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The Wrong Job Search Workflow Most PhDs Follow (& What To Do Instead)

Many PhDs think that getting an industry job is similar to the academic process.

They spend a significant amount of time writing peer reviewed journal articles and grants. So, it makes sense for them to spend large amounts of time writing and rewriting their industry resume.

They probably had to give oral presentations and conclude their PhDs by going through a dissertation. So, they focus on what they think is the industry equivalent of this process, which is preparing for an interview.

Academia teaches that if you go through the publication process, and an oral defense, you will be successful in your PhD. 

This should mean that if you have the right industry resume, you will eventually get an interview, and once you ace that interview, you will get hired. Right?

Wrong. This is not how things work in the real world. 

This is how many PhDs end up in a vicious circle of uploading resumes online without hearing back from employers, and stay stuck in academia.

If you want to avoid this from happening to you, you need to understand that there is more to finding an industry job than resumes and interviews and organize your time so you focus on actions that will actually yield results.

This is what one of our members had to say after transitioning into their dream job:

I initially applied to three companies by submitting my resume via an online portal, and got no answer other than the automatic confirmation email. 

After a while, I started networking via LinkedIn and got the name of the three hiring managers, whom I contacted.

I had conversations with two of them and one said they liked my resume, but  that I was too experienced for the position I was applying to and that I should aim higher. So, they offered to interview for a manager position in his team.

I went through the hiring process and got a generous offer, which was above my ask. The whole process from submitting my resume to signing the contract took 40 days.

This goes to show that you can’t rely on uploading resumes. Most of the time, I didn’t even get a response to my job applications. 

I only started getting results after actively networking on LinkedIn and talking directly to the hiring managers.

The Upside Down, Backwards Academic Job Search Strategy

PhDs spend most of their time writing and rewriting resumes because this is the easiest thing to do. It’s the step of the process they feel the most comfortable with. 

You can write resumes by yourself behind the safety of a computer screen.

Many PhDs are introverts, so the idea of interacting with other people makes them extremely uncomfortable, especially if they don’t have a previous relationship with these people.

By spending day after day focusing on their industry resumes, they get an excuse to avoid focusing on the uncomfortable parts of the job search, such as networking.

After writing resumes, PhDs spend the most time preparing for interviews

Even if they’re nowhere near getting an interview, they start thinking about common questions and answers.

They think about the interview over and over again without realizing that there are other things that determine whether or not they get to the interview stage once they submit their resume.

PhDs also make the mistake of following just one job lead at a time. They post the resume online, and wait for a response. Only once they receive a notification that they didn’t get the job, they start looking for the next job opportunity. 

This is of course a waste of time, the correct approach is to pursue several leads and interview for several companies at the same time. 

But to achieve this while staying organized, you need a well crafted job search strategy, which is something most PhDs spend very little time on.
Finally, very few PhDs actually go out into the real world and network, even though most jobs are filled through networking.

How You Should Spend Your Time If You Actually Want To Get Hired

If you want to stop wasting your time and get a job in today’s world, especially a high level high paying job where you can do meaningful work, you need to flip this workflow on its head.

Stop thinking that the industry hiring process follows the same rules as academia and commit to spending your time on the actions that will yield the most results.

Below, I will examine the correct job search workflow and explain why you should spend more or less time on each of the components.

1. Having casual conversations with PhDs already in industry

Only 20% of available jobs are posted online and half of those that are have already been filled internally by the time they are posted.

This means that if you only rely on job boards to find job opportunities, you are only getting a shot at 10% of all jobs.

The best way to increase your chances of getting hired is by accessing the hidden job market and applying for jobs that are never posted online, but you can only achieve this through networking.

Most companies – especially small and middle sized companies – are growing really fast. They don’t have the time to set up a job hiring process for each opening and prefer to hire through word of mouth.

Additionally, many large companies are only posting their jobs online because it’s required by law. But they have already filled the position internally or through a referral.

By deciding no to spend time building an industry network and fostering meaningful relationships with industry employees, you are refusing to enter the hidden job market and significantly reducing your chances of getting hired anytime soon.

Instead, you should focus on getting referrals, which are the most reliable way of finding talent according to companies across industries.
If you want to generate referrals, you need to spend most of your time having casual conversations with people who are working at the companies you want to work for, following up with them to build a professional relationship, and setting up informational interviews.

2. Documenting your progress in your job search daily

After networking, you need to spend the second most amount of your time creating a job search strategy that will allow you to pursue multiple job leads at the same time while staying organized.

Pursuing one job at a time is a huge waste of time. You should apply to many different positions at the same time and pace them so you can eventually use them to your advantage.

The best way to set yourself up for success when applying to multiple jobs at the same time is to document everything daily. Create a list of 100 companies that you would like to work for and start networking with employees at those companies, so you can access the hidden job market and get referrals.

To ensure that you stay organized through this process, create a job search spreadsheet to keep track of your networking efforts and job applications. 

This will allow you to get the most results out of your time and effort and always knowing what your previous step was and what your next step should be.

3. Preparing for interviews before you have one scheduled

Spend the third most of your time preparing for interviews.

You should start preparing for interviews right after you decide to apply for a company and add it to your job search spreadsheet. 

Research your target company and compile notes that will help you show that you want to work for them, and you’re not a desperate candidate who would settle for any position at any company. 

Make sure to avoid the classic PhDs mistake of only rehearsing interview questions and answers in your head.

Instead, set up mock interviews with someone you trust to give you honest feedback. 

If you don’t have a partner, answer the questions out loud and record yourself so you can look at the recording and assess your body language and how you come across.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to spend much time preparing your interviews, you can practice the day before a site visit and a couple of hours before a phone screen to ensure you have everything ready.

4. Carefully crafting your resume for each new job posting

You should spend the least amount of time working on your resume. In fact, this step shouldn’t take you more than one or two days.

This doesn’t mean that your resume is not important. It is, and in the next blog posts, we will take a look at how to craft an effective resume that will catch the eyes of hiring managers and recruiters.

However, in terms of time spent on your job search, you will get the least amount of results by focusing on your resume.

At the beginning of your job search, you should set up your industry resume in the correct format. As I said, this shouldn’t take more than two days.

Once you have that initial document ready, you will need to target your resume for each specific position. 

This should take a couple of minutes for each position once you understand the most important aspects of crafting an industry resume.

So, if you’re spending most of your time writing and rewriting your resume, it is time to change your job search approach and focus on networking instead.

Concluding Remarks

Many PhDs get frustrated when they start looking for industry positions because they follow an incorrect workflow and don’t see any results for their efforts. If you want to avoid being one of those PhDs, it’s time to review how you’re spending your time. You should spend the most amount of time networking and generating referrals so you can access the hidden job market. The second amount of time should be spent on putting together a job search strategy that will allow you to pursue several job leads at the same time while staying organized. You should spend the third most amount of time preparing for interviews, which can be done as soon as you get an interview scheduled. Finally, you should spend the least amount of time crafting and targeting your industry resume. Following this job search workflow will ensure that you see more results for your effort and significantly increase your chances of getting hired in a position where you will get to do meaningful work.

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.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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