Job Search Guide for Graduate Students

As a graduate student, you are used to juggling a multitude of projects, research, and deadlines. Beginning your job search might feel like an exciting adventure into your next stage in life, or a daunting undertaking that adds to your already-packed schedule. Whoever you are, however you feel, your job search will be simpler and more effective if you are prepared with the knowledge you need to conduct your search. This guide serves as a comprehensive overview of the different types of job searches you may undertake (academic, higher education administration, and industry) and will help you get started on your career journey.

Planning Your Search

Identify the type of search you will be conducting 

Before you can begin a formal search, you will need to spend some time thinking about the type of position you are seeking.

  • Would you like to work towards becoming a tenured professor who teaches at a college or university? An academic job search will meet your needs.
  • What if you’d like to stay in higher education, but work outside academia? A higher education administration search might be best.
  • How about working within your target field, outside of higher education? An industry job search could be the right fit.

Though it is a good idea to identify the type of search you are conducting, you may also consider conducting multiple types of searches in order to expand your opportunities. Perhaps you will apply to some higher education administration positions alongside industry ones, for example.

Develop your job search goals 

Brainstorm the specifics of what you need in a job. This will help you evaluate potential opportunities based on whether or not positions match your job requirements.

Consider outlining:

  • Timeline of search: when you will formally begin the search, when you would like to start a new position. A job search can take anywhere between three and nine months, so plan accordingly.
  • Geographical region: perhaps you are willing to move, or maybe you would like to stay in a specific region or city
  • Salary: consult the References section at the end of this guide for websites that can help you research appropriate salary expectations for your desired position
  • Effects on your family, partner, and children: make sure everyone understands your job search and its effect on the important people in your life

Search Strategies

There are two main strategies that you can use to look for positions. Ideally, you will integrate these two strategies to create a multi-faceted approach. If you combine elements of both reactive and proactive strategies, you will be able to search more effectively and efficiently.


A reactive job search involves finding and reacting to information that already exists.

Reactive job search strategies include:

  • Searching job sites regularly
  • Checking the "Careers" or "Employment" pages on the websites of organizations of interest
  • Reading articles about jobs in your field


A proactive job search involves creating your own opportunities to gather information that is not readily available to other job seekers. While anyone can type in the same keywords in an online search, you can create your own opportunities to help set yourself apart.

Proactive job search strategies include:

  • Networking with professionals in your target field. Please consult the References section at the end of this guide for networking resources.
  • Conducting informational interviews to increase the number and quality of your professional contacts. Please consult the References section at the end of this guide for informational interviewing resources.
  • Participating in career-related professional development opportunities including workshops and conferences

Academic Job Search

Aspiring academics will have a different job search experience than those looking for positions in administration or industry. In this section, you will find a general overview of the academic job search, with advice for how you might begin your own.

Necessary preparations

Academic positions can be few and far between, depending on your field. Thus, some positions can be highly competitive, necessitating thorough and purposeful preparation. In order to make the best case for your candidacy, it can be helpful to have your professional documents ready before you find a position of interest. Because these documents can take a significant amount of time to prepare, it is best to begin preparing your documents as soon as possible.

Documents you may need during the academic job search could include:

Important sources of information 

You will need to learn about the ways that jobs are posted in your field. While some disciplines publish a yearly list of positions, others may rely on conferences for interviewing and hiring candidates. Still others may follow a more traditional route and post their position on the institution’s website. Please see the References section for websites that can help you locate academic positions. Make sure you discuss your plans for your search with your advisor and colleagues within your department. They might be able to advise you on what resources will be best as you search for positions. You might also consider reconnecting with colleagues from past institutions as another source of information. 

Hiring process 

You should start looking for positions in mid-fall of the year before you would start your new role. In September and October of 2019, for example, a candidate would see postings for jobs that begin in Fall of 2020. With this in mind, it helps to have prepared your application documents so that you can respond quickly and apply to any positions that pop up. Once you have submitted your application, you will have to be patient while you wait to hear back about next steps. If you apply to a position in the fall, interviews will likely take place after winter break, or even later. Because of the potential for a high volume of applicants for one position, you might not hear back for weeks or months, if at all.


