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Enhancing a Job Search Using Google Tools: Tips for PhD Students and Post-Docs

Updated on January 2, 2014


Here's a snapshot of tools that you can use to:

  • Identify and target companies of interest
  • Network, enhance your web presence, and showcase your accomplishments to potential employers
  • Prepare for an interview and ultimately land an ideal position

Google Search (

  • Locate companies and positions of interest
  • Search for your interviewers online
  • Look for common interests that you can casually bring up in conversation to build rapport

Google Maps (

  • Find companies in a targeted geographic region
  • Enter a reasonable starting address and then "search nearby" for keywords of interest
  • Search by category (eg: “category: pharmaceutical”) to identify companies in a certain industry
  • Search for a known company of interest and see how it is categorized for ideas

Google Finance (

  • Answer key questions about a company of interest

    • Who are the key competitors?

    • Is the company getting into any new businesses?

    • Has the company signed any major partnership deals?

    • Is the company financially sound or the target of a acquisition?

  • Chart stock performance as a function of time

    • Overlay news stories that affect stock price

Google News (

  • Research companies, their products, and key technologies
  • Find out what the press is saying about the organization
  • Search the news archives to review historical information

Google Alerts (

  • Set-up a daily alert to track the latest news about a company of interest

    • Delivered to your email inbox

  • Establish news alerts for competitor companies to keep a pulse on the industry

Google Scholar (

  • Search for the names of your interviewers to determine their areas of expertise
  • Read a few of their papers to familiarize yourself with their work
  • Search by company name to find scholarly articles (a) written about the company (b) written by someone at the company (c) that include information about the company’s products

Google Patent Search (

  • Search for the names of your interviewers to determine their areas of technical expertise
  • Search for the company name to determine important technologies of interest

Google Book Search (

  • Search for the company name and see references in various books

    • Read snippets from the book or full text depending on copyright status

YouTube (

  • Use YouTube to brush up on dining etiquette (interviews often include a meal)

Blogger (

  • Highlight your professional expertise and written communication skills by starting and maintaining a blog

Google Docs (

  • Organize all your company and interview research in one place
  • Create presentations illustrating your research accomplishments that you can easily share
  • Develop an interactive resume with links to relevant content on the web (eg: publications, quotes, blogs, presentation abstracts, data)
  • Manage company contacts, applications, and networking interactions in a spreadsheet you can access anywhere

Google Sites (

  • Develop an interactive professional web presence to help employers find you
  • Embed your resume plus presentations and papers written in Google Docs
  • Add a custom form to your Site to allow people to contact you about your resume without exposing your contact details to the public and inviting spam

Google+ (

  • Create a profile and provide a mechanism to help people find you (helpful if you have a common name)
  • Separate personal and professional contacts into different Circles to maintain a professional image.
  • Include key facts about yourself and link to other professional content online
  • Actively meet and engage with people in your field through Google+ Communities
  • Allow interested companies and colleagues in your field to easily get in touch

Gmail (

  • Establish a permanent email address that you can take with you no matter where you work or study
  • Check other email accounts (eg: through Gmail to keep your job search organized
  • Manage contacts, networking connections, and job leads through the conversation-based interface
  • Build your professional network through contacts

    • Anyone that you correspond with by email is automatically added to your Gmail contacts

    • Cross-reference contacts on professional networking websites to build your connections

  • Use embedded instant messaging to keep in touch with your network
  • Make a lasting impression with video chat

Google Talk (

  • Leverage status updates and instant messaging to keep in touch with your network.
  • Click to call your Gmail contacts
  • Send a voicemail message directly to your contacts’ email inbox

Google Calendar (

  • Keep track of networking appointments and manage informational, phone, and on-site interviews
  • Access your calendar from any computer or certain mobile devices

A Case Study and Reference List for PhD Students and Post-Docs

Technology lowers the activation barrier for candidates to apply to positions posted on job boards or company websites. With just a few clicks, a resume is on its way to a potential employer. The downside is that it is more challenging to distinguish oneself from a flood of applicants. Standing out from the competition is the crucial to a successful job search. Job seekers can utilize a variety of online tools to differentiate themselves. Google Maps can be used to locate target companies with office, lab, or plant locations within a reasonable commute radius for those that are geographically constrained. Once an interview is secured, Google Search, Google Scholar, Google Patent Search, Google Finance, and Google News Alerts can all be utilized to learn in-depth information about the company and its employees. This article describes various technology tools and illustrates how to effectively leverage each in a search for employment.

