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Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

PhDs looking confident

Isaiah Hankel has your guide to navigating the world of PhD jobs during the coronavirus crisis and using this temporary downtime to your advantage.

The financial markets have crashed worldwide. 

I can tell you from experience what’s going to happen next.

I was a PhD student in 2008 during the financial crisis, and history tells us the hiring market is next to crash.

After 2008, I felt like there were no jobs, and I had no industry network to connect with.

My PI couldn’t help me – he didn’t know anybody either. 

He was in the academic bubble with me. 

Labs were shutting down – classrooms and tenured professors were being forced out. 

It was a very bad time – funding was at a low point and things were horrible in academia. 

Academia is not going to take care of you. 

You have to take your career into your own hands. 

There are PhD jobs available, but do you know who will get them?

The people on the inside 

They are going to know about these jobs, and they’re going to get them. 

All right, so let’s jump in and start talking about some of these jobs.

The hiring crash is already happening, but there is good news.

In about 2 months, PhD jobs in R&D will see a massive hiring surge.

Are you going to be prepared for it?

Or will you live in fear, obsessively reading articles and buying paper towels? 

When times are tough, it’s easier than ever to evade reality.

But this is one of the worst possible times to do that.

If you want a positive outcome and a fulfilling industry job, you need to work even harder than usual on career development.

Why You Should Focus Your Energy On Virtual Job Searching

A lot of PhDs are feeling panicked.

That’s normal.

Maybe your university or lab has sent you home – maybe your classrooms are shut down.

Maybe you fear that the hiring freezes will affect your university.

Or maybe you’re already unemployed and unmotivated. 

But I want to encourage you to use this time to your advantage. 

Use this time to train your mind on how to conduct a proper job search

You can build a virtual network right now – you can reach out to contacts and arrange informational interviews.

Don’t focus on job boards.

Companies stop posting jobs online during a hiring freeze. 

Large companies spend huge sums of money to list a high volume of job openings, but right now, that’s not an option.

Companies are being conservative.

So, for the time being, virtual networking is the way to go. 

Do you think there are no positions left?


Analyst positions are booming right now, as are other sectors of the economy.

And that’s just one of the reasons to move forward in your search for PhD jobs…

15-Point Pandemic Job Search & Career Protection Guide

A lot is changing right now.

It’s an uncertain time of lockdowns and frozen jobs. 

It’s easy to feel like there are no opportunities out there.

But don’t trust your feelings – trust knowledge instead.

PhDs excel at accumulating knowledge and putting it into action.

Now is the time to apply that skill set.

During the pandemic, you need to be learning, networking, researching, and practicing for the future.

Here is your 15-point guide to protecting your career and getting ahead in the job search.

The pandemic can’t stop you unless you let it…

1. Focus on solutions – not problems.

I’ve found myself getting sucked into the news, reading everything I can, and staying up to date. 

It’s good to stay up to date, but there’s a difference between “defensive pessimism” and simply being  pessimistic. 

In behavioral psychology, defensive pessimism is looking at the worst case scenario in order to plan around it.

You don’t truly believe that the worst-case scenario will happen, but you take action in preparation for it – you defend yourself just in case.

Defensive pessimists tend to thrive in a wide range of scenarios 

So defensive pessimism is good, but the key part of that is “defensive.” 

Don’t just be pessimistic and hoard supplies, talk negatively,etc.

Be solution-focused. 

Don’t ask yourself, How bad can things get?

Instead, ask yourself, How are things shifting? How is the economy shifting? Where are the PhD jobs going to be right now? 

Get into what I call the “discovery mindset.” 

You know this mindset as a PhD… 

This is what you experience when you discover a critical new piece of data – when you have a new idea and your whole brain lights up. 

Be opportunity-focused.

Other people are going to be demotivated. 

They’re going to do less.

As long as you can get up each day and do something for your job search, you will continue to get ahead.

PhD smiling and preparing for job search

2. Embrace your creativity to solve problems.

Remember that as a PhD, you are an innovator.

To go beyond mastering a field, you have to innovate – you have to push a field forward. 

You can use these same skills to shift your mindset and be solution-focused in this time of crisis.

PhDs are saving the day worldwide. 

They’re getting a lot more recognition than they have before because, as PhDs, you know what happens if the data get ignored.

We know how to follow the data. 

During the pandemic, you need to get into that creative creativity mindset. 

What can you learn right now? 

How can you translate what you learn and what you already know into helping people right now?

This mindset of problem-solving and continued learning is going to help you get hired. 

If not right away, then certainly when the hiring surge occurs.

3. Invest your time wisely.

Again, it’s very easy to do nothing during this time.

Take a moment to figure out what your goals are. 

Have you actually set a target for yourself? 

Do you actually know which job you want? 

