As I was winding down my Ph.D. studies, I found it necessary to start looking for employment. Since the economy had hit an all time low in Michigan in 2006-2007 due to auto industry decline and overall recession, I found it necessary to start looking about 1/2 year to 1 year before my Ph.D. defense.
Although it can be difficult for a Ph.D. student to predict their defense time that far out due to the ambiguous nature of the Ph.D. process and academia, I knew that if I could find a way to hit my targets, my advisor would let me out of school on the timeline I had proposed (throw in a little prayer and faith too!).
Regardless, I knew that industrial scholarships or government agencies where I had worked would be good places to start looking for jobs. I had established some connections in those agencies or corporations where I was one person or phone call/e-mail away from knowing a human resources representative that could route my resume/CV through the appropriate channels.
This points to the EXTREMELY important professional activity of networking. Networking with the right people and among the appropriate circles in down economies is critical. Your network can give you feedback on approaching an employer and improving your professional image.
I had various networks and mentors, NOT JUST MY PH.D. ADVISOR. THIS IS CRITICAL! Sometimes academics only know academia or their professional world, which may be too limiting for finding a position fresh out of school. My various internships from undergrad through grad school in real world/manufacturing and R&D environments were HUGE HELP as well.
Employers in down economies don’t like to train new grads on the job very much. Having little experience in a REAL WORLD work environment typically signals to employers that you’ll need more training.
The U.S. job market in 2011 is much different from the 1970’s or 1980’s where on the job training may have been more routine. Some places hire recent college graduates because they need fresh talent and want to “throw a body in the fire or at the tool” and let them sink or swim. “Baptism by fire,” if you will. Although these companies often don’t provide the best work environment, they may be the places that give pure academics transitioning to industry a chance to work full time in a professional corporate setting at market rates.
Finally, one should always have peer networks (sharing information among students is important), professional networks (getting into the door or coaching you on what THE REAL WORLD wants to see on your CV or hear in an interview), and academic networks (you may need letters of recommendation, of which employers will expect 1-3, one typically being your advisor or committee member). A mixed set of recommendations from industry and academia is better.