This Is Why Most PhDs Get Hired In November And December

I had been enthusiastically job hunting since February but a series of rejections were slowly starting to dampen my spirit. It started gradually, but at some point imposter syndrome got the better of me and I became absolutely sure that I wouldn’t get hired that year.

My efficiency and focus plummeted, I went from connection with 20 potential referrals every month, to 5 and then to none.

In November, a connection offered to refer me for yet another position. With the last shred of strength left in me, I pulled myself through the process even though I did not have my hopes high. I thought that if my target companies hadn’t shown any interest in me throughout the year, there was no chance of getting hired during the holiday season, amidst the mountains of important work that the fiscal year end brings. 

Yet there I was, after 3 rounds of interviews and a writing test, with a golden offer letter in my hand. I was hired in November. I could not believe it, I got my dream job just when I was about to disengage for the holidays. How could that be possible? 

After spending some time working in the industry, I discovered a trend that surprised me at first:   On average, more PhDs get hired in November and December than any other month of the year. 

Why Companies Hire More PhDs During The Year’s End

The end of the fiscal year can mean a lot of things for a company. Maybe there is an upcoming merger, they have set ambitious goals for the upcoming year, or are just making final investments to close the budget. Since they want to focus on staff training in January, they plan ahead and finish the recruitment in Nov-Dec. 

All of these scenarios might require or give the opportunity to acquire new talent. The Bureau of Labour statistics has observed a hiring surge during the holiday season and this trend has continued even amidst the current recession. There are several factors that increase the number of hirings during the last months of the year.

Tax implication

Companies are taxed based on their profits. So, they want to reinvest in themselves especially in the human resource area by hiring talents. By the year’s end companies have set their goals for the upcoming year and have scheted a path to follow to achieve those goals. The next link in the chain is acquiring highly qualified employees capable of achieving those goals. Hiring the best talents automatically ensures company growth and an increase in productivity.

Avoiding Budget Cuts

Company departments receive an annual and a quarterly budget. Department heads want to spend that money responsibly but they also want to avoid leftovers because if a department only spends 80% of their budget by the end of a given period, they might see a budget reduction of 20% for the upcoming period.  This is often independent of the future job projections or department goals. Unfilled vacancies are considered financial deadweight and cost the company. So, companies increase hires at the end of the year to avoid budget cuts. 

As Cheeky Scientist, we have helped thousands of PhDs get hired into different industry positions and we always see the same trend, with most PhDs getting hired during November and December than at any other month in the year. In the blog, we cover three things you can do right now to get hired before 2021. 

Figure 1: Hiring trends for PhDs in industry roles throughout the year. Source: Cheeky Scientist.

3 Things That Can Keep from getting hired by this December 

1. Don’t stop applying over the holidays (instead, do more while others do less)

You work hard throughout the year, surfing through JDs, setting up informational interviews, looking up company profiles, and applying to different positions. 

So, by the holiday season, you want to put everything off until January. You might think this is the best time to relax and start afresh next year, but you should fight these thoughts.

Instead, lean into your job search.  Most PhDs stop their job search during the holiday season to catch a breath and end up shifting their job hunt to the new year. But much like the ‘turtle and the hare’s’ story, perseverance pays. 

Stay focussed, even more than you were during the rest of the year: 

With most PhDs out of the race, your stance becomes all the more firm and your chances of getting hired increases exponentially. Remember, there will be several holidays to celebrate and get some rest after you successfully transition into your dream industry position.

Make a list of your target companies: Think ahead. Tailor your resume and cover letter to match the job description. Improve your job search strategy, and research the companies you are applying for. 

Use the holidays as an opportunity to network: Make sure that you have an updated and professional LinkedIn profile and use it to Network as much as possible. You can even use the holidays as a reason to reconnect, you never know what’s lying in wait for you on the other end. Weave nostalgia and anticipation into your informational interviews by asking these two questions. 

How did your year turn out?/ Did your year turn out the way you expected it to be? 

What are your expectations from 2021? 

Keep an eye on job postings: Companies may have some urgent requirements because of shortage of staff advertised on the company’s website. Identify and apply for the pandemic-proof positions.

2. Highlight these 5 skills in the applications you submit at end

PhDs are considered the most valuable employees. They are expected to be able to learn and analyze huge amounts of data and make perfect logical sense out of it. PhDs are organized, focused, and capable of handling multiple projects at the same time. In all, PhDs are writers, data scientists, researchers, project managers, propagators, and collaborators. Multifaceted, multi-tasking, enthusiastic individuals worth several employees. But all these attributes are to be listed in industry-relevant words. 

Mention these 5 skills in your resume to grab the recruiter’s attention. 

Creative Problem-solving And Strategic Thinking.

The power to decide perfectly and think strategically are quintessential transferable skills in most work environments. Companies in different industries require PhDs who can instantly innovate and strategically plan ahead.

