Job Hunting Tips For PhD Students

By | July 27, 2015

Finishing your PhD is no guarantee of being able to find a job. Check out these job hunting tips for PhD students to help prepare you for when you do finish.

1. Start Early

At the start of your PhD the end can seem all too far away. You may find however that it’s upon you quicker than you’d think and you’ll find yourself with your thesis written, your funding running out and you needing to find a job.

If you can start early to think about your next steps after your PhD, you can start putting in place any changes, training or experience you might need in order to do what you want.

2. Read “A PhD is Not Enough”

Review of A Phd Is not enoughI found the book A PhD is Not Enough hugely useful for me when thinking about my future career after my PhD.

It paints an un-romantic picture of academic and research life and gives some very solid and down to earth advice about how to progress through your scientific career.

The advice it gives covers topics such as:

  • Think of the bigger picture
  • Know what your job really is
  • Find a mentor to guide you

Read more about A PhD is Not Enough

3. Know the Realities of The Academic Career Ladder

If you’re doing a PhD I’d say it’s more than likely that you’ve given a career in academia at least a cursory glance.

Before you get your heart too set on becoming an academic though, I’d suggest taking a look at some of the realities of the academic career path and think about whether you’re prepared to make the kind of sacrifices it might require.

There’s no shame (and possibly plenty of money) in not pursuing an academic career!

Academic Careers – How Reproductive is Your Professor?

4. Be Creative – Think Beyond Your PhD

Yes your PhD has given you a “very particular set of skills” that you might want to put into direct use.

But it can pay to be a bit creative and inventive about what work you might want to go for next. Think about the aspects of your PhD you’ve enjoyed, and which bits you’d be glad to see the back of.

One source of possible career leads could be the manufacturers of all that specialist equipment you’ve become an expert in using.

You could be just the person they are looking for to join their team!

5. Look at Job Adverts Before You Need a Job

Of course when your PhD is coming to a close you may well start looking at job adverts to find the perfect job.

What I suggest however is that you start looking well in advance (years even) to see what kind of jobs are out there, and crucially what kind of skills and experience they are looking for.

If you start looking early enough you might have time to get some training, or teach yourself the skills before you have to start job hunting in earnest.

6. Improve Your skills

If you do identify skills that might make you more attractive to an employer then it makes sense to try and get training in them.

If you’re lucky you’ll find that your university provides some level of training for staff and postgraduates as part of a continuing professional development course. Take advantage of these.

You can also find plenty of online courses, often freely available, such as Coursera.

Transferring skills to outside academia

7. Keep a ‘PhD Memoir’ to track your skills and experience

Your PhD is a potentially huge source of experience on which you can draw when applying for jobs.

To keep track of all this experience I suggest keeping a ‘PhD Memoir’ as you go to keep some kind of record of what you’ve done and where you’ve demonstrated skills and behaviours that might be in demand from employers.

Use what you learn from taking a look at job adverts and postings (see point 5, above) to guide you about what kind of examples you should make a note of. If you go on any training courses write those down too.

If you’re reading this at the end of your PhD – don’t dispair – you can still write a ‘PhD memoir’ by going back through all your laboratory notebooks to jog your memory about the projects and training you’ve been involved with.

8. Join a Professional Social Network

You may not be all that into social media and posting a picture of what you had for breakfast everyday, but joining a professional social or jobs network such as LinkedIn can be a good way to find interesting jobs that you hadn’t really been looking for.

It’s unlikely that a prospective employer is going to see your profile and insist that you come and work for them right away.

But what you might find is that your connections and contacts give you inspiration for what kind of job you might want to get involved with, and you might find an old colleague who can give you some tips and advice about how to apply.

Are You Linked In? – Find out more about using LinkedIn

9. Use Your University’s Careers Service

Your university almost certainly has a careers service that you can take advantage of. Exactly what they offer will vary, but you can expect to find assistance on imporant things such as CV writing and interview techniques.

If your university doesn’t have one, or it’s just not very good, I’ve found quite a bit of good material on the Kent University Careers Service website.

10. Persevere

It may sound obvious buy you may have to persevere and keep keep an open mind to successfully find a job.

You might have set backs but each job you do apply for will make you a stronger candidate for the next one as you learn to highlight your successes and strengths, and deal with your limitations.

My first interview after my PhD was the first proper one I’d had since I went to work in a toy shop 10 years earlier. Needless to say it took a little while for me to find my form…

Good Luck!