PhD Questions of the Month: December 2020

Welcome to the fourth 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. This month, we’ve gotten more questions about networking strategies and best practices. If you have any questions about how to get started networking or how to improve your current networking experiences, make an appointment to meet with a Career Advisor on Handshake! Career Services will be closed beginning on Thursday, December 24 and will reopen on Wednesday, January 6.

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

How should I navigate networking with the holidays and New Years coming up? Should I avoid emailing people for informational interviews during this time?

In general, it’s best to avoid contacting professionals for informational interviews during the holidays. For many people, this is the one time during the year when they might have an extended break away from work to spend with their families or to relax and reflect after a busy (and challenging) year, so we would advise waiting until a week or two after New Year’s Day before sending emails to ask for career conversations. When do you reach out, you can wish them a Happy New Year!

Should I have my resume and LinkedIn profile in good shape before I start networking?

Ideally, yes! Many professionals whom you’ve contacted will want to see your LinkedIn profile to get a sense of who you are before they agree to speak with you, so you will want to make sure that your profile is professional and complete. Occasionally, they may ask for a resume if they can assist you further in your career exploration or job search, but typically this is after you’ve conducted an informational interview with them. In either case, it’s good practice to have your resume and LinkedIn ready to go before you start networking. If you need a review of either your resume or LinkedIn, make an appointment with Career Services, and we’ll be happy to give you feedback.

I’ll hopefully finish my PhD in May 2021 but I haven’t started doing any career exploration yet. Where do I start?

If you’re at the beginning stages of career exploration, we highly recommend using the following resources: ImaginePhD (humanities and social sciences); myIDP (STEM); VersatilePhD (both; use Penn credentials to log in); and CareerExplorer (both). Complete the assessments on your interest, skills, and work values and get a feel for what different careers might suit you. (Keep in mind that the world of work is constantly changing, so there will be jobs and careers several years from now that don’t currently exist!) Once you get a sense for a few career paths or industries that interest you, make an appointment with Career Services, and we can help you strategize your career exploration further and help you embark on your job search.

As we wrap up the Fall 2020 semester, we want to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! We hope you take much-deserved time to rest and relax and to feel rejuvenated for the Spring. We look forward to connecting with you in 2021!

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs Helen Pho