You know how sometimes when you go a career fair and you see a talk by someone with a great job and they make it seem like they just one day tripped on the street and fell into their great job? I always hate those talks, because they don't give any useful information on how to actually get that job when it's not thrown into your lap. However, I realize this story might sound a little like that too. So for more really useful tips on careers outside academia, go read Scicurious' post, or all these resources from FromPhDToLife.
Here's my story: I always thought I wanted to become a PI, and have my own lab. But already before the 10th fellowship/grant I submitted was rejected I realized that it might be a good idea to think about my plan B (and C, and D). I made a list in my head of the things I liked about my work, and the things I thought I was good at. A list of so-called transferable skills: things you learn during your PhD that are also very useful when you're not staying in academia, like problem-solving, networking and writing. I also made a list in my head of jobs I thought I would like. And I googled a lot to see what kind of jobs actually exist and what they mean (like: what is a "medical science liaison"?). Whenever I talked to people that got a PhD and left academia, I asked them how they did that and what kind of job they had now. And I guess the boldest networking thing I did was to set up a phone call with someone who worked at a company that I was interested in, with whom I connected through LinkedIn for an informational interview. This person told me about the various jobs they had for PhDs and asked me to send my CV. And then I didn't hear anything anymore.
But then I got this new post-doc job and I thought I was just going to do this second post-doc for a while and apply for more grants and try to establish my own research group at the university that I'm at now. Until I saw a job add for an industry job that asked for almost exactly my profile at the company I had the informational interview with. Waaahh!! The only thing was that they asked for a year of industry-experience, which I obviously didn't have. So I called the recruiter and they told me to apply anyway. So in the midst of starting my new post-doc job, I frantically put together my industry resume. I was extremely fortunate that I knew someone who works in a very related company at a position where they are responsible for hiring people who was willing to look at my resume and help me improve it. On top of that, I sent my resume to a couple other people for feedback (thanks tweeps!).
And ...drum rolls... out of more than a hundred letters, I was one of the few people chosen for the first round of interviews. Now, I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about the complex world of recruiting and interviewing. I have no idea on basis of what I was chose for the next round and eventually for the job. I did read a whole lot online about interviewing, the kind of questions you can expect, and all sorts of other articles in order to be as prepared as I could be.
I totally realize how fortunate I am to step right from my post-doc job into my new industry job next month - without having to move even!