Dos and Dont’s of Looking for Jobs and Postdocs

By Mariam Melkumyan

It’s never too early for graduate students or postdocs to start thinking about future careers and what steps need to be taken to best prepare for them (Figure 1). However, working on the next steps in your career can be very stressful, as you may not know what you want to do, how to go about looking for a job, or what to do when you get an interview. Below is my interview with Jessica Kirkwood, the director of Graduate Career Services at Penn State College of Medicine, who provides great advice on career paths and the process of achieving your career goals. 

Figure 1: The many paths and career options after PhD in the biomedical sciences and public health. Photo credit:

Q: What are the most common mistakes you see students and postdocs make when applying for jobs or postdoc positions? 

A: One of the biggest mistakes both students and postdocs make is not getting their resumes, CVs, cover letters, and personal statements reviewed, because that can determine whether or not you will receive an interview. Another mistake is not developing a targeted resume for industry positions. CVs and resumes are different. Resumes are targeted documents specific to positions and are typically limited to two pages, while CVs do not have a page limit and detail the course of your academic career.

Q: What is the best thing students and postdocs can do during their current position to make applying for jobs or postdocs easier? 

A: The best thing students and postdocs can do is get their documents and profiles reviewed. If they are looking for teaching positions, the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence can review their teaching philosophies. The Graduate Writing Center and I can also provide feedback on any cover letters or personal statements. Students and postdocs should network with professionals and develop their LinkedIn profiles. Graduate Career Services is happy to review your LinkedIn profile and help strengthen your professional presence online.

Q: What advice would you give to graduate students for the application process? 

A: Applying to jobs is only the first step. The more positions you apply for the higher your chances of getting an interview, but you need to prepare for those interviews. Graduate Career Services offers mock interviews in-person and through online platforms such as Interview Stream. It is also important to negotiate your job offers, and I can help you prepare with strategies and resources. I offer various job offer negotiation workshops, and I can show you how to research for salaries in comparable positions. 

Q: What do you wish students did to better prepare themselves for job and postdoc applications? 

A: Take an inventory of your skills and strengths. You need to be able to highlight these skills easily in your resumes, CVs, cover letters, and interviews. 

Q: What advice would you give to students who are looking for a very specific position versus students who do not have a straight forward plan of what they want to do? 

A: For students who are looking for very specific positions, I would say be open to broadening your horizons and looking at related areas to the position you want. For students and postdocs who do not know what they want to do, set up a meeting with me to do a career assessment to identify what the best career options may be for you. Use resources like MyIDP and MyPlan to assess yourself and figure out what jobs would fit your skillset and personality best. 

Q: How early should graduate students and post docs start looking for jobs? 

A: For postdoctoral positions, start looking for jobs a year in advance. Reach out to people you may be interested in working with and send them your CV (after getting it reviewed with Graduate Career Services). For industry positions, it is variable as some companies hire on an “as needed” basis, while others have more cyclical recruiting schedules. For industry positions, apply 3-8 months in advance.

Q: What are some resources that you would recommend for students to use to prepare for applications? 

A: Use relevant online job boards and LinkedIn. For industry, has a comprehensive list of pharma, biotech, and medical device companies by geographic location. The National Postdoctoral Association has a webpage where postdoctoral positions are listed. For public health students, a great resource is Emory University’s public health employment connection. Take advantage of career events such as the biennial Graduate and Postdoctoral Career Day at the College of Medicine and career fairs that are held at University Park in the Fall and Spring semesters. Also, professional associations and conferences not only in your field of research, but also in careers you may be interested in, provide excellent networking opportunities. Some examples include the Medical Science Liaison Society, National Association of Science Writers, and American Public Health Association. Lastly, applying to federal internships and fellowships, such as ORISE, and reaching out to alumni who work at companies you might be interested in will go a long way.  

Q: What services do you offer that students can benefit from when looking for jobs and postdocs? 

A: Graduate Career Services offers multiple services including resume and CV reviews, career assessments, and interview preparation. These services are offered to not only graduate students but have now been expanded to postdoctoral trainees. So, if you are thinking about your future career or are preparing to apply for jobs, reach out and set-up an appointment in person or virtually with me, or send me an email at

Graduate Career Services is a great resource for students and postdocs at any stage of their training so please reach out to Jessica with any questions regarding your career.


  • Graduate students and postdocs should take advantage of the services offered by Graduate Career Services.

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