Over the past several years, I have experimented with various Google Products that can be useful when conducting a search for employment. There are many Google tools that can be effectively leveraged regardless of the company or industry you are targeting. This article is geared specifically to PhD students and post-docs and endeavors to share some ideas on how these resources can be utilized to:

  • identify and target companies or other organizations of interest
  • network, enhance web presence, and showcase key accomplishments to potential employers
  • prepare for an interview and ultimately land an ideal position

Let’s walk through a fictional case study highlighting how these tools can be used to your best advantage during a job search.

Meet Jessica

Jessica1 is a PhD candidate studying organic chemistry. She is pursuing her thesis research at UC Berkeley and is planning to defend in about 8 months. She is seeking a research position in industry. She is most interested in specialty chemical companies but is also open to pharmaceutical and biotech positions. Jessica is limiting her job search to the Philadelphia area since her spouse just accepted a job with a law firm in the area

First Steps

Jessica knows that she first needs to get organized by deciding what companies to target and she needs to implement tools for organizing the information related to her job search. She also needs to develop contacts and network. One of her goals is to find opportunities to meet professionals in the industry and then build those relationships by following up with these newly minted connections. Jessica also wants to enhance professional credibility by building solid professional content online that is attributable to her. She plans to publish information online to showcase her important professional achievements and make it easier for those in the industry to find her.

Accounting for Geographical Constraints

Jessica is looking for a job in Philadelphia. She is geographically constrained. Jessica uses Google Maps to identify companies within a reasonable commuting distance. Her husband has already established a residence and so she uses that address as a starting point for her search. She clicks “Search Nearby” and then enters keywords like “Chemical”, “Polymer”, and “Pharmaceutical”. Her search yields a number of potential target companies in the Philadelphia area. She also finds that it is possible to search by category. For ideas, she searches in Google Maps for a known company of interest (Merck) to see how it is categorized. She then conducts a search within that category.

Build and Tap a Professional Network

Jessica is going to be in Philadelphia to visit her husband in a few weeks. She decides to use Linkedin to search for professional events in the region so she can do some networking. She finds an interesting networking workshop as well as information about the Society of Women Engineers and an American Chemical Society local section meeting.

Jessica would like to establish a permanent professional email address that she can take with her no matter where she works or studies. She decides to use Gmail for a number of reasons.

  1. She can check other email accounts (eg: through Gmail to keep her job search organized.
  2. She can manage contacts, networking connections, and job leads through the conversation-based interface.
  3. She can build her professional network through contacts since anyone that she corresponds with by email is automatically added to her Contacts list. She plans to cross-reference her contacts on professional networking websites like to build her list of trusted connections.

Bob Van Sant works at Rohm and Haas and is a former member of Jessica’s research group. Bob and Jessica initially met through her advisor. Jessica recently saw a post to Bob's blog about some environmentally benign nanoparticles developed in his lab. Jessica decides to follow-up with Bob by instant message using Google Talk to let him know that she has seen this post and to share a related article that she discovered online.

Build Professional Credibility Online

Jessica realizes that it’s not enough to simply identify companies of interest. She wants to build her professional credibility online. She investigates some ways to do this and sees that some graduate students have taken to blogging. She decides to start a blog related to her own area of expertise using Blogger.

Jessica also decides to create a Google Site with key information about herself including her resume, a presentation about her research, a list of publications and patents, and a form to contact her. She feels that putting her contact information on the web directly would invite spam and likes the option of using a form to avoid this. She will link her blog to the Site to further strengthen her visibility and professional credibility.