PhDs are better than most at anticipating, identifying, prioritizing and solving problems in a creative manner. 

It may sound foreign but each one of us has actively acquired this trait during our PhD or postdoctoral training. Setting up weekly goals, scheduling different experiments, anticipating what could go wrong, questioning our own moves, improvising and delivering the results.

This attitude sets you apart as a PhD desirable in industry.

Collaboration And Conflict Resolution

Team leadership and Collaboration are indispensable attributes for achieving faster results in a given time frame. Industry environments are often more collaborative than academic environments.

Therefore, recruiters prefer to gauge candidates on both aspects of the coin. They need you to be able to manage a team while gelling perfectly well with their other employees. 

You will have to show that you fit within a company by answering different behavioral questions. 

Difference in opinions is quite common in an intellectual set. Yet, successful companies need employees capable of dealing with conflict in a professional, amicable, and strategic way.

As a PhD you have valuable experience in both teamwork and conflict management. Years of collaboration with other labs; managing undergrads, volunteers, interns;  and experience with your advisor armours you with the ability to face and handle such situations.

Although industry teams may be larger, more complex, and may span across multiple departments; including scientific and non-scientific staff, your experience as a PhD will add much value to your position.

Relationship-building And Communication

This is yet another hallmark of PhDs that is much sought after in the industry. As PhDs we have the natural ability to establish interdepartmental and diverse relationships, sometimes even with different colleges or universities. We have communicated, helped and taken help from several individuals or departments during our PhD. 

This interpersonal communication and adding value to relationships goes a long way in your career progress.

Many industry employers now consider emotional intelligence, as more important than IQ.

To evaluate candidates based on this emotional characteristic the hiring manager asks difficult interview questions. Recruiters  assay the PhD’s efficiency to deal with such emotions to know our compatibility with existing team members. It is often mentioned that interpersonal skills are the cardinal attribute in determining whether  you would get a job in industry or not.

Communication is the key. Flawless communication is yet another much sought after trait in industry. 

It is expected that PhDs would be able to communicate their ideas, their thoughts in a lucid manner. Making eye contact when you explain, with good flow of information, ambient gestures and being able to hold the listener’s attention while pitching are immensely honorable in the industry.

Fortunately, our experience as a PhD delivering in journal clubs, seminars, conferences, pitching ideas for grants while showing emotions, has endowed this efficiency upon us.

Risk Mitigation And Risk Management

The pandemic has specifically introduced everyone to a whole new definition of the word ‘Risk.’ With the prevalence of several risks in the economy, employers are interested in knowing how a candidate can help reduce the risk for the company. 

It may sound overwhelming but as a PhD, you have mitigated and managed risk.

Anticipating why an experimental setup could fail, improvising to avoid that failure, or reducing the impact caused by that failure.

Mentioning these skills assures the employer that you are the safest choice, which is extremely important in recession.

Process Information And Learn Quickly

PhDs have an innate ability to process the new information aimed at them and learn new things quickly.

Throughout our PhD we read, write and review new research papers. We regularly process the information presented in research papers and present it in our journal clubs. It is also common for us to read articles and implement those new findings into our own research.

These skills are of immense value in industry.

There are several variables in an industry, if the project that you are working on falls short, as a PhD you would have an advantage over several others in switching to a new project. 

3. Target companies who have the most leftover resources (listen to earnings calls for inside information)

One of the major differences between academia and industry is business. While academia tends not to be business oriented, industry indispensably requires business acumen.

As we discussed earlier, companies use their leftover budget to invest in talent acquisition. Therefore, the best companies to target for a year end hiring are with the most leftover resources.


You can identify those companies in several ways: listening to earning calls, performing informational interviews, looking at company stocks, and following news about the company.
‘An earnings call is a conference call between the management of a public company, its investors, and the media, where they discuss the financial status of the company.’

During an earning call, the financial specifics of the company is discussed among the CEO, CFO, and other stakeholders. This provides the most accurate and comprehensive information about the company’s revenues.

There are several companies that are ready to hire this November in spite of it being the ‘holiday season.’

You can also find out about what companies have leftover budget by networking and performing informational interviews. If you have a strong relationship with people already working in industry, you might have access to insider information about budgets and hiring plans. 

Concluding Remarks

As the holidays approach you may want to take a break from your job search. However, you should do the exact opposite by multiplying your networking and job searching efforts. Make sure to make the most out of the end-of-year hiring surge by highlighting sought-after transferable skills throughout the hiring process and identifying the companies with the most leftover budgets, which are the more likely to hire candidates.

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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ABOUT ALEJANDRA VIVIESCAS, PHD

Alejandra holds a PhD in genetics. After finishing her graduate studies, she followed her passion for closing the communication gap between scientific researchers and the general public. Currently, as vice-president of development at Cheeky Scientist, she produces content that helps PhDs find success outside academia.

Alejandra Viviescas, PhD

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