Constructing your curriculum vita (CV), asking for letters of recommendation and writing a cover letter may seem like the first steps involved in obtaining an internship or professional position after graduate school, but in reality, your preparation for going on the job market begins much earlier.

The relationships you have built and experiences you have had during your graduate training are the actual preparation.

The CV, cover letter, and recommendation letters are simply the mechanisms through which you inform your potential future employer about these relationships and experiences.

The purpose of this blog post is to offer some tips for those of you who are in the early or middle parts of your graduate career to help you seek out the relationships and experiences that will make you a better candidate once you seek professional employment as well as to help those of you who are nearing the end of your graduate career identify what you have already done right and where you could focus your attention in the last year or two you have left.

Here are three steps to success in finding a job:

Step 1: Identify Target Jobs

Identify the types of jobs that you are potentially interested in pursuing (i.e., academic positions, clinical positions, industry positions, as well as types of jobs within those broad categories) and then find out what kinds of experiences will best prepare you to acquire and excel within that job setting.

To do this, you can speak to individuals in those positions, you can talk with your advisor and other faculty mentors, and you can browse job descriptions and job ads for the types of positions you are interested in to find out what they require and desire in job candidates.

Step 2: Focus on Relationships

Cultivate and maintain relationships with your advisor, other faculty, professional supervisors, and your fellow students.

Think about cultivating relationships with people both inside your department and institution as well as beyond (such as with people you meet at professional conferences).

Not only will this ensure the availability of positive letters of recommendation when the time comes, it will help you to start building a broad professional network that will offer support, information, and opportunities before and after you land a job.

Step 3: Build Experience

Seek out opportunities to build up experiences that will make you an excellent job candidate in your chosen profession.

This will often include some breadth and some depth, meaning that you want to be well-rounded (so you have an array of experiences), but that you also have developed expertise in several of the most pertinent areas. Seeking out various clinical, research, teaching, and departmental or professional service activities will not only prepare you to be a better candidate, but also offer you a great opportunity to find out more about what you really love to do so that you are better prepared to assess your level of fit with future professional positions.

This includes taking part in those experiences that are required by your program as well as finding supplemental activities that will really make you stand out as candidate and enhance your training.

This is especially important if you are interested in getting a job in a field that your graduate program is not specifically training you to work in (e.g., a research consultant at a governmental agency or an administrator at a hospital or clinic). In this scenario, you can seek out ways to volunteer or find summer or part-time employment in those work settings to gain experience and establish professional connections before going on the job market.

Final Tip: Do Service Activities

Remember not to underestimate the value of participating in service activities. These are some of the best ways to build relationships, gain insights and information about the inner workings of the program, and show that you are a contributing member of the professional community.

A few ways you can do this include: volunteering at professional conferences, helping to organize department colloquia, offering to serve on departmental or institutional committees, offering to help professors with journal reviews, and offering to help professors write letters of recommendation for undergraduate students with whom you have worked closely.

Also, if your department or clinic is hiring new faculty or staff, see if you can be a representative on the hiring committee.

Being a part of hiring decisions is a great way to learn what is and is not valued in candidates and their application materials. Even if you can’t be on the committee, attend whichever candidate presentations and meetings you can to see how the sessions run and get more insight into interview processes.

Elizabeth M. Morgan, PhD
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