From the APA Science Student Council

Getting a Job in a Difficult Economy

Does the current economic climate change your job-search strategies?

By Stanley O. King, II

Does the economy have you down? Are your retirement savings dwindling? Have you cut back on your frequency of fine dining? Of course not — you’re a graduate student! Stipends have always been low and ramen noodle prices are stable. However, for those of you who are off to face the real world, laying your book bags to rest, and daring to wear grown-up clothes, you may have a slight hill to climb in securing a job after graduation. Our nation is struggling through an economic downturn, but luckily for you, managing frustration and dealing with uncertainty is part of the process in gaining a graduate education. Therefore, you have experience in being persistent, and depending on how you present it, this is a qualification that will at least get you an interview. Just hold your head high, practice the tips below, and regardless of the economy you can have the lavish lifestyle that your graduate student friends will envy and those with baccalaureate degrees have long grown accustomed to.

Start early!
If you hope, plan or just have a recurring dream that you may graduate in the next year, begin your job search now and be flexible with your timeline.  It cannot hurt.

Stay positive and open-minded
Resist the urge to partake in the doom and gloom surrounding the economy. When you decided to earn a graduate degree you made an investment in yourself. Use this as an opportunity to showcase your well-developed skill set. Additionally, think creatively about what makes you a unique applicant and what it is that you want to do following graduation. For example, if you have quantitative expertise, maybe the statistics department for a professional sports team or a government agency will find this appealing. Also, if you are interested in a research career, it may be a good idea to spend a couple years doing a post-doc to ride out the economic crisis. If a teaching career is what you really want, consider taking a visiting professor or adjunct professor position. These positions are often temporary, but they will give you invaluable teaching experience and may give you the edge on the job market when more stable, permanent jobs open up in the future.

Work your network and communicate with others
The best way to get the inside track on a job is by a referral from someone who  works at the company or university. Inform everyone you know that you are on the job market, use your undergraduate and graduate university alumni base, and acquaint yourself with those individuals who work in your university’s career services office.

Be prepared for good fortune
Make sure your CV/resume is updated and that it reflects what contribution you can make immediately if hired. You never know whom you may meet when networking in the coffee shop.

Develop a multi-pronged strategy for employment
Exhaust all possibilities and options. Go to career fairs, attend academic and industry-specific conferences, search online job sites, join listservs, apply directly to specific companies, email department chairs, read the journal advertisements, and post your resume online. Use professional social networking sites, such as linkedin, to market yourself. Do all that is necessary to increase the probability that you will get hired.

Remember that countless former graduate students have jobs in a variety of industries and settings; therefore, your talents and skills are valued. For those looking for a research, post-doctoral, or assistant professor position, your prospects may not be much different from what they were before the economic downturn. However, be proactive and try these tips. Ultimately, the difficulty of obtaining a job when the economy is down is similar to obstacles faced while in graduate school.  Most challenges encountered in life are usually only temporary and persistence will conquer all.

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Stanley O. King II, a member of the APASSC, is a graduate student at the University of Virginia.  His research interests are focused on how arousal modulates learning and memory.