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TIPTopics: A Graduate Student’s Guide to Getting Hired in a Digital World

Andrew Tenbrink, Mallory Smith, Georgia LaMarre, Laura Pineault, Tyleen Lopez, & Molly Christophersen, Wayne State University

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for graduate students. One major challenge has been the transition to working remotely, which highlights the importance of using virtual communication skills and strategies. In our previous featured article, we outlined how graduate students can thrive in a digital world by becoming virtual meeting experts and using social media to develop professional networks and improve skills. Building on these insights, we want to continue the discussion surrounding how the pandemic has affected graduate student life. Not only has the pandemic disrupted graduate students’ educational experiences, but it has also impacted the trajectory of our careers beyond the classroom. As I-O graduate students begin to search for jobs and internships, we are being met with a job market that is crippled by mass unemployment and hiring freezes that have been spurred by major economic struggles. This is a reality that none of us could have expected when enrolling in I-O graduate programs or even at the beginning of the year when U.S. News ranked industrial psychologist as its 46th best job for 2020 with a job market score of 10 (out of a possible 10).

The impact of the pandemic will likely persist over the coming years, affecting graduate students seeking applied and academic positions. Many universities have implemented hiring freezes for the immediate future, creating obstacles for graduate students seeking junior faculty positions and postdocs. Those seeking industry positions face U.S. unemployment levels greater than 10% and a global economy that is projected to shrink 4.9% in 2020. With this uncertainty, we think it is important to help graduate students navigate current and future job searches. Our goal for this article is to discuss the implications of a tough job market and the transition to remote work on the job search process while also providing strategies and resources that can help graduate students be successful in securing a job that is right for them.

To organize our discussion, we will focus on the following three stages: (a) finding and applying for jobs, (b) the virtual interview, and (c) virtual onboarding. In each section, we provide helpful tips and resources that you can use to conquer the current job market.

Finding and Applying for Jobs

Despite a worrisome job market, graduate students may find encouragement in the fact that some aspects of the job search process remain somewhat unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The modern job search typically involves spending time on the Internet perusing various online job search databases. Thankfully, this step can be done from the comfort of your own home. It is important to remember that searching for jobs is a process that can take a lot of dedicated time and perseverance. Especially when navigating a tough job market, it is important to develop a strategic approach to help you be successful.

Maximize Your Competitive Advantage

With fewer openings and more applicants, competition for jobs is likely to be fierce. As I-Os, we hope our training on best practice in selection is put into action, especially for the very systems used to hire us. Even in highly structured, standardized hiring systems, there can still be some degree of randomness in who ultimately gets hired. What can we do to gain advantage in a random and uncertain job market? Dr. Jay Van Bavel and colleagues offer two principles that can help increase the odds for success in a tough job market: “maximize the signal” and “minimize the noise.” Applicants can “maximize the signal” by taking the time to understand their audience and crafting materials that quickly attract attention. When there are a large number of applicants, the goal should be to find ways to stand out in the crowd. Keep this in mind when crafting cover letters, CVs, and résumés. Additionally, applicants can “minimize the noise” by increasing the number of jobs to which they apply. At the end of the day, getting a job can be a numbers game, and casting a wide net can increase your chances of getting an interview.

Further, the recent prevalence and acceptance of remote working arrangements, which some organizations are considering for the long term, create many opportunities for job seekers. Geographic proximity may be less of a limiting factor because applicants can apply to remote jobs all over the country (or even the world) without the need to relocate. In fact, graduate students may possess a competitive advantage when it comes to remote work, as the skills required to work independently are also necessary for success in graduate school. Don’t hesitate to expand the geographic area of your job search as well as to highlight the skills that make you a great remote employee on your CV/résumé and cover letter.

Use Your Resources

It can be daunting searching for jobs, particularly when it’s not clear where to start. Luckily, there are many great online resources that can help to streamline the process and keep you from spending hours combing the Internet for the perfect job. Many job search sites allow you to filter by a variety of criteria (e.g., title, skills, company) and provide necessary information about jobs and organizations that can help you decide if a job is the right fit for you. These sites also provide tips and suggestions to help you achieve success in your search. Unfortunately, no database is completely comprehensive, so we recommend using multiple sites to help optimize your search. Here are some of our favorite resources for exploring jobs and internships:

  • I-O Job Network & AOM Career Center: These databases of job and internship postings allow you to search based on your own criteria and post your résumé for potential employers to access.

  • LinkedIn: This popular professional networking site provides a large database of job postings that you can search while also leveraging your social connections to look for open positions.

  • HigherEdJobs: This online database provides access to job postings for positions at academic institutions. Additionally, they provide news and resources that can help you navigate the job search process.

