How to Improve Your Chance of Beating the Competition

What is one piece of advice for graduate students that we are most commonly asked for? How to stand out from other students and make themselves the most marketable of the group. There is no doubt about it: competition is intense and stakes are high in graduate school. Increased competition and stakes will follow you after graduate school as you apply for jobs, especially because you will have to compete not only with your own peers and classmates but also with other recent graduates who may not have found jobs yet. So what advice for graduate students do we suggest? Well, you cannot avoid the competition even if you would like to, but you can use the following suggestions to improve your chances of beating the competition before, during, and after graduate school:

Don’t let perfectionism hinder you.

Being a perfectionist has probably helped you accomplish your goals thus far. However, being a perfectionist can become a liability if you allow it to take up too much of your valuable time. That’s not to say that you should abandon all of your attention to detail and desire to do things correctly, but you should learn to create balance between the things that you can and cannot change in your life.

Keep pace with trends.

It is important that you keep track of trends before, during, and after graduate school to remain competitive. To be as competitive as possible, you will need to follow several different kinds of trends, including (but not limited to) the following: employment trends, industry trends, research trends, university and academic trends, etc. To keep up with these trends, you can research career placement statistics and university fact sheets, and you can read trade publications and talk with other people in your field.

Don’t rely on high grades and test scores.

Relying on high grades and test scores to beat your competition is unwise because high scores do not always make you a shoo-in for college admissions or postgraduate employment. Instead of relying on high grades and test scores, you should first evaluate yourself for your own strengths and weaknesses. You can ask willing undergraduate professors who know you well to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. You should learn how to highlight your strengths on resumes, statements of purpose, etc. You should work on improving weaknesses that you can improve and discover tools to help you compensate for weaknesses that you can’t improve. You can use your strengths and weaknesses to help you determine a clear sense of direction, which can distinguish you from other students or recent graduates who don’t know which way to go next.

Apply early.

Whether you are applying for college admission or postgraduate employment in an academic job [link to article “Cardinal sins of interviewing for academic jobs”] or other, you should submit your application as early as possible. Whoever is reading applications is more likely to respond positively to applications at the top of a giant pile than to applications at the bottom.

Ultimately, our advice for graduate students is that your success in beating the competition depends both on your motivation to develop necessary skills to beat your competition and on your enthusiasm for the path that you have chosen.

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