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

My 3-Step Job-Search Plan For PhDs In A Bad Economy

Finding the right position with the right job search strategy was one of my biggest challenges once I decided to move into industry. 

I had plenty of academic experience, but I didn’t know if that was valuable in industry.

A lot of people told me that it would be difficult to apply for industry roles without relevant experience.

At first, I made some major mistakes.

My advisor told me to list my technical skills at the top of my resume.

He told me to emphasize my education section – surely, this would impress employers, right?

It didn’t, and now I know better.

I wasn’t listing all the transferable skills I’d picked up in academia, and I wasn’t targeting industry roles with the right keywords.

Academia is fixated on your credentials…

While industry asks questions like these:

  • How can you apply your knowledge?
  • Can you find smart solutions?
  • What results can you achieve?

Industry cared less about titles from my past and more about what I could do in the future.

I already had all the necessary skills to excel in industry, but I wasn’t communicating them properly on my resume.

Once I started networking and building good industry resumes, it wasn’t long until I started seeing results.

I didn’t get my first big industry job right away, but I made connections, got interviews, and picked up important referrals.

It may take some time, but if you adopt the right strategies as a PhD, you WILL get hired into a fulfilling, lucrative industry role.

Why You Should Expect To Interview Multiple Times In Your Job Search

There is no magic trick to getting hired in industry.

It takes hard work and perseverance.

Even after you get the interview, the job search process still isn’t complete.

The average candidate can have up to 3 interviews with a company before a hiring decision is made.

CareerSidekick reports that, for some positions, candidates may have 5 or more interviews before getting hired.

Hires represent an investment by the company, and they want to be sure you are the right candidate.

If you have more than one interview, don’t get discouraged – this is completely normal.

According to Talent Works, the average time it takes someone to get a job is 84 days.

84 days may seem like a long time for a job search, especially when you are unemployed.

PhD talking on phone

And for PhD-level positions, it can take even longer.

For example, the same source reports that it can take more than 150 days for a mechanical engineer to get hired.

As a PhD, you are qualified for high-level industry positions, and the hiring process for those is longer than for entry-level positions.

So you must be resilient in your job search.

Keep pushing forward, and realize that it’s normal for a PhD-level job search to last many months.

Your PhD is a professional asset, but it will not get you a job all on its own.

You have to learn from the mistakes you make along the way.

And you can also learn from the mistakes other PhDs make in their job search…

3 Steps Job Search Strategy To Getting Hired In A Recession

PhDs are smart – no one is arguing against this.

But a lifetime in academia can really skew your idea of a proper job search.

Many PhDs are pretty scattered.

Especially right now, in the midst of the recession, they’re not focused. 

Are you getting overwhelmed with uncertainty?

Do you have a sense of panic or fear about what’s going to happen in the future?

I want to clarify exactly what you need to do to focus your job search. 

This is the blueprint you should follow when times are uncertain or when things seem chaotic.

It’s time to go back to the fundamentals and reapply them to the current context. 

Here are 3 things to check off your list during your job search in the recession.

1.  Figure out the professional lifestyle that you want. 

Always go back to this. 

The ball in a sense is always in your court. 

Don’t be desperate – don’t take just any job that’s out there. 

First, consider what you want. 

At the end of the day, you could take a very low-level job, postdoc, or something similar to get by. 

But you deserve better than that. 

So think about your desired professional lifestyle. 

Remember, you have value, your PhD is valuable so you get to decide what you actually want. 

When evaluating the professional lifestyle you want, ask yourself these core questions. 

Do you want an industry position that is:

  • Numbers-heavy?
  • Writing-intensive?
  • At the tip of the innovation spectrum?
  • More on the commercial side? 
  • Related to intellectual property?
  • R&D-oriented?
  • Remote? 
  • In-house?
  • Heavy on travel? 

Do you want to work with large teams or small teams?

A large company or a small one?

Finally, ask yourself, How much do I want the salary to be?

Once you determine the professional lifestyle you want, you can fit job titles to that concept. 

2. Work off of a job-search spreadsheet.

Too many PhDs STILL don’t do this…

You need a master list of all your job search activity.

PhDs search for job

Cheeky Scientist calls this the “job search-spreadsheet,” and you should be using one.

