Preparing for Your Next Job

Published: Tue., April 21, 2015; by Adrian Lara

 Adrian Lara portrait

Even if you have a year or two of grad school left, start thinking about applying for your first post-graduate job now. I have a year left in my program, but I've been thinking about how to get myself out there and find a challenging and satisfying job for several years now.

Here are some of the most useful tips I've found for getting ready for the non-academic job market, with a few tips for the academic job market sprinkled in.

Get an internship
Internships are beneficial in so many ways! First, you'll acquire professional experience and develolp an expertise. Second, your CV will be a lot stronger. Third, if you do a good job, you may have a future with the company. 
In summer 2013, I did an internship in the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California. When I finished my internship, my supervisor told me to consider coming back after graduation. Knowing that I've made those connections and I've got a start on my career is a huge benefit.  (Not to mention that the work I did with them turned into one of my dissertation chapters—but that’s a different story!)

If you're not in field where internships are a normal part of the graduate program, look for ways to get volunteer experience and build your skill set. Down the road, that experience will show how you've put the skills you learned in grad school to use in a variety of situations.

Start looking early
Getting a job takes time. If you want to be hired by the time you receive your degree, then you should start far in advance (6 months minimum!). Keep in mind that you’ll need to travel to interviews. You don’t want to be on the plane three days before you defend your dissertation, so pay attention to the timing between finishing up your degree and when you might get interview requests.

Update and fine-tune your CV
Just like a conference paper’s written differently for different audiences, your CV or résumé gets tailored to each position. Different companies might be interested in different abilities, or they may be interested in different experiences you've had. Plus,  your future employeer will appreciate that a CV customized for that job addresses all the qualifications in the job ad. When you're working on your CV or résumé, try to get as much feedback as possible from family and friends until you have the perfect document. Edit, edit, edit, and then be sure to proofread!

Develop your in-person network
Sometimes your résumé will get a closer look because of who you’ve worked with or because you know the person reviewing the  application materials. Your main goal is to make sure other people remember your name. So get your name out there before you go on the job market! If you attend a conference, talk to  presenters, go to the booths and hand out your card. Here on campus, definitely attend the job fairs organized by UNL and introduce yourself to the companies. Organizations prefer hiring somebody they know, and you'll have an advantage when you apply for the job if they've seen you before and have talked to you.

Use online networks
Online networks are a must when looking for a job. Make sure you have a LinkedIn account, build a good network, and add as much information as you can to your profile. Your profile will come up on the first page of a Google search, so make sure your information's up-to-date! Also, make sure your other profiles (Facebook, for example) don’t have a crazy profile pic that will scare away potential employers (yes, they will check your Facebook profile!). Still, don’t forget that some job offers won't be posted online, so you'll need to continue to focus on old fashioned, face-to-face networking!

Ph.D. students

Ph.D. students face the decision of working in industry or academia. As a Ph.D. you’ve got skills that are valuable in both areas!

Focus even more on networking
While LinkedIn features plenty of  jobs where the master’s is a minimum qualification, there are far fewer advertised positions where the Ph.D. is the minimum qualification (or even a preferred qualification). Once again, networking is key here, and making the best of every conference you attend will help you get a job. Another way to network is to keep track of where previous lab-mates are working. Keep in touch and, when you are looking for a job, ask if they need more people.

Involve your advisor
Your advisor’s network is larger and better developed than yours, so talk to him or her about your plans. Your advisor may know about open positions from colleagues. This is particularly true if you’re looking for a job in academia, but also if your advisor has connections in industry.
Be humble and open
I’m fully aware of the effort and persistence needed to complete a Ph.D.  Because you've put in all that work, it’s possible you feel like you should be further along in your career when you get that first job. Remember to be humble—you may make a little less in your first position than you thought you would, or you may not be in charge of projects right away. Just remember that once you prove yourself in your job, it’s much more likely that you’ll move up the ranks quickly.   

International students

Finally, as an international student, I also have a couple of tips! In our case, starting early is even more important, as our status requires us to be either full-time students or employees. So don’t wait till the last minute to apply for jobs!

Also, get yourself familiar with OPT (Optional Practice Training for F-1 students). The OPT is a work authorization granted to students with an F-1 visa that allows them to work for a year before getting a working visa for the U.S.A. To learn more about this, talk to a specialist in the International Student and Scholar Office.

Whether you're looking for a job after you finish your master's or your doctorate, looking for opportunities to develop skills and grow your network will pay off in the long run. Don't believe me? Check out advice from the experts, such as this blog, which has very useful tips for Ph.D. students looking for jobs in industry, or read about how one Ph.D. transitioned into an industry job here. And finally, if you're looking for advice from others who got jobs outside of academia and you'd like to see examples of succesful résumés and cover letters, check out VersatilePhD.