Career Center

Tips for Graduate School Success

Graduate Student's Career Planning Timeline

First Semester


  • Connect with your department.
  • Connect with the Career Center.
  • Connect with the Graduate Studies program.
  • Connect with Financial Aid.


  • Strengths.
  • Work and life values.
  • Personality preferences.
  • Interests.
  • Decision-making style.
  • Geographic preferences.

Second Semester

Career Exploration
  • Consider the different sectors of employment (academia, corporate, nonprofit, government, etc.).
  • Look at variety of job titles and responsibilities.
  • Consider salary and job outlook.


  • Related coursework.
  • Build skills.
  • Gain experiences.
  • Obtain professional contacts.

Third Semester


  • Practice interviewing.
  • Create a job search plan.
  • Refine your resume/CV.
  • Develop cover letters.
  • Arrange a portfolio.

Fourth Semester and Transition

  • Ask professors and colleagues for referrals.
  • Connect with professional organizations.
  • Post your resume online at Handshake.
  • Attend career fairs and events.

Transition - Graduation

  • Thank your professors for their support.
  • Reflect on your experiences and goals.
  • Start your new career.

Preparing for Your Career in Graduate School

These suggestions will help you create a job search plan that will enhance your success on the job market.

The search varies widely across disciplines.

Make Yourself Marketable

  • Participate in experiential learning opportunities.
    • Teaching assistantships, internships and practicums.
    • Volunteer
  • Decide whether you will do research.
    • Having your dissertation near completion when applying enhances your marketability.
    • Publish and present your work at the university, regional, and/or national level.
  • Increase your visibility and your network.
    • Attend professional conferences.
    • Volunteer to serve on professional committees.

Clarify Your Desire

  • Be aware of your biases and the biases of professionals in your institution.
    • For example, some individuals may feel that working at anything other than a major research university equals failure.
  • Learn more about what it’s really like to be an employee at different types of schools.
  • Interview faculty, staff or alumni who have taught at various institutions. Ask how they spend their time, what they like about their jobs, what challenges they face, etc.
  • Review job postings for different types of schools to see how positions are described.
  • Think about what kind of institution would truly be the best for you.
  • Research university, liberal arts school, or community college?
  • Secular, private independent, or private religious?
  • Undergraduate school or graduate-degree granting school?
  • Where in the country are you willing to move?
  • What is your Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C?
  • Think about job prospects for your partner.
  • Listen to your gut. Follow your instincts.

If you are considering a career in business, government or the nonprofit sectors, use similar questions to focus your career path:

  • Public or private sector?
  • Interview professionals in the field.
  • Research and study companies and organizations.
  • Are you willing to move?
  • What's your Plan A, Plan B and Plan C?

Research the Job Search Timeline

  • Find out if your department or disciplinary organization keeps an archive of former job postings.
    • Review former postings to find out (1) what kind of information is available in job descriptions, (2) what materials are typically asked for in the application packet, (3) when deadlines and decision points typically occur.
  • Find out if there is an annual cycle for which you need to be ready.
    • Are interviews conducted at certain annual conferences?
  • If possible, participate in the activities of a search committee in your department so you can see the job search from the other side.

Assess Your Readiness

  • Do you really feel ready to move from the student role to a professional role? Search committees want to hire forward-thinking professionals...not students.
  • Are you on track for graduation?
    • What is your timeline?
    • Will you finish before applications are due, before you interview, before you start your job?
  • How does your advisor feel about your readiness?

Prepare Yourself Mentally

  • Think of the job search process as an adventure and a learning experience.
  • Realize that the job search will consume a huge chunk of your time over the next year.
  • Develop strategies to manage your time and stress, and to keep your energy level high.
  • Understand that you may not secure a position the first year.
  • Practice detachment. Everyone gets rejected. Also, much of what happens during the job search process is not about you. Maximize control over the aspects that are in your control.

Create a Support Network

  • Maintain regular communication with your advisor and faculty members who may be writing your letters of recommendation.
  • Connect with other graduate students who are on the job market (both in your department and in other departments). Consider starting a job search group — meet together, help each other with application materials, and provide support.
  • Talk to recent graduates and new hires.
  • Seek support from partners, parents, and friends outside your discipline.

Prepare Your Application Materials

  • Job postings usually ask for a variety of documents, such as:
    • Curriculum vitae or a résumé.
    • Cover letter (or Letter of Interest, Letter of Application, etc.).
    • Transcripts (sometimes from all undergrad and grad degrees).
    • Letters of recommendation (usually 3-5 letters) or a list of references.
    • Research statement (Statement of Research Interests), if applicable.
    • Writing sample/s (usually publications or chapters from your dissertation).
  • Start working on your documents early because they take time to prepare.
  • Finish general drafts of your application materials and seek feedback on them.
  • Provide documentation (CV, typical job description, research statement, etc.) to letter-writers so they can start drafting their letters of recommendation.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile.

