I am blessed to have received multiple job offers (industry, post-doc, and tenure-track) from my job search during the final year of my PhD program. Below, I reflect on this process and provide five tips for how to successfully navigate your job hunt.
- Know your deadlines and timelines
In the Fall, I will be starting as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow (PPFP) at University of Michigan. For years, I was told that most academic deadlines would be in December or January. However, the PPFP deadline was November 1st! If I would have waited until November to check for deadlines, I would not have won this award. The deadlines can vary widely by field so check with your advisor on the typical application timeline for academia AND be sure to look at fellowship deadlines if you intend to do a postdoc, because the two can be very different.
For those who are more interested in industry, be warned that companies may not be 100% sure of their openings until 2-3 months from the start date. I interviewed for a research position at a tech company in October (at their insistence), but was told that although I passed all rounds and was ready to be placed on a team, they wouldn’t know which teams had availability until July. I graduated in June. Needless to say, I did not wait and accepted another position. Therefore, it may not make sense to apply for an industry job until closer to when you would like to start, unless you are comfortable with waiting.
- Use your network
Most likely, if you have made it to your final year in graduate school, you have established your network. Specifically, you may have done an internship or two, presented at conferences, met peers, and schmoozed with top people in your field. Use these people! In any other circumstance, that may seem inappropriate, but they likely know of open positions in your field. If you haven’t made public that you are on the job market, contact these people directly, particularly top influencers in your network, and let them know!
If you are on the shy side, use your advisor and committee. If you have not yet chosen a committee, try to choose people who are either rockstars in their own right (since their recommendation letters will hold a lot of weight) or know rockstars (that they can introduce you to). While it is quite cliche, it isn’t always what you know but who you know. Companies and universities can get 100s of applications for one position. It’s only natural that the easiest thing to do would be to initially filter out people who they do not have a relationship with, either directly or through a reference.
- Be lazy
The word “lazy” has such a negative connotation to most. If that is you, think about the phrase “Work smarter, not harder.” For example, if you write a teaching statement for one R1 university, reuse it for another! You may need to tweak a couple sentences for the specific university, but not the entire statement. You may need to do more tweaking if you are submitting applications to many types of positions (e.g. research- vs. teaching-focused university), but don’t spend too much time tweaking.
I applied to the PPFP programs for University of Michigan and the University of California school system. Thankfully both applications use the same application portal and I was able to submit the same Education and Background statement to both, while editing only parts of my Research statement. This is only logical because your education, background, and prior research aren’t going to change. However, you may want to highlight certain areas of your research more to fit with the values of the university and/or department. (Industry people already know to reuse their CV and add keywords that apply to the specific position, right? Right.)
- Never submit the first draft
This is somewhat self-explanatory but you will likely have a typo in your first draft. Although you may just want to submit to get the application in, you don’t want to be perceived as sloppy or like you don’t care about the position. Once you follow my advice in step 1, work backwards from the due date of the application and start your materials two months prior to the deadline. In the first month, you should be gathering your teaching statements, editing your CV, or creating a research/design portfolio. In the next month, you should share your application materials with your mentors and peers (preferably through a writing group) to get feedback on how to improve your package. If possible, ask friends who currently have the position you are trying to get to review your materials.
- Know the right questions to ask
Once you get the interview (because I have faith in you, invisible Internet people!), you are probably going to be stressed over the interview day, no matter what. It may help you to feel more comfortable to think of a great way to end the interview – with questions! Although you will likely have opportunities to ask questions throughout the interview day, the interviewer or faculty member will ask you if they can answer questions you may have at the end. This has always been the trickiest part for me because I am exhausted by this point, but it was helpful for me to ask other people what questions they asked in their interviews.
Round up your mentors again or peers in your program who recently graduated. Ask them what questions they asked on their interviews and what questions they wish they would have asked to get their current position. Compare answers across multiple mentors/peers and create a list of ones you really want to know the answers to. It isn’t bad to ask questions that others asked. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the same question to multiple interviewees. It helps you compare answers and see if the company or department is consistent in how they train people. If people give contradicting responses, that might indicate a problem either in communication or how the organization is run. Think of yourself as a detective (like Sherlock Holmes or Steve from Blues Clues). You want to find out all you can to piece together a more accurate picture. Most likely, people are going to give you sugar-coated answers because they want you to come there, but you can start to read through the lines if you ask the right questions.
Bonus tip: If you are like me and aren’t used to talking to multiple people for 6-8 hours for an interview, when you get tired of talking, try asking them questions! They love it. It shows your interest and gives you time to rest your voice.