Time Investment for a Ph.D. Job Search

 In jobs: preparation and placement, PhD/Postdoc Blog

I had no idea how much time the job search would take when I began trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I am by no means an expert… but considering I am currently looking for a job while finishing up my dissertation, I can share how much time I’ve invested. Once again dear reader, I have broken up the tasks of finding a job, and assigned each task a rough time investment.


Identifying Jobs that Interest You

This can be a time suck, especially if you are using it to procrastinate. When I first started, I spent about double the amount of time compared to now. This was in large part due to familiarizing myself with the jobs and the current job market.  I use anything from the site run by my school, to Indeed and LinkedIn. I have also set up alerts for companies that interest me. Schedule this in your calendar for an average of one hour per week.

A helpful suggestion from my old roommate, make a separate job search email. If you do not, you can end up in the unsubscribe whack-a-mole loop, swamped with useless emails.

Resumes and Cover Letters

I have found this to be a large time investment, partly because both the resume and cover letter should be tailored to each job. It is annoying, but it is the way to get past algorithm searches and tired HR people.

A tip to get past the algorithm: copy+paste the job description into a word cloud generator and build your resume and cover letter around that. After you finish your resume, put that in the word cloud generator and see if the resume word cloud matches the job description word cloud.

I found it takes about five to ten hours to come up with a ‘resume bank’, and another ten hours goes to writing cover letters. The resume bank was a suggestion from my career center. You don’t write one resume, you write many resume sections that cover all your skills. Then you drag and drop the most relevant sections for each job. For example, if I am applying to an industry job being a blogger does not make the cut. When I am applying to a consulting firm it does because I want to emphasis my communication skills.

I have also been updating my resume regularly. In total, I’ve spent about twenty hours on my resume. This includes also writing variations like a CV, and a two-page resume.

It takes about one to two hours to tailor the resume and an addition one to two hours to tailor the cover letter for each job. Applying to each job is rolled into this because each company has its own special form to fill out.


To be honest I have not been as good at this as I should be. In an ideal world, I would be sending emails every week to alumni and friends of friends and having informational interviews every other week. In reality, I send about five emails a month and have had two informational interviews in the last six months. Time investment for this category: ideal time – two hours per week, my reality – half an hour per week.

Informational Interviews

I have N=2 for this, so I am by no means an expert. What I have found is between setting up the interviews (<2 hours total communication time), to having the interview (anywhere from 15 min to 1 hour) adds up to three to five hours per interview.

The Job Search in General

Supposedly it takes 1 month/10,000 dollars in salary…I’m not sure this applies to graduate students since most companies who hire Ph.D.s understand our rather nebulous graduation timelines. I have had friends who found a job in a month and some who started looking a year before they graduated.  Overall, I’d suggest dipping your toes in the water six to eight months out.

Time Estimates

Identifying jobs that interest you: 1h/week

Resume/Cover Letter: Initial input 5 to 10 h for each; 1-2 h/job application for each (3-4 h total)

Networking: 2 h/week

Informational Interviews: 3-5 h/interview

The Job Search in General: field dependent, but 6-8 months



Current Position: 6th year Ph.D. Candidate, Materials Science and Engineering

Program Start Date: August 2012

Institution: Johns Hopkins University


If you’ve found this helpful, please share it with another soon to be gainfully employed friend and watch @NIHBEST on Twitter for more from my lovely colleagues and me.

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