Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

5 Tips To Help PhDs Overcome Frustration And Depression While Job Hunting

Changing careers was really challenging for me.

Sometimes I felt like all of my efforts were for nothing.

I felt worthless, hopeless, and helpless.

Each tailored industry resume I wrote kept me glued to the computer for hours.

And then I waited… and waited.

Sometimes, I never heard back from the employer or even knew if they had seen my application.

Each industry interview I had, I studied and practiced as if I was preparing for my thesis defense.

I walked away each time thinking I had nailed it.

But then, I would inevitably receive the dreaded email…

We appreciate your interest in our company but after careful consideration, I am sorry to let you know we have decided on a different candidate that better matched our qualifications.

The reasons for my rejection would vary.

But they were all non-specific.

I didn’t have enough experience, or other candidates possessed more relevant skills, or the company decided to go in a different direction.

Here’s what they were really saying—it’s not you, it’s me.

Each time I was rejected, I felt more crushed and demotivated.

Rejection feels miserable.

That’s when I started thinking about quitting my job search.

That’s when I started thinking that maybe I should just go back to academia.

I knew that I could get a postdoc position if I wanted to, and then I would be safe for a few more years.

I started thinking that maybe I didn’t have the emotional intelligence and transferable skills to get an industry job.

I was on the verge of giving up one day, when I decided to reach out to a hiring manager who had rejected me for a position.

What did I have to lose?

The hiring manager had interviewed me for a position, and then sent me a standard rejection email.

Usually, that was the end of it.

But this time, I decided to follow up.

I didn’t follow up to ask why or complain, I followed up to thank her and to see if new positions were available.

I even recommended a past colleague for a different position.

The response was very favorable and she agreed to hold on to my resume and call me back when a position that was a good fit opened up.

We stayed in touch for weeks.

I started staying in touch with dozens of hiring managers and recruiters who had rejected me.

That’s when things started to change.

That’s when I started to fail forward, and within a few more weeks, I got a great job that was a perfect fit for me.

The job search period is a crazy roller-coaster ride, but it’s definitely a ride worth taking.

Why All Job Searches Are Frustrating

Job searching requires strategy, self-control and self-motivation in the face of discouragement, setbacks and self-criticism.

It’s not an easy process.

A recent After College Career Insight Survey found that only 13% of graduate students have a job lined up before graduation while 74% do not have a job lined up at graduation.

That’s right—74% are facing unemployment at graduation!

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota followed and analyzed over 70 job seekers who had high levels of expertise in their fields and who were currently employed.

The study showed that 51% of these highly skilled job seekers had difficulty facing repetitive rejection.

The study also found that being rejected negatively affected the job seekers’ self-worth, even though they were highly skilled and already employed.

Job searching provoked a wealth of negative feelings in the participants.

They felt helpless, hopeless, frustrated and even embarrassed.

Do these feelings sound familiar?

The good news is that the above study also found that top job candidates were able to improve their feelings and outcomes by changing the way they reacted to new challenges.

For example, if they saw a setback like not getting an offer after an interview as a challenge instead of failure, they were more likely to get a job down the road.

They were also more likely to have a higher quality of life, better mental health, and a better attitude toward their current and future employers.

Rejection is an inevitable part of the job search process.

The key is to not let your frustration overshadow your career goals and to turn every challenge into an opportunity.

5 Strategies For Staying Motivated In Your Job Search

In today’s job market, PhDs are competing with many other applicants for the same opportunities.

As a result, the only way to stand out is to communicate your value over other candidates’ effectively.

Negativity will get you nowhere.

Beating yourself up after every missed interview or unanswered message will damage your self-confidence and hold back your job search.

Most importantly, other people will notice your negative mindset.

Interviewers will sense your lack of self-assurance.

The only way to keep moving forward and making progress is to use everything that happens to you during your job search to your advantage: even mistakes, missed opportunities, and rejections.

Here are 5 strategies for overcoming frustration and depression while job hunting…

1. Don’t take rejection personally.

Presenting your work at a scientific conference in front of 10, 50 or even 1,000 people can seem like an easy task compared to the dreadful experience of a 1:1 interview.

I remember presenting my project to a big assembly and answering some very critical questions.

Then I went on my first industry interview and fidgeted in my seat nervously the whole time.

What was the difference?

When I was at a conference presenting my data, I never took criticism personally.

They were talking about the data and my project overall and I appreciated their input to move my project forward.

If you want to get a job in industry, you must learn to create this detachment.

