PhD Questions of the Month: October 2020

Welcome to the third installment of our blog series, PhD Questions of the Month, where the Grad Student/Postdoc Team at Career Services answers the top 3 questions that we have been asked in our individual PhD career advising appointments.  We in Career Services meet with a lot of students, and we recognize that your professional goals are unique to YOU.  Feel free to peruse the questions we commonly get from students, but also please feel welcome to make an individual advising appointment to discuss your current academic and professional plans.  Whether you are seeking opportunities in industry or academia (or have an interest in both), schedule an appointment via Handshake today!

Here are the top 3 questions we have been asked by PhD students and postdocs this month:

I am interested in jobs in industry – when should I start looking for jobs?

Throughout your time as a doctoral student, you can certainly be exploring careers of interest, reaching out to alumni, and looking to see what kinds of positions may be out there.  But many students inquire of Career Services about WHEN they should start really looking and applying to jobs.  The answer is….it depends on the industry!  For PhD students interested in consulting, the recruiting process often begins 9-12 months prior to your expected graduation.  That timeline can be a bit of an outlier, though, and more often, 6-9 months in advance of your graduation can be a good time to start.  Throughout the fall, Career Services has hosted several virtual alumni chats, and this was a common question asked of alumni.  You can see their suggestions on this topic, as well as other topics on the Career Services blog: https://careerservices.upenn.edu/blog/.  Whenever you are applying for jobs, be sure to include your expected date of graduation on your resume or CV.  This will give employers a good idea of your availability and how you may fit into their hiring timeline.

I keep hearing that many academic institutions and other industries have hiring freezes.  How do I find out who has a hiring freeze?  Is anyone hiring?

COVID-19 has certainly impacted hiring across all industries and career fields.  Many academic institutions and employers in industry have pressed the pause button on hiring new employees as they assess their financial situations while balancing the needs of their organization and current employees.  Despite these hiring freezes, many positions are still being posted.  If you see a position of interest but have heard that the organization has a hiring freeze, you should absolutely still apply.  There are always exceptions to every rule, and Career Services has interacted with students in diverse academic disciplines who have received offers since March.  Very few employers will publicize that they have a hiring freeze, so how can a student ascertain whether they are hiring?  CareerShift is a Career Services resource which has been tracking employers continuing to hire through our current global crisis.  Create an account with CareerShift and visit their “COVID-19 Impacted Hiring” page to the current status of thousands of employers.

Everyone tells me that networking can be the key to learning more about professional opportunities in industry, and that alumni can be a great place to start networking.  But I don’t personally know anyone in my field of interest, won’t I be bothering complete strangers by reaching out?

Networking is an excellent tool to use as a part of your job search process.  The best way to learn about careers in any field is by speaking with people in roles of interest.  By conducting informational interviews, you can learn more about the day-to-day in careers of interest, and you can learn what types of skills, background and experience you would need to obtain and be successful in different career fields.  You can then evaluate your own background and see what you can do to develop or gain the skills and experiences you would need.

It can be an uncomfortable and awkward experience to reach out to people that you don’t know and ask them to take the time to answer your career-related questions.  And while you might not hear back from each and every person whom you reach out to, our experience has shown that many alumni are happy to chat with current students about their careers.  All alumni have been students at some point, and they often remember what it was like to be starting out on the job market and be looking for someone to answer their questions.  In these challenging times when so many people are working at home and finding new ways to do their work, many alumni have expressed how much fun it is to take a break and speak with a current student.  In addition to altruism, depending on the industry, many employers offer referral bonuses to current employees who refer candidates who are later hired.

Remember that when you reach out to an alum, you are simply asking them to answer some questions, not to help you (although the initial conversation could lead to assistance later!)  Review Career Services’ Career Guide on Informational Interviewing for Graduate Students and Postdocs for a step-by-step guide on how to network with alumni.  One of the benefits to being a graduate student, is that you also have the alumni of your undergraduate institution to tap into; don’t forget about them!

If you have general questions you’d like us to address on this blog, feel free to use #PhDQuestionsoftheMonth on Twitter. If you’re interested in talking about any of these questions in depth as it relates to your own career plans, make a career advising appointment with our team. We look forward to working with you!

By Dianne Hull
Dianne Hull Dianne Hull