If you are selected for an interview, you may be invited for a phone or brief video interview. Consider this first interview a screening interview that will allow the hiring committee to pick a small pool of finalists for a more in-depth interview experience. If you move on to the next round, you may be invited to visit campus or attend a conference where the interview will take place.  Expect a final interview to last for a day or two, including multiple meetings with deans, chairs, department faculty members, and other university leadership. You will likely also be asked to prepare a presentation about your research or teaching for students and faculty. The interview process can be draining and intense, so it is best to be as prepared as possible in order to reduce your stress level.

A word to the wise 

Keep in mind that hiring processes for academic positions in specific disciplines may vary from what is outlined in this section. Always keep your eyes and ears open for advice from others who are knowledgeable in your field.

Higher Education Administration Search

For those individuals who would like to stay within the field of higher education and are open to non-tenure track professorial roles, there are possibilities to pursue a career within higher education administration. The path towards these careers is much more in line with a traditional job search. Non-faculty higher education administration positions might include directors of identity centers, grant management, academic support services including tutoring and writing centers, student life, admissions, financial aid, and others.

Necessary preparations 

If you are transitioning from an academic discipline to a functional area of a university, it is a good idea to conduct research about your areas of interest. Because some candidates will come into the field with degrees in higher education administration, it is important you inform yourself appropriately before beginning your search. Strategies for learning about a new field can be found in an earlier section of this guide titled Search Strategies. As with any other job search, you will also need to focus on preparing a resume and cover letter that show your fit for the positions you are interested in. Though your experiences in graduate school might not seem immediately relevant to the positions you are applying to, you can highlight your transferrable skills to show your fit for the role.

Important sources of information 

Higher education positions will be found on the “Employment” or “Careers” page of a university's website. You can also consult job search engines specific to higher education, which you will find listed in the References section at the end of this guide. Additionally, you might consider reaching out to those on campus working in departments or functional areas of interest.

Hiring process 

After submitting your application to a position of interest, you may have to wait a few weeks before hearing back from the employer. If you have not received news about your application within two weeks, it is within your rights as a candidate to follow up with the institution over the phone to check in on the status of your application. In fact, following up can show a level of initiative that makes you seem motivated and professional compared to other candidates. However, some organizations prefer not to receive phone calls from applicants, so you should check the fine print in the job description before making a call.


Frequently, phone or brief video interviews can be used as way to screen the applicant pool before inviting candidates for an on-campus interview. If you are selected for an interview, you may be invited for a campus visit not unlike what you would encounter in an academic job search. However, you are likely to spend more time speaking about your ability to successfully perform in the position instead of your research or teaching experience (unless that experience is directly related to the position in question). Just like you did on your resume, you can use your interview to draw attention to the transferrable skills you have gained in your past academic and professional experiences that make you a strong fit. 

Industry Search

An industry is a cluster of organizations or businesses that provide similar services, activities, or products. For example, restaurants, airlines, and travel agents could be classified within the industry title of Hospitality & Tourism. For more examples of the different industries you might consider in your job search, please consult the References section. As you can imagine, industries can vary widely in their hiring cycles and processes. Thus, it is of utmost importance that you learn about your industries of interest and conduct your job search in a way that meshes with the expectations of your industry.

Necessary preparations 

You should make sure to craft an up-to-date, professional resume that can be tailored to reflect the requirements of a specific position. A cover letter will typically be required as an additional application document, so you may consider brushing up on your professional writing skills. Please consult the Preparing Your Documents section for more information about resumes and cover letters.

Important sources of information 

Depending on your field, you may already be familiar with the important websites, job boards, and conferences that can help you in your search. If you have yet to familiarize yourself with these sources, take some time to conduct online research about the best places to find positions posted in your field. It might also help to speak with your classmates, colleagues, professors, and professionals at your institution to gather suggestions for additional sources.