Jessica creates a profile on Google+ and adds professional contacts, friends, and acquaintances to her Circles. She creates a specific Circle with contacts related to her job search and shares professional links on her research and other chemistry topics. She even posts some of this professional content publicly (eg: links to the abstracts for her latest publications). She engages with experts in her field by joining and posting to the 'Total Synthesis' Community. She adds several of the people she meets to her professional network and meets up with a few of them at the American Chemical Society National Meeting. LOLCats and goofy cat videos are Jessica's guilty pleasure. She keeps separate circles for family and friends to share these more personal interests while ensuring they don't reflect on her professional image.

Leverage Google Docs to Stay Organized

Jessica knows she’ll be collecting a lot of information during her job search. She decides to consolidate that information in Google Docs. She creates a Doc where she can reference information she finds that would be of use as she prepares to apply and interview with companies. Jessica expects Google Docs to be especially helpful because it can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. Jessica uses the spreadsheet functionality in Google Docs to track promising networking connections and interactions with her new contacts. Jessica will use the presentation functionality in Google Docs to create and share information about her research.

Zero In and Apply

Now that she has done some significant legwork for her job search, Jessica decides to target five companies and apply. The companies she chooses are:

She does further research and crafts an objective and cover letter tailored to each company. For Rohm and Haas and Arkema she lists her objective as “a research position in the chemical industry where expertise in complex organic synthesis can be leveraged.” For Johnson and Johnson and Merck she writes that she is looking for “A research position where expertise in complex organic synthesis can be leveraged in drug development.” She finds suitable job postings at each company and identifies existing contacts or finds promising connections at each organization on Linkedin. Jessica applies to each company. She submits a resume via the web and reaches out to her contacts. She also takes advantage of a faculty referral (Bob Van Sant, the former research group member who now works at Rohm and Haas).

Selected for a Screening Interview

Jessica waits a couple weeks. She hears nothing from Arkema. She hears through Sheila Ciencia (an analytical chemist that she met at the local section ACS meeting when she visited Philadelphia) that Merck is undergoing a restructuring in the division Jessica is most suited for and they are not hiring at this time. She learns through Linkedin that Johnson and Johnson has no suitable positions either. However, on the strength Bob Van Sant’s recommendation, Rohm and Haas invites Jessica to do a phone interview for a research position in their Emerging Technologies department. Jessica makes sure to ask the HR representative who she will be interviewing with. HR is unable to guarantee who Jessica will be speaking with – the company draws from a pool of scientists to interview candidates via phone.

Even though she doesn’t know who she’ll be interviewing with, Jessica can still do more company research. The call is scheduled for the next day so there is limited time to prepare. Jessica decides to take a quick peek at Google Finance to answer questions such as:

  • Is the company financially sound?
  • Are they rumored to be the target of an acquisition?
  • Is the company getting into any new businesses?
  • Are certain technologies up for sale or licensing?
  • Has the company signed any major partnership deals?
  • Who are the key competitors?

Google Finance also provides a snapshot of the current stock price, a graph of stock performance over time, and an overlay of news that may affect the stock price.

Jessica finds that Google News is another useful tool. Has the company been reported in the media lately? What is the press saying? She searches by company name to find key news stories and reviews historical information in the news archives.

Time for a Phone Screen

Before Jessica knows it, it’s time for her phone interview.

The interviewer asks “Why do you want to work at Rohm and Haas?” Based on what she learned in Google Finance, Jessica talks about the strong history of innovation in the company, the solid product offerings, and the consistent financial performance. Jessica finds out during the interview that the position will involve research on innovative new nanomaterials. Jessica asks about Rohm and Haas’ partnership with NaturalNano that she read about in Google News and Google Finance . This clearly impresses the interviewer…

Jessica realizes that following-up after the interview is an important next step. She drops her interviewer an email that same evening to thank him for taking the time to speak with her and reiterating her interest and qualifications for the role. She recalls the interviewer mentioning a difficult challenge they were currently struggling with in their research. Jessica met a professor at a conference the previous year who faced a similar issue and developed some elegant chemistry to solve the problem. Jessica does a quick Google Search and includes the details on the conference abstract as well as a link to the professor’s webpage in her thank you note.

Invited On-Site!

