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Planning for future job-hunting during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic found me at the end of my PhD, and even though my graduation plans will be delayed, I will be looking for a job by the end of this year. Lots of my PhD friends are currently in the same boat; wrapping up their experiments, writing their thesis and wondering what their next step will be.

The work-routine I had arrange during the lockdown was not matching my current needs anymore, so I adapted my schedule to include aspects that could be beneficial for future job-hunting. Considering that I would like a transition to outside academia, I started attending online webinars on how to navigate the industry world, figuring out what positions are available for PhDs and how to eventually get them.

After reading a few online articles about job hunting, I was surprised to find out that, most positions seems to be filled either internally or through referrals, while the majority of available jobs are not even listed on job boards. Among my readings and webinars, I attended the last few months, there were two suggestions that everyone mentioned.

1. Invest in your LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is a professional platform with over five hundred million profiles, making it a great place for networking. Career experts at webinars suggested to have a professional and up-to-date profile. A professional photo, a concise summary that reflects your achievements, future aspirations, and personality will increase the chances of people accepting your invitation and make recruiters keep scrolling down to your work experience and education.

You do not have to spend a fortune on a professional photoshoot, mine was taken from a friend at the lab who owns a good camera. There are a lot of online resources about how to choose the right outfit, how to set the proper lights if you are indoors and how to edit the final image even if you are not a pro on photoshop. If you want to change the background photo as well, you can use a nice photo of your own collection that reflects your hobby, for example a nice view from your last hiking, or search online for free to use images. 

The platform is not only a great way to increase your network and online visibility but also a valuable resource of tips for your job-hunting. There are so many individuals sharing information about how to structure your profile, how to form a nice connection-request message, how to write a good cover letter or how to have an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) compliant CV. One of my favourites who shares almost on a daily basis valuable information about job-hunt during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond is Kirsty Bonner, who is a career consultant. I have been following some of her advice to structure my summary and work experience.

This is a great start to build a strong professional profile but other social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram can also be used to give you a great advantage and expand your network even more. Many PhDs who turned to entrepreneurship use these platforms to promote their personal brands. 

2. Start networking

Identifying positions outside academia suitable for PhDs was the tricky part for me. A PhD-turned-consultant at one of the webinars I attended, suggested to look for profiles who have a PhD but are not in academia and write down their job title. By this backward approach, I managed to identify several professions that I believed that could match my interests and personality. Then I looked online for specifics for each one of these positions, for example responsibilities, daily tasks and technical or soft skills they required. 

Once I observed a match between the job specifics and my future ambitions, I would go back and try connect with these individuals. I saw a huge difference at the acceptance rate once I started including a personalized message with my invitation. Once my invitation was accepted then I would follow-up asking questions, without overwhelming them, about their transition, for instance what challenges they faced, if they enjoy their current role and how their work-routine looks like. 

Arranging informational interviews is the recommended the next step in building professional relationships with a more solid foundation. This part might be challenging due to the current circumstances but luckily technology has got us covered. Personal meeting can be done through Skype and Zoom.

I have treated these meetings, even though less formal, as actual interviews since they are crucial and reflect your competence. Researching online prior to these meetings about the company, their values and mission, potential challenges the company might face, new acquisitions, or mergers etc. will reflect great on you and showcase your analytical skills, and initiative. 

Keep exploring alternative careers

Building your social media profile and network is a constant work-in-progress, and it requires a bit of commitment, so I have allocated half to one hour per day working on my profile and networking. I have noticed a change in my confidence levels when I am approaching individuals to connect, and I am much more eager to engage in others’ posts. It is a long process with lots of ups and downs and a bit of disappointment especially when people do not respond but I feel I am taking the right towards finding what I would like to do after my PhD. 

As PhDs we are wired to believe that a career within academia is the only one-way future prospect. Simply stated, this is not true. There are so many alternative career pathways and so many professions where the skills and talents of PhDs could be of great value.

The challenge is to identify what suit your personality and what would make you more fulfilled. Take all the necessary time to talk with people who transitioned, discuss about how their daily routine looks like, the challenges they faced during their transition and this might help you to imagine your future self.

Featured image is under Pixabay License and free to use.

About the Author
  • Melina Papalampropoulou-Tsiridou 0000-0001-7390-1860

    Melina, originally from Greece, started her research career obtaining a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Patras. She, then continued her research in U.K. where she attended the University of Edinburgh and awarded with an MSc by Research in Integrative Neuroscience. Fascinated by neuroscience, she decided to cross the ocean and continue her studies at Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada.  She joined in January 2016 the laboratory of Prof. Yves De Koninck, affiliated with CERVO Brain Research Centre and Université Laval, pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience. Melina is currently a PhD/MBA candidate at Université Laval.

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