Create a spreadsheet with 5 columns, including:

  • The companies you want to work for
  • Contacts you make within those companies
  • Job openings at the companies in which you now have contacts
  • The last time you followed up with those contacts
  • The next time that you need to follow up with them

This is your home base—your central map of all the information and strategy that you need during your job hunt.

If you don’t have a spreadsheet like this, you’re wasting your time. 

You can’t just “fly by the seat of your pants.” 

This should not be a spontaneous process where you just wake up in the morning and look at whatever job opening you feel like looking at. 

Forget about following one job lead at a time—especially during a recession— and work toward many opportunities at the same time.

This gives you leverage and control in your search, which will make you more confident.

When you interview with a company, it won’t be as nerve-racking because you’ll have many other job opportunities to work toward.

3. Focus on networking and generating referrals.

Set up as many informational interviews as you can.

The Cheeky Scientist Association is extremely valuable for this.

With a built-in network of other PhDs, you will have a very easy time getting informational interviews with those whose careers match your vision.

Then, you can get introductions from these Associates to people who may not be in the Association, but who are working in your dream companies. 

To get those informational interviews, you should follow a process called the “straight-line referral strategy.” 

This strategy is built on 3 steps:

  • Get a reply from a contact.
  • Don’t overthink it. 
  • Focus on reaching out in a professional, yet human way.

Remember, everyone is having a hard time right now.

Don’t be so intensely focused on getting a job that you forget the other person’s a human being going through a pandemic. 

Once they’ve replied to you and you have a dialogue going, you can start the information interview process and ask them questions. 

This second section of the straight-line referral process is all about adding value. 

How do they enjoy their career?

Congratulate them on that career, on their professional progress, something you find on their LinkedIn profile, or whatever else you can think of. 

Ease into the informational interview with compliments and easy, general questions about their professional life.

Ask them how they got into their job or what they enjoy about it the most.

Build rapport.

That third section of the straight-line strategy is to ask more probing questions – this is where you get your most valuable information.

You can’t skip directly to this step.

You have to go through the layers of intimacy first.

Don’t start with a question that’s too intimate right away – you’ll scare them off.

This is where you can ask them about the most challenging part of their job.

What’s the work life balance like? 

What do they wish they had known when they first started the job?

After all this, ask if you can use their name on a cover letter as a referral. 

Ask if they can pass along your resume to the hiring manager. 

Or at the very least, ask them if there’s anybody else they could introduce you to at the company—someone they think you’d benefit from talking to…

Everyone says yes to this. 

This is how the straight-line referral strategy works.

There you have it: The 3 steps to a strong job search during the recession. Figure out the professional lifestyle that you want in order to match your strategy to that ideal. Then track your progress and work off of a job search spreadsheet. Focus on networking and generating referrals, and you will see your career gradually begin to take form. It might not happen right away – in fact, it probably won’t. But these things take time. You’re a PhD, and the hardest part (getting your degree) is over. Now it’s just a matter of following the right formula.

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


Sarah Smith, PhD, holds a degree in Biochemistry. A tireless science consultant at large, her rigorous pursuit of pristine labwork is unflinching. Yet Sarah’s keenest passion--guiding emergent academics into the business world--stems from personal experience with the transitional struggles she would have no PhD face alone.

Sarah Smith, PhD

Similar Articles

Why PhDs Are Powerhouses Of Productivity (& How It Can Get Your Hired)

Why PhDs Are Powerhouses Of Productivity (& How It Can Get Your Hired)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Nothing makes sense today in the job market”, a PhD expressed to me recently.  “No one is responding to my resumes. I don’t understand why they would ask for a scientist at the company and then not even want to talk to me”, they said. They went on: “I’ve even had some friends refer to me, but still didn’t get an interview. I feel like I made a mistake getting my PhD.”  It’s hard hearing this from PhDs who invested so much in their education and in advancing research for humanity.  Still, I hear it a lot.  My response is…

Employers Are Hiring PhDs Because They Learn Faster Than Other Job Candidates

Employers Are Hiring PhDs Because They Learn Faster Than Other Job Candidates

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Why would any employers hire me… I don’t have industry experience, my skills don’t match the positions I want, and I’m not hearing back from any positions I’ve applied to… Plus, I don’t know anyone in industry.” I heard this from a PhD recently who was mentally broken from their job search.  They had been applying to jobs for months and either hearing nothing back or getting rejected very quickly.  When they asked their peers for insights as to why, they heard the usual stuff, “maybe you’re overqualified?” Or… “Actually, you’re underqualified because you don’t have industry experience.” “You can’t…

