How to Land Your Dream Job After Graduate School?
Step 3: Initiate informational interviews, expand connections, and network
~70-80% of jobs are not advertised online - they are filled through personal and professional connections. This means that only ~20% of the jobs are available online, which are the jobs that everyone is applying to. To even make things worse, of the ~20% jobs posted online, majority of them are pre-screened with algorithms or HR representatives - often resulting in your application being rejected based on the lack of credentials when compared to your competitors. Hence, the goal of this step is to increase your chances in your job applications by initiating informational interviews, which are short 20-30 minute conversations with a new or old connection who are in the field that you are interested in. The goal of informational interviews are:
Learning more about the positions that you are aiming for, such as challenges in the field, jargon, or competitors.
Expanding your network and gaining professional connections, whom could lead you to your next interview.
Most folks (myself included) often find networking challenging because of social anxiety when speaking to strangers, fear of wasting someone else's time, and feeling "forced" to interact with others just to get potential job opportunities. My entire perspective of networking changed from one key word: curiosity. Instead of networking because you need a job, it is much easier if you network because you are curious about the field and the challenges that fellow scientists are tackling. The best informational interviews that I had ended up in discussions about ways to solve problems in the field, which often led to a follow-up interview with the hiring manager.
Initiating informational interviews
You should consider reaching out to the following:
Alumni of your school: Recent graduates are very helpful in about paths to their current role. They also give tips into how to improve your job search. You could also search for alumni who are in the field of your interest on LinkedIn by:
Search for your school on LinkedIn
Click on the 'Alumni' tab
Search for a job / title of your interest
The image on the right shows an example for the alumni of UW-Madison. By reaching out to the alumni, they are more likely to respond to you because they have been in your shoes before.
2. Connections on LinkedIn: Especially during the pandemic, LinkedIn provides a way to reach out to new connections virtually. The easiest way to start is to look up the company that you are interested in working for, then reach out to members of the team. Below are some of the most useful advices that I learned when "cold" connecting on LinkedIn (by "cold", I mean no mutual connections):
Connect regardless of his/her title - in fact, the higher the better. I was first intimidated when connecting to a "vice president" or "senior principal scientist" in a company. However, more often than not, these are the people who are looking for talent and have the power to give you a job. The worse that could happen is that he/she does not respond, so don't be afraid of aiming high.
Always connect with a personal message. This is an understatement - anyone can hit connect to everyone on LinkedIn. However, from the viewpoint of a recruiter, why would they bother connecting with you if you did not bother to give them a reason? Write a message, even if you met the person before. Whenever I see a connection invite without a message, I simply ignore it - as will many prospective connections. An example of a personal message is:
"Hey Insert_Name_Here! We have not met before, but your profile stuck out to me and I would like to meet you. I am in my final year of my PhD and I aspire to develop computer-aided models for drug discovery. I would like to connect with you and learn more about your experiences in Insert_Company_Name. Thanks in advance!"
Make sure to change the text highlighted in red based on who you are talking to and what field you are interested in. If you have met the person before, it is much easier to make a connection by starting with how you met. After making the connection, you could then ask for a virtual chat, such as:
"Hey Insert_Name_Here! Thank you for connecting. I would like to learn more about your experiences in the industry. Would you be open to meeting with me virtually for 30 minutes sometime next week? I would appreciate any time that you could spare - thanks in advance!"
If they say yes, great! Schedule a time that works best for him/her. If not, it's not the end of the world. He or she may be really busy in work. Feel free to ask whether you can ask questions via chat.
3. Conferences and seminars: Since a lot of conferences and seminars are virtual now, you could more easily find research or companies that might interest you. If you attend a seminar, don't hesitate to reach out afterwards with questions - it's a great conversation starter. So, during your last year of school, be on a lookout for conferences and seminars!
During your informational interviews
During your informational interviews, you should give and gain information. Always come prepared to the meeting with a couple of questions - here are some that I found helpful:
What did you wish you knew coming into Insert_Company_Name?
Where do you see the Insert_Field_Here heading towards?
It would help if you generate additional questions specific to each connection, so make sure you do your research! Informational interviews are not actual interviews, so do not ask for a job in them.
After your informational interviews
Always send a thank-you note afterwards, especially since your new connection has dedicated some time to meet with you. Finally, you should keep track of your connections - a sample spreadsheet is shown below:
The sample spreadsheet above keeps track of who you are interested in meeting and who you have reached out to.