Leaving Academia: How To Get A Job In Industry After Your PhD

Getting a job in industry after your PhD is an honorable alternative to an academic career. Despite its appeal, many PhD students seem terrified to take the jump.

I want to share with you the one thing you have to do if you want to successfully get a job in industry after your PhD.

[note color="#eccbcb"]Warning 1, if you want to stay in academia or aspire to have a scientific career, don’t read this post.

Warning 2, this post is a rant, it contains foul language, if you have a thin skin please check some of the more civilized posts we have in Next Scientist. [/note]

[note color="#d3e8ce"]Do you want to find a job in industry after your PhD? Read this post. Apart from some occasional name calling, there’s a lot of useful stuff in here.[/note]

[heading style="1"]Update[/heading]

I got a job in industry! After 3 months hustling for a job in industry after my PhD, I have several new things to discuss with you.

I have a new job. It’s with one of the Big Four consultancy companies. I will do, as I wished, data analysis. So hopefully I will stil use some of the hard skills I developed during my PhD.

The summary of interviews and job offers is as follows:

  • 2 final job offers.
  • Interviews with 6 different companies.
  • 4 out of 6 companies I reached the 3rd and final interview. 2 of these gave me an offer, 2 discarded me because they had a better candidate.
  • 2 out of 6 companies I got stopped at the second interview.
  • Bizarre alert! One company, after 3 interviews (that spanned for more than 2 months) and extremely positive feedback in each of them turned me down. The reason: they didn’t like this blog post. They argued that I am an angry person and I would be difficult to manage. They did not ask me directly for a clarification on my meaning. They did not contact my earlier bosses to check if I was indeed unmanageable.
  • I applied to around 20 job offers.
  • I have also contacted directly employees of companies. This was the case of the company that hired me.

In this process I have learned a lot. Here are some:

  • Be flexible and always available for interviews. I went to the first interview with my new employer two days after my daughter was born. I could have cancelled, but I wanted the job and I didn’t want to take risks. At the end of the meeting, when asked about my tired faced I let them know that I just had my first sleepless night as a father.
  • It’s important to dress well. As a PhD student you might dress, as I did, in old jeans and sneakers. Buy a decent suit, two good shirts and a tie. Polish your shoes. A first good impression is important.
  • Appear friendly, not too talkative, not to shy. Demonstrate that despite being a nerd, a bookworm or a crazy scientist, you can still interact socially.
  • Plan wisely when you want to start your new job. Look for a job in early spring, autumn or winter, never before or during summer. Summer is the slow season, not many projects are running and therefore less pressure to hire people. A couple of companies with which I interviewed said they would gladly hire me, but unfortunately they had not enough work at the moment (late spring). I had interviews in late spring with the company that ended hiring me, but the contract would only start after summer.
  • Don’t write controversial blog posts (or use foul language) while job hunting. Some interviewers liked my posts and they thought that being active online was a plus. Yet other employer clearly didn’t like it.

[heading style="1"]End Of Update[/heading]

You should see an academic position (postdoc, associate professor) just as a regular job. Don’t get obsessed by following all the steps in the academic ladder.

These were the words of a friend of mine and scientist. He was responding to my bitching on how difficult it was to get a good scientific career.

By academic career I mean the classical path in universities: PhD, hopefully n x post-doc (in different countries), hopefully tenure, hopefully professorship.

Too many ifs, too many maybes, too many compromises. I don’t want to switch countries now, I have already done that. I don’t want low-paying high-demanding post-doc positions with the promise that maybe one day I will get tenure as long as I churn papers out like a motherfucker.

I know how the science game is played. Academy is a pyramid with a very big base of PhDs and postdocs doing the heavy work. There are very few spots on the top of the pyramid. These spots, taken by (assistant) professors, have very slow rotation.

Job In Industry After Your PhD pyramid academia

Fuck this shit! I don’t want to be one more in the army slaves of a professor.