Job Timeline

Find the job postings:

  • Start perusing job postings months before you are ready to apply.
  • Always be on the lookout for jobs – not just during the peak cycles.
  • Ask your professors to keep their eyes and ears open for job possibilities.
  • Look at the job boards on professional association websites.
  • Check out the conference interview possibilities.
  • Look at many different job boards.
  • Read job postings carefully. Figure out what skills and specializations are being sought.
  • Don’t apply for a position if you wouldn’t seriously consider accepting it.

Apply for jobs:

  • Thoroughly research the organizations to which you are applying.
  • Revise your materials for each job posting.
  • Have somebody carefully edit your materials before you send them!
  • Remind your references that you need their letters of recommendation.
  • Request multiple copies of your transcripts.
  • Find a way to stay organized, especially if you’re applying for multiple positions. Consider creating a spreadsheet and/or clearly labeled electronic folders.
  • Keep your advisor and other supporters informed of your progress.

Prepare for Interviews

  • Continue applying for jobs.
  • Read literature on interviewing.
  • Start preparing answers to potential questions.
  • Participate in mock interviews with peers, faculty members, or employers in the Career Center.
  • Prepare a job talk and practice it with peers or faculty members.
  • Research the organizations with which you have (or hope to have) interviews.
  • Write a list of questions to ask prospective employers and keep it handy so you are ready when they call to invite you to interview.
  • If you haven’t already done so, buy at least one business suit.
  • Write thank you notes to organizations that interview you.

Get Ready for Negotiations

  • Read information on negotiations.
  • Talk with professionals about what and how to negotiate in your field.
  • Decide what you need in an offer.
  • Always negotiate.
  • If you get a satisfactory offer:
    • Accept it. Sign your contract. Don’t turn back. Celebrate your victory!
    • Let other schools know that you are no longer on the job market.
  • If you don’t get a satisfactory offer:
    • Don’t despair. Continue looking.
    • Ask other professionals how to make the best use of your time until you do secure a position.
    • Have your mentors help spread the word that you’re still on the market.
  • Thank everybody who helped you during your job search.

Start Your New Job

  • Finish your final projects.
  • Seek support during the transition.
  • Investigate new employee resources at your new place of employment (mentoring programs, orientations, social support networks, etc.).
  • Enjoy your new life as a professional.

Working the Room -- A Graduate Student's Resource

At various points during graduate school and the job search process, you will be expected to mingle informally with colleagues and potential employers.

This happens at networking socials, conferences, departmental lectures, career fairs, campus visits, and other events. We recommend you attend as many receptions and networking events as possible so you can practice working a room before it really counts.

But before attending any networking event, get organized and do your research.

  • Try to find out who will be there and then try to find information about the other guests.
  • Prepare and practice a 10-second introduction of yourself and prepare to talk about your research or work.
  • Skim the news before each event so you can talk intelligently about current events.

If you make a mistake, don’t get rattled. Laugh it off. Learn from the situation.

Our tips:


Basic rules of etiquette apply

  • Have a positive attitude.
  • Turn off your cell phone and anything else that could cause a distraction.
  • When the opportunity presents itself, hold the door for the person coming behind you.
  • Go for medium pressure in a handshake, rather than wimpy or bone-crushing.
  • Consider hiding a napkin or handkerchief in your pocket so you can quickly dry your hand before extending your hand for a handshake.

Write Your Personal Introduction

Before any networking event, prepare and practice a personal introduction, also known as a script, spiel, infomercial or elevator speech.

It will help you comfortably and professionally introduce yourself to others.

Base it on the type of event, the level of familiarity you have with others at the event and your career goals.


  • My name is Mary Martin. I am a master’s student in the Master of Engineering program at St. Cloud State University. I’ll be completing my degree in June and am exploring career paths that will allow me to use my strengths in communication, creativity, and web development.
  • My name is Bob Butler. I will earn my masters in biology in 2016. I plan to work in industry, rather than academia, and I am interested to find out what I should be doing now to prepare myself for the transition to industry next year. My specific area of interest is __________.

Also be prepared to talk about your research at different levels of detail.

Prepare three descriptions:

  • 10-second description.
  • 60-second description.
  • 5-minute description.


Go for business casual (slacks or skirt with blouse, sweater, or collared shirt). Ties and sport coats are appropriate as well.

If you’re not sure what to wear, ask a colleague, email the event organizer, or check the event website for attire instructions and photos from previous events.

If you’re still not sure, err on the side of conservative and dressy.

