How Grad Students Should Approach the Job Search

So you’re in a grad program and before you know it you’ll have your degree. The next step, of course, is to find a job where you can start putting that knowledge to good use–but how do you do that?

I recently spoke with the director of graduate programs at a prestigious university. She shared her thoughts on the steps graduate students should take to secure the right job after graduation. Like me, she believes that finding a good first job after school is an ongoing process that starts when you commence your studies. Here are three critical steps to take if you’re in grad school:

1. Engage in self-assessment:

This is something that you should begin even before you enter your graduate program. A lot of students struggle to articulate their career goals because they have limited work experience and lack a clear sense of what they want to do once they earn their degree. Knowing your interests, skills, preferences and financial needs will guide you toward what interests you professionally–use the points below to help you.

  • Think about what you enjoy based upon your previous academic and work experiences
  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses as a job candidate
  • Keep testing your hunches, constantly assessing and reassessing

As you start to delve into more advanced curriculum, you will get a better sense of your interests. Finally, keep track of what news you gravitate to, what you like to read and what piques your interest. You will start to see definitive trends–things you enjoy and issues you like to think about. All of these steps will help you to develop a more clear sense of what to pursue and how to proceed.

2. Create a plan:

Although this seems obvious, a job search can be so overwhelming that many people put it off because they simply do not know where to start. First, you should understand your schedule and when you have blocks of time that allow you to work on your job search. Obviously, those weeks before exams and deadlines for papers are not appropriate. Once you have identified those available times, schedule time on your calendar specifically for your job search. Make a commitment to your job search and treat it like a class.

3. Networking is critical:

Just because you’re getting a more advanced degree, it doesn’t mean you can forget about networking. You should use the points listed below and don’t take it personally if you don’t get responses–you can always approach someone again with a gentle follow-up.

  • Learn more about the jobs you are considering, particularly if you have not had the opportunity to do an internship
  • Speak to professionals in these jobs to test your assumptions and learn about the challenges, as well as the availability of positions and the relevant skills you will need
  • Look for contacts through college and grad school alumni networks, LinkedIn and specific industry resources
  • Speak with your professors to see if they can connect you with alumni and other faculty who are experts in their fields

Those who are the most successful with their job search are proactive from the moment they enter their grad school program.  You should get involved, be engaging and stay current on trends and changes in your field.  If you approach this process over a two- or three-year time frame instead of the semester before you receive your degree, you should have much greater success in securing an appropriate opportunity after graduation.



Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, SmartMoney, The Washington Post, ABC News, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio. Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.

Related posts:

  1. Social Networks and Your Job Search (Part 2)
  2. Leveraging Social Media in Your Job Search
  3. Social Networks and Your Job Search (Part 1)

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