Job Searching During a Pandemic: Insights from Graduate Students
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically disrupted the labor markets around the world over the course of the past year. While recent economic data suggests that the job market is slowly recovering (see Mutikani, 2021), the impact of COVID-19 on the availability of jobs remains a pressing issue. Many social and personality psychologists seeking either academic or non-academic work throughout the pandemic also have experienced this difficult market first hand. The SPSPotlight co-editors reached out to several SPSP graduate student members who recently were on the job market to learn about their experiences.
A Change of Perspective
Beyond altering the number of jobs available, the COVID-19 pandemic also influenced many individuals’ broader perspective on applying to jobs. For some, it brought on a greater sense of anxiety about the future. For example, for Friedrich Götz, a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge who recently accepted an offer to join the faculty at the University of British Columbia as an assistant professor this fall, the pandemic created a greater sense of urgency in searching for jobs. He shared, “[the pandemic] made me feel that the pyramid was getting even steeper (regardless of whether that is actually the case).” Similarly, Fred Duong, a PhD student at Northeastern University who will be a postdoc at the University of Toronto this fall, noted that the pandemic made him worry about his chances of obtaining a position after graduation. However, Fred also commented that while there may have been less faculty positions available this cycle, he felt there may have been a surge in postdoctoral positions which kept him busy while on the job market.
For others, the pandemic allowed for a re-evaluation of what mattered to them. Susannah Chandhok, a PhD student at the University of Michigan who will be a user experience (UX) researcher at Google following the completion of her studies, reflected that the pandemic encouraged her to take a closer look at her personal and professional values. She shared, “With the pandemic being unpredictable and isolating, I personally gravitated toward pursuing a non-academic job so I could have more daily (albeit right now virtual) interactions with other people, as well as more structure and community day-to-day.” She was also inspired by many people she met in the non-academic world while completing a summer internship with Google, and she wanted to pursue similar careers to them. Comparably, Joshua Jackson, a PhD student at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who recently accepted a postdoctoral position at the Kellogg School of Management at the Northwestern University, found that the pandemic led him to apply more narrowly than he initially expected. He remarked, “moving during a pandemic seemed like a challenge, so I only wanted to move if it was for a position that made me really excited.”
The Idea of a Plan B
It is not uncommon to have a backup plan in mind when on the job market even in the absence of a pandemic. Fred Duong commented that he knew he would need to have a job by August 2021 when his stipend ends, so he kept other options in mind throughout the application process with obtaining an academic job as his “Plan 1A” and a non-academic job as his “Plan 1B.” Susannah Chandhok was similarly discerning her path between academic and non-academic jobs during her search. She commented that it was difficult keeping both the option to remain in academia and the option to pursue a career in industry open at the same time. However, she feels “optimistic that academics will come to appreciate that it's natural to explore multiple career options, especially when both the academic and non-academic job markets are competitive.” Finally, she believes that many people can flourish in either academic or non-academic careers, and sometimes it just comes down to timing or luck in choosing one path.
In contrast, Friedrich Götz felt passionate that remaining in academia was his "favorite choice" for the time being, so he chose to focus on devoting his energy and time only to the academic job market this cycle. In his words, “I was extraordinarily lucky and privileged in that when I was starting to seriously worry, I received offers” and that throughout the process he had “wonderful social support from mentors, colleagues, friends, family and my partner” to get him through the difficult moments."
Although the pandemic has certainly posed challenges for those on the job market, it also offered unforseen benefits. Fred Duong shared that while the transition to working from home full time was challenging at first, the ability to spend more time with his wife and son was a major benefit and helped him keep his sanity throughout the job application process. Similarly, Susannah Chandhok noted that being able to interview and immediately decompress by playing with her dog was a highlight of her experiences of applying and interviewing during the pandemic. The virtual interview process itself also had other benefits. Joshua Jackson commented that the pandemic afforded him extra time to put together application materials, which he felt was a blessing.
Friedrich Götz, as an applicant based in the United Kingdom, participated in virtual interviews with a nine-hour time difference and at times had to stay up until two in the morning to complete interviews. Despite these challenges, he felt the virtual interview process was positive. He shared, “during the cocktail hour, all of the sudden, I was in the living rooms of some of my gracious hosts, academic heroes (and now soon-to-be colleagues). It was an absurd situation, but there was a lot of camaraderie, kindness and humaneness to the whole process that I never thought could be conveyed through Zoom.”
Words of Advice
Because the application and interview process can be different for each person, there is not a blanket statement of advice in navigating this particular unprecedented job market. However, the SPSP members that were interviewed spoke to what they found helpful during their own job search process.
For Joshua Jackson, he focused on letting go of rejections, only applying to places he absolutely wanted to be, and remembering what excited him most about his own research. Fred Duong thought deeply about knowing what he wanted and what he was willing to trade off. He made a list of his values and goals and ranked them. Susannah Chandhok found it valuable to talk to people in non-academic jobs as she was choosing between pursuing academic and non-academic jobs. Finally, Friedrich Götz reflected that what helped him most during this time was going for long runs, eating good and healthy food, seeking out advice from friends and colleagues, and reminding himself that his value as a human being is not determined by his job status.
For more insight on this topic, see the #SPSPchat: Job Searching During a Challenging Economy.
Special thanks to Friedrich Götz, Fred Duong, Susannah Chandhok, and Joshua Jackson. Responses have been edited for clarity and grammar. Direct quotes were printed with permission.
Mutikani, L. (2021, March 05). U.S. labor market roars back; full recovery still years away. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy/u-s-labor-market-roars-back-full-recovery-still-years-away-idUSKBN2AX0CY