Graduate Student Advice Series: 7 Ways To Stand Out From The Crowd

How To Stand Out From The Crowd

Competition for jobs after graduate school is brutal.

Whether you are staying in academia or moving to the business world, you are going to need every advantage. Doing great work in your field is advantage number one, but it’s not enough. Not only do you have to acquire great skills and do great work, you have to make sure people know about you. Here are things to start doing today to build your professional presence:

1) The Four P’s: Publications, Posters, Presentations and Patents

No surprise here. There’s no substitute for doing wonderful work and publishing papers, speaking at conferences and delivering poster sessions. I think you already know that the quality of your work matters. Make every effort to do the best research you can. Explore every opportunity to show off your research, for example in on-campus cross-discipline discussion clubs. And if you’re in a discipline in which you can create patentable property, talk to the college technology licensing office to find out how to do this. (It’s best to talk to them as early as possible so you know what’s involved in protecting your intellectual property). Don’t let anything interfere with your progress towards a great research project.

2) Start an ‘achievements’ file right now

No one updates their CV or resume as often as they should. And I find that it can be hard to remember everything I’ve done when I finally get around to it. Start a paper or electronic file to hold evidence of your achievements. Any success or recognition, new skill or achievement goes into the file. Did you present your research to another lab? Write it down. Did you attend a lecture series on starting a company? Make note of it. Two years from now you may be crafting a cover letter and some obscure class you took or skill you have may make a difference. Not everything in the file needs to go into your resume, but you’ll appreciate having the documentation when you do get around to the updates.

3) Scrub your online presence

Every company and lots of universities will google you before making an offer – and many will do it before setting up an interview. Search for yourself and make sure there is nothing out there that might embarrass you. What should you do if you find something indiscreet? Well, if it is under your control, delete it and hope for the best. (Google and other search engines save cached versions of webpages for a long time, so your Spring Break photos might persist even after you’ve taken them down.) If a friend has posted something that you’re not happy about, explain to them that this is serious and ask them to remove it. What if it’s not in your control – like something an ex-girlfriend posted? Not much you can do in that case. Do be aware that most interviewers were college students once, and so they will cut you a certain amount of slack. But be careful in the future. It might also be a good idea to set up a new identity with a different version of your name (‘DKalish’ instead of ‘Doug Kalish’) to distinguish your professional online presence from your personal one. And if you have a common name, you may want to disambiguate yourself. On my website, I had to differentiate myself from the Doug Kalishes who paint dog pictures and fish for bass.

4) Join professional organizations in your field

What are the leading professional organizations in your field? Here’s a great site with links to every professional association imaginable. Many of these associations have career advice, job boards, and mentors. And many of them have student rates, too. Talk to professors, PIs, peers, and mentors to find out which are the most important to you. The associations will provide you with invaluable information about what’s hot in the field, what skills are needed, and who is hiring. This is a great way to start networking.

5) Set up professional social media accounts

If you aren’t on LinkedIn already, set up an account now. Fill in your profile. Link to your school, professors, others in in your field, and professional organizations. Are you staying in academia? Link to people in labs and schools where you’d like do a post-doc or get a teaching position. Are you pursuing non-academic jobs? Link to the companies you are interested in. Do the same with Twitter. And here are some useful tips on using Twitter if you’re a grad student or post-doc.

6)  Build an online reputation

Use LinkedIn and Twitter to post news and observations about your field. If you’ve read a good paper or heard a good talk, post it. If you’re attending a conference, post the interesting stuff you’re hearing. If you are giving a paper or a poster, post the information. Don’t be a troll – someone who posts scathing and cynical comments. It’s ok to disagree with someone else online, but do it in unemotional and rational way, especially if it is someone in your field. You want to build a reputation as a thoughtful, intelligent person. Also, I suggest setting up a blog or starting a website, too. Most departments and many labs will have websites that identify their members. If you can, post a picture and a description of your work and links to your own website or blog. Any way you do it online, keep it professional, but this is a good place to put information about your relevant interests, skills and achievements that won’t fit on your resume.

7) Get business cards

I know it seems crazy in our online world, but business cards are still the currency of business relationships. Many colleges offer free or discounted cards to grad students. See if yours does. If not, the copy stores can print up 100 cheaply. I suggest leaving a title (like ‘grad student’ or ‘post-doc researcher’) off the card, if you can. Put your field of research (Doug Kalish, ‘Retinal Cell Biology’, for example, or just ‘Biochemist’). That make the cards more useful in situations where your status as a student doesn’t matter.

None of these activities are going to seriously detract your attention from the first order of business – doing great graduate work – but they all will help to establish you as a smart, connected individual in your field. Someone could recognize your name, or be impressed by the quantity and quality of your online posts. That could make the difference between getting an interview or not.

Is everyone going to follow my advice? No – some aren’t going to read it, some will think it’s not necessary, and some are too lazy. Here’s your opportunity to stand out. For more help on finding your first job, check out my website Good luck and good hunting.

Further Reading:

Tooling Up: How To Craft A Winning Resume/CV

About The Author:

Doug is an educator, consultant and serial entrepreneur with a PhD in biology who has founded or been an early executive in four companies.  In the summer of 2011 he began “dougsguides” to help college students make the transition from academia to the business world.  He now devotes most of his time touring college campuses spreading the dougsguides message. You can like dougsguides on Facebook, follow  on Twitter and connect with Doug Kalish on LinkedIn.