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3 Strategies For Motivation And Accountability During A Job Search

phds meeting about accountability

Contributing Author: Sarah Smith, PhD

Do you know anyone who actually enjoys the job-search process?

Let me rephrase that: Do you know any PhDs who enjoy it?

As difficult as a job search can be, your degree can turn it into something else – something worse…

A nightmare.

Getting my PhD was no easy feat, but at least I knew what I was doing at my university.

I knew my lab, I knew how academia worked, and I had expectations for my average day.

Human behavior is strange in this way: Sometimes, we prefer a miserable known to a mysterious unknown.

I didn’t know what to expect from industry, and this kept me from holding myself accountable.

This was just when I ought to have been pushing hard toward my industry career.

But after I graduated, it felt so good to escape from my advisor.

There was no one to look over my shoulder – no one to criticize my failures.

I wasn’t accountable.

I just basked in the quiet of my apartment.

Meanwhile, my savings account was officially dry.

What finally motivated me to change my life was shame.

I was ashamed of how I was living – making excuses about missing rent, lying to family about how my job hunt was “going okay.”

I had worked myself almost to death for my advanced degree…

Only to act like this?

So I found ways of making myself accountable.

When there’s no one to report to, you have a lot of freedom on your hands.

This means you have to devise a system of personal accountability.

To build and implement this system, you may have to get creative.

Good thing you have a PhD.

How Developing Internal Motivation Will Make You More Accountable

phd laughing at unaccountably hilarious joke

As with most long-term projects, consistent accountability requires motivation.

Research done at the University of Rochester identified two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is the kind of curiosity that drives you to pursue knowledge all the way to mastery.

PhDs almost always have a lot of this motivation.

Loving your field of study and wanting to advance it is what made you push your way through a doctoral program.

Intrinsic motivation derives from natural satisfaction – when the task is its own reward.

The problem is that intrinsic motivation rarely drives a job search.

What PhDs need is extrinsic motivation.

This kind of motivation drives some pursuit through a “separable outcome.”

In other words, the task is not its own reward – you’re doing it because of something you’ll get out of it.

The most effective way to develop extrinsic motivation is through internalization.

You must take external rewards and make them feel like they are internal.

If you want that industry career, you need to hold yourself accountable during your job search and recreate the power of intrinsic motivation

So how do you do that?

Get Hired By Following These 3 Strategies For Job-Search Accountability

The parts of internalization are:

  • Autonomy: The sense that you are in control of your actions (and therefore the outcome of your choices)
  • Competence: The sense that you are capable
  • Relatedness: The sense that you belong in some group that is pushing toward shared goals

These three components will fuel your motivation and help to keep you accountable.

Accountability means being responsible for how you spend your time.

If you can learn to obtain satisfaction from that responsibility—and you can—you will be able to stay on track during your job hunt.

You will be persistent.

And in a job search, persistence is half the work.

Here are 3 ways to internalize a strong sense of accountability and become an unstoppable job-searching machine.

1. Build a system to record your goals and monitor your progress.

phd studying and studying accountability

You need a record and a planning system – something to indicate how much work you’ve put into your job search and how you will move forward.

With no documentation of your job search process, it is too easy to lose track of your progress.

You will also forget what your goals were.

Your planning system can be as simple as a spreadsheet – something that records all the applications you’ve filled out, networking contacts you’ve reached out to, interview preparations you’ve checked off your list, etc.

It may be helpful to reward yourself on a schedule so that you can obtain short-term gratification.

An industry job can feel like a distant goal, and it doesn’t hurt to reward yourself in small ways throughout your job search.

Not only will a system like this keep you aware of your output, it will remind you that you are competent.

Careful documentation is a sign of mental power, and having a record of all the steps you have taken in your job search will indicate competence.

Only a competent candidate would pursue their career in this style.

And who is operating this whole system?

You are – the control and willpower belong to you.

This way, you will cultivate a sense of autonomy: another component of internalized motivation.

And that motivation will be a bright-burning fuel for your accountability process, keeping you on track and moving toward your goal: an industry career transition.

2. Get involved with a group that keeps you accountable.

phd browsing on laptop

Without Cheeky Scientist, I don’t think I could have transitioned.

I had the skill, the intelligence, and creativity to adapt to industry standards and find a job…

But I didn’t know that at the time.

Cheeky helped me locate these powers within myself.

Human beings are a deeply social species, and even the most introverted of us benefit from relationships.

PhDs looking for industry careers need a network exactly like what the Cheeky Scientist Association offers.

The more involved you are, the greater the rewards you will reap from your group.

In my case, Cheeky Associates knew exactly how I felt – they shared their own transition experiences, answered my questions, and acted as living evidence that PhDs can do just about anything they set their minds to.

My friends and peers were there every step of the way to follow up after I interviewed with a big company.

Or after I spent the weekend pumping out custom-written cover letters to give to my industry connections when they offered to refer me to their employers.

I aspired to accomplish what other successful PhDs in my group had accomplished…

Even if it meant dragging myself to a networking event and staying until I met my “connection quota” for the evening.

A group of like-minded people provides a sense of relatedness for its members.

This is another powerful way to internalize your sense of accountability: Your personal membership can make pursuit of that group’s goals innately desirable.

Your motivation to keep up the job search will be internalized.

And the positive feedback from the other members will build your sense of competence too.

It is not only unnecessary to search for a job alone – it’s less advantageous.

Smart, competent PhDs use the tools at their disposal to get the industry role they deserve – and that means tapping into the human resources of a like-minded group.

3. Experiment with different strategies to keep things interesting.

You don’t want to be trapped in the same process day after day.

If your job search feels like it’s dragging, it will be much harder to hold yourself accountable.

You don’t want to reach the point where you have become so bored with routine that accountability becomes a chore.

Remember that the key is to internalize motivation, and that means tying your job search closely to autonomy, competence, and/or relatedness.

Avoid boredom by mixing up your job-search tactics.

The best way to get a lead on a job is through networking.

And networking is a field wide-open with creative potential, which means that you can approach industry contacts in a lot of different ways.

You can build out your LinkedIn network and stay on other professionals’ radars by writing weekly articles that add value.

Or you can introduce two different contacts who seem like they can add value to each other.

From cold-calling to hosting your own networking event, the only limit on your networking potential is you.

Networking with industry professionals will enhance your sense of relatedness by making you feel like a member of the “industry group.”

This sense of relatedness can make you feel worthy and competent – who built out a network of important industry contacts?

You did.

And you did so autonomously.

Autonomy brings with it a sense of self-ownership – you own your actions, which makes it easier to stay accountable to yourself.

Plus, the more diverse and exciting your networking process, the more motivated you will be to maintain the effort it requires.

So remember that the 3 key things to focus on are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. By prioritizing these, you are helping to internalize your motivation to stay accountable for your progress toward finding an industry job. You can begin internalizing these things if you build a system to record your goals and monitor your progress. Then,get involved with a group that keeps you accountable. Finally, it’s a good idea to experiment with different strategies to keep things interesting. Keep pushing toward your future job, and don’t lose hope.

To learn more about 3 Strategies For Motivation And Accountability During A Job Search, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Cheeky Scientist Association

Sarah Smith, PhD


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