Rely on Your Network

One of the best resources for finding jobs is your professional network. Building relationships with people in your field allows you to learn about new jobs, showcase your skills, and present yourself to decision makers in organizations. Talking to someone whose job or employer is similar to those that you are targeting is an effective way to determine whether that position is a good fit for you. As many organizations have transitioned to fully remote work, the strategies for cultivating a strong professional network have changed. To provide practical guidance for our readership in this regard, we asked Dr. Michael A. Johnson, assistant professor at Louisiana State University’s Rucks Department of Management, how senior graduate students can best market themselves to prospective employers in a virtual world.

Johnson explains that “people should especially push into their job search and networking. I always tell my students that people are never as willing to help you out as right now. People intuitively get what it is like to try and find that first job as well as navigate the beginning parts of your career. Graduate students should take advantage of that. We may be entering an extended period where the job market will be limited and the importance of having a good network is one way of overcoming that.”

Whether you already have an extensive list of professional contacts or think that your professional network needs some development, it is crucial to take the time to connect with people. Johnson recommends setting aside some time each week to connect with graduate students, professors, and industry contacts. This can be as simple as sending an email, connecting on social media, or even setting up a casual virtual call. Finally, he reminds graduate students that “networking makes us all uncomfortable, and I think that people get that. In most circumstances, reaching out and doing a bad job with it is better than not reaching out at all.”

The Virtual Interview

You put a ton of time into your job search, and it paid off with an interview at an organization at which you’d love to work. As the day of your interview approaches, you may wonder if you should prepare differently for a virtual interview than you would for an in-person interview. In this section, we’ve summarized insights from Dr. Ryan Horn, a virtual-interview researcher and recent grad who shared advice from his research and his personal experience with navigating the virtual job market.

Preparing for Your Interview

Horn explains that although preparation for the content of the interview shouldn’t change, there are steps that candidates can take to reduce the potential for distraction when using a video platform. For example, one of Horn’s studies found that the presence of a picture-in-picture window (the small window in your screen that shows how you appear to an interviewer) in a video interview increased cognitive load for interviewees. Taking this into consideration, candidates’ may want to minimize the picture-in-picture window during the interview and consider ahead of time how to reduce other distracting elements on their screen and in their home. Part of your interview preparation should include checking your audio, testing your lighting and picture, and minimizing as many environmental distractions as possible.

Recovering From a Technical Difficulty

Imagine this: Your virtual interview is going great when, suddenly, your audio cuts out. This is a nightmare situation for most candidates, but when it comes to recovering from glitches, Horn says the best thing to do is to maintain composure and not let frustrations with technology alter your delivery and content. Interviewers understand that glitches happen, but they will also be attentive to how you conduct yourself during an interruption. If you handle the interruption well, it will demonstrate problem-solving skills and composure to your interviewer. Conversely, Horn warns that handling the technical difficulty poorly could hurt the candidate’s performance. He explains, “You will not get a second interview if you curse at Zoom and toss your headphones across the room.”

To minimize the impact of technical problems, we suggest strategizing your response to any interruptions that may happen during your interview. Some suggestions include having an ethernet cable nearby in case your wireless Internet cuts out, planning to finish the interview by phone if video or audio isn’t working, or having an alternative video-conferencing option so you can suggest switching platforms. Although you can’t plan for everything, thinking through what you would do if a problem arises can help you remain composed.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up

Just like you would after an in-person interview, it is best practice to follow up with your interviewer, thanking them for their time. Your email should be concise but memorable, and you should refer to topics or questions that came up during your interview. There are many online articles offering great advice about how to best follow up after an interview, including this LinkedIn article and this blog from Harvard Business.

Virtual Onboarding

Congratulations, you got the job! We’re sure you’re excited to begin this new chapter in your professional journey, but we acknowledge that starting a new job can be scary—and your first-day jitters may be exacerbated by the perceived challenges of starting a job remotely. We’ve compiled the following tips to help you make the most of your first few weeks.

Connect With Your New Colleagues and Make Yourself Visible

In the office or around campus, it’s easy to stop by a colleague’s desk to ask a question or catch up while grabbing coffee. Although we may have taken interactions for granted before moving to remote work, these brief conversations were invaluable for fostering belonging and remaining visible to other members of the organization. In a qualitative study about virtual onboarding, Hemphill and Begel (2014) argue that fewer opportunities for informal communication with colleagues and reduced visibility are among the greatest challenges facing new members of virtual teams. As a remote worker, you may want to “manufacture” watercooler conversations to informally connect with your team. Reach out to ask someone on your team if they would be interested in having a short “get to know you” virtual meeting. If your workplace hosts informal virtual meetups such as coffee breaks or happy hours, attend these events during your first few weeks and introduce yourself to your new colleagues. These events can be used to break the ice so you feel comfortable reaching out in the future as well as to identify potential mentors (Markman, 2020).

Equally important to getting to know colleagues informally, setting up regular check-ins with your manager might help you maintain accountability. In a paper by Shoenfelt et al. (2012) about I-O psychology internship practices, they found that many interns were required to keep a daily or weekly diary where they described what they worked on each day. This practice has been recommended in some recent articles (e.g., Art Markman’s article for HBR) about best practices for working from home. A daily diary can be used for your own records or can be shared with your supervisor to make your daily tasks more visible, maintaining accountability. 