Hiring process 

Once you have found a position of interest and submitted your application, you might not hear back immediately from the organization. If you have not heard any news in two weeks, consider calling the employer to follow up on the status of your application (provided the employer has not already specified they do not accept phone calls from job applicants). After passing a screening interview, you may be invited to one or more on-site interviews with supervisors, colleagues, and leadership teams within the organization.

Interviewing Skills

Interviewing is a part of every job search, no matter what type of position you are seeking. It is a good idea to begin preparing for interviews early in the job search process so your skills can be polished by the time you have a professional interview scheduled. For more information on interviewing skills, please consult our Interviewing Guide

Receiving an Offer

If you are selected as a viable candidate, you will receive a job offer. In addition to a phone call, you should receive a written and professional communication detailing your salary and benefits.

Consider the offer according to the criteria you set earlier in the search.

  • Is the salary enough for your needs?
  • Does the location of the institution suit your geographic requirements?
  • Are there opportunities for your partner and children to integrate into a new community?

You may be given up to two weeks to negotiate and decide whether or not to accept the position. For more information on the negotiation process, please consult the Salary, Negotiation, and Financial Matters guide. If you are still considering opportunities at other organizations, it may be helpful to inform them that you have an offer at a different company or university. This could help move the process along if they are truly interested in hiring you. 

Preparing Your Documents 

When applying for a position, you will be asked to prepare professional documents to help communicate what you offer to the employer. Whether you are pursuing an academic, higher education administration, or industry search, the expectations for these documents are largely consistent. Though your focus for the documents will change depending on your search, the same rules apply for resumes, cover letters, and CVs regardless of your current or target field. 


A resume is a one to two page document that gives a snapshot of your relevant work experience, education, and other key information that helps show your fit for a particular position. Be sure to highlight transferrable skills from past academic and professional experiences so that the employer sees how you are qualified for the position. Typically, you will prepare a resume for industry searches, though higher education administration positions might also request resumes. For more information, please consult our Resumes, Cover Letters, & References Guide. To see a resume based on a CV, please consult the CV Guide

Cover letters 

A cover letter is a business-style document that presents a narrative form of your candidacy for a position. In a cover letter, you will highlight your interest in the role and organization, and use descriptions of past professional and academic experiences to show your fit for the position. This document should offer more detail than your resume and avoid presenting redundant information. For more information on cover letters, please consult our Resumes, Cover Letters, & References Guide. For those pursuing an academic search, several detailed examples of academic cover letters can be found in Stanford University’s PhD and Postdoc Career Guide, linked in the References section. Though academic cover letters tend to err on the longer side (between one to two pages), the style, structure, and tone is consistent with what is standard outside of the academic world.

Curriculum Vitae/ CV

A curriculum vitae (also referred to as a CV) is another type of resume that tends to have a more academic focus. It is often required for candidates applying to positions in medical, academic, teaching, and research fields. For more information, please consult the CV Guide.

Maintaining Wellness During Your Search 

Whether you are still completing coursework, finishing a dissertation, or have already concluded your degree, it can be easy to let academic and professional activities overwhelm your schedule. Your job search is yet another task that can make it hard to spend adequate time taking care of yourself and loved ones. As best as possible, take time to make sure you are living a balanced life with enough time for sleep, movement, eating well, resting, and socializing. If you feel whole and healthy, you will put your best foot forward with potential employers.

Some resources that might help you maintain wellness are:

  • Counseling Center (Holthusen Hall, 2nd floor)
  • Medical Clinic (Schroeder Complex, Lower Level: fee-per-service basis except for those who opt to pay a segregated health fee)
  • Recreational facilities (Helfaer Rec Center, 16th Street south of Wisconsin avenue; Rec Plex, basement of Straz Tower)
  • Gyms or exercise studios
  • Religious and spiritual communities
  • Venues hosting concerts, shows, and movies
  • Social groups centered around shared hobbies or interests
  • Hiking trails and state parks
  • Volunteer organizations within the city of Milwaukee