Finding Jobs in Tough Times
Job Search Tips for Graduate Students
Did we hear an audible groan? Fear and stress are usually associated with finding a job after graduation. Often it’s fear of all the work it takes to revise a resume or generate a curriculum vitae and the stress associated with having to put oneself out there for review. (Not to mention the joy and fun of filling out applications and preparing for interviews.)
We haven’t met a person yet who really loved this process, but it can be much less painful if you plan ahead, focus your efforts, and get help from trained professionals. At best, you’ll meet a lot of interesting people, learn a lot about yourself and the opportunities you want to pursue, and you’ll develop the tools you need for the job search process. The good news is that the Career Services staff at Gateway Student Success Center (GSSC) is here to help! You are not alone.
Though the current economic situation is difficult, this may or may not affect your particular job
opportunities. No one has a crystal ball that will accurately predict your particular chances of getting a
job in your field.
Look on Gateway Connects, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and other such sites for posted jobs. Look at professional association sites for posted jobs. Ask your department, faculty, and staff for any leads on additional places to look for posted jobs in your field.
Resume vs. CV
It’s very important to determine whether you should be developing a resume or curriculum vitae (CV). A resume could include all your work history, including positions which demonstrate transferrable skills but are not directly related to your field. A CV in the most conservative sense would only include experience directly related to your field. Contacting a professional association in your field and finding a mentor to help with this decision is the best way to go.
Whichever format is most relevant, you need to invest time presenting your experience in the best light and polishing your resume. Also, it is important to tailor a resume for a specific job.
A resume or CV should be accompanied by a cover letter. Again, invest time in creating a specific cover letter for each job you are pursuing.
Creating a strong resume or CV involves a thorough assessment of your skills and experience. A mentor from a professional association is the best source of guidance on this.
Before you are ready to begin your job search, look at posted job descriptions to find out which skills you need to develop to be a strong candidate for those jobs once you graduate.
Adequately Researching a Company
It’s very important to research a company or organization you want to work for. Companies want to know that you really want to work for them specifically (rather than just get a job anywhere). Show off your research in your cover letter and in your interview. Get assistance identifying companies and organizations that are a good match for your interests by talking to a mentor in a professional association.
Donald Asher, a prominent author and speaker specializing in careers and higher education, recommends using your campus career services office and reference librarians to help you research a company/organization.
By being very familiar with the company, you’ll also be the first to know if there’s any news of expansion or intentions to hire within certain sectors. If the company is planning to hire, send in a resume or CV and cover letter before a job is posted.
It is very important that you understand that networking is an integral part of the job search process. It is not “additional” or “optional,” it is integral! Networking is the art of talking to people about what you want to do and getting referrals to talk to other people who know even more or can help you better in finding work and information about your area of interest. Always demonstrate professionalism when networking, especially with family and friends.
Asher recommends the following question as a starting point for creating your network: “Who do you know who would know anything about….”
Join a professional association and go to as many events/conferences as you can. Find a mentor. Talk about your professional interests with members. Present your work. Asher recommends talking to professionals who are three to five years ahead of you in the pipeline. Joining a professional association as a student is usually much less costly than joining as a professional, so join now!
Go to career fairs. Use these as practice opportunities for networking skills. Talk to recruiters in your field. Get field-specific tips on job application protocols. Get company-specific information.
When using a resource like LinkedIn, Asher emphasizes the importance of not starting an Internet networking relationship by asking for help right away. Start out with providing help or a resource on an issue that you know about, and then follow up with asking for help once you’ve already given something valuable and established a positive presence on that networking site. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for “advice, leads, and referrals,” says Asher.
When creating a profile on LinkedIn or other such sites for professional networking, be sure to use your resume and provide detailed and accurate professional information about yourself on your profile or other personal information fields. Give attention to detail and professionalism on all aspects of the site, just as you would on a resume or in an interview situation. Don’t use informal language or personal information that would normally be inappropriate in the workplace on these sites. Also, if there are obvious professional association groups that you should belong to, be sure to join those groups to show your commitment to your field, and be sure to list those where appropriate on your Linked In profile or personal information.
Go to office hours and talk to faculty members about your career interests. Provide them with copies of your resume so that they can see what kind of experience you have. Follow up on any leads they provide.
Friends and Family
Let friends and family know about your job search and provide them with information about your skill sets and areas of interest. Talk to friends or acquaintances connected to your friends or family who are professionals in your field to gather information and resources for your job search. Let your friends and family see you in a professional light.
Professional E-mail and Phone Etiquette, Electronic Reputation
It is essential that you have a professional e‐mail address, outgoing phone message, way of answering your phone, and electronic reputation. Be sure that there are no unprofessional images of you or items with your name on them on the Internet that could hurt your chances of getting a job.
Asher recommends the following questions for informational interviews:
• How did you get into this job/field?
If they mention openings (e.g., they might say, “we hire interns like you every year”), it’s important that you don’t jump in and say, “I’m the best person for that opening.” Asher recommends that you say something like this: “It sounds like a very interesting opportunity. How would I go about formally applying for that position?” It’s important that your enthusiasm and confidence not come across as arrogance to a company/organizational contact.
It’s important to practice your interviewing skills with the feedback of trained professionals. Schedule a mock interview and review tips on interviewing skills.
A search can easily take six months. Yes. A search can easily take six months. That’s why it’s important to start early and consider a “bread and butter” job to pay your living expenses while you’re looking for that career job. Make a commitment to finding a job within your field and career interest area.
Lower-Level Positions / “Foot in the Door”
Be willing to take lower-level positions to gain entry into a company/organization you want to be a part of. Be sure to research the company well enough to know which positions will allow you to advance within the company; some lower-level positions may be seen as a hindrance when seeking advancement. Earning a positive professional reputation and making connections at that company/organization can really make a difference when a higher-level position becomes available.
Review Job Search Strategies and Create a Personalized Plan
Go to the GSSC website to review job search strategies and then meet with an advisor to formulate an individualized plan for your specific job search. As a student, you can meet numerous times (at no charge) with a GSSC career and academic advisor as your search progresses.
Completing a Master’s Degree Now? Consider Going On for a PhD!
Go to the GSSC website for grad school prep materials, then meet with an advisor to discuss the benefits of going on to complete the highest level of education. It’s almost always the best choice to continue in your education while you are still used to being a student, but especially in difficult economic times, having higher credentials will allow you more flexibility and the increased chance of higher pay.
Believe in Yourself
During your job search, try to remember that you are a valuable, intelligent person! Remember that you are completing a graduate degree and this in itself is a great accomplishment. This means that you are necessarily skilled, talented, and able to perform certain tasks. Successful professionals are willing to be references for you because they believe in you; otherwise they wouldn’t stake their reputation on you. Use that information to steady your confidence, and stay clearheaded about your strengths through this process. Never hesitate to contact a Gateway Student Success Center advisor for a follow-up appointment if you run into roadblocks during your job search process.
So hang in there when your job search seems daunting, and ask for help when needed! We all want to see you make contributions to your field, and securing the right job will facilitate the sharing of your talents with the world.
“10 Key Job Strategies.” Career Advancement Management Report 32, no. 9 (February 2009).
Asher, Donald. “Seven Secrets to the Hidden Job Market.” UT Professional Development Series webinar (presented February 26, 2009).
UCLA website resources for master’s and doctoral students.
—Article courtesy of Gateway Student Success Center Career Services