You must learn to detach yourself from rejection.

Instead, look at the job position and your job search as a project.

Not receiving a job offer is not a personal attack.

It’s an opportunity to re-focus and improve.

Just because one company says “no” today doesn’t mean it’s a “no” for all future positions, forever.

Each rejection is a learning experience.

Do not fall into the trap of dwelling on a rejection and wondering what might have been.

Learn from it, take new action, and move forward.

2. Surround yourself with positive people, not negative people.

Job searching is a lonely venture.

To stay motivated, you must surround yourself with the right people.

If you have negative people in your life who subtly put you down when you get rejected, you must remove them.

Instead, you need to surround yourself with positive people.

Ask friends and family members for support (yes, actually ask them).

Join a trusted community or association so you don’t feel like you’re the only one going through this.

Most importantly, step away from negative mentors or academic advisors and seek out positive leaders to help you.

It is very easy to paint yourself as a victim during the job search process.

The interviewer was biased.

The process was fixed.

The world hates me.

You completed your PhD and you joined the top echelon of highly skilled workers.

Why aren’t employers banging on your door?

You have to avoid this weak mentality.

Avoid playing the victim and blaming other people for your failures.

Avoid surrounding yourself with people that encourage this negative behavior too.

Instead, surround yourself with a positive community of like-minded people where you can share honest experiences and learn trade secrets.

3. Ask for feedback after a rejection and keep following up.

Receiving constructive criticism is never easy.

But if you want to improve and progress, it’s absolutely necessary.

If you get rejected, don’t give up and don’t slash and burn.

Instead, reconnect with your interviewer.

Follow up with them after you get your rejection notice, and then continue to follow up with them.

Here is an example script you can follow…

‘Dear [Employer],

While I am disappointed that I am no longer considered for position [XYZ] at your company, I completely understand your reasoning for taking a more experienced candidate and I thank you for the opportunity to interview.

Moving forward, it would be helpful if I could receive feedback regarding my interview, if there is anything I can improve upon for the future or if there are additional skills I should acquire to make myself a more competitive candidate.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

[The Perfect Job Candidate]’

Once you send this message, wait a few weeks to hear back.

If you don’t hear anything, follow up gently every month to build the relationship.

Not only does following up help you for the next interview, but it shows the employer that you welcome their feedback.

It shows them that you have the grit and emotional intelligence necessary to work in a tough industry.

It also puts you in a position to hear about new openings at that company, or in the industry in general, faster than you would otherwise.

4. Record your progress and celebrate the small victories.

Organizing your job search is imperative to keeping track of your progress.

It’s also important for providing you with proof in terms of how far you’ve come from when you first started.

Recording your progress will keep you from repeating mistakes and will fill you with a sense of growth.

You should have a running spreadsheet of the companies and positions you’re interested in.

You should also include all of your connections at these companies on this spreadsheet.

Keeping track of the connections you’ve made, as well as the last time you contacted them and the next time you plan on contacting them, will help you diversify your job search rapidly.

You should also keep a folder with your tailored resumes and cover letters.

Being meticulous and strategic in your job search will help you to quickly regroup after a rejection.

It will help you stay organized in today’s very competitive job markets.

The key is to set small, attainable goals for each week.

This will keep you focused on specific tasks, which will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and defeated.

Don’t lose sight of the effort it takes to transition into a new career.

When you do hear back from a recruiter or receive positive feedback regarding your LinkedIn profile, celebrate it.

There was a time when you couldn’t even fathom leaving academia.

Now, recruiters are contacting you and you’re getting industry interviews.

That’s a big win.

Remember how far you have come and remember how important each step is along the way.

5. Take a day off to re-energize and gain perspective.

Everyone needs a break.

Even PhDs.

It is very easy to burn out during job a search.

There are endless jobs to apply to, networking events to attend, and people to connect with.

You can end up spending every day glued to the computer, which only fuels your frustration when you hear nothing positive in return.

If you want to stay motivated, you need to allow yourself time to recover.

Taking one day to yourself or taking one day off to spend with family and friends, with no computer access, is the best way to breathe life back into your job search.

You will come back stronger and more creative than before.

Taking a few days off from an intensive project like a job search has been shown to alleviate frustration, change perspective, and spark novelty.

Motivational slumps are normal.

The only way to overcome them is to strike an intelligent balance between hunting and resting.

