(PA: More advise on how to get to the finish line of a PhD program, get that job, and finally relax and drink your coffee. My recommendation: Read Part 1 before starting!)
Value and appreciate your supporters: they make the breakthroughs happen.
Let me be honest. I have a huge volume of potential trouble and I did stumble and fall many times. However, I must have done something right because I got a job from the school where I wanted to be. And I attribute my success primarily to my awesome advisors and supporters in and out of INSEAD. They gave me substantial opportunities and shaped me to get the outcome I wanted.
Advisors are the key. Communicate A LOT with them! Get their opinions and ask for help at each stage if you are not certain (and even when you are). Seriously, if you cannot convince your advisor, how can you convince a school? Remember, however, that they are very busy and can’t remember everything about you. Help them to help you by giving them more information and guiding them to where you want to be. For example, a smart way (which I learned later) that you can help them write a good recommendation letter is by giving them a list of what you did and your selling points. Give them enough time to write the letter and let them know which schools you really want to go.
There are often informal recommendation channels among faculty members: they send emails about you to certain people they know well. Interviewers may call your advisor to check your qualities, interests or status. However, remember that you are the one who gets the job, they are simply supporters. Don’t complain that they are not as helpful as you want – they can only support you based on who you are and how much you push, not change the game.
The job market is the time you can reach out to every person you know for help. Don’t be a loner! The more you talk and practice with different people, the better the outcome will be. Talk to faculty and students from different areas, departments, and in and out of your school. Don’t be shy or discouraged by their response or feedback. Everyone is busy and you are taking up their time. Criticism is their way of being helpful. Initially you will be frustrated because everyone asks random things and doesn’t seem to understand your point, but try to incorporate their demands. Yes, you will change your presentation back and forth multiple times, but at some point your package and presentation will improve dramatically. I bothered more than 20 people, and they are the ones who eventually shared my glory. Don’t miss the opportunity to make someone happy about your achievement.
Lastly, I want to emphasize how important it is to have peer support. There are two categories: those who are on the job market with you and those who already got a job. Information sharing and mental support with those on the job market is tremendous. (Be careful to differentiate peers from online job market groups because those big anonymous groups can actually be detrimental – there is too much showy information and some of it is wrong). There will be ups and downs, and you will feel clueless at every stage and even miss some recruitment announcements. If you need information about a certain school where you have interviews, ask your peers what to prepare for interviews and how to answer certain questions. Most importantly you need encouragement and support from those who are in your shoes. Whenever I got intimidated and scared, my friends pulled me out of the gloom trap. Yes, you may feel jealous if friends are getting multiple offers while you have nothing. But in the end, all of us will have just one and only one job, and we genuinely wish each other success! Another lesson is being considerate to your peers. Everyone is sensitive, and you can easily hurt someone inadvertently.
You will also get huge help from those who have already passed this stage but are still more or less your level. They could be from your own school or people you know from conferences or seminars. The latter can be really helpful before the decision is made. Of course, they don’t take the decision, but the key decision makers regard their opinions as objective because they are not directly linked to you in the same school but know you enough (the weak tie advantage).
Let me cite an example. I have several friends who I got to know from conferences and seminars before or during their job market year. Coincidently, they got jobs from schools I was interested in, and were great internal supporters for my job market. Apparently, the outcomes from those schools were significantly better than other schools (considering how many offers you get, that’s huge). They have been great supporters and communicators at every stage. It is possible that this could be a coincidence, but I know it would be much more difficult without them. Don’t underestimate your social network.
Watch your health and attitude. Be energetic, positive, diligent, and persistent.
The last thing I want to emphasize is that you will have a hard time no matter how well you are doing. You may have too many interviews, have trouble scheduling them, or be too exhausted to perform well. Or you may have insomnia waiting for calls for interviews and offers. With few exceptions, people find that their self-esteem hits rock bottom and question every choice they made. Believe me, you are not alone – and you will do well in the end. It is the price to pay for glory. Put aside worries and self-criticism and keep in mind the following:
Protect your throat: Drink lots of water, vitamins, lemon and ginger tea, throat drops, chocolates, energy bars, etc. Don’t neglect it – I lost my voice in the middle of AMA interviews, and it was horrible.
Be positive and energetic: Schools want to recruit someone they want to be around. Respect each school and show commitment at every interview. Don’t presume that the school is not for you – convince yourself it’s your dream school. You will decide once you have an offer. You never know whether you will love the school eventually. I have several examples of where I completely altered my preference after I got to know the school better.
Be diligent and persistent. The job market process is long and tough. When you are exhausted and tempted to give up (especially when you write thank-you letters), don’t take it personally and don’t sabotage yourself at every stage. You just need one job. Push yourself one more time and it will come to you. I truly wish you the best of luck!