Food and Drink

  • Eat before the event. Your main goal is to make contacts, not to satiate yourself.
  • Always leave one hand free so you can shake hands and exchange business cards.
  • Hold your drink in your left hand so you can shake hands with a warm, dry hand.
  • Keep only a small amount of food on your plate at any one time.
  • Stick with small foods that are easy to eat with one hand.
  • Take small bites so you are readily available to answer questions and make introductions.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Do not chew gum.
  • Don’t camp out at the refreshment or beverage table.

Nametags and Business Cards


  • Wear your nametag on your right side so it is easy to read when shaking hands.
  • Write legibly on your nametag.

Business cards

  • Have an ample supply with you.
  • You can also buy business card sheets at an office supply store and create your own.
  • Use two easily accessible pockets (or two business card holders) for business cards – one for your cards and one for the cards given to you by others.
  • Ask for the other person’s card before offering yours.
  • When offering a card, turn it so the person can read it immediately upon receiving it.

What to Bring

  • Ample supply of business cards.
  • Breath mints.
  • One or two nice writing pens.
  • Napkin or handkerchief.
  • Try not to bring your backpack, lunch sack, or other unnecessary baggage.
  • Professional-looking purses and briefcases are appropriate. Keep in mind, however, that you want to keep your hands free so you can shake hands and exchange business cards.


Entering a conversation

  • Make eye contact and approach somebody you know.
  • If you don’t know anybody, make eye contact with somebody in a group you want to join and approach the group. Consider looking for a group with a physical gap, indicating somebody just exited the group.
  • At the appropriate time, shake hands and introduce yourself in one or two sentences.
  • Start short conversations about current events, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.
  • You can also discuss something you have in common — graduated from the same school, members of the same organization, live in the same part of town, etc.
  • If it becomes clear a group doesn’t want to include you, don’t take it personally. Group members may be old friends. Find another group.
  • If you have a hard time finding a group to enter, find other individuals in your situation and start your own group or make conversation with someone at the refreshment table.
  • Remember that a positive, confident attitude goes a long way in social situations.


  • Consider asking other individuals in the group to talk about their work. People love to talk about themselves so this strategy effectively builds connections:
    • What do you do?
    • Please describe your current position and organization.
    • Tell me about your most recent project.
    • What is a typical workday like for you?
    • Can you tell me about your career path and how you got started in your field?
    • What does it take to be successful in your field or organization?
  • Once a connection has been developed, consider asking for academic or career advice:
    • Given my interests/strengths in ___, ___, and ___, can you suggest some positions within your field or organization that might be a good fit for me?
    • I’m interested in your field of work and/or organization. What should I do now to prepare myself for my intended career path?
  • After you’ve gotten some advice, focus on future contacts:
    • How can I make additional contacts in your field and/or organization?
    • Can I follow-up with you about this matter in the future?
  • If you are part of a group, be sure to welcome and introduce others who approach.
  • To introduce others, consider saying: “I don’t think you two have met, have you?”
  • Try to use the others’ names at some point in the conversation. It shows attention to detail and increases the likelihood of you remembering the names later.
  • If you can’t remember somebody’s name, say “please tell me your name again.”
  • Smile and maintain a positive attitude.
  • Focus on the conversation rather than scanning the room to plan your escape.


  • Do not directly ask for a job or internship.
  • Avoid controversial topics such as politics, religion, health problems, etc.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation, be aggressive, or try to “one-up” others.
  • Even if the room is noisy, try to avoid invading others’ personal space.

Exiting a conversation

  • Introduce someone else into the conversation, briefly summarize the conversation for the newcomer, and then excuse yourself.
  • If you haven’t already exchanged business cards, you can say something like: “It was nice meeting you. Can I have one of your business cards so I can keep in touch?”
  • Don’t announce your intention to visit the restroom.
  • Announcing your intention to get refreshments or talk with a colleague is acceptable.
  • End on an optimistic note: good luck, good night, congratulations, etc.
  • Make eye contact and join another group.

After the Event

  • If appropriate, send a thank-you note to the host.
  • Make some notes on the back of the business cards you collected.
  • Follow-through with any promises you made at the event.


  • Laura Mondino / Sr Career Advisor, Natural Sciences Career Services / University of Texas, Austin
  • Lisel Moynihan / Advisor, Ford Career Center / University of Texas, Austin
  • Campanelli, J. (2006). Trapped By A Party Boor? How To Gracefully Get Away.
  • Immen, W. (2005). Practice Makes Perfect At Social Events.
  • Ryan, R. (2005). Soaring On Your Strengths. Toronto: Penguin.
  • Thompson, K., & Wein, T. I. (2005). Speak Up, Shake Hands, And Smile. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Zupek, R. (2007). The Worst Way To Shake Hands.