I interviewed four students — Kendal Lowrey, Christal Hamilton, Cody Spence, and Lin Zhu — who recently succeeded in finding jobs. One works at the U.S. Census, two are tenure-track faculty members, and one is working at a policy think tank. Their thoughts have been consolidated and edited for brevity and clarity.
Effective Search Strategies
- Use social media like LinkedIn or Twitter (X). Use the “open for work” feature on your profile to signal to employers you’re looking.
- Explore job boards from professional organizations.
- Contact your network, such as former grad school classmates.
- Reach out directly to hiring managers.
- Target positions carefully based on fit, skills, and experience rather than applying widely.
- Identify a handful of job prospects, and then apply for that cluster of jobs all at once.
Winning Resume and CV Development
- Ask colleagues for sample templates.
- Keep formatting simple —AI isn’t impressed by fancy templates, but it may help you improve your document.
- Ask others to review and provide feedback.
- Use metrics to add context to your experience (for example, X number of presentations, publications, or grant applications).
Wise and Thoughtful Applications
- Create an organizing document to track due dates and required materials.
- Use keywords from the ad. Employers admit using AI to screen materials for buzz words.
- Align your accomplishments and skills with the mission of the employer. Highlight your unique skills that enhance the prospective institution.
- Research departments, even in the application stage (though admittedly, this is time consuming.) Get to know the department and institution which was reflected in the application materials. Generic applications don’t get you very far!
- Get a list of common or potential interview questions. Write out the answers, but practice answering verbally, not just in your head.
- Ask colleagues for examples of questions they typically ask in actual interviews as well as examples of questions you can ask prospective employers.
- Read articles from HR experts who give advice on navigating interviews and how to give good — rather than stock — answers.
Acing the Interview
- Write down keywords from the question. This will help you to slow down to answer more astutely and will also allow you to review after the interview is completed. It’s ok to slow down to write!
- Start early — well before you graduate.
- Anticipate sending out many more applications than you initially expected.
- Be open to spending time post-gradation without a job.
- Take breaks from the process.
- Take care of yourself, mentally and physically. Spend time with friends who are not on the job market. Seek out encouragement and support.
- Remember that the job search process involves trial and error, and that you’ll get better at it as you go along.
I asked the interviewees if they had to do their job search over again — but do it better — what would they do? They said they’d start earlier, reach out to more people, and get even more feedback and advice. They’d attend job search workshops and prep sessions at their university or at academic conferences. Also, they’d consider a postdoc or internships in a range of career settings to gain insight.
Several interviewees wished they’d understood the application systems before applying, especially the federal government’s usajobs.gov process. They wished they’d known how to negotiate salary and the details of the position.
Finally, I asked the interviewees for their very best advice. They urged job seekers to be open to a variety of positions, start building their networks very early on, know their strengths, and get experience with a diverse range of data sources and methods.
Thank you so much to Kendal, Christal, Cody, and Lin for taking the time to talk with me and share their hard-won wisdom.