Based on the strength of the screening interview and her prompt and enthusiastic follow-up, Jessica receives a phone call inviting her to interview for the position at the Rohm and Haas research lab in Spring House, PA. The interview will take place in 3 weeks. Jessica is assigned a host for the visit. Jessica asks her host for a list of those she will be interviewing with which her host is able to provide. The host also mentions that they will go out to lunch and dinner on the day of the interview at a fancy local restaurant. Jessica will be required to give a 45 minute presentation about her research to a panel of scientists to start the interview day.

The on-site interview is not taking place for a significant amount of time so Jessica sets up a Google Alert to tap into daily updates on important news related to Rohm and Haas . She also sets up alerts for competitor companies like BASF to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the industry. Google Alerts generate daily email updates.

Jessica would like to learn more about her host and does a quick Google search to find more information. She already knows that her host will be Jennifer Petoff and she manages campus recruiting for Rohm and Haas. Jessica quickly learns that Jennifer has a PhD in chemistry so there is no need to “water it down” when discussing her research. Jennifer is a hockey fan. Jessica is a Dallas Stars fan and Jennifer likes the Buffalo Sabres. There is some bad blood between these teams so Jessica will make sure to steer clear of this topic! Jessica also discovers that Jennifer is a published travel writer. Jessica loves to travel. She will work this into the conversation during the day to build rapport.

Jessica would like to learn more about the research background of her host and interviewers. She uses Google Scholar to look up publications and presentation abstracts. She can also search by company name to find scholarly articles written about the company, written by someone at the company or that include information about Rohm and Haas products.

In industry, patents are just as important. Jessica decides to use Google Patent Search to look up her hosts and interviewers specifically to find out what they are working on. She also decides to look up patents by company name to determine technologies that the organization is trying to protect.

Jessica finds additional information about the company using Google Book Search. Google Book Search can be used to find entire Books about a company plus books that mention the company and their products. For each Book Search result Jessica can drill down to buy the book (for a little light reading on the way to the interview…) and find references to that book on the web and in other books. For many books, it is possible to directly read the relevant section of the books, view snippets, or read the full text depending on copyright status.

Jessica knows that they’ll be going to a nice restaurant on the interview day. She can never quite remember which bread plate to use or which water glass is hers. She decides to brush-up on etiquette before the interview.

She checks YouTube for advice on how to conduct herself at the dinner table.

Jessica learns that her host will pick her up at the hotel on the morning of the interview. How will she recognize her host? Jessica’s labmate, Henry, told her a story about walking up to the wrong person when he was on a site visit and was meeting his host for breakfast. He saw someone come into the hotel wearing a shirt featuring the company logo. Henry went up the person, introduced himself, and shook hands only to find out there were multiple interviewees and hosts at the hotel that morning and this was not Henry’s host (much to his surprise)! Jessica decides to use Google Image Search for peace of mind and to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. She finds a picture of her host, Jennifer, online.

Interview Day Arrives

The three weeks fly by and it is now Interview Day. Jessica flies to Philadelphia and successfully rendezvous’ with her host even though there are four interview candidates and company representatives waiting in the lobby of her hotel. She shows impeccable table manners at breakfast, lunch, and dinner thanks to the YouTube training. Jessica regales her host with tales of her adventures trekking across Thailand and builds rapport by asking for advice on sights to see during an upcoming trip to New Zealand.

Jessica aces the seminar by fine tuning the content to reflect the interests and backgrounds of the audience. She is also able to effectively convey how the work she has done would directly impact the project that she’d be working on at Rohm and Haas from her Google Scholar and Patent Searching.

She impresses the department director with her knowledge of the state of the R&H business and how the upcoming partnership with NaturalNano will positiviely impact the bottom line.

As a result of her meticulous preparation, Jessica leaves the interview with a job offer in hand…

Thank You and Call for Additional Google Tool Tips

Thank you for taking this journey with Jessica. Are there other ways that you’ve used Google products effectively in your own job search? Share your tips and suggestions here.


  1. All references to people (other than the author) and company recruiting processes in the case study are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual individuals or organizations is purely coincidental.


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