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How to Help Your Students and Postdocs Find Jobs

Job searching is hard, but we have tips for setting your students and postdocs up for success. Here we share valuable suggestions for helping your students and postdocs find jobs.

Students networking with professor Do you have a postdoc who is finishing their research? Do you know a graduate student who is a year away from defending? Perhaps you just started lecturing a new undergrad.

Although the needs of these job seekers may vary, you can help them think about their careers and find jobs they want.

Here I share valuable suggestions for helping your students and postdocs find jobs.

These tips fall into three main categories:

  • Networking
  • Organizing search materials
  • Knowing where to look for jobs

First, let’s think about common challenges students and postdocs face when looking for a job or planning their career goals. Often, young professionals are unsure of the types of jobs available to them. They may not know the exact roles or tasks they would do in those jobs and what skills they require. They also may not know which companies or institutions would fit them best.

Finally, even those who do have a firm academic career path may find limited job opportunities with strong competition.

How can you help set your students and postdocs up for success no matter what stage of their job search?

Networking

Help them grow their network by leveraging yours

Often, the first networking opportunity that comes to mind is conferences. Conferences may be the main professional and social event in most fields. However, they are not the only way students and postdocs can network.

One of the best things a mentor can do is share their network. If you have kept in touch with fellow students and researchers from your own graduate and postdoc days, ask them to alert you when job openings arise. Sharing your network could be as simple as inviting those friends or collaborators to give a presentation to your group and allowing them one-on-one time with your students and postdocs.

Schedule a joint meeting

Consider a joint team meeting with other research groups to introduce everyone and share experiences. There are many additional benefits of networking outside of job searching. The interactions you and your mentees have with other researchers, especially those in related fields, can provide you with a fresh idea on a research topic.

It is never too late to start networking. Much like flexing a muscle– the more you network, the stronger your networking skills and self-confidence will be.

Encourage informational interviews

Encourage your students and postdocs to do informational interviewing with more experienced peers. Those individuals who already hold positions that interest your mentee are also good networking contacts.

Consider collaborating with your mentee to make a list of potentially relevant people and the questions they should ask. These interviews do not need to be very long. They should focus on a few key questions:

  • What does the job holder experience throughout the workday or week?
  • What do they enjoy most about their job? What do they find to be their biggest challenge?
  • What skills do those individuals lean on most often and how did they build those skills?

Embrace an organized search strategy

Make a shared folder containing important documents

Start a shared folder with your student or postdoc to hold relevant documents. The folder should include CVs/resumes, cover letter templates, and research and teaching statements.

The folder should contain a document where you both can share notes about your mentees strengths, core interests, and dream jobs. Once you have this information, you can prioritize what aspects of the job search to focus on. Maybe the individual should learn a few highly desired soft skills, such as communication skills or leadership, before entering the market. Maybe one of their interests aligns with a career track or field they had not considered. Encourage your students and postdocs to explore all possible options in academics, government, industry and nonprofit tracks.

Have students research potential positions and employers

They should also do thorough background research on any position or employer that they are considering to ensure a good fit. One key benefit of storing this information in a shared document is that you can help guide your student or postdoc in their thinking before they apply.

Track applications

Once your mentee has started applying for jobs, help them track their application status in a shared table or sheet. This tracking document should have a way of noting the stage of each application.

Is the applicant still gathering or tailoring materials? Have they applied and are awaiting a response?

Knowing this information can help you guide the student or postdoc along their journey. It can help you both set deadlines for when materials need to be reviewed and sent.

Help students tailor their applications to specific jobs

When reviewing job application materials, do so with an employer’s eye. Look for ways to help them tailor each piece and show off their strengths. Although templates can help the applicant be efficient in their process, job materials should always be tailored to each position.

Much like a research abstract, a cover letter is the first thing a selection committee will see. It should be clear but concise. Remind your students and postdocs that employers want to know why they want to work in the position.

Point them towards reputable job posting sources

Start with our own network

The societies you engage with have the best field-specific job boards. Most of these groups do not require membership to access job listings. However, if a student or postdoc is looking to change fields, they should consult with others in their (and your) network.

Seek counseling centers

Additionally, many colleges and universities have career or graduate counseling centers to provide guidance.

Check online job postings

There are good non-field-specific resources for job postings that range from very broad (covering all fields and job types) to narrow (focusing on only academic or government jobs). Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn have job postings for a wide variety of fields and job types. These sites can also recommend jobs based on a person’s skills and interests if they create a profile.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, and Higher Ed Jobs are all reputable sources for academic job postings. These sites also offer new and valuable information on faculty jobs, career advice, and support for academic jobs.

USA Jobs is the federal government’s website for sharing job postings and accepting applications for government positions.

Final thoughts

Time management skills

Knowing where to look is only part of the battle. Prepare your mentees for the time and effort needed to search for jobs. You also need to know how to look and what to look for. Searching for a job can almost feel like a job itself.

Encourage students and postdocs to set aside dedicated time every week to review job sites for new opportunities.

They should manage their online profiles and networks and think about the pros and cons of any jobs that interest them. Although there may be many interesting jobs out there, it is important for your mentees to spend their time wisely by not applying to jobs they know they do not want.

Buy or borrow books on job searching

For those looking for more information on job searching in academia, there are hundreds of books and articles available. A couple books that I recommend are “A PhD is Not Enough” and “The Academic Job Search Handbook.” These books have personally helped me over the years.

Tailor to the individual

Not every option or activity described above will fit each individual you are mentoring. Tailor your approach to each person’s situation.

Don’t get discouraged

Although these strategies should help your mentee find the right job, there is no guarantee that the individual will be interviewed or hired. Don’t be discouraged by failed searches. Learn from the experience and any feedback from hiring managers to improve for the next round.

References

A PhD is not enough: A Guide to Survival in Science, Peter J. Feibelman, Revised Edition, 2011, Basic Books, NY, NY The Academic Job Search Handbook, Mary M. Heiberger, Julia M. Vick, Jennifer S. Furlong, and Rosanne Lurie, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA; Fifth edition, 2016

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