same percentage that go directly into physics or astronomy graduate programs. Of the 40% that enter the workforce, more than half go into the private sector.

Initial Employment Sectors of Physics Bachelor’s Classes of 2009 & 2010 Combined

Trends in Status One Year After Earning a Physics Bachelor’s, Classes 1995 through 2010

Trends in Status One Year After Earning a Physics Bachelor’s, Classes 1995 through 2010

Field of Employment for Physics Bachelor’s in the Private Sector, Classes of 2009 & 2010 Combined

Exploring Options,
Finding Opportunities

The variety of opportunities available to physics bachelor's degree recipients is good news, but navigating all of the options can be overwhelming. This section features important resources for exploring the options and tips for finding (and creating) opportunities.

Tool #1: Common Job Titles

You can find physics majors in ALL kinds of professions—engineering, information technology, finance, writing, medicine, law, history, music, healthcare, and the list continues on and on. To start narrowing down your options, take a look at this list of common job titles held by physics bachelor's degree recipients that go right into the workforce and see what interests you.

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Tool #2: Informational Interviews

Once you have a list of job titles that sound interesting, the next step is to gather information about what each job really entails. An excellent way to do this is through informational interviews, professional meetings with individuals who have jobs that interest you.

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Tool #3: Networking

Having great credentials is important when you begin searching for a job, but networking—making professional contacts—can expand your access to opportunities and provide valuable advice and guidance all throughout your career journey.

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Tool #4: Assessing Your Knowledge
and Skills

In order to stand out among a pool of applicants, you must be able to accurately and competitively represent yourself on paper (in a resume and cover letter) and in person (in networking environments and in interviews). To do this, you have to figure out who you are and what you know before you start drafting a resume. The careful assessment of your knowledge and skills is imperative, and requires practice.

Getting to Work

How can you stand out from all of the other job applicants vying for a position, especially when some of those applicants have experience or degrees that more closely match the job ad? This section highlights several strategies for increasing your odds of getting an interview – and a job.

Tool #5: Effective Job Searching

Many people think that getting your dream job means having a stellar resume, cover letter, and interview. While all of this helps, first you have to find the job! Effective job searching concentrates your time on jobs that fit you and match your skills. For physics students, this means knowing what job listings to browse, how to prepare for job fairs, and how to reach out to your network.

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Tool #6: Building Your Resume

The traditional resume that lists work experience in reverse chronological order is not usually the most effective for physics students. Instead, draw attention to your relevant knowledge and skills with a skills-based resume that is unique to each position for which you apply. If you have already gone through the Skills Assessment exercise, you have done much of the hard work of writing an effective resume.

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Tool #7: Writing an Effective Cover Letter

The cover letter is your first opportunity to engage a prospective employer. Always send one along with your resume when applying for a job, even if it is not requested in the ad. A well thought-out cover letter is especially important if you are seeking a job that does not require a physics degree because it gives you an excellent opportunity to highlight why you are a good match for the position.

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Tool #8: Acing the Interview

A job interview can be a challenge for anyone who has spent the majority of the past four years in a student lounge doing homework, or in a lab doing experiments. However, with appropriate preparation and practice, the interview can be one more chance for you to highlight the unique set of skills and abilities you have to offer.

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Career preparation is an iterative process. You should revisit the skills and knowledge assessment frequently, update your elevator speech often and keep expanding your network throughout your undergraduate career and beyond. As you continue developing new skills and participating in new experiences, your career plans may evolve as well. By investing time in career preparation activities throughout your undergraduate experience, you can be ready to carry out an effective, thoughtful job search when the time comes.