September 1, 2020
5 min read
A look at PhD employment statistics shows that 60% wind up either unemployed or in low-wage postdoc jobs (Source: National Science Foundation 2018) . Considering the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, that number is likely to be much higher at this time. It appears things won’t get better anytime soon with the spread of the disease increasing in some areas.
If you happen to be a PhD professional, that’s certainly not good news. Fortunately, there is opportunity in every crisis. It is still possible for you to find viable employment despite the odds. Here are 10 strategies that could help you land a dream position in the midst of the crisis and beyond.
Sure, you might have spent close to a decade or more studying a particular field, with the hopes of becoming a leading voice in your subject area. There may even be a chance of publishing something truly groundbreaking that propels you to professorship. However, the data suggests your chances of reaching the heights of academia are pretty slim. In fact, statistics show that the number of PhDs working in postdoc, part-time and non-faculty jobs have almost tripled over the past 30 years. It is clear that publishing another paper is unlikely to get you any real mileage in the current job market; research finds only about 0.45% of PhDs actually manage to become fulltime professors. And that was before COVID-19 struck. With all that said, it is a good idea to start looking for job opportunities outside of academia in order to increase your chances of finding gainful employment.
Academics are used to writing detailed papers, so it might be second nature for you to write fluffy CVs. Moreover, you may be driven to think listing all your impressive accomplishments will surely impress recruiters. The truth is, most people who receive your resume will literally spend less than 10 seconds looking at it before deciding whether to toss or keep it. To increase your chances of catching their attention, you want to create resumes that are direct and specific to the job you are applying to Why Companies Ignore Your Resume. Matching the job requirements with your relevant skills and experience is critical, as is the next strategy on this list…
It is simply not enough to send out numerous resumes hoping that your achievements will catch the eyes of a prospective employer. You want to position yourself as the best candidate for a post by showing that you put real thought into applying. Doing deep research into a firm you are interested in will help you to further tailor your resume and cover letter to match what HR staff are looking for. Try to find out as much as possible about the organization’s culture, history, recent financial statements, acquisitions, etc. This knowledge will also come in handy if you manage to land an interview.
If you are looking for work in an industry unrelated to your training, it’s a no-brainer that you should spend some time researching what it is all about before sending out job applications. This advice also applies if you are seeking work in an industry related to your area of specialization. That’s because what applies in theory is not always the case in the real world. Besides, most industries are constantly changing due to new technologies and innovations. Unless you are going after a particular position that specifically references your area of training, you should spend some time getting up to speed with the current industry trends.
One critical mistake many young PhD professionals make while in academia is forgetting to meet new people. It is easy to totally immerse yourself in research and writing, but it is also important to socialize and grow your connections. Having a sizeable network means there is a possibility of getting referred for jobs and other opportunities. If your network needs improving, start attending some networking events, including those for non-PhD holders. Eventbrite is filled with information on where such events are being held near you. You can also join networking sites such as Meetup.com to connect with like-minded individuals.
LinkedIn has proven itself to be highly valuable in the area of finding job opportunities. Recruiters use the site to look for job prospects and may approach you first if they like what they see. But your profile has to stand out and appear exceptional for such opportunities to come your way. Ensure you have a strong bio and that your skills and experience are highlighted in an attractive manner. If you are not sure how to optimize your profile, you may consider hiring a LinkedIn expert to do it for you. LinkedIn is also great for networking, so this is something you may want to look into if you are trying to get employed sooner than later. How to get yourself a LinkedIn Profile
The traditional route of applying for jobs is a numbers game of dismal proportions. In fact, studies show that out of every 200 resumes sent, as little as 10% move on to interviews, and only one out of that number actually lands a job offer. On the other hand, informational review requests are more likely to lead to an actual interview and 1 in 12 tend to lead to job offers. With that said, you may want to look into requesting informational reviews with company leaders you may be interested in. This type of interview involves talking to influential people about their roles and the industries they work in. It is more about getting information, so your target may be more willing to give you the time of day, especially if your academic subject area relates to their career. Informational interviews are also a great way to grow your network.
Writing journals and other academic papers are great, but when it comes to connecting with the wider industry, an information-rich blog is likely to get you further. Aim for a conversational and engaging tone, while showing that you are an expert on the chosen topic. This could lead to a raft of job opportunities, including job offers from people who may spend more time reading your blog posts than they would your resume. Don’t think you can write in a tone suitable for a blog? It is easy to find competent writers that can whip up great blog posts at competitive rates, so this is totally doable if this approach interests you.
As an unemployed academic, it can feel disheartening watching your peers excel in their respective careers. Nevertheless, you should not be afraid to ask for help as some may be willing to help out with advice, referrals or offering support. Also, as it relates to LinkedIn, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and connections to endorse you for industry-specific skills that are in demand. Get inspired from PhD Career Success Stories PhD Career Success Stories - A Podcast made by PhDs for PhDs
Making cold calls and sending email requests may seem beneath you if you have spent years as a standout academic. But opportunities will not come to you. Be prepared to take a chance by calling up companies and sending email inquiries, as well as reaching out through direct messages on social media. Just don’t be unprofessional about it. At the end of the day, the most you will hear is either a “yes” or a “no.”
Being without any form of employment or getting bogged down in academia could soon drain any resources you have accumulated and even render your specialized training obsolete in a short time. It is possible to improve your employment prospects by simply trying out the strategies mentioned above.
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