I definitely didn’t have a perfect job search. Especially towards the beginning of it, I messed up on many things – many of which are listed below.
Fixing them helped me increase my chances of success, so I hope they inspire you to take a look at your own job search strategies.
Not to necessarily copy what I did or do exactly as I say, because I know we all have different situations, but simply to see what you can do better or improve.
As usual, this is written from strictly my own experience and the U.S., life sciences perspective.
Yes, I have a “things I did right” post coming, too!
1. I applied to too many jobs at once, willy-nilly.
There were 2 points in my job application process – the very beginning and once during the process – where I was so desperate I was sending my resume to every job listing that sounded remotely doable.
I thought, well, if I cast my net wide enough, something’s bound to get caught.
It didn’t work out that well for me.
No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t apply to that many jobs.
No, I’m not saying limit yourself.
No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for jobs where you don’t meet all the requirements.
I’m saying that you’ll only be in for a world of disappointment if you don’t do enough research about each of the companies you apply for and just haphazardly spam your resume at a bunch of job listings.
Because chances are, some may stick, statistically, but you might not like things about the job responsibilities or the companies and realize that down the line – when you’ve already wasted time and energy going through the interview process.
Or worse, after you’ve been hired.
Just be a bit mindful of who you’re letting read your resume.
Remember that every resume you send out is going to be one that you have to potentially follow up on, and that takes up your time and energy – that you’re ultimately trying to get paid for!
2. I completely stopped applying for jobs when I thought I had one in the bag.
I go through this in more detail in my Job Search Timeline post, but I spent about 4-5 months in the job search process.
There were a couple times where I thought I had a job in the bag, so I stopped applying to jobs. Like, completely. I kicked my feet back for a few days waiting for an official offer and then was rejected.
There was also one time during it where I literally stopped doing anything related to my job search for about 1-1.5 months. It was a combination of being convinced by my toxic former PI that I didn’t have to apply for jobs until after winter break, and also just having low self-esteem.
Breaks are important and critical to re-center yourself and figure out if you need to change anything about your job search strategy, sure.
Even a verbal offer isn’t good enough. After my little mishap that I mentioned, I wasn’t 100% satisfied until I saw that my company had signed the offer letter and I signed it too, and got a copy.
Applying for non-ac/industry jobs is like multiple iterations of cycles. You go through some cycles partway, then it ends, you optimize, then start again. And you keep doing that over and over until something sticks.
So even if you have 2 leads – upcoming interviews, maybe one of them is an assignment – you should keep applying for jobs if you can and want to. You could wake up with “We’ve gone with another candidate” emails any day of the week.
Try not to think about it so linearly. Just remember, it’ll eventually work out, but it’s up to you to keep putting in effort up front.
3. I thought I could only work in like 2 fields.
I’d spent the past 6 years in academia seeing people around me pretty much living and breathing their research topics, day in and day out.
I didn’t think I could do much in industry aside from maybe 2 experimental techniques that I enjoyed, or work in 2 disease states.
I was so confused about what kinds of jobs I could get! It made me feel like I’d be stuck in academia forever.
I’ve gone over this in multiple blog posts, so you can read them below, but your transferable skills are so much more important than your niche knowledge on a disease pathway or a model organism.
I don’t even use or think about the model organism I did my Ph.D. work in, and same goes for my “disease of interest” from grad school!
That subject matter part of my brain from grad school is completely untouched.
Once again, I know this doesn’t relate to everyone. Some folks can get jobs related to the cell types, diseases, or model organisms they studied in grad school. In that case, great.
Either way, start by considering what you enjoy and think you’re good at. That’s the stuff you’ll most likely want to be doing in your next job, regardless of the actual scientific process it may be related to.
Here are some posts to inspire you to think outside the box and help you find other roles to go for.
4. I didn’t start early enough.
This is going to be a short one, but yes, I should have started earlier. I first started thinking about my job search 2 months before I defended.
Yep, that was back when I didn’t know ANY of this stuff that I blog about.
I was completely CLUELESS.
So, it didn’t go so well – I had maybe 1 lead, and that fizzled out quick.
If I could go back, I’d give myself 4-5 months to apply for jobs. I’d say that’s a pretty reasonable ballpark for most people in the life sciences. Now, this is a generalized statement that won’t apply to everyone reading this.
But don’t wait until it’s too late. You don’t want to end up like me – stuck in your Ph.D. lab, signing a postdoc contract you never wanted to get.
5. I started off by barely changing my CV into a tailored resume.
I was so eager to get started, I was spamming my resume at every job listing I saw, like I mentioned in #1.
In addition, I didn’t change my CV up very much when I was making it into a resume.
I still had a LONG list of academia-specific, cringeworthy sections in my resume – cringeworthy, because they had nothing to do with the jobs I was applying for. My resume was almost 2 full pages, and I was coming fresh out of a Ph.D.!
Now, a resume that’s close to 2 pages isn’t a bad thing. But only if it’s filled with job-relevant skills, outcomes, and methods that convince the recruiter you’re worth interviewing.
My initial resumes were DEFINITELY not that!
I’m sure if you’re on here, you’ve seen my Resume Template & Tips post, where I go into detail on how I optimized my resume for pretty decent chances. Yes, this includes updating the contents of your resume for each and every job you apply for.
No, you don’t HAVE to do it that way, but that’s what worked for me and gave me a high success rate.
Sure, resume isn’t everything. The job I’m applying for has to be a good fit for me, too. But it sure did help. Check it out if you’re feeling a bit stuck!
6. I looked down on some jobs and didn’t consider them.
I’m super ashamed to admit this, but when I was in grad school, and I didn’t even know what jobs I could get, I was already looking down on some jobs that I couldn’t register why anyone with a Ph.D. would go for.
I won’t name any in particular, but I had such a hard time fully realizing that the non-ac job market isn’t just like 3 elite, often-mentioned jobs with huge salaries and that the other ones aren’t as “impressive”.
What matters most is that you’re feeling fulfilled in what you’re doing. Confidently being aware of that will help you push aside any weird feelings like how you might be going for a “lame” job or feeling like “this isn’t what I should be doing with my Ph.D.”
There’s no universal “best” outcome of getting a Ph.D. Some faculty members and universities who want to use your cheap labor might see industry jobs as “less than”.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that way.
Learning from my mistakes and fixing the above helped me in my job search and job application process.
Keep in mind, I only ever speak from my experiences, to inspire you, not to tell you what to do. Not everything I say is going to apply to your exact experience.
But I hope these points helped you observe your own behaviors or strategies a bit critically and find ways to optimize them!
I’ll follow this up with a post listing 7 things I did right, but I wanted to start off with the mistakes so we have a framework to discuss the good things.
Best of luck to you!