Darcie Cook: Circumventing the job application portal “black hole”

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Edward van Opstal, Ruchi Masand, Corina White, and Darcie Cook will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday for new blog posts!

Current Position: 6th year PhD candidate in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis

Program Start Date: 2011

Institution: Emory University

You’ve spent the last few days crafting the perfect resume and cover letter for a job you feel you’re uniquely qualified for. You’ve painstakingly gone through the job description and made sure all of those keywords from the job description are well represented throughout your application. You confidently hit the submit button on the online application portal and then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. You have just experienced the black hole that is the online job search wherein you submit your application and it disappears forever, never to be heard about again. How many times can you apply for a job this way until you say enough is enough, there must be a better way!

In fact, there is a better way. It’s called the informational interview. I’ve mentioned it before and it’s a buzzword you’ll hear throughout the business world as you delve into your own professional development. For those who may not know, an informational interview is when you speak to someone who is already in a position you hope to be in one day and ask them how they got there. You ask them about their career path, the skills that have been crucial to their success, things they wish they would have known when they were just starting out, etc. These are purely “fact-finding” missions to get a better idea of how to pursue that particular career path.

But there is one added bonus to these interviews: you’ve made a new personal contact. While you are interviewing them, you also have the chance to tell them a little bit about yourself and what type of job you hope to have. If all goes well, you will have made a great impression on them and they will be someone you can contact later when you are in the depths of the job search.

You have probably constantly heard how important your network is and I’m going to continue to harp on that line. It is so important!! It is infinitely easier to get a job when you know someone who knows someone who hear about a job you would be great for and they’re willing to put in a good word for you. You will likely still have to apply through the black hole known as the application portal online, but your application will get pulled out of the stack and actually read.

Do as many informational interviews as you can! If you are trying to break into a smaller field, you will likely start making connections with people who know other people in higher places. One very important question to always ask is if they know anyone else that they can put you in touch with for another interview. Ask them if they will provide an introduction and now you’ve got another person in your network. After you have met with them, be sure to always follow up with a thank you (handwritten is better and will make you more memorable, but email works too).

The more people you make connections with, the more people there will be keeping an ear out for jobs. At the same time, if you have already made a connection with someone at an institution with a job opening, you can contact them and let them know you’re applying. They can give you information about the HR people to address your application to and likely get you application put on the top of the pile. In some cases, someone you have connected with in the past may come to you specifically with a job in mind. This is obviously a best case scenario!

Applying to jobs online can begin to feel futile after a while, but if you can leverage your network and find an in before the online application process even begins, it will be that much easier to get that position.

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