Job searching is a daunting process. In order to make your transition out of academia successful, it’s necessary to learn effective coping mechanisms for staying motivated. It’s important to keep a positive outlook and to create small, specific goals for yourself so that you can see measured progress over time.  When you are faced with rejection, learn from it and grow so that you can approach the next application that much stronger.  Surround yourself with positive people and refuse to give in to negativity and a victim mentality.  Above all, take breaks and be good to yourself.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT SARAH RODRIGUES, PHD

Sarah Rodrigues is a medical laboratory scientist with a PhD in Hematology, Oncology & Biotherapies. She has 5+ years of experience in business development and consulting. She works at the intersection of research, science, and innovation, helping institutions make evidenced-based decisions to advance science & technology

Sarah Rodrigues, PhD

Similar Articles

5 Interview Questions PhDs Always Get (and 5 Questions They Should Ask Employers)

5 Interview Questions PhDs Always Get (and 5 Questions They Should Ask Employers)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

By the time I started my industry job search, I was desperate. I was nearing the end of my PhD and my proverbial plate had never felt so full. Between final experiments, last drafts, and defense presentations, I had dedicated virtually no time to my job search. The little effort and time I was able put into it felt very arbitrary and unfocused I wasn’t even sure what job I wanted. All I knew was that I needed a job – and fast. Needless to say, when I finally did find myself seated in front of a hiring manager, I…

Your Job Search a Disaster So Far? Here's How to Clean Up the Mess (and Land the Job You Deserve)

Your Job Search a Disaster So Far? Here's How to Clean Up the Mess (and Land the Job You Deserve)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I’ve had several first-round interviews, Isaiah, but no callbacks,” a frustrated PhD candidate recently confided in me.  “Do you have any idea why?” I asked.  Everyone’s job search is unique, of course, so there’s no one answer to this question. But there are two that I hear more than most.  One is: “Employers say they’re looking for someone with more experience.”  The other? “Employers keep asking me why I’m leaving academia.”  Put another way, these two reasons are a reflection of PhDs being seen as either underqualified or overqualified.  The transition from academia to industry can be a minefield, and…

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“We regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application due to concerns that your qualifications exceed those required for the role.  We feel it would not be a good fit. Thank you for applying.”  Oof, that’s part of a rejection email a PhD sent me. An employer had sent it to them after the first interview.  Another PhD told me this recently… “I feel like I’m both overqualified and underqualified for the jobs I apply to Isaiah.”  Which do you feel is more of a problem for you? I asked.  “At first I thought…

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“‘Why do you want to work here more than anywhere else? And why are you leaving academia?’ Those are the questions I got stuck on, Isaiah.  I told them why I liked their company, mainly because it was aligned with my values, but I also wanted to be fair and ethical so I told them that I was considering other companies. Then I explained that academia was no longer a good fit because I wanted to do more than write grants all day.”  “Okay, I replied, anything else? What did you say after that?” “I asked them a few clarifying…

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Isaiah, I applied to ThermoFisher two weeks ago and a hiring manager got in touch with me and I had my first interview…. But then a second hiring manager reached out to me about another job I applied to there.  I started talking to this second manager and they asked if I applied to any other positions there.  I couldn’t lie so I told them about the other job and the other hiring manager.  Now, neither of the hiring managers will get back to me.  What should I do?”  This is what a PhD told me over the phone last…

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Be real Isaiah, there’s not a government bureau keeping track of how our resumes perform.”  This is what a frustrated job seeker said to me recently.  “What do you mean I have a reputation score?” they asked.  “Of course there’s not a bureau dedicated to this, at least not yet” I said.  “But you absolutely are being scored and ranked” I went on, “and your ranking is used to indicate how reputable you are as a job seeker.”  This is what I’ve explained to countless people looking for a job in today’s job market, most of whom were getting initial…

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I spent over a year looking for a job in academia and flew to multiple interviews. I didn’t get one offer.” A PhD told me this recently and many other PhDs have told me similar stories.  Of course, the stories involve more than just looking for a job for a year.  They involve living on a meager academic budget, trying to support themselves and their families, often in very expensive cities where many of the biggest universities are located.  They involve decisions to never go on a vacation, to feed their kids cheaper, less healthy food, and to work all…

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My last year in academia, I didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas. So I spent it in Iowa City, mostly alone.  I was broke (of course) so I decided to shovel snow out of driveways for $10 per driveway. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to be a PhD shoveling snow for money. “What I wouldn’t give to have a better job”, I thought.  That was the gift I wanted for Christmas and the holidays.  A better job.  Not to be a student or a postdoc or an academic PhD getting paid less than I was…

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Writing a resume for an industry job is one of the biggest sticking points I see with PhDs entering the job market.  What worked even a year ago is not working today due to recent and rapidly accelerating advances in Applicant Tracking Systems.  These systems, called ATS or just AI today, are software tools used by companies to filter resumes.  They scan for specific keywords related to the job role, abilities, credentials, and qualities desired in a candidate.  As a PhD seeking very competitive roles, including relevant keywords in your resume is essential to pass through these systems and get…

Here's What Others Are Saying

"I signed with ASML for 117k! (asked for 120 and they came up from 110) plus a 10% target annual bonus."

