It is never too early to start preparing for the job market. You never know who you’ll meet and what advice or opportunities they might be able to offer you. If you’re prepared it makes exploiting connections and navigating the job market much easier.
When I first started graduate school I really had no idea what I wanted to do beyond graduate school. Academia, industry, or government all seemed appealing for different reasons and I wasn’t quite sure yet which field would align with my wants and needs best.
In this blog post, I’m going to talk about how I navigated and prepared for the job market.
During my job search, networking was the most important way in which I prepared for the job market. Networking though, doesn’t just happen while you’re on the job market but rather in the years leading up while you’re in graduate school. Once on the job market, you’ll then take advantage your network to help you find opportunities.
Whether you realize it or not, you start networking the moment you start graduate school. You’ll be meeting faculty through your coursework, students in your program, and collaborators through your research. It is important to build meaningful relationships with all of these people.
Networking helped me personally in two general ways. First, it helped me decide what positions I might be interested in. Second, it helped connect me with actual job opportunities.
As I mentioned before, when I started graduate school I had no idea what field I wanted to eventually end up in. Over time, I thought the decision would naturally start forming as I gained experience as a student in the field. It didn’t. I found myself at the end of my third year more lost than when I stared. After having time in graduate school and familiarizing myself with the whole field a little better through class, research collaborations, and conferences I had more knowledge about each field which made choosing even harder.
Moving from my third year into my fourth year I made it my mission to just start figuring out what general industries, companies, or academic positions I wanted to apply for. I didn’t want to decide on academia completely or industry completely, just start narrowing down what types of jobs I might be qualified for and interested in.
I decided to take some different faculty members in my department for coffee or to grab lunch in order to understand their career journey better and inform me of what might be right for me. I reached out to faculty that I had in class or whose career journey seemed interesting to me. We would meet up for coffee or food and I just asked them about their career, their decisions along the way, what lessons they felt they learned, and we just generally talked about how they have gotten to where they are.
Naturally during these discussions, as I also expressed some of my wants and needs various faculty would often mention some of their friends or collaborators that may be able to chat with me because they had similar wants and needs. Take advantage of these once removed connections and ask the faculty member if they’d be willing to put you in touch to just have a conversation. A lot of these connections for me were friends of faculty that ended up in industry. As a graduate student you become well-versed about academia but I found it harder to learn more about industry so these can be opportunities to learn what different opportunities there are in industry. Your advisors will be a key networking tool here as well. Talk with them about your wants and needs and see if they have other connections that might be interested in talking with you. If your advisor has a LinkedIn then check out their connections and see if there is anyone at a company or in a position you might be interested in. See if they’ll connect you with those people.
Another great networking resource is current and previous graduate students in your program. Stay in touch with students and re-connect with them as you get close to applying to ask about where they are, if they are happy, and what advice they might have about navigating the whole process. This is a great way to get advice but also find actual job opportunities. Almost every previous student I reached out then also sent me job opportunities to apply to and could internally recommend me in order to speed up the job application process. Students know you or at least know the program you’re coming from and how it prepared you. Hopefully, they feel positively about their education and graduate school experience and will try to find you a position at their company.
It is never to early for job fairs. Schools and conferences will hold job fairs. Check all these opportunities out even as a younger student. Going to job fairs helped me realize there are so many different positions out there for a . Finding a good job isn’t all that hard. Finding a good job that you’re interested in was the harder part in my experience. Chatting with different companies early will also be useful later when you actually go to apply because you may have a connection that you can chat with and hopefully can internally recommend you.
Conferences are also a great place to network. Attend the student mixers and meet people outside your program. Go to dinner with you advisors or faculty in your department to build a stronger relationship outside of work. Take advantage of the time and connections outside your school and department.
Use your network to express your interests and get advice but also reach out to people when you eventually are actually job searching to see if they know of any open positions. Often, this can help you get internally recommended and that always sped things along in my experience.
As early as possible make a full CV. In this master version of your CV, keep all your accomplishments up to date. I have a calendar event that repeats every 6 months to update my CV. I used to keep a note on my phone of different things that I might want to add to my CV. For example, did you have a paper published? Did you present at a conference recently? Have you won any awards? Asking yourself these questions every 6 months and keeping a note with updates to make as you realize them will help you keep your CV up to date and thoroughly representative of all your experience. In addition to the master or full CV, I also had a copy of an industry CV (essentially a 2 page resume), and a classical 1 page resume. You never know who you’re going to meet and when they may ask for your CV or a resume so having one that has been updated recently and holds all your accomplishments will come in handy more than you realize. My industry CV and traditional resume I would tailor to the position or person I was sending it to by taking items from my master CV but having your template ready to fill was definitely useful.
Keep your LinkedIn up to date and always be making connections with people you meet. Update your personal website if you have one. Have a general cover letter template ready to go.
Any professional tools you might have keep clean, organized, and up to date!
When you actually do go to apply for jobs make sure to keep an excel sheet with the information and jobs you applied to. My excel sheet tracked the date I applied, kept a link of the job posting, noted whether I knew anyone else at the company and whether I’d reached out to them, tracked if I had heard back from them for an interview or just didn’t get the job. I would put jobs I had applied to but I also kept a running list of jobs or companies that I needed to apply to.
Before you just start looking for jobs on various companies websites or using Indeed to find opportunities, exploit your network. Chat with people and ask if their company has open positions. If there are open positions, see if you can apply. Often this results in your network connection internally recommending you. In my experience, every job I had an internal recommendation I at least got a first round interview or a very quick response that the position wasn’t right for me. After I had reached out and applied for these positions, I then moved on to cold applying to different positions using Indeed or manually finding positions on a company job posting site. When I cold applied to jobs I very often never heard back or did hear back but not for months. Cold applying led to more rejection and just a generally slower process.
I applied to a lot of jobs. I got rejected from most jobs. At some points, this process of interviewing and not getting the job really started to take a toll on my mental state. If I had a bad interview I’d feel horrible about myself. Not getting a job is not failure though and don’t take it personally. You have no idea what is happening behind the scenes or why you didn’t get the job so don’t take the rejection personally and cut yourself a break. For example, maybe the job you interviewed for already has an internal hire and the interview with external people is a formality. This rejection has nothing to do your personal abilities or skills but in the end you’ll never know so just take the rejection in stride and keep moving. Additionally, when you have interviews that don’t go so great or are rejected based on how you’re treated ask yourself if that is really an environment you would want to work in? In my experience, when I had a bad interview or an interview that resulted in a rejection I often felt that the position may not have been a good fit for me and my interests. You don’t want to get a job that you end up hating so sometimes the rejection hurts but its felt on both sides. Keep that in mind if you get rejected from a job that seemed interesting but after the interview maybe wasn’t a good fit anymore.
During the job search, you become so hyper-focused on getting a job as well as the details of applying and interviewing. Balancing your graduate school responsibilities and the job search is stressful and time consuming. Reflecting back, I feel like I actually really enjoyed those few months where I was interviewing (even though it was a lot of work and I was really tired). I found it rewarding and empowering to be presented with a bunch of different possibilities for the future. So stress a little less and have faith it will all work out.
Enjoy the idea of endless possibilities.