Ask Questions and Clarify Expectations

As a new hire in a remote position, you may need to put in more effort to determine your manager’s and team’s expectations of you. One way to do this is to develop a professional development plan with your manager during your first 2 weeks on the job. This proposal can outline details of your role, how successful performance will be evaluated, or a timeline for achieving professional milestones. Shoenfelt et al. (2012) explain that this is a common practice for I-O interns, as it helps clarify and formalize expectations for an often-ambiguous short-term position.

Even without creating a formal plan with your supervisor, asking questions about the organization’s expectations of you can help you be successful during the first few weeks of a virtual job. In an article for Bloomberg, Zena Everett—a career coach and former recruiter—suggests that new employees ask the following questions:

  • If you were me, what would you focus your energy and attention on (each day)?

  • How will I be measured during the first 3 months?

  • What might derail me?

Set Boundaries

As a new employee, you might feel compelled to work extra hours and make yourself overly available to your new team—habits that are easy to fall into especially while working remotely. Although we acknowledge that working outside of your typical work hours may sometimes be necessary, constantly being available can lead to burnout and can interfere with other responsibilities, such as your role as a graduate student. In an article for TopResume, Carson Kohler recommends developing a routine that is flexible to the needs of your employer while also setting clear personal boundaries.

Final Thoughts

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed the landscape of work, and this presents new challenges and opportunities for graduates navigating the job market. Fortunately, we as I-O psychologists are still in demand, arguably now more than ever, as employers look to us to shape the post-pandemic workplace. Although we hope that the resources in this article help you feel motivated and supported in your job search, we also acknowledge that finding a job is an exhausting endeavor. We encourage you to take time to recharge and tap into your support systems when you’re feeling overwhelmed with the job search process. Remember, you’re not in this alone, and we wish you the best of luck as you take this next step in your professional journey!

Thank you to Michael Johnson and Ryan Horn for their time and contributions to this article.


Andrew Tenbrink is a 5th-year PhD student in I-O psychology. He received his BS in Psychology from Kansas State University. His research interests include selection, assessment, and performance management, with a specific focus on factors affecting the performance appraisal process. Currently, Andrew has a 1-year assistantship working as a quantitative methods consultant in the Department of Psychology’s Research Design and Analysis Unit at Wayne State University. Andrew is expected to graduate in the summer of 2021. After earning his PhD, he would like to pursue a career in academia. andrewtenbrink@wayne.edu | @AndrewPTenbrink

Mallory Smith completed her Master of Arts in I-O Psychology in the spring of 2020. Prior to graduate school, she earned her BA in Psychology and German from Wayne State University. Her interests include factors influencing employee attitudes, efficacy, and perceptions of justice during organizational change. After graduation, Mallory started a new job in the healthcare industry, leveraging both her I-O skillset and background in information technology to support digital transformation, enhance work processes, and encourage employee adoption of new innovations. smithy@wayne.edu | @mallorycsmith 

Georgia LaMarre is a 4th-year PhD student in I-O psychology. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Waterloo before moving over the border to live in Michigan. Georgia is currently working as an organizational development intern at a consulting firm while pursuing research interests in team decision making, workplace identity, and paramilitary organizational culture. After graduate school, she hopes to apply her I-O knowledge to help solve problems in public-sector organizations. georgia.lamarre@wayne.edu

Laura Pineault is a 5th-year PhD candidate in I-O psychology. Her research interests lie at the intersection of leadership and work–life organizational culture, with emphasis on the impact of work–life organizational practices on the leadership success of women. Laura graduated with Distinction from the Honours Behaviour, Cognition and Neuroscience program at the University of Windsor in June 2016. Currently, Laura serves as the primary graduate research assistant for a NSF RAPID grant (Work, Family, and Social Well-Being Among Couples in the Context of COVID-19; NSF # 2031726) and is a quantitative methods consultant for the Department of Psychology’s Research Design and Analysis Unit at Wayne State University. Laura is expected to graduate in the spring of 2021. laura.pineault@wayne.edu | @LPineault

Tyleen Lopez is a 3rd-year PhD student in I-O psychology. She received her BA in Psychology from St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Her research interests include diversity/inclusion, leadership, and well-being in the workplace. Tyleen is currently a graduate research assistant and lab manager for Dr. Lars U. Johnson’s LeadWell Research lab at Wayne State University. Tyleen is expected to graduate in the spring of 2023. After earning her PhD, she would like to pursue a career in academia. tyleen.lopez@wayne.edu | @tyleenlopez

Molly Christophersen is pursuing a Master of Arts in I-O Psychology. She earned her BA in Sociology from Michigan State University in 2016. Her interests include workforce training and employeedevelopment. After graduate school, she has her sights set on an applied career in the private sector—ideally in a role where she can help businesses train and develop their employees, effectively helping individuals to grow within their organization. mollychristophersen@wayne.edu | @molly_kate32


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