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Finding the Right Fit for Your Talent

In late January 2016, the Graduate School co-hosted an annual Career Symposium for graduate students and postdocs. We wanted to share just a few pearls from the terrific UW alums who sat on the panel and also hosted conversations during the networking reception. Bottom line: the job search is about finding the right fit for your talent. Be creative about your career options, test out new ways to tell the story of your (deep) experience and skill set, and it is never too early to start exploring and building your network.

Getting Started

  • Evolve your resume. Your resume should always be evolving.  Describe examples of specific accomplishments, including those that came up during your education and training.  What problems did you approach, how did you solve them, with what results?
  • Build your experience. Find out what the key skills or top tools are used in the field of interest, and learn them. Look at the whole picture of your experience, inside and outside of graduate education.  Align your skill sets to particular positions or organizations. Use specific examples in your talking points and written materials with the goal of making yourself stand out from an applicant pool.
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills (in writing and in person). Be able to discuss complex ideas in a simple, clear, concise fashion. Especially, be ready to describe what you are working on for your research in 30 seconds or less in a way that anyone can understand.
  • Consider entry-level positions. Don’t get discouraged by entry-level positions.  It can be helpful to get your foot in the door, demonstrate your contribution and capability and depending on the organization (check this out first) you can move up within 3-6 months.
  • Find your passion. Pay attention to your energy and passion as those are the kinds of jobs you should be looking for (and not others!).


  • Start early. It is never too early to start building and growing your network.
  • Talk about your talent and passion. Practice. Get comfortable. Own it, but without arrogance. Do mock interviews.
  • Set up networking meetings – informational interviews. Identify target companies to start with to narrow your options.
  • Use LinkedIn strategically. Start with classmates, alums, professors.  Join groups that might create good professional connections.
  • Attend receptions. Send a resume to those you’ve connected with as a follow up. Personal connections always move a resume up if it is already in the pool. Face-to-face meetings spark interest and connection.
  • Ask questions. You are interviewing the informant and the organization to determine fit as much as they are interviewing you.  Show them you want to know what the work is like, that it matters to you (that is, you aren’t just looking for “a job”). Questions you can ask: what is your day-to-day work like? What is the best part of what you do? The most challenging? What is the culture like here? What would you change about your job (or the organization) if you could?


  • Phone interview. Phone interviews are important.  Always prepare as you would for an in-person, and follow up with a thank you email or note.
  • Answering technical questions. If they ask you a technical question, or to solve a technical problem during the interview, how should you handle it?  The interviewers mostly want to know how you think rather than the answer to the problem.  It is important to show how you would approach the problem, what you’d consider, and why.
  • Be relationally savvy. Organizations are looking for people who will be colleagues.
  • Show resilience. You can’t always control what interviewers will ask or how they will behave.  Show some resilience and keep your composure, as well as keeping things in perspective.  If you don’t like how you were treated in an interview, chances are you don’t want to work there anyway!
  • Not hearing back. You might not hear back. Have persistence. Keep honing your materials and learning from the process.

Interviews are helpful as I can tell right away if someone has the logic skills of a squirrel.”
– Mike Bardaro (UW Chemistry alum), Senior Data Scientist AOL


Originally posted on January 28, 2016.