Recessions Are Tough – 3 Ways PhDs Can Be Tougher

Let’s talk about frustration particularly during a recession. 

I’m talking about the frustration of a rejection in your job search. 

Many PhDs are experiencing this kind of frustration in their post-pandemic job search.

It’s important for you to understand that Cheeky Scientist has been through this before. 

Cheeky Scientist actually came out of the financial crash of 2008 when we were in a recession. 

I can tell you firsthand that the mood of the public changes during a recession. 

There are fewer jobs. 

There’s a greater sense of urgency. 

This causes people to get more rejections.

And rejection leads to frustration. 

So, how can you manage all of this? 

How can you stay above recessions and stay focused on your job search?

I’ll tell you how – this is my specialty.

The Cheeky Scientist Association (CSA) is laser-focused on the job-search process. 

Other online communities or Facebook groups will give advice on an overly broad range of professional topics.

Some of them infuse this advice with political values and similar ideologies.

If you are a PhD, Cheeky Scientist is your refuge from all of that. 

We help PhDs stay focused solely on their job search and career advancement. 

We are solution-focused. 

We want to talk about problems so that we can analyze the data and forge strong plans of action.

We don’t mind hearing about the struggles that PhDs endure, but in the CSA, it’s all about how to solve those problems and get hired even during recessions.

I’m always trying to move PhDs towards their ultimate goal—or whatever their next career goal is.

The problem is that during a recession, things become discouraging.

If you’ve been feeling discouraged by rejection, I promise you are not alone.

Everyone is dwelling on the future right now.

Maybe you had a job and you were let go –  maybe you were about to get a job, and the offer was pulled. 

Maybe you’re a postdoc and your future in academia has become more uncertain. 

Fear and even anger are normal, but they are not productive when it comes to your job search. 

You would never show anger or fear during an interview, would you?

If you did, you probably wouldn’t get hired…

Why Refusing To Network Is Hurting Your Job Search

According to a JobVite study, 525 applications are uploaded for every single job posting – this is the average across small, medium, and large companies. 

Many large companies can get up to 2000 resumes per position. 

On average, only 6-to-12 of these applicants get a phone screen. 

However, if you have a referral, you get a phone screen automatically… 

This means one referral is worth more than uploading 500 resumes.

You might even skip to a video interview.

And when you’re at the video-interview stage, you can safely guess that roughly 2 or 3 other people are being interviewed – that’s way better than 500, don’t you think?

Then it’s onto the site-visit stage—once we start having site visits again. 

So if you think, I really just need to buckle down and upload more resumes online, that’s not going to help you in a recession. 

You have to generate referrals.

The Association is extremely useful for this.

CSA has a huge network of PhDs open to networking and giving advice on professional development.

The CSA is a place where many PhDs come together to share knowledge, resources, encouragement, and more. 

How To Set A Successful Job Strategy During a Recession

There is a rule I teach PhDs: AVF (Add Value First). 

You need to make gains on your job search in a kind and courteous way – you should always add value first.

If somebody else has gone through rejection or needs help, and you have something of value to add, then you add that value.

You do this because when it’s your turn, and you are the one in need of value, you can ask for that. 

This is the overall mindset I want you to have as you network your way to an industry job.

I’m going to go through some important principles for PhDs to keep in mind while hunting for a job in the recession.

These principles will help you stay focused and get hired. 

1. Things can be unfair but you shouldn’t fixate on this.

Let’s talk about the frustration that a lot of us feel when we’re treated unfairly—which does happen quite a bit to PhDs. 

When I was looking for my first job in industry after academia, I interviewed with a particular company.

One of the interviewers asked me why I had chosen to go to a university that wasn’t a little more prestigious. 

Those were his words.

I didn’t go to Harvard or Oxford – I went to the University of Iowa. 

For many universities, there’s a fun competition to see which one has the best research or primary care, etc. 

But that comment from the interviewer made me feel really bad, and I ended up not getting the job offer.

I thought that it wasn’t fair. 

I thought: This has gotta be prejudice or something. 

But guess where that line of thinking got me? 

