Exploration Preparation Stories + Advice

How Graduate Students Can Maintain Emotional Well-Being on the Job Market

The job market can be extremely stressful for graduate students. And, because many graduate students today experience significant rates of anxiety during their studies, the job market can be an unnecessarily significant stressor.

So how can you maintain your emotional well-being while job searching as a graduate student? Consider the following pieces of advice. 

1. Start Your Career Exploration Early

“I wish I knew this sooner,” is a common thought among graduate students, and especially doctoral students, on the job market. Too often, graduate students leave the actual process of exploring and applying to jobs (academic or non-academic) until the very end of their studies. This is a recipe for disaster.

As a graduate student, you need to know what to expect and what your options are from the day you begin your studies. But, you might be thinking, “well, the job market is bad now, but in a few years when I finish my degree, it will be better.” I also thought that, and it’s one of my biggest regrets from graduate school

Career exploration is a vital part of your graduate studies. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • If you’re unsure of your interests, make an appointment with a career exploration coach to chart your next steps to reflect on your skills, interests, and values.
  • If you do have more specific industry interests, join a career cluster to receive industry-specific updates and make an appointment with a career cluster coach to discuss opportunities for graduate students.
  • Connect with your department faculty and consult resources like InsideHigherEd, the Chronicle, and your academic discipline’s main professional association to stay up to date on academic hiring trends.
  • Subscribe to free services like ImaginePhD and Beyond the Professoriate for additional career exploration resources for graduate students.

The earlier you begin, the better prepared you’ll be to relieve stress and achieve success once you enter the job market.

2. Structure and Organize

The job search can be consuming, but it’s important to create structure and boundaries. You may consider setting aside time each week for focusing on specific tasks, like updating your resume, CV, and cover letters, or conducting informational interviews with professionals. Doing so will allow you to take small, productive steps towards your goals each day. It will also allow you to stay active and present in other areas, like your personal life and your studies.

Organizing your search is also key. Applying to anything and everything is a great way to get a lot of rejections, which can increase anxiety. Instead, focus your job search on opportunities that you find worthwhile and meaningful, and that cohere with your skills and interests. That way, you’ll be able to send stronger, genuine applications for which you have greater prospects. Connect with a career coach to help you decide which types of opportunities might be best for you and to discover industry-specific resources that you can draw on to find opportunities.

3. Reframe

As one blog puts it, the job search is a constant lesson in dealing with rejection. Failure on the job search can hurt, but it’s important to remember that it’s what you learn and how you grow during the process that matters most. As Bill Burnett and Dave Evans write in Designing Your Life, “failure is just the raw material of success.”

One way to build towards success is to reframe your failures. A job rejection can be tough, but it doesn’t have to happen on your next try. When you receive a rejection, look for ways that it can offer opportunities for real improvement: What is there to learn? What went wrong? What could be done differently next time? Reflect on these questions and apply them to your next round of applications. This will help you reframe failure and achieve success.

4. Practice Self Care

There’s an idea in graduate school that, if you’re not pushing yourself to the intellectual and emotional brink, then you’re not a serious graduate student. This is preposterous and unhealthy and it can have a negative impact on your job search.

Practicing self care is one of the best things you can do to maintain your emotional well-being on the job market. Check out the University Counseling Services self-care resources for ideas on how to deal with the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Emotion regulation and distress
  • Sleep patterns
  • Self Compassion
  • Financial difficulties

Remember: you’re not experiencing this process alone. Be open about how you’re feeling to your mentors. Talk about it with career coaches. Talk about it with your graduate school friends. Talk about it with your non-academic friends and family. 

There are people here for you–to not only support you through rough patches, but also to help you achieve your goals. We look forward to working with you!

Salvatore Cipriano
—By Salvatore Cipriano, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Career Education

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