In industry you are also the slave of a corporation. But industry pays better.

What happens if I don’t get tenure? Why did I raise my children far from their families in a country where I don’t want to be?

Sorry academic career, we are not made for each other. It was nice while my PhD lasted, but now it’s time to meet other career paths.

Yes, I know, working in a company is also stressful, your career path is also uncertain and less idealistic than a career in science.

I thought academy was a place where nobel people would collaborate for a greater good. Smart people and good ideas would prevail.

Bullshit!

Academia, like any other field of life, it’s run by humans. As such, humans are capable of the best, and the worst.

Welcome to the real Academia. Here you also have to suck dicks to progress. It’s not enough to be good, you need to be political. Without “friends” you go nowhere. Without a “godfather” you go nowhere. Exactly the same shit you will find in a company.

I look around for academic groups where I can continue working on the same field. What do I find? 5 or 6 groups worldwide, quite a niche market. How’s that for overspecialisation?

If you want to survive in Academia you’d better update your skills regularly and jump to the next hyped field.

In industry you also have to adapt to new technologies and procedure, true. But industry pays better.

Fair enough, that’s how the world works. But. Yes, in my butt.

If I have to sell myself like a whore, I will sell to the highest bidder. And industry pays better.

Is money the only reason to get a job in industry after your PhD?

You might be thinking that I am only after the money. In part yes. I also have to pay the bills and I like to burn cash to enjoy life.

I am also after the wealth of opportunities you have in industry. There are hundreds of companies countrywide where I can continue my career in case I need to make a switch. There are many alternative careers for PhD students waiting in industry.

Compare that with the 5 academic groups worldwide where I can make a switch. In Academia you spend your years going deeper and deeper in a topic. You end up knowing a lot about a very little thing. While it might be interesting for some people, I prefer variety and change.

getting a job in industry after your PhD will give you wider knowledge

So it’s decided. Bye academic career. Hello industry.

What do you have to offer to industry?

OK, let’s see what you have to offer industry as a PhD. Have you developed any skills during my PhD that are valuable for companies?

In my case, I was busy doing some data modeling. I did two things. I analyzed chemical data to find patterns in the properties of molecules. I built models to classify molecules.

I found out that in industry, there’s a need for data modeling or analytical skills. Financial companies want to find patterns in the stock exchange that help them to make better investments. Companies want to classify their customers so they can provide them with targeted products. The list goes on and on.

I thought I can use my data analysis skills to help companies make better decisions. It seems I can still use my brains to solve a problem creatively. Something like what I did in my PhD.

How the heck do you convince a company to hire you?

The odds are against you. Let’s see why I would not hire you if I was the HR recruiter:

  • You are not a fresh (and young) MSc graduate ready to be groomed by the corporate philosophy.
  • You have little relevant industry experience. And because of your age you are a bit expensive.
  • With a PhD, you get the label “smart guy” (nothing further from reality). This for some people means “he gets bored easily if not challenged”.
  • Economy is fucked up. Lots of qualified (more than me) people looking for jobs, plus few job openings, equals companies can be picky.

You could sit in a corner, suck your thumb and cry in silence. You could go back to your former group begging for a temporary job till the economy improves. You could stuck your business ambitions up your ass.

Let me tell you something: when the odds are against you, victory tastes sweeter.

At the beginning of my PhD I presented my plans to a known scientists. He said “you want to do all this, on your own, in 4 years? Good luck sonny boy, you won’t manage”.

Guess who was wrong? Take that, old fart!

One of my PhD collaborators (a professor) told me “You didn’t look like the kind of guy that would be interested in these topics, much less to succeed in them”. I take that as a great compliment.

I am no special guy. In fact I am an average dude. I am not smarter than you.

Do you want to know why they were wrong and I was right? Hint, it’s the same you need in order to get a job in industry after your PhD.

Hustle.

