In this post I want to share my experience searching for a full-time industry job as a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. candidate. My job search coincided with the time when the world was still grappling with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. In midst of all this uncertainty, I was fortunate to have full-time graduate assistant position and a supportive advisor who was willing to extend my graduation timeline if things did not work out as planned. That itself made a huge difference in my search.

In spite of it, I’d be lying if I said the job search was easy. Being an international immigrant who would eventually need a work permit, and the recent changes to the immigration policies, made the timeline and prospective hiring window much more uncertain. This further constrained my options.

Below is the overview of my job search process.

Sankey plot summarising my job search. Made using Sankeymatic.

I started documenting the results for every job application a month into my search. As seen, most of the applications were lost in the void. The ones I heard back from either those I had contacted the HR, indepedent recruiter, or a member of the group I was interested in. This experience made me aware of the immense value having a personal connection in the company has.

You are evaluated on (3+1)Cs: Curiosity, Collaboration, Communication, and Code

Network matters Cultivate your connections, reach out to relevant professionals if you find an interesting role. Learn about their work. LinkedIN has made it way easier to act on this. If possible get a LinkedIN premium subscription.

Timeline I learnt this the hard way. Every sector, viz. Chemical, Pharma, Software, and every company in that sector, depending on its size, operates on different hiring timelines. Very few companies are willing to extend an offer or take your seriously if you are reaching out 6 months before your expected graduation. It helps to just the recruiter or the team the timeline they’re aiming for.

Skills Think about skills which make you well-suited for the job, you might even consider learning skills besides the one directly expected in your research. For computational jobs it helps to brush up few key skills from Datacamp, LinkedIN, or take supplementary courses from Coursera.

Questions Ask good questions, be interested and people will find you interesting. More on this later.

Templates Have a structure for questions, emails, conversation you plan to have. Have an elevator pitch of your research ready.

Analyze Always ask for feedback, know what sticks and what doesn’t

Follow-up Dont feel shy to follow-up on your application, it is generally appreciated to send a thank you note and show willingness

Portfolio For coding related jobs it helps to have an active GitHub or a project repository. Brush up on your coding skills since couple of roles would use some sort of coding exercies to pre-screen candidates.

Few links to practice coding:

Get good at “sales” Self-belief alone is not sufficient—you also have to be able to convince other people of what you believe. Getting good at communication, particularly written communication, is an investment worth making.

Zooming in, below are few things to keep in mind as you start your job search:

Mise en place (the prep)

  1. Make a skeleton CV (long-form) and a Resume, cover letter (broad, specific). Dont hesitate to take help from your career oppoturnuties office at your university, your friends, and mentors who are already in the industry, eg: Purdue OWL writing resources

  2. List of things/areas you would want to pursue
    • What skills/experience in your PhD make you good fit for that position
  3. List of companies that interest you
    • What I have found to be useful is make an account on the company portal and scan for jobs there rather than get lot of noise from indeed or linkedin
  4. Networking
    • Reach out to people who are in the position you would want to be in
    • Follow-up with your colleagues and seniors students who are currently in industry
    • Don’t hesitate to mail/message them for their experience, career trajectory, possible positions opening in their group
    • Have a ice-breaker message ready –

    “Hi, I’m __ and I am __ interested in applying __ to catalyst discovery. I am very interested in ___ and would love to get five minutes of your time to tell you about me. Can we chat sometime soon? (Informal colleage/person on linkedin)” – you can add more meat here

Once you land an interview

I feel most of the time technical questions are not going to be a problem it would come down to the questions you would ask and the inter-personal HR-like questions

Few things to be keep ready:

  • Elevator pitch for your research (ELI5, explain like I’m 5 version of your PhD)
  • Broad impact of your work, how does your work apply on the larger scale
  • HR/behaviour questions: STAR method prep – Situation, Task, Action, Result.

Choose 3-4 stories which highlight your contributions and skills, break them down in STAR format. Amazon leadership principles are a nice source of question that you might encounter.


“To be interesting, be interested.” - Dale Carnegie

  • Dont ask them questions you can easily search on Google
  • Read the role posting and company portfolio carefully

Some questions you might consider asking your interviewers:

Their Role

  • What is your day-to-day like?
  • What are your most/least favorite aspects?
  • How do you manage workload?
  • What are the most important problems in your field?

Their Path

  • How long did it take to progress through each stage?
  • Favorite failure which set you up for eventual success?
  • Knowing what you know now, what are some misvalued asset in the world?


  • What kind of skills should I build to prepare to enter this career?
  • What are some books I should read/conferences I should attend?
  • Who should I talk to next?

Wondeful compendium of questions that could be applicable to variety of scenarios: The Book of Questions, by Gregory Stock

In the end, my job search was one of the most anxiety inducing experiences of my Ph.D. Looking back, I would confidently say it helped me improve my communication and conversational skills.

One thing I learnt in this process was this: patience is a competitive advantage; you can find success if you are simply willing to do the reasonable thing longer than most people.