How to Rock the Hustle: 8 Pro Tips for Making the Most of Your Job Search

By Elizabeth Mahood

We’re all about the hustle here at Blogging Beyond Academia. I’ve read, written, and edited posts about everything from honing your communication skills to what it’s like at a startup. However, for all our posts about career exploration and skill-building resources, we’ve left out one key element of getting a job: the job search itself. COVID-19 has put job searching on the forefront of the minds of many,
especially those of us finishing at our current positions. In response to this, I’ve gathered advice from researchers recently awarded positions in industry as well as in academia. Although this advice is coming from researchers in my field (plant biology), their advice is applicable across broad sciences and humanities. Additionally, the tips below are important to consider even if your current appointment isn’t ending soon – being a strong candidate takes lots of prep, and searching for the perfect job can take longer than you might think!

General Tips:

  • Start “Early”: This first tip is probably the piece of advice I heard most often. People in industry commented that it took them 9-12 months to land their current position, and it sometimes took longer than that for people in academia. Part of “starting” is letting your network know that you are looking for positions, and doing this early means you are less likely to miss out on
    opportunities advertised only through your network.
  • Prep Yourself: To get your dream job, you have to be a great fit. While a big part of this is aligning your materials to the job position (more on this later), an equally big part is making sure your skills and experiences turn you into the ideal candidate (read: do your prep work). One pro tip is to copy / paste job applications into a text editor, and determine which words are coming up the most –these are likely to be the skills recruiters or committees want you to have. Another newly-minted-pro’s tip is to follow people on Twitter or LinkedIn whose careers you want to mirror, as their posts could be highly relevant to your job search and they may even drop openings of interest to you. Bottom line: having a Career Development Plan and sticking to it through your current position is key to landing your next one.
  • Keep Communicating with your PI: Seriously applying to jobs can (and probably will) mean de-accelerating your research. It’s super important to keep your PI informed through this process so they can support you through it.
  • Use Twitter to Your Advantage: tweet about your papers or accomplishments to publicize them and tweet about other people’s research to show that you are involved and knowledgeable about your field.

Tips for Industry Positions:

  • Don’t be Intimidated by Postings: Industry job postings will describe the qualifications of their dream-come-true candidate. Oftentimes, their applicants won’t have every box ticked – so it’s ok if you don’t either. In these scenarios, it is really important to highlight your ability and interest to learn the skills you don’t have. As a side note, this can depend on what type of industry position you apply to – startups are less likely to hire someone who pitches themselves as “eager to learn” then they are to hire “an expert”.
  • But Definitely Take Postings Seriously: As we highlighted above, job postings will state key qualities that employers need or want their candidates to have. These qualities should be first and foremost in your application materials – and they can change from one company to the next. A pro tip is to have a “backbone” resume handy that you can tailor to fit each company you apply to. Read the company’s website to see what terminology and values they put front and center, and incorporate those into your application materials.

Tips for Academic Positions:

  • Distinguish Yourself in the Interview: This came up often when talking to people recently awarded faculty positions. The key area you have to do this in is your talk – you must present research that is exciting, aligned well with the position, and appears easily fundable. Additionally, to make a lasting impression on the search committee, you should familiarize yourself with their research. This will show them that you are curious, involved and collaborative – traits they want in their future coworker.
  • Distinguish your Application Materials: With many positions getting a slew of applications, it’s critical to make yours stand out. The search committee will spend a lot of time looking at your papers, but if your papers don’t encompass all of your work – i.e. let’s say you’re also good at programming – make sure you have Googleable evidence of this, as it can set you apart from other candidates. Additionally, if the position description has a clear picture of their ideal candidate, make sure to include their key criteria in your application materials. If the position is less clear or more broad, however, feel free to shape your application materials in whatever way that puts your best foot forward.

I’ll end this post with a few resources for anyone thinking about getting their next position. The first is particularly related to COVID-19: a live list of companies actively hiring, freezing, or firing employees in response to the pandemic. For others that are still shaping their current position, Cornell has a multitude of resources to check out. Cornell Career Services has templates for cover letters and resumes. The Graduate School has several institutional memberships that are free for students and postdocs. The Office of Postdoctoral Studies, CIRTL at Cornell, and Careers Beyond Academia are always available for individual consultations and questions. Additionally, for those interested in academic positions, check out HigherEdJobs for listings. For anyone wondering how to start concretizing their research interests into a written document – a good place to start is with your “personal brand”. Finally, for researchers in the life sciences, a couple resources: ecoevojobs is a google spreadsheet listing job positions (and it comes with a “venting” sheet—a good place for perspectives from applicants that ultimately weren’t awarded positions), and PlantPostdocSlack is a great resource (for job postings and resource sharing) for any postdoc whose research is broadly associated with plants. I hope this post has been helpful for you – and always remember to reach out to Careers Beyond Academia if you have any job search questions, or want more resources and advice!