Hustle To Find a Job In Industry After Your PhD

Hustle is the key to achieve those impossible goals.

You have a clear goal. You have a burning desire to achieve that. You do all what it takes. You fight your ass off for it. You hustle. You succeed.

I have done it before. I can do it again. I know if I hustle I will get a job in industry after my PhD.

Hustling is not about that gangsta stuff you hear in hip-hop songs about drug dealing, being a pimp and burning money on Cristal bottles. You just go out there and annoy everybody in your search for a job.

Job in industry after your PhD, gangsta spoiling Cristal

Use all resources available. Poke your network, former colleagues, friends of friends, everybody.

Keep in mind that having a PhD you are entitled to nothing, nada. It’s no guarantee of landing a corporate job.

Competition is fierce. You have limited time, unless you want to burn all your savings. You have to focus your energy. You can’t just apply to every single job under the Sun. You can’t run around that job fair like a chicken without head.

It’s important to analyze the situation. You need to answer several questions.

  • What kind of job you want? You need to define a kind of job you would like to have. Think in terms of required skills, responsibilities, type of industry. Have a clear definition of your job. This will help you to find the right job offers, to target your application documents and to grow your excitement (try to build excitement in your mind about the job you want, recruiters will notice).
  • What are the keywords? You need to learn the jargon if you want to use Google Search and LinkedIn effectively to find jobs. Figure out under which title or headline the jobs you want are posted in the job boards. In my case this is “data scientist”, “data analyst” or “business intelligence”.
  • What are the friction points that could make you fail? What are the weaknesses of your candidacy? Are you missing some important skills? Maybe the recruiter is skeptical about your background. Sometimes they think people coming from Academia are not good team players or communicators. Think how you can appear more competent in those areas.
  • What skills can you leverage? Most of the times, highlighting your strengths instead of covering your weaknesses is the way to go. Did you learn or gain experience in some area that is highly relevant for that dream job? Show them how it can be applied in industry. In my case this was data analysis and building predictive models (useful in this era of Big Data). I was also good at giving presentations (good for visiting customers and presenting results to bosses) and working in a multidisciplinary project (good for projects that involve different departments within a company)
  • Can you use people to achieve your goals? This might sound a bit unethical. Think of as using your network of contacts. Do you know people (that know people) in some of the companies you are targeting? Ask them for an introduction. Collect also all the information you can: what skills and type of people they are looking for, expected salary, selection procedure, working environment.

Now you know the kind of job you are looking for. It’s time to find job vacancies. Even better, you can convince people to create a job opening for you.

You need to scout both the analog and digital worlds. In the analog world you poke your network. You tell former colleagues, friends and new connections about your ambitions. In the digital world Google and LinkedIn are your friends.

You have decided to hustle, good. There are many things you could do to hustle. Let me share with you some of the things you should do on a daily basis in your hustle to get a job.

You should hustle to get a job in in industry after your PhD

Photo credit: Chris Piascik

6 Ways To Hustle For A Job In Industry After Your PhD

See it as planting a lot of seeds. See it as creating a lot of dots, that once connected will lead to your new job. In any case, many actions will lead nowhere, but you maximise the chances of finding a job in industry after your PhD or a job finding you.

Let’s see what you have to do to find a job:

  • Let everybody know you are job hunting. Let all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family know that you are looking for a job. Not only this, make sure they understand the type of job you want. Like this you will have a lot of more eyes looking for your opportunities. As soon as they come across a job offer, they will recognise it as relevant for you. The more people know your quest, the more (good) things that can happen.
  • Use LinkedIn to contact people with the same kind of job you want. Don’t just rely on the people you know, also contact people outside your network. These people have a wide network in the field where you want to start. That can make a big difference. Since they have the job you want they can give you advice on how to get one, or even look around in their company for job offers. What you are doing is simply an open solicitation, so don’t forget to attach your CV. Contacting via LinkedIn has the advantage that people can immediately see your profile and your face (recommended, add a profile photo and try to have a 100% completed profile, check my LinkedIn profile for inspiration).
  • Contact both recruiters and employees. You will come across job offers (in job boards and LinkedIn Jobs) that mention a contact recruiter. Send a LinkedIn contact request to this recruiter. This will allow her to keep you informed of future vacancies as well as to show your eagerness. Once you find a sexy job offer, you should also contact some of your “future colleagues”. They can give you more inside information on the vacancy. Contacting employees also increases your chances of being invited for an interview.
  • Send reminders and follow-up emails. Sometimes people say “send me your CV and I will distribute it around my company”. Other times you submitted your CV via the company website and didn’t hear anything after a few weeks. A good hustler will send some follow up emails asking for the status of the selection process. The delay can be due to a key decision maker is on holidays or that the CVs will only be reviewed after a certain date. Knowing what to expect when will keep your motivation up. Remember, when sending a reminder/follow-up email be polite. Don’t go saying “you promise me to send it around and you didn’t”. Show empathy, appreciation and acknowledge that they are spending part of their precious time trying to help you.
  • Keep the hustle even if you get invited for interviews. Once you get invited for interviews, apart from yelling FUCK YEAH!! and drinking some beers, it can be tempting to stop hustling in the hope that this time you’ll get the job. Wrong!! Keep sending emails, CVs and contact requests like a motherfucker. Don’t get lazy now. You might not get the job (let’s hope you do). If you keep hustling, you might get invited for an interview for an even better job that you are interviewing now. So keep the hustle till you sign the contract.
  • When they turn you down, hustle more. What do you do when the captain of the cheerleaders turns you down and goes with the quarterback to prom? You cry at home? No. You make a move on her sister! (Remember, nerds will prevail) When a company says “sorry we had better candidates” or “we have made a selection of candidates for interviewing and you are not selected”, keep morale up. You are allowed to have a grumpy afternoon, of course. But tomorrow you keep hustling, sending CVs and poking your network. You need to stay positive and excited. Don’t show up in your next interview all angry because the previous company turned you down.

This is part one of hustling. You know how to make the world aware of your hunt for a job in industry after your PhD. Now let’s move on to part two of hustling, marketing yourself.

Steps To Seduce A Company Into Hiring A PhD

You can see getting a job as a seduction game. You have to push your courtship skills to seduce a company.

I am not talking about dancing bird-of-paradise style. Forget about naughty construction worker quotes. Focus on how you can be an irresistible future employee.

Here are some things you can do to be more attractive job-wise and maximise the chance of getting a job in industry after your PhD:

  • Get a picture of who they are looking for. You need to understand what kind of professional, both in terms of skills and experience, they are looking for. Could you (more or less) fit the profile? If one of the mandatory requisites is to have 10+ years business experience, well, sorry my friend, but this is not your league. On the other hand, if they ask for 2-3 years, you could argue that you spent 2 or 3 years during your PhD using one of the required skills for the job. This might be good enough and count as experience. If you have previously worked in a company (as it was my case) mention that as general business experience. While not a wow-factor, this shows you understand the pace of a company, how things work there, the bureaucracy and the politics.
  • Decide if their work is interesting for you. At the interview you will have to show how excited you are in the job. You should apply if you are really interested or you believe you can fake the interest. Trust me, recruiters can easily figure out if your motivation is just money or you find the job exciting.
  • Customize your CV and motivation letter. Nothing turns a recruiter off faster than generic CVs and motivation letters. You have to mention the precise job offer or vacancy to which you are applying. You should also address your email and motivation letter to the recruiter (if any) that posted the vacancy.
  • Target your speech. Focus on how you bring value to the must-haves of the candidate they are looking for. You need to mention the aptitudes and attitudes they are looking for and how you are capable of fulfilling their desires.
  • Reduce their fear to scientists. A company might be skeptical with a