Five Tips for Job-Searching Graduate Students

This is a guest post written by Catherine Maybrey, PhD. Originally published on

1. Attend a Career Fair

You don’t have to be actively job searching to attend a career fair. On the contrary, as I’ve said many times before, it can be even more beneficial to attend a career fair before you’re seriously in the market for a new position. It lets you feel more relaxed in your interactions with recruiters, and less afraid of botching the conversation since you don’t have anything at stake. Career fairs aren’t just for undergrads; many organizations that come to campus have opportunities for multiple degree levels, including private sector and government agencies. While most organizations will tell you to submit your resume online, it’s always a good idea to bring a few copies with you. Also remember to check out the list of employers before attending, so you can learn about what they do and if they interest you before you arrive. Dress business casual (no jeans or sneakers) to make a good impression. If you’re in the Hamilton, Ontario area, Connect to Careers takes place February 1st at the FirstOntario Centre.

2. Update your Resume

Whether you have a resume or have never written one, it’s best to start the resume process before you need it. No need to be afraid, resumes are not as bad as everyone seems to think. They have certain structural and content rules, and are more factual than cover letters. If you have employment services available on your campus, head there straight away. Career advisors should be able to provide you with information and resources to help you start writing or editing. Make sure to bring your document back for review! If you don’t have career services available for graduate students on your campus, try connecting with alumni. Many universities have alumni networks set up to help students and new graduates connect with their more experienced peers. If you’re still not getting what you need, ask a career coach. Having a strong resume will help you avoid many headaches in your job search, and it’s one less thing to worry about going forward.

3. Share your Research

Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is a global phenomenon. If you haven’t heard of it, 3MT is a competition that gives graduate students three minutes and a single PowerPoint slide to explain their research to an audience of educated peers. This is a fantastic experience that I cannot endorse strongly enough. If you are applying to faculty positions, you will hopefully be asked to deliver a job talk on campus, and 3MT is perfect preparation. Applying outside academia? Employers want to know that you have strong communication skills, and they especially want to know that you can communicate with people outside of your discipline. 3MT forces participants to ditch the jargon and explain what it is and why it is important in less than three minutes. And for those reluctant Humanities and Social Sciences students who think this competition is for STEM researchers? You’re wrong! It’s about storytelling, communication, and making meaning. Go share your research story!

4. Read

I know you already read all the time, but I’m talking about reading that’s related to you, your situation, aspriations, and career plans. My friend and colleague, Heidi Scott Giusto, has assembled a team of experts in the field of career development to write guest posts and selected topics for her blog at Career Path Writing Solutions. All of the posts will focus on PhDs navigating work, job searching, and employment, so whether you’re just starting out or an experienced job seeker, this series will give you tips and insights to help you set and reach your goals. You can even sign up to be notified when new posts are published, so you won’t miss a thing.

5. Attend Beyond the Professoriate

This virtual conference is my favourite event of the year. Where else can you learn about multiple aspects of the PhD job search beyond academia from the comfort of your home, and hear from other PhDs, just like you, who have successfully transitioned to careers they love? BeyondProf has it all. In this year’s lineup, Jennifer Polk and Maren Wood have a range of professional development topics including career exploration, hiring, online search strategies, and, of course, resumes and cover letters. The conference takes place on May 5th and 12th, and registration is now open. I’ve had the pleasure of presenting at BeyondProf for the past 4 years, and what always strikes me is the amazing conversation that takes place online during and after the session. Unlike traditional conferences, I have questions and comments waiting for me from grad students around the world, and it usually takes a few hours to get through them all, but I make an effort to try to respond to every single question. I’ve spoken at many events, but BeyondProf is the only conference or session that I have ever experienced that allows the presenter and the audience to really come together for a true conversation about the realities of PhD careers beyond academia.

So there is my list of five easy things that every grad student can do this year. I admit that they’re tiny. I wanted to encourage you to get out of your comfort zones and try something. Doing the same thing over and over will simply yield the same result. So let’s make this year our best year yet by taking action and doing something new.


Catherine Maybrey, PhD, is the founder and Chief Career Coach at CM Coaching Services.

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