Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Pilgrimage for a job - PhD Job Searching (the Laura Anderson lecture)

A new year is here and you hear yourself selling resolutions that are intended to resolve your problems... good and poetic, but in the long run we all need help focusing on the adequate strategy. Forget 2014; if you are looking to the future and craving for the job of your life, as I am, lets march together and learn from the best. This is the Laura Anderson's lecture on PhD Job searching. I've compiled the key ideas that will definitely help me, as any other job seeking reader, draw the right path to a really good job. Overall, the impression one gets after reading through Laura Anderson's contribution online is that we are very ignorant and naive when initiating our job search plan.

Forget about feeling miserable when employers ditch your CV. As Laura states, "only 5% of resumes submitted online ever receive a response" and not all responses are positive ones!

The numbers are clear and painful, "there's more competition for PhD jobs than ever before. Executing a trial and error strategy when applying for jobs reduces the chances of the applicant and slows his/her possibilities when competing with well informed people, e.g., people who actually read The Toxicologist Today!

A crucial rule is that "looking for a job isn't something you should be doing alone". It requires experience, people who know the shortcuts and applicants who are eager to roll up their sleeves and humble their narcissism. Like Dr. Farkas mentions in her post used on my previous article, networking, connecting with the right people, is a must. People build bridges to other people and at some point one of them will realise you GOT IT! Laura states that so clear you should tattoo it on your forehead; "Networking is the starting point of every job search. Over 50% of of jobs come from direct referrals." Lets call it rule zero; the absolute divine truth.

Laura Anderson lists 10 commandments for PhD job seekers. If we follow them biblically, we will definitely enhance our chances of standing above the crowd:

1) You will never hear back after submitting your resume online, however a resume is a very important introductory tool, but always after you have built your network.

2) Most industry jobs are not advertised. This is painful to read because I had been suspicious for a long while. But this confirms my suspicions. For years I have read and heard people talking about friends of friends who found incredible roles that were never advertised anywhere. Jobs so good you could feel the creamy sugar whilst fantasizing with it. And you know why? Hit it Laura - "Companies don't need to advertise their high level positions because there is already a high demand for them. Companies will either hire internally or seek referrals."

"Current unemployment rates for PhDs at graduation is 60-80%." We don't want to be seen rambling in that class, do we?

3) Stiff competition is a reality. This is obvious and mentioned by everyone to the tiredom exponential. What can we learn from it? Everyone is different and even against the most qualified individual you will have something different to him, something that makes you also... an individual. Use it, that is your best weapon. If you are not sure that you have it, the trick here is to "learn skills most of the PhDs do not have". Gosh, this is a hell of good advice, just go get your pen and paper right away before it fades away.

4) Finding an industry job takes time. 2-8 months to find a job, 2 to 6 years to change careers (academia to industry), numbers say. Transition can be lonnnnnng, real lonnnnng.

5) You have 90 seconds to make an impression in interviews, regardless of how cute you are. Laura lists a number of attitudes that put the interviewer off:

- no eye contact (67%)
- poorly dressed/carried (55%)
- no knowledge of the company (47%)
- no confidence/ not smiling (38%)
- bad posture (33%)
- never read The Toxicologist Today (30%).

OK, I made the last one up, but if I was the employer that would be a stop sign for the interview, right there! Do you want me to prove this point? Fair enough; so Laura says that "meeting someone for the first time activates your amygdala", now go check the amygdala article posted on the 23rd of September 2010!!!

6) Cross what is there on offer with what you want to do. And be sure you know what is what.

7) "The first person to place a follow up call to an industry job posting has a 95% chance to get the job position". The following day? 1%! I promised myself that in the future everyone giving me an interview or turning me down we'll get a thank you note so awesome they will fire/promote the HR guy who made the call.  

8) Negotiating is life. You hate it you hate life. Do it on your terms, but do it for God's sake. And above all it doesn't reveal your desperation, so it works like a kick-ass attitude and people won't take you for granted. 

9) Hiring managers are people and people sometimes do dumb things. "Over 85% of hiring managers say they hire people they like rather than what the job requires". This is almost rule zero stapled to the networking one. If you cannot act normal as any other human being, just run to some interpersonal skills workshop and pimp your ride because you will need it. Fact!

10) Social media is the word these days. Your resume is too long and too boring. People want the sparkling bits of you. "In 2014 18,400,000 people found jobs on Facebook; 10,200,000 on LinkedIn and 8,000,000 on Twitter. I will have to learn liking Facebook and optimise my Twitter usage.

This was quite a long article, but if you want to start 2015 properly you must show energy, give your very best and reach to the stars. In case you want to read Laura Anderson's contribution online, access here. I am not entirely sure she is the responsible one for the original article, but she is the one who advertised it and therefore I hereby acknowledge her incredible contribution to my job seeking strategy.

Image kindly taken from Next Scientist, 9 types of difficult PhD supervisor (and how to dometicate them), [http://www.nextscientist.com/domesticate-difficult-phd-supervisor/].


  1. awesome post! very true..realistic ...and a bit sad :D greets and Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Maja, thanks a lot and happy new year. Well, what can we do if not survive by learning our way into their system. There is a lot to be changed in the world of research, PhDs and the like, career-wise. Universities are still too busy thinking about bringing more students to their premises. Companies are too worried about profiting at the expense of less staff. In a capitalist world we can think socialist and perish, and the reverse is also true. Very sad and true.

  3. Thank you for the post! a bit sad, that's true but at the same time very useful!
    I guess, as PhD holders, we just need to play our card (skills)in a different way, to stand out from the crowd and we can get a nice job in industry! good luck to everybody!