At the end of your PhD, searching for a job can be one of the most stressful experiences. At this stage, you’re most likely filled with concerns about your future, whether or not you’ll actually find something you want, or whether you’ll find one at all to just cover your basic living costs. One of the worst things about job search stress is that it can actually impede your ability and efficiency to search for jobs. This can make things worse, as your stress only increases because it feels like you’re not doing enough or not getting any replies. Once you’ve worked out what it is roughly that you want to do, and whether you truly want to leave academia, you can start looking around. To help overcome job search stress, I’ll try and break down some practical advice on how to firstly prevent some of the stress from amounting and how to manage it once it inevitably arrives.
Preventing the stress
Like any other part of your health and well-being the best form of defence is to reduce the chances of it occurring in the first place. With regards to job search stress, the best way I found is to start looking early. Personally, i’d recommend somewhere between 5-6 months before your PhD submission deadline (aka your hand in). This may sound quite early, and it is, but there are some really good reasons for this. Looking for jobs early on allows you to get a feel for the job market – especially if you’re changing career into industry. You can get an idea of what jobs are selecting you for interview stages, which ones aren’t, and ideally why. Getting this feedback allows you to adapt your approach, change course, apply for jobs that you’re more suited for or at least change the way you pitch yourself and communicate your skills. You do not want to be doing this after you’ve completed your PhD as it’s precious time lost. Getting a feel for the job market when you’re still completing your PhD allows you to process the feedback more rationally.
Another reason to start looking early to help reduce job search stress is because the interview process can take ages. Do not underestimate this. Not only does your CV/résumé need to be screened, you also need to be invited for an interview. In the majority of cases you will have more than one interview round. It is not uncommon to interview candidates 3 or 4 times. This might consist of a telephone interview, a group interview, and then a face-to-face interview. Logistically speaking, this could take several weeks or even a few months for it to be processed. This is not time you want to waste at the end of your PhD. Ideally, you want to have passed all these interview stages whilst completing your PhD, and then transition into a job early as possible to reduce the ‘empty void’ between the end and start of these chapters.
Applying early also allows you to get your interview practice in. Nothing makes job search stress worse than having your first interview for your dream job in a desperate time. This will definitely impede the quality of your interview and potentially jeopardise you receiving an offer. By applying for jobs early you can get into a groove of interviews. Majority of PhD’s haven’t had a formal job interview for 3 or more years. Re-learning how to do this and learning how to communicate your PhD effectively takes a bit of practice. Applying early, even for jobs that aren’t necessarily you dream job, can stop you from being rusty. You might get a few offers from jobs you don’t necessarily want but do the interviews anyway – you can always turn them down if you are successful. This means when your dream job does offer you an interview, you’ll go into it prepared and ready – giving you the confidence to succeed.
The final benefit of applying early allows you to prepare for the adjustment. If you’re able to, start putting money aside to keep you afloat for a few months when you do start looking. Knowing you have a little safety net to keep you tied over for a short while can really do wonders with reducing your job search stress. If the boat has sailed on these for you and you’re in the final few months or weeks of your PhD, don’t fret – it’s perfectly normal. Here are some tips on how to manage job search stress when it does happen.
Managing job search stress
In an ideal world everything will fall into place and job search stress won’t ever arise. However, this is very unrealistic and job search stress is inevitable. Even if you follow all the steps outlined above, you still might not have anything lined up in time for the end of your PhD. This can leave you feeling deflated, lost, and make you panic. The stress associated with job searching can originate from a lot of different sources, but on the most part this stress disappears once a job is found. Given this, it might be worth considering getting a placeholder job. When I say placeholder, what I’m saying is essentially anything that just gives you the security you need – and then you can look for an ideal job from a safe place. Without having to worry about money coming in. This is a time when post-doc positions come in handy, although my general advice is to not do a post-doc. Finding a job within academia can be more straight froward than industry as it’s a lot easier to explain your skill set and network with people who may be able to help you out. However, this can be problematic as working takes up a significant amount of time and many people find it impossible to apply for jobs whilst in a job. You have to be extremely disciplined to make this work. If this is an option that would help manage your job search stress – bare this in mind.
As mentioned earlier, when your job search stress amounts, it can impede your ability to search for jobs. If you keep hearing ‘unfortunately, your application was unsuccessful’ it can put you off from applying. If your confidence is damaged, you start to believe you won’t find anything or you avoid the possibility of more rejection. You have to be aware of this pattern and make a conscious decision to push through it. It’s very similar to any part of your PhD. When you hit a road block the solution isn’t to avoid it. You must keep going to reach a positive outcome. This is the same when applying for jobs. The more you apply, you increase the probability of hearing successful news, so keep at it and don’t give up – even if you don’t feel like it. Trust the process, you never know but the next application could be the one.
More general advice on managing stress and particular job search stress is to practice self-care. Acknowledging that job search stress is normal can help take the edge off because it’s something everyone experiences at some point in their life. You’re in a patch of uncertainty, but it will pass someday, you won’t be feeling like this within a year, or in 5 years’ time. Be patient and keep the bigger picture in mind. Additionally, engage in other activities that make you feel better – you’ll have more spare time so you can exercise regularly, eat healthily, read books, take up a (free) hobby, anything that brings benefit to your emotional health. This can also give you a bit of respite, nothing makes stress worse than when you keep thinking about. Doing other things can take your mind off your job search stress and recharge your batteries. Just be mindful here. It’s easy to use ‘self-care’ as a way to procrastinate and avoid applying. Set yourself a daily or weekly target on the number of jobs you should apply for. Once you’ve hit this daily/weekly target then practice self-care in a guilt free manner. My advice is applying for one job a day as a minimum (or 7 a week). For some this might sound like a lot – and this target will help you maximise the probability of you finding a job. If this sounds like not enough, then maybe spend more time on the quality of your applications. Quality over quantity should be your focus – especially if you keep getting negative feedback. Spend more time tailoring a good CV/résumé to the job in question and write personalised cover letters that use key words listed in the application. There’s no point applying for 50 jobs a week if all your applications are the same. If you can manage more than 7 good quality applications a week whilst still fitting in self-care, then go for it. But the number of applications should not come at a cost to their quality. Of course, it goes without saying, if you’re in a placeholder or full-time job as mentioned earlier, this target might be too ambitious. Adjust accordingly, maybe 3 good applications a week is more reasonable here.
The final tip I want to give is self-acceptance. Acknowledge your current predicament and own it. Take responsibility for it, don’t procrastinate, don’t avoid applying, and don’t give up. You have to be relentless (which you already are as a PhD). If things aren’t working, ask for help, check out my other posts on this blog, find other advice, see a coach, anything. Even for your mental health, talk to friends, family, contact your GP/doctor if the stress is really starting to interfere with your well-being. Just keep going. Accept your struggle and find solutions. It will all pay off in the end. Another component that comes with acceptance is adjusting to your current circumstances. If your income has stopped, then obviously your lifestyle may have to change to help you keep afloat (this is also why it’s good to create a small safety net in advance). Being out of a job doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure, you’re just in a short transition that you will definitely overcome! I promise that you won’t care about it in 5 or even 10 years’ time.
I believe in you! Take care of yourself, and never give up!
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