If you’re one of the many PhDs who still doesn’t know which jobs are right for you, now is the time to dig in and find out. 

Use this time to learn.

Turn off Netflix  – this platform is nearly breaking the internet because everybody’s watching it.

During difficult times, people evade reality.

What can you learn right now that’s actually going to help your career and/or your family? 

If you don’t invest in your career and future, you’re putting yourself at risk – maybe even putting your family at risk.

It’s irresponsible. 

PhDs are the world’s innovators. 

You are among the world’s learners, so invest this time wisely.

5. Adapt your current resume to the “combination” style.

Combination resumes work very well right now. 

Why is this working so well? 

Because it takes your key industry skills for the jobs that you want and puts them right at the top.

In a combination resume, you still have your professional summary—essentially, your 3 biggest career highlights. 

But right under that, a combination resume has a “key industry skills section. 

That section is where you will list your transferable skills that are relevant for the position.

As companies are getting more selective and things are getting more competitive, you need to be hyper-focused.

You need to market yourself closer to a specific niche.

Over the last few weeks, I have seen this resume achieve the most success.

So transform your current resume to target the job you want.

6. List this exact phrase on your resume.

That’s what you need to put on your resume:

“Open To Remote Work, Temp Work, and Part-Time Work.”

These are the keywords that I see trending in LinkedIn recruiter searches. 

It might sound wrong to you, but trust me – if you can get hired right now for a part-time job or for temp/remote work, you have a very good chance of staying on once the pandemic slows down.

In a few months, you will be a trained employee, and if you have good rapport with your team, there’s a good chance you’ll be made permanent.

But to get into the role in the first place, you will have to broaden your availability and list that you are open to remote work, etc.

This will not be obvious to an employer looking over your LinkedIn profile or resume – you have to list it directly.

Let the employer know up front that you’re adaptive.

7. Prompt message replies with smart subject lines.

Right now, professionals are not responding the way they were before the outbreak and quarantine. 

Before things changed, maybe you were right about to set up an informational interview.

Or maybe you were talking to a hiring manager, closing in on an interview.

Then things went silent.

Now, you’re sending messages with subject lines asking about the job, and it’s just adding stress to the hiring party  – they’re already dealing with a lot of stress. 

It’s just not prompting replies.

Similarly, have you been putting “coronavirus” or  “COVID-19” in your subject lines?

Don’t do this. 

All the health alerts going out are using those keywords and people are becoming immune to these same phrases.

Try these subject lines instead: 


  • Pandemic help needed?
  • Are you doing okay given the pandemic?
  • Still hiring during the pandemic?


If you want to get a response from an employer, ask them if they need help. 

Ask them if there’s something that you can do. 

Use the word “pandemic” though. 

Don’t use “COVID-19” or “coronavirus.” 

And when you send the message, ask the recipient how they’re doing. 

Don’t write, Are you still going to hire me? 

Show your human side.

Then you can lead it back to whether or not they’re still hiring. 

8. Develop your virtual communication skills.

Start setting up virtual meetups, virtual mock interviews, and holding virtual meetings.

Everything is virtual right now due to the pandemic, so practice in the digital medium.

Until this global episode blows over, any interviews or networking you do will be virtual.

But virtual doesn’t mean casual – make sure that you are preparing appropriately. 

That means good lighting, good audio, and formal attire.

Don’t come on screen in your sweats and a t-shirt.

At home, you can wear whatever you want.

But if you have to be on screen for a virtual interview, you need to be dressed like you’re visiting the employer’s office in person. 

And don’t do all your practicing alone either.

Get somebody on the other line to practice talking virtually. 

Work out any kinks or issues in your equipment during practice, and record your sessions to watch afterwards. 

It may be virtual, but you need to treat it as seriously as you would an in-person interview.

9. Expand the types of PhD jobs you’re looking for.

On your resume and LinkedIn profile, expand the types of roles you’re looking for.

For example, if you are dead-set on getting into a medical affairs associate job, you need to list that you’re open to related jobs too.

In that case, you’d list things like medical science liaison, medical writer, regulatory affairs official, etc.

Find 3 new job titles similar to the one that you were looking for.

And if you had several already, double that number. 

You need to expand your search and be more flexible. 

You can always switch positions after you get hired, but if you’re looking to get hired now—especially if you’re looking to protect your job— be willing to take on other roles.

Be willing to step up and perform different functions.

Hiring is tight right now, so versatility is key.

10. Search intelligently – dive into these surging PhD jobs.

It’s time to dive head-first into currently-surging PhD jobs. 

Medical science liaison is an example of this – that role is surging right now. 

I’ve been seeing people get hired into MSL roles despite a frozen job market.

Application scientist is another one.

And analyst positions are big right now.

Companies have collected a ton of data that they haven’t even examined.

