Job Search for Graduate Students

Hi. I’m Amy Blackburn. I am one of the counselors here at University Career Services and I want to welcome you to our workshop on job seeking for the graduate student. We will be covering a brief overview of the philosophy of career development and the services we offer to support these considerations at University Career Services.

First, we will look at the 5 E’s of career development. Then, we will touch on a few other considerations that affect graduate students specifically.

We consider career development to be a process that you may need to repeat multiple times throughout your lifetime, but you can start at any spot on the circle. The 5 E’s is a theory created by one of our former directors Ray Angle and includes five areas that individuals will want to consider as they pursue jobs and careers. First, let’s look at Evaluation. This is where people will consider values, interests, personality, and skills.

At UCS, we have several resources that can be helpful including Values Clarification card sort, Strong Interest Inventory and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (both of these are interest and personality assessments that can take a look more in-depth at those areas for you), the Skill Scan Card Sort (looks at your skills), and the MyIDP (especially for students in the sciences).

This may be where you want to start with our office. Often students believe that they have no experience, but in reality, they have skills in a variety of areas.

Melanie Sinche is a colleague who works with graduate students and she has identified these skills among graduate students in a recent survey. You’ll notice that most of these skills may have developed regardless of the discipline you pursue. Additionally, the skills highlighted in bold are the top skills that employers identify as those they are seeking in their employees.

Our second area is Exploration. This is where you can begin to learn more about some of the fields that may be of interest to you based on your Evaluation exercises. UCS has several exploration resources including direction to Professional Organizations, LinkedIn, Versatile PhD and the Vault (are two specific resources we offer through our website), Panels and Networking Nights, and then we also collect First Destination Data on graduates.

Often students will choose to wait to explore potential fields; however, we encourage you to do this as you go along.

The UNC Graduate School website includes some specific actions you can pursue at different stages of your degree in order to explore and gain experience for your eventual job search.

Speaking of Experience, this is the next area we will discuss.

You can gain experience in a number of ways from paid opportunities on campus like a research or teaching assistantship to leadership opportunities through campus and professional organizations, to seeking internships or volunteer opportunities.

Another colleague, Paula Wishart from the University of Michigan, describes career engagement as a continuum. Note the bolded activities are experiential in nature and lead to higher engagement and clarity of career interest which can eventually lead to a full-time opportunity.

The fourth E is Employment.

By this, we mean two things. First, job search skills like building your resume or CV, writing cover letters, gaining interview skills, learning how to network, and learning about negotiating offers. We also mean employment resources such as direction to professional organizations, LinkedIn, resources like Indeed.com, Careerolina (which is our online database we offer through University Career Services), linkages and connections through the Graduate Career Consortium and our Masters/PhD Fairs. Two examples of these fairs are our in-person opportunity at the Friday Center each November and our GCC Virtual Event which is offered in late February or early March each year.

The fifth E is the center of the wheel. It is the hub of what is happening here. Education really is your development as a T-shaped individual.

First, with depth of knowledge in a specific area and also with breadth which includes the softer, transferable skills that employers seek.

The process as a whole is influenced by two areas. Planning – it is an important part and we encourage you to have more than one area of interest to pursue such as a Plan A or B or maybe even C or D. Chance also plays a role. We ask two questions of parents at first-year orientation to illustrate this. “How many of you right now are doing exactly what you said you would be doing when you graduated from high school?” Another question we ask is “How many of you right now are doing something you discovered along the way and has fit with you and you continued to do it?” We always have more answers positively in second instance. This emphasizes the role that chance plays in your decision making. There’s an important balance between strategy and serendipity with career decision making. Definitely, you should be open to both.

Finally, there are a few topics that we have identified as being important considerations for graduate students and these tend to be interrelated.  So first, thinking about location or geography. Do you have to be in a particular location? Are you challenged by the two-body challenge or the two-body problem where you have two individuals who are job seeking at the same time – potentially both in education or both in a similar field? And family. Are you a member of the sandwich generation? Do you have children and older family members that you need to take care of? Your search can be complicated by all of these considerations.

So what comes next? We encourage you to set some goals. The process can be overwhelming without them so add your job search to your time management plan. Be sure to embrace uncertainty. It’s highly unlikely that things will go as you’ve planned. The changes in the economy are good examples. Successful leaders are able to handle ambiguity. And finally, seek support and accountability. The staff at UCS is here to help tailor your job search given your particular situation. We can coach you through the steps and give you assignments to keep you on track.

Come visit us at University Career Services. Make an appointment – you can either call the main desk at the number you see here or go online and schedule an appointment. We offer services in all 5 E’s of Career Development.