The time I spent focused on injustice led me nowhere. 

Of course, if you feel like an employer is discriminating against you or acting outside the law, you can always report it.

But just be glad that you found out what a lame employer that person was—before you got hired there.

Unfairness is powerfully upsetting sometimes, but don’t let that derail you from your job search. 

You still are responsible for your job search, no matter whether you’re treated fairly.

You’re going to have to go out there and get a job. 

I’ve been through some unfair treatment, so I know. 

But you’re always in control in terms of how you respond to this. 

Another interviewer once asked me if I was married –  I’m pretty sure this is an illegal question, but they thought that being married meant a job candidate was more stable.

I wasn’t offered a job at that company either. 

Things like these will happen to you during your job search. 

But it is still your job to stay focused and keep moving forward.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who’s looking out for your career.

You’re the only one who can control your response to life’s injustices. 

2. Get the human part right.

During a recession, referrals really matter. 

You really need to brush up on your referral strategy.

In the CSA, we have something called the “straight line referral strategy,” and it’s very simple. 

You can use it to help frame the different steps of getting a referral through networking.

The first part is just getting a response. 

Focus on getting a response from somebody – have a human dialogue with them and use that to obtain an informational interview.

The second part is asking questions at the most basic level during your first informational interviews.

You should ask things like how they got into their job or what they like about their job day to day. 

Don’t be too intense at this stage, and don’t ask them about the hardest part of their job – that’s too personal, and it needs to wait until the third part of the strategy.

In the third part, you can begin asking questions that are a little more personal.

Ask them about some of their challenges, and what they would do differently if they could go back and do it all over again.

Always take this information like they have given you a gift, and return the gift by empathizing and maybe sharing some of your own similar experiences.

This won’t happen during your first informational interview, but once you build a relationship you will have enough rapport with this person to ask them for a favor… 

Ask them to pass along your resume or introduce you to somebody else who works at their company.

3. Leverage the “Power of Next.”

Use the “power of next.”

When it comes to dealing with any frustration or rejection, don’t give a company or person too much power over you. 

You can always leverage the power of next.

There’s always another employer. 

There’s always another connection. 

Don’t get so frustrated or angry or distracted that you put your whole job search at risk.

Don’t think you need to prove to the other person that you’re right – don’t have a  deep philosophical argument about what they should think or do, etc. 

This is a waste of time when it comes to your job search.

Instead, leverage the power of next: Go get connected to one of the other 400-million people on LinkedIn. 

There is no point in spending time trying to convince someone that they should be responding to you.

They have their own opinion, and it’s their loss for rejecting you.

Move on and be successful.

In fact, rejection is often key to success because every rejection carries a lesson.

Even if that lesson is, This is a horrible employer I would never want to work with.

If you get rejected, you can ask that employer for advice on what you could do better next time. 

Make sure you’re following up and staying polite. 

Even professional rejection can end in a valuable relationship. 

Sending a polite message after a rejection.

This is a great way to maintain a professional relationship that you’ve already put a lot of effort into.

This is a careful process though – you don’t want to say anything passive-aggressive like, Well, I really don’t understand what I did wrong.

Don’t press them too aggressively to get feedback because many of them won’t.

They will assume you’re looking to get them in legal trouble by sniffing out discrimination.

Instead, be polite and professional. 

Reiterate how excited you were to work there, and that you hope that you can stay in touch.

Follow up a couple of weeks later to actually stay in touch as you mentioned.

They might have another opening, or there might be some other opportunity coming up.

And when that becomes available, they might contact you because they will remember that you behave so professionally. 

Dealing with rejection is difficult, especially during a recession. However, it is your responsibility to keep yourself accountable for your job search and create new networking connections that will eventually lead to referrals. Remember that you can always control how you respond to a bad situation and always move forward instead of fixating on how things are unfair. Use the “straight line referral strategy,” to get connections and keep building rapport with them until you reach a point where you feel confident asking for referrals. Branch your options out and use the power of next to keep going after you face rejection. Be polite and professional when you get rejected and use this opportunity to create new professional connections.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

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