What Are Ghost Job Listings & How PhDs Should Handle Them

What Are Ghost Job Listings & How PhDs Should Handle Them

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I’ve applied to hundreds of job postings” a PhD recently told me. “Using the same resume?” I asked.  “No.” they replied.  “I targeted every resume. I’ve heard nothing back. In some cases I was sent a rejection email within the hour. What’s happening?!”, they wailed.  “Ghost job listings.” I replied.  They asked me what a ghost job listing is and I explained that ghost job listings are jobs posted by real companies but they’re jobs that these companies have no intention of actually filling. Of course, this PhD wanted to know why and I told them that the answer is…

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

Does Your PhD Resume Spell A Bad Culture Fit?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

One of the biggest reasons that I left academia was the constant negativity.  Instead of collaboration, I was pitted against my fellow PhDs. The system forced us to compete against one another. I couldn’t look to my advisors for support either. It was more trouble than it was worth to even get them to make time, and in the end, their “advice” was little more than common sense. And that’s to say nothing of the wrath I’d face if I picked the wrong time to speak up or advocate for my research. I persisted, though, and looked forward to applying…

Robots Ate Your Precious Technical Skills. Focus On These Transferable Skills Instead

Robots Ate Your Precious Technical Skills. Focus On These Transferable Skills Instead

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I haven’t even graduated yet and my career is already being phased out by AI. Am I going to need a separate degree in machine learning to stand out from the competition?  How can I compete in a data-focused industry when software can do most of my job faster and for far less? Messages like these come to me every day. ChatGPT sent shockwaves through every industry when developer OpenAI unveiled the software to the general public in 2022. Within 5 days of launch, it had already seen 1 million users. I work closely with PhDs on a daily basis.…

The Power Of The Functional Resume: A Game-Changer for PhDs Seeking Industry Roles

The Power Of The Functional Resume: A Game-Changer for PhDs Seeking Industry Roles

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Sometimes you’re too close to a situation to really understand it. That was definitely the case for me when it came to my industry resume.  As a PhD leaving academia, it took me a long time to understand that I was wasting my time submitting an academic CV to industry employers. It wasn’t until I was hired in an industry role that I understood there was a specific resume format for people like me. When I had a chance to shadow an industry recruiter, that’s when I really understood the goal of a resume – the zoomed-out view that I…

How Long Does It Take To Get Hired As A PhD?

How Long Does It Take To Get Hired As A PhD?

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I spent a lot of time being disappointed during my job search; things were taking longer than they should have.  At least, that’s what I thought. The longer I didn’t hear back from a recruiter or hiring manager for a job I really wanted, the more jobs I’d apply to and the more confused my job search would become.  I also didn’t realize that recruiters and hiring managers would trade notes and become confused by my frantic frequent applications to as many jobs as I could find.  What I didn’t know was that my impatience was costing me potential jobs…

Clinch The Interview With 6 Can’t-Miss Cover Letter Strategies

Clinch The Interview With 6 Can’t-Miss Cover Letter Strategies

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I first started my job search, I was not a fan of cover letters.  I’d even go so far as to say that I hated them. But I ran into a friend of mine about a year after I got my PhD. We got to talking. I told him that it had been almost 12 months since I graduated and I had only had a few interviews.  He said to send him my resume and cover letter and he’d take a look for me. Cover letter? I didn’t have a cover letter, I told him. And he told me…

How To Supercharge The Search Ranking Of Your LinkedIn Profile & Resume

How To Supercharge The Search Ranking Of Your LinkedIn Profile & Resume

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

You probably know that you should always target your resume when you apply for an open position and that you should add keywords related to your desired position throughout the sections of your LinkedIn profile. But do you actually know what targeting a resume or LinkedIn profile involves? Most PhDs think that they just need to look at the skills mentioned in a job posting and sprinkle a couple of them throughout their professional profile. This is the bare minimum.  If you want to ensure your LinkedIn profile always comes at the top of searches and your resume always makes…

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.

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.

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.