They need analysts to comb through all of those data.

Start looking at R&D analysis, business analysis, competitive intelligence analysis, quantitative analysis, data science, user experience analysis, etc. 

As countries get over their peak of the pandemic, they’re going to have a ton of data.

These companies need people to crunch those numbers.

PhDs know how to analyze big data sets.

Use this opportunity to your advantage.

Look up the keywords for hot positions right now, and plug those keywords into your resume and LinkedIn profile.

11. Get familiar with the industry development spectrum.

Start learning about the innovations/commercialization spectrum.

It’s pretty simple: On one side, there is innovation – on the other, there is commercialization.

This spectrum is hugely important in industry.

At the furthest end of the innovation side is conception. 

Industry roles that work in conception include patent examiners and patent agents. 

Roles like these are hot right now.

Toward the middle of the spectrum is development, whether it’s drug development or the development of instruments/reagents, etc. 

Then comes production, and finally, marketing.

But a lot of PhDs don’t even know what a “go-to marketing strategy” is…

It’s basically the offer of specific value promised by the product or service in question.

Once a product/service goes to market, there are company functions like marketing support, sales support, and technical support specialization. 

You need to research and understand the innovation/commercialization spectrum because, during an interview, you’ll be asked multiple questions about it. 

12. Learn everything you can about supply chains.

Academia has rubbish quality-control and quality-assurance methods. 

A massive percentage of experiments cannot be replicated in a different lab. 

Academia doesn’t have to scale what it produces, so quality control is forgotten most of the time.

They’re doing more of the basic research side, not the translational side. 

Quality concerns are at the core of industry supply chains, i.e., the process of getting the actual product/service to the general public

PhDs like you can set up collection & testing methods and data analysis protocols for quality measures. 

There are a lot of PhD jobs in quality measures, and right now, with all the changes happening, supply chains are of direct importance to businesses.

As a PhD, you have a lot to offer in terms of analysis, innovation, and methodical planning.

But you need to research everything you can about quality measures and supply chains because academia has failed you in this respect.

PhD interviewing during surge in PhD jobs

13. Prepare for the STEM hiring surge.

It’s coming.

Prepare for the hiring surge because it’s going to happen. 

Do not get left behind. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty now because people don’t know how long things are going to be locked down.

They don’t know how long the economy is going to be at a standstill.

Weeks? Months? 

Maybe it will even be years before the economy recovers.

But you can bet on one thing: STEM PhD jobs will see a boom in just a few months.

So keep trying to get into a job now, but remember also that there will be a huge upswing for STEM PhDs in industry.

It will be a great time to get promoted, to get into senior-level positions.

Don’t try to time it – just be ready for it. 

Now is the best time to invest in yourself and your career development. 

When everybody else is fearful, be hungry for knowledge and training.

Instead of stockpiling toilet paper, stockpile information. 

Stockpile your network connections as you search for PhD jobs.

14. Academia and the government will not take care of your career.

I say this respectfully because I think everybody is doing the best that they can. 

But I lived through the economic crash of 2008. 

Academia can’t do anything for you. 

The government is trying to help everybody.

If you’re looking for PhD jobs, you cannot rely on that. 

You have to take your career into your own hands. 

In the earlier economic crisis, I saw labs, classrooms, and entire departments shut down.

You’re going to see the same thing, and you’re going to see huge spending freezes. 

You’re going to see a lot of postdocs being let go.

I don’t say this to scare you, but to bring it full-circle back to defensive pessimism – you need a plan. 

Nobody can do this for you. 

15. Learn from unknowns and turn them into knowledge.

When you’re planning your job search and career, “unknown unknowns” like the pandemic can happen.

Nobody could have ever predicted this, but now it turns into a “known unknown.” 

You can prepare for this in case it happens in the future. 

Now, you will remember to keep your career at the top of your list of priorities during your working life. 

You can’t get complacent. 

Recently, before the outbreak, many people thought we were in the ideal job market.

That changed in fewer than 4 weeks. 

You have to be prepared. 

Never forget this lesson: Always put your career and your professional network first.

It won’t be easy, but if you take this guide to heart, you can come out of the economic slump with a strong career. There are plenty of PhD jobs waiting for those who focus on solutions – not problems; embrace your creativity to solve problems; invest your time wisely; adapt your current resume to the “combination” style; list this exact phrase on your resume (“Open To Remote Work, Temp Work, and Part-Time Work”); prompt message replies with smart subject lines; develop your virtual communication skills; expand the types of PhD jobs you’re looking for; search intelligently – dive into surging PhD jobs; get familiar with the industry development spectrum; learn everything you can about supply chains; prepare for the STEM hiring surge; academia and the government will not take care of your career; and learn from unknowns and turn them into knowledge.

Isaiah Hankel


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