Andrew Dawes

Andrew Dawes

Senior Applications Engineer

at ASML

"I am happy to share I am starting a new position! Excited to start this position with excellent colleagues!"

Tanumoy Mondul

Tanumoy Mondul

Senior Scientist

at Sanofi

"I am delighted to announce that I have accepted the role of Research Scientist with a base salary of 90k. The cheeky scientist resources have helped me immensely and I am really grateful."

Amninder Singh Sekhon

Amninder Singh Sekhon

Research Scientist

"I am happy to share I started a new job as a senior research scientist in medicinal chemistry at x-chem Montreal."

Nicolas Wlodarczyk

Nicolas Wlodarczyk

Nicolas Wlodarczyk Senior Research Scientist

at X-Chem

"It feels incredible when you are able to check in with yourself and figure out what is it that you really want. After a long and exciting journey....I am elated to start a new chapter."

Nadzeya Kukhta

Nadzeya Kukhta

Technical Specialist

at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP

"I'm happy to share that I will be starting a new position as MSL at Sanofi! I want to thank everyone that took the time to speak with me about their MSL experience and to help me land this position!"

John Crawford

John Crawford

MSL-Vaccines

at Sanofi

"I landed a dream job as a revenue management analyst at british airways."

James Washak

James Washak

Revenue Management Analyst

at British Airways

"I am BEYOND ECSTATIC to finally say I am starting a new position as Patent Examiner in Biomedical Engineering at USPTO!"

Jo Ramos

Jo Ramos

Patent Examiner in Biomedical Engineering

at USPTO

"Just wanted to say thank you for all your help and motivation.You were great in guiding me in the right direction."

Rittik Ghosh

Rittik Ghosh

Senior Scientist

at Boehringer ingelheim

"I started working with you all back in October 2022 and it took me about four months to secure my new role. I actually had two six figure salary offers in the learning and development arena! One was from a prestigious HBCU and the other one was with a scientific research organization. I signed my six figure offer letter for a Head of Talent Development role with the scientific research organization on March 1st. I negotiated and received a $7,500 increase in salary and I also received an increase in my relocation package. I cannot thank you all enough!"

Dr. Rhonda Anderson

Dr. Rhonda Anderson

Head of Talent Development

at Southern Research

"Hi Isaiah - I have news to share! I applied for a position on Monday night. I had an interview Tuesday and was just offered the position! (Wednesday). I can't believe it! All the hard work. The LinkedIn Messages. The resume building All your keys. I countered 5k more than they offered and they accepted it! I am so over the moon right now and so excited!"

Brittni Levasuar

Brittni Levasuar

"I’m excited to share that i am starting my new job as a technical support engineer at lumencor, inc. the ultimate goal is to grow potatoes on mars by 2050 and make other advaces for mankind."

 Andrii Repula

Andrii Repula

Technical Support Engineer

at Lumencor, Inc.

"I'm excited to announce that I have accepted a position as an Innovations Analyst at Cleveland Clinic. Looking forward to using my background to help commercialize healthcare innovations!"

Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas

Innovations Analyst

at Cleveland Clinic

"I’m happy to share that I started a new position as Medical Science Liaison at Ashfield this January, part of UDG Healthcare (now Inizio) supporting Avita Medical. Thank you to all my mentors, colleagues, and friends who have been incremental in making this dream possible for me.....It is an exciting space/time and I can’t wait for the future."

Mimi Borrelli

Mimi Borrelli

Medical Science Liaison

at Inizio

"Hi Isaiah - I just want to inform you that I've accepted a job offer from Sandoz, Inc. I want to say a special thank you to you and your dedicated staff for all your help and support throughout the job search stage."

Odeniel Sertil

Odeniel Sertil

Manager, Regulatory Affairs Biosimilars

at Sandoz, Inc.

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.