When you get to your PhD final year, the pressure to start your job search looms and we enter that horrible balancing act of finishing the PhD and possibly thinking about what to do next. This stage can be particularly hard, as the final sprint of your PhD is usually a lot more intense, with finishing your thesis and making sure it’s watertight in preparation for your thesis defence/viva. There’s usually a lot of uncertainty of when to start looking and applying for jobs. This is a super subjective question but as always on this site, we’ll aim to break it down and give you something using to think about.
Before you begin thinking about applying, it’s good to have a rough timeline or plan in your mind. Finishing your PhD and jumping into your next adventure is going to heavily depend on your personal situation, in fact both when and what you do will be subjective to you as a person. In other posts, we’ve unpacked how to decide ‘what’ to do – so we recommend you start there if you haven’t already. This includes topics such as; your core values, your current career outlook, your salary goals, what kind of impact you want to have, and so much more. Once you’ve worked through this, it’s time to build a loose timeline.
The timeline you opt for is going to heavily depend on 2 core factors, your well-being and your financial circumstances. From a well-being perspective, a PhD is an incredibly intense journey that is naturally going to take a toll on your happiness or at least your emotional resources. Especially during the last few months of preparing your submission. Given these points, you may opt to take a mini-hiatus – and you fully deserve one by the way. This could literally be taking a few months (or longer) out of work to focus on yourself. Travel, explore, pick up the hobbies you let slide during your PhD, reconnect with family, or engage in a lot of self-development work now you’ve got a lot more headspace to think. It’s often not something that’s spoken about after your PhD, and most of us have an itch to just dive straight into the next adventure whether that be as a post-doc – striking whilst the iron is hot – or an industry career, wanting to leave the academic life behind. Either way, the first thing to decide is whether you want to have a mini pause after your PhD or not?
The second core factor is going to be your financial circumstances. If you’ve got debt, children, responsibilities, or any other variable that ultimately means you’ve got bills to pay – you can’t necessarily afford to take a mini pause. Finding a way to hit the ground running and ensure a consistent month to month pay-check is going to be your objective. In which case, you probably want to start looking a little earlier. This will help offset any job search stress, and enable you to get your affairs in order. This is particularly important if you’re looking at academic jobs abroad. The logistics of getting visa applications is likely to slow down the process and you want to have time on your side for this one.
But putting this all aside, when should you start? From experience and from discussing with other PhD’s we’d recommend somewhere around the 3-month mark. In essence, start your job search 3 months before the start date you’ve identified. 3 months is a ballpark figure, and you might need longer. If you literally can’t afford to have a layover between PhD and your next adventure, start even earlier – 6 months or more. Depending on your field of discipline, the current job market, and a whole range of other factors, this is likely to change and be dynamic, so no matter when you’re reading this post, be sure to speak to your friends and PhD buddies to get a ‘feel’ of how long it takes.
The reason we advocate for 3 months is because the time it takes to apply, be shortlisted, interview, possibly negotiate a salary, and then be provided with a job offer takes time. What you don’t want to do is say ‘I need a job tomorrow’ and then start applying, because quite frankly that’s not going to happen. You need to give yourself a run up. Some organisations will have a quick and short screening process, and you might get an offer within a couple of weeks to a month. Some may take longer, especially if they have a bigger pool of candidates, and so to shortlist, screen and interview might take the whole three months. It’s really varied, but generally speaking 3 months is a good timeline to work towards.
This 3 months also gives you the opportunity to do a few ‘practice interviews’, by which we mean go to a few interviews for some jobs you’re not actually that interested in, or wouldn’t be bummed out if they didn’t offer you a position. This is to get yourself interview ready, so when the dream job does come along, you’re able to nail it first time. It takes a bit of time to get into a rhythm with interviews, and so giving yourself some practice runs to not feel so rusty is really important to landing that post-PhD job you’re after.
Overall, it’s a long slog and a tricky journey to navigate whilst you finish up your PhD and begin your job search – but you’re a PhD, soon to be Dr., if there’s anyone who can find a way to juggle them both, it’s you.
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