How much help can one expect from their PhD advisor to get a job (academic or industry)? Is it true that graduates often get positions just by having their advisor make a "phone call"?
I think it's reasonable to expect a PhD advisor to make introductions but not to place you into jobs.
They should help introduce you to people at conferences, both directly 1 to 1 or by supporting you in getting opportunities to present.
They should introduce you to visiting professors when they come to tour your space/give a talk to your department.
They should involve you in collaborations, to expose you to more ongoing research as well as researchers.
When it's time to apply for a job, you should make the phone call (or often an email). The introductions you've already had let you start the conversation with something like:
Hi, I'm Professor Maxwell's student, we met at the Demons Conference last year. I'm graduating this year and looking for post doc positions...
For industry jobs, I think it depends on your lab and your advisor. For some labs, your advisor has industry as well as academic contacts, because you collaborate with industry or work in a field where industry researchers are found at the same conferences as academics; in that case, all of the above still applies. For others, I would expect you would need to do more outside networking on your own, and I would look more to the rest of your institution for the same sort of networking support, through job fairs and such.
In some locations and cultures, yes, maybe a phone call is all you need, but in others people would be offended by that approach. The phone call that is more important to get you a job, though, goes the other way: it's when the future employer calls your advisor after hearing from you, and asks them what they think of you.
Some universities specifically tell supervisors that helping students find a job is not part of the supervisor's responsibility.
Most supervisors will give advice. Some may provide more help than that.
Is it true that graduates often get positions just by having their advisor make a "phone call"?
This would be extremely rare. Some might consider it a sign of corruption if it were an academic job. Academia has a tradition of open competition for jobs.
My advisors wrote generic recommendation letters and uploaded them to Interfolio, and that was pretty much it. That said, my relationship with them was very transactional and so I never felt comfortable asking for anything other than recommendation letters.
Personally, I think advisors should help with the job hunt, and should take the initiative to offer help if they know you're looking. If they don't, there's nothing wrong in asking. I'll be repeating some of the already given advice, but I would expect this help to come in the form of recommendation letters, reviewing job application materials, introducing you to people in their network, advising you on interview prep, and - before all of these things - mentoring you over the course of your academic program and encouraging you to do things that'll make you a good job candidate (like presenting at conferences, collaborating on research, encouraging you to publish, giving you opportunities to gain more relevant experience when possible).
As far as jobs on silver platters are concerned, I'm sure there's the occasional graduate who gets a job purely because of who they know. It's probably very rare though, as most places aren't going to hire someone they think isn't right for the position. The more likely scenario is that a particularly influential/well-connected advisor might tell search committee members, "look out for X's application, they'd be great for this job" and maybe talk them up. That might cause a search committee to perk up to X's application and maybe even interview them, but in the end, the job offer will most likely go to whomever they view as the most qualified/best fit.
It very much depends on two factors:
- your relationship with your advisors
- how influential they are in the area of your interest
And then it depends on other factors like:
- How comfortable are they with recommending people aggressively
- How does your actual skill-set and experience look like
- Have you worked with the prospective company / department of your choice before?
Even the most influential people with the best intentions can't place someone completely unqualified into a job / position (hopefully).
On the other hand, if you already worked on a project with an external company and would like to work there in the future, an additional recommendation from your advisor might just be the edge you need to "place you in the job with one phone call".
I think you can see where this is going.
It's not uncommon that advisors introduce you to new contacts or speak out a recommendation in your favor. That counts for industry as well as academia contacts, at least where I am from (Austria) and what I have witnessed so far. Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal.