What's On This Page?

Timeline for Applying | Where to Search for Jobs
Understanding and Tailoring for Different Roles and Organizations
Documents for Your Application | LinkedIn | References | Action Steps Checklist | FAQs

Timeline for Applying

Unlike academic searches and searches in certain industries like consulting that are cyclical and usually begin a year before a new hire starts, the search process for jobs beyond academia often range from a few to several months as opposed to a full year. This is because when positions open up, it's often because someone is departing the role, and the employer needs to have someone else in the Applicationsposition as soon as possible to do the job. Sometimes, when a position is newly created or when the employer has leeway to wait for the ideal candidate, the search process can take longer than usual. However, it's safe to say that if you are looking to apply for jobs beyond academia, it's often helpful to start actively searching and applying for jobs at least six months in advance of when you'd like to be employed. In the last year beefore you graduate from Penn, you will be involved in all aspects of your job search, but the stage of actively applying will primarily be in the last six months. If you have flexibility in the timing of completing your degree or program, you may consider applying for roles even earlier to give yourself more time. Although you can't predict exactly how long your job search will last, you can feel confident in knowing that a common timeline from the moment a job is open to the moment one can begin in that role is often a few months long. If you're still in the career exploration process and not quite ready to apply for jobs just yet, you can take a look at job ads to start learning about what's required in roles that you may be interested in. 

Where to Search for Jobs

Successful networking can sometimes lead to job opportunities that you find out about through your contacts, but in many cases, you will be actively searching through job and internship listings to find open positions. We encourage you to search for jobs and internships from multiple different sources to ensure that you'll know about as many opportunities as possible. In addition to using job boards on LinkedIn, Handshake, and websites such as indeed.com, check out our Resources by Career Field page to learn more about job and internship listing websites based on your career interests. Don't forget to set job alerts when possible, so that you can be notified of job opportunities that match your preferences and criteria.

Understanding and Tailoring for Different Roles and Organizations

OrganizationsWhen you're applying for jobs outside of academia, it's important to understand the role and the organization to which you're applying. Employers are interested in hiring people who would be a strong fit for the job and for their teams, so it's helpful to do as much research as possible during your application process. In addition to reading the job ad very closely, we recommend that you visit their webpage, Google the organization to read about them in the news, follow them on social media, LinkedIn, Handshake, and most importantly, talk to people in your network who have connections to the organization. If the organization is attending one of Penn's career fairs, take the opportunity to speak with the recruiter. Ideally, you should conduct informational interviews with people at organizations you'd like to work at, so that you'll be able to learn more about the organization before you actively apply for positions. Once you have a good idea of what kind of employees that organization is looking for, you'll be ready to tailor your written application materials to demonstrate why you'd be a strong candidate for the position and the organization. 

Documents for Your Application

ResumesUnlike CVs, which ultimately is a comprehensive summary of your academic accomplishments, your resume is a brief summary of your relevant skills, experiences, and education background that is tailored to an employer and how you can fit their needs, goals, and mission. Depending on the industries to which you're applying, a resume is often one to two pages long, with some exceptions. The purpose of a resume is to get a hiring manager or committee interested in your candidacy enough to invite you to an interview and have a conversation, which is the next stage of a search process. Check out our Resume Guide for Graduate Students and Postdocs as well as our Resume Checklist. You can also view samples of resumes based on discipline. If you've drafted a resume or would like to discuss how to begin crafting one, make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake

Cover lettersA cover letter serves as an introduction to your application for a particular job. It should answer the following questions: Who are you? Why are you interested in this particular role and organization? What skills would you bring that would make you successful in this role? The cover letter is also a place where you can elaborate on relevant experiences you've had where you've used skills that are required in the role. Unlike the resume, which briefly summarizes your accomplishments in bullet points, the cover letter allows you to personalize your role in projects by describing how you carried out your tasks and to explain how your past experiences are directly relevant to the job at hand. What were you most proud of? What did you enjoy doing? What were you most excited about? Answering questions like these will help your voice come through in your cover letter. Check out our Cover Letter Guide for Graduate Students and Postdocs as well as our Cover Letter Checklist and sample cover letters


LinkedInMost jobs that you apply to will require documents like your resume and cover letter, but you may notice on LinkedIn that sometimes you can apply to positions just with your LinkedIn profile. Whether you're applying to positions direclty on that social media platform or not, it's crucial for your networking and job search success to have a strong LinkedIn profile. When employers are interested in your candidacy, or when new professional contacts want to know more about you, they will almost always search for your name online to see what pops up, so you want to be sure that you control your own narrative by having a LinkedIn profile that presents the best professional version of you. Besides filling in your educational background, professional experiences, and skills, include a professional photo and try to come up with an impactful headline that goes beyond "Graduate Student." You can think of adjectives that describe who you are professionally and what roles you aspire to be in as you brainstorm a strong headline. You'll also want to write a memorable and informative summary for your LinkedIn profile. Use these questions to help guide you: Who are you? What skills do you have? How do you want to apply them? What impact do you want to have professionally? What kind of work gets you excited and motivated? If you don't have a LinkedIn profile yet or don't know how you can improve the profile you already have, make an appointment with a Graduate Student & Postdoc Career Advisor via Handshake and we'll be happy to help you.


Reference lettersWhen you're applying to jobs outside of academia, you'll often be asked to submit names and contact information for a few people who can serve as your references. This usually happens when you're completing an online application, but it does not mean that your references will be contacted immediately. It is often the case that the referencing stage of the search process occurs after you've had at least one interview with the hiring manager or committee and before the offer is made. However, it's always a good idea to think about who might serve as references for you before you plan to apply for jobs and to let them know when you're actively applying. 

As you think about whether someone might be a good reference for you, imagine how that person can advocate on your behalf. Will they be able to speak about your relevant skills, strengths, and accomplishments, and not just your academic ones? Do they know you well enough to speak to how a particular kind of job will fit into your larger career goals? Have they seen you grow professionally? These are some questions that can help you decide whom to ask to be references. If you are approaching your advisor, PI, or other faculty members to serve as references, be sure to share your written job application materials with them. Additionally, it's helpful to have an honest conversation with them about how your skills in research and teaching will be valuable to jobs to which you're applying and about how these kinds of positions will allow you to acheive your larger career goals. 

Action Steps Checklist

Below are some suggested steps for you to take as you prepare application materials for jobs beyond academia. Make an appointment with a Graduate Student & Postdoc Career Advisor via Handshake to discuss your specific plans for applying to jobs. 

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Learn about different roles and organizations before you actively apply to jobs through networking and research.

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Attend Career Services' Job Search Series workshops to be prepared for the process before you apply to jobs beyond academia.

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Create a strong LinkedIn profile. Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to have it reviewed. 

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Before drafting application materials for a role, review the job ad closely and continue your research into the organization. 

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Make an appointment with a Career Advisor via Handshake to discuss your plans for drafting your resume and cover letter and to have them reviewed.

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Consider who might serve as your references and provide them with relevant information so they can speak on your behalf.

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Read ahead to learn more about the interviewing and negotiating stages of the application process.


Q: How long can my resume and cover letter be?
A: Your resume should generally be one to two pages long. Some industries like consulting, for example, are often strict about resumes being only one page. For those in STEM fields applying to roles and organizations that value your research, publication, and conference experience, it's usually acceptable to have more of a hybrid CV-resume where you include your publications and conference presentations. For the cover letter, we recommend that it be no longer than one page. Unlike in academic searches, cover letters for non-academic jobs are usually brief and focus primarily on what skills and experiences you'll bring to the position.
Q: Should I have multiple versions of a resume for different roles that I'm applying to?
A: Absolutely! It's important to tailor your resume for different positions. A general resume that you submit for various roles will not demonstrate your fit well for any of those positions. If you've decided on three different kinds of roles you'd like to apply to, for example, we recommend that you create three different versions, with sections and bullet points that are relevant and tailored to each role. If you don't know how to tailor your bullet points, start by looking at the verbs and other keywords used in job ads as a guide to how you can write your bullet points.
Q: Who's the audience for my resume and cover letter? Who evaluates my application? How long will they spend reviewing my application?
A: Your audience will vary depending on the roles and industries you're applying to, but your resume will be reviewed by the person who supervises that position you're applying to. Some organizations often have hiring committees that will meet with job candidates; these committees can include colleagues who will collaborate with, serve as a peer to, or report directly to the person that will be hired. In many industries, applicant tracking systems are used to filter out uncompetitive applications without a human even reading your application, so that's why it's important to use keywords from the job ad in your resume and cover letter to demonstrate your fit for the role. After making the cut beyond the applicant tracking systems, someone in Human Resources or from the hiring team will review your materials. The time spent reviewing a resume can be short, so be sure to prioritize the most relevant information on your materials.
Q: I've submitted my resume and cover letter but haven't heard anything from the hiring manager
or committee yet. What should I do?
A: If you haven't heard anything, and it's been two to three weeks since you've submitted your application, you can feel free to follow up with the hiring manager or committee. If you don't have the name of a contact person, try reaching out to people in your network, especially those who are currently at the organization you're applying to, to see if they might know who is involved in that particular search. There are some positions that explicitly tell you not to follow up, in which case you're better off following those instructions. In any case, we do not recommend following up more than once or twice regarding your application.