I’ve made enough progress, finally, in my grad school career, that my advisor suggested I should start looking for postdocs. It’s probably still too early to apply, he said, but if I find a perfect position, they might be willing to wait for me to graduate.
Little did he know that I’ve been keeping tabs on job openings for several years now.
Early on I realized that I didn’t have a good grasp of what sort of jobs I could apply for once I got my PhD. Yes, I knew I was looking for something with a strong research component, but I needed more information. Could I do the sort of research I wanted in industry, or in a government lab as well as academia? How applicable are my skills to other research areas; can I change my focus at all and by how much?
Instead of waiting until it was time to apply for jobs and researching the answers all at once, I decided to slowly gather information as I went. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Know where to look. Every time someone mentioned a job search website, a database, or an email list, I took note. Every time a professional organization advertised their job board or search site, I signed up. Instead of starting the search from scratch, I’m already getting notified about all the positions I’m eligible for – no extra effort required.
Know when to look. Each of those email lists or job sites I signed up for sent out notices about various types of jobs. Skimming through one or two interesting ones each week gave me a good idea of the lead time required for different positions. A postdoc position in my field, for example, is typically advertised 1-2 months before the application deadline. Start times are typically 1-6 months after that, although ASAP start times are quite common. However, if I wanted to apply for my own funding, grants are only available at certain times of the year. Also, I would have to find my own mentor, and start dates are closer to a year after applications are due.
Learn the right skills. For each position, there is typically a list of required and desired skills. Take a mental note of what is listed, and pretty soon you’ll have an obvious subset of skills you need for your desired job. For example, I work with certain software and coding languages now, as a graduate student. However, to do the same exact work at a different university, or in a different country, they require knowledge of different software. Instead of waiting until I apply to make the case that I can learn these skills, I know ahead of time that I need them, and can take the time to learn them now.
Understand job options. After you’ve been casually skimming job postings for awhile, you start to notice some trends. Places that hire frequently become familiar to you. A too-good to be true job sticks out like a sore thumb as soon as you glance at the salary range and realize its 20% below typical ranges for that geographic area. And the best part is, you don’t have to put much effort into understanding these options. You don’t have to perform extensive calculations on cost of living and value of benefits. By the time you are ready to look for real, you will have seen enough that you know just by looking how the job fits in with what you expect.
Convinced yet? Considering trying this method? If you want to get started now, here’s how I carried out my job search way before I was actually searching for jobs.
Sign up for email lists or feeds. A lot of sub-disciplines have their own email list to announce jobs, conferences, data requests, etc… Find the ones that overlap with your interests and sign up. Or, wait until you hear someone mention certain ones, then sign up. Also, most websites that list jobs have a way for you to sign up for email digests or use a feed reader to notify you about new postings. Sign up for these too. And, while you are at it, go ahead and sign up for email notifications from professional-based forums that post jobs as well. If in doubt? Sign up.
Be prepared to skim and delete. So now that you’ve signed up for a ridiculous number of emails, you need to manage them. I redirect all of mine into a specific folder, bypassing my inbox completely. Then, just scan the titles. Anything that mentions a job you aren’t eligible for (too qualified, under qualified, wrong field) gets deleted. Same with anything in a geographic location you aren’t interested in (although you may want to keep your options open at first). I typically get 5-20+ emails in this folder per day, and at max I read maybe 3 of them. And by read, I mean glance at the location, salary, basic requirements, and start time. Then I delete those ones too.
Bookmark universities, companies or labs. Since you aren’t actually searching for jobs, you don’t need to save interesting opportunities, because they won’t be there when you are ready. However, as you go, you may notice certain universities, companies, or labs reappear quite often in the listings you actually read. Go ahead and bookmark their websites (or add them to a list) for future reference. Even if they don’t have job openings when you start searching for real, their past history suggests they might soon, or they might be open to talking to someone with the same interests. These are the people and places you can contact even without a job opening, to possibly collaborate on a proposal, or just to express your interest.
By jumping on the job search years before you graduate, when it doesn’t matter so much, you can save yourself a lot of stress and learn ahead of time what you want to do when you finish. So go ahead, put in the very little effort now. It’ll pay off later.
What do you think about this method? Have you started job searching for your next position yet?