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From PhD to Life

Putting the internet to work for you in a job search

By using the internet in an intentional way, you’ll be empowered to conduct an effective, less stressful job search.


This is a guest post by Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD. Heidi has owned and operated Career Path Writing Solutions since 2013. Dedicated to helping individuals and businesses succeed when the stakes are high, she delights in helping job seekers navigate career change. Heidi specializes in working with academics as they transition into roles off the tenure track and recently launched a blog series for transitioning PhDs. She holds certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching. Heidi sits on the Duke advisory board for the NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD Implementation Grant and is a recent recipient of the Forever Duke Award.

Optimizing your online presence

If you are new to the non-academic job market, you’ll want to learn about the landscape online. LinkedIn is a tool that I talk about day in and day out, yet has historically been used by the business community more than people within academia (although this trend is slowly changing).

As of January 2018, LinkedIn has 530 million users — a number that continues to increase by the tens of millions each quarter. LinkedIn is the online platform for business professionals. A whopping 92 percent of recruiters use social media when looking for candidates, and 87 percent have cited LinkedIn as a source. Yet, it’s estimated that only about half of LinkedIn users log in to LinkedIn at least once each month. These numbers are not etched in stone because some of this information is difficult to determine and it quickly changes, but the point is clear: Employers and recruiters use LinkedIn to source talent, and job seekers are wise to make sure they are part of the 50 percent of folks who are active users.

But how can you use LinkedIn effectively? Here are some tips:

Conceptually, think of LinkedIn as consisting of two distinctive facets — one more passive than the other. The passive component is the one that gets the most attention when people talk about LinkedIn: the LinkedIn profile. Your profile is the place to showcase your accomplishments, qualifications, and skills. It will also likely turn up high on the first page of a Google search result when someone searches your name. Your profile, in other words, is an opportunity to showcase your best self in a strategic manner. Take care to craft a compelling message about your qualifications for the job or field you are seeking to enter.

The more active component is how you actually use the platform. While your profile requires time up front and occasional updating, your use of LinkedIn requires regular engagement. I encourage my clients to develop a strategic plan for using the platform for professional networking, learning about their industry through groups and following companies, and gaining visibility and credibility as a professional in their targeted fields. To do this, consider using LinkedIn’s alumni feature to contact people for informational interviews, researching companies and job postings, and sharing and writing relevant information and articles in the newsfeed. This process will also help you become more knowledgeable about the field you are trying to enter. Moreover, it will help others to actively think of you — to become “top of mind” — when they have a need.

Build and protect your online identity

Knowing that recruiters and employers rely on social media platforms when they look to fill positions influences how savvy job seekers use the internet. Here is the guideline I give my clients: Do not broach “hot button” topics online unless your professional identity is central to that topic (e.g., a political strategist weighing in on political elections) or if you can’t live with yourself if you don’t acknowledge in public how you feel about a topic. This is an admittedly conservative approach to using social media (inclusive of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as well as blogging), but if you really need a job, it’s you’re best strategy.

Consider the following: Imagine you are employed and screening job candidates. Imagine you also have incredibly strong feelings on Hot Button Topic. Because of the ubiquity of “Googling” someone’s name, you Google a candidate. That search result leads you to the person’s Twitter account. You continue down this rabbit hole and then see that the person holds an opposite view as you on Hut Button Topic. In fact, that person has an equally passionate viewpoint on the topic — just on the other side of the aisle. Do you see the dilemma? Even if you try to ignore what you saw in fairness to the candidate, the fact is you can’t unlearn that information. You will be less likely to view that person as someone you’d want to work with.

Is this fair? No. But it’s the world of the modern job search.

If you are in a luxurious position as a job seeker and can decide that you will only work for an organization that has employees who have similar viewpoints, then you can feel more willing to make your personal views public. Otherwise, it’s best to take the conservative approach and keep your opinions more private.

If withholding personal viewpoints is a defensive way to protect your professional identity, then publishing information that demonstrates your expertise is an offensive tactic. You can consider having a website, online portfolio, blog, or a .Me site. On these sites, present your best professional self and showcase your knowledge, skills and abilities.

I often tell my clients that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t have strong Google results in response to a query of their name, but it could be a missed opportunity.   

Leverage your research skills

Shockingly, many applicants do not take the time to learn about the company or hiring manager before applying to a position. There is no excuse not to do so. Conduct basic research to learn about the companies and industries you are seeking to enter. Consider setting up Google Alerts to keep abreast of new developments.

Likewise, if you’re still trying to learn the language of the industry or field you are seeking to enter, read job descriptions voraciously — at least until you have a strong sense of the employers’ needs. Use sites like LinkedIn,,, and industry specific job boards to critically read job descriptions.

Proactive research can also help you in other ways. To help gauge the culture of a company, research your target organizations by using sites like, which posts anonymous employee reviews of companies. Similarly, can help you determine realistic and fair salary expectations, so you aren’t caught unprepared when asked about your compensation requirements.

Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD, will present as part of the 5th Annual Beyond the Professoriate, the Online Career Conference for PhDs, on May 5, 2018. Her presentation is entitled “How to Use the internet to get the job you want.” Register for the conference here.

Maren Wood
L. Maren Wood earned a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel hill. Maren delivers interactive workshops to help graduate students prepare for a non-faculty job search. In addition to her research, Maren provides one-to-one career coaching to PhDs.
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  1. Les B. Honest / April 16, 2018 at 10:15

    Just for once I’d love to hear about a PhD graduate that didn’t go into the career counseling career.

  2. Explorer / April 18, 2018 at 18:14

    I was expecting some novel suggestions to use the internet for my job search but it seems that the article was written 15-20 years ago.

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