After months of job searching, Jess learned about an opportunity in the most unexpected place—a coffee shop where she ran into an alumna from her department. Next thing I knew, Jess got the interview and was offered a high-level position before even finishing her thesis.
Her success also made me realize that I could not just hide in my lab until my thesis was done and expect to get hired the day after I defended. While it was way too soon to actually start applying for PhD jobs although a 2-year PhD sounds great in theory , I decided to at least start attending networking events to find out what was out there in the real world. Just like Jess, most graduate students focus so much on their thesis research that when they get close to graduation they realize that they have—no professional network, few marketable skills, and no plan for career advancement.
This last one is particularly important because even if they get a interview, one of the most likely questions will be: Networking is indispensable if you want a job. Your industry resume will not speak for itself. Neither will a cover letter no matter how well it is written. If you apply to a job through the Internet, your application will be buried in a pile on the desk of a hiring manager who needs to review hundreds of applications in addition to their full-time day job.
The only way to get an industry job is to start networking. Learning about exciting career opportunities will give you the motivation you need to finish your thesis. Talking to professionals about the big picture of your research which is easy to forget in the day-to-day busyness of graduate school will help broaden your perspective.
You will learn what marketable skills employers are looking for, and you can tailor your thesis so you pick up these specific skills. It is not enough to be smart anymore. Employers are looking for people with very specific technical backgrounds.
Talking to professionals in your field might give you ideas in the form of references or other contacts on how to solve technical problems in your thesis. Professionals are always happy to share their experiences about graduate school and to give you great advice on both writing your thesis and dealing with difficult advisors and thesis committee members. There might be opportunities for collaborations with industry that could lead to extra funding, expanding your network, and learning about industry work environments.
After working in industry for several years, I can let you in on a little secret: By the time a position is advertised, the hiring manager is overwhelmed with work and they need someone yesterday in order to meet a deadline or a company quota. While they might not have a position for you at the moment, if you can show what value you would provide for their company in terms of saving time or money in the process of bringing a product of service to the market they will keep you in mind for future positions, or refer you to a colleague who might be hiring.
The first step to learning how to network is learning how to add value to other people. Networking is a two-way street—you need to be willing to offer help to your professional contacts as well. First, if you are not the right candidate for their company, they might ask you if you would be willing to put them in contact with someone such as a fellow graduate student or postdoc with the right background.
Or, they might have a technical question for you. This would be the perfect opportunity to showcase your technical expertise. Finally, in a year or two when you are employed, your contact might reach out to you, because they are looking to advance their careers. Whether or not your company is hiring someone with their background, be willing to offer your help by referring them to one of your colleagues or put them in touch with a recruiter.
You never know how quickly the tables might turn. Many PhD students struggle with getting interviews simply because they cannot articulate through their resumes and cover letters the value that they would bring to a company. If you refuse to actively explore career opportunities in graduate school, it will be very tough to market yourself well during your job search.
Given that it takes months to find a PhD level position even longer if you have no professional network , the time to start exploring career paths is now. The following 10 strategies will help you complete your research and plan for your career at the same time:.
What is the big picture of your research, how does it advance your field of study, and how does it support your career development? Be sure that your thesis research will help you acquire transferable skills sets and expertise. Do you think it is too early to start networking as a first or second year student? It is actually great to network when you are not looking for a job, so you can show genuine interest in what others are doing without looking like you are desperate for a job.
This will give you the opportunity to learn about career paths and start expanding your professional network. If you are diligent about networking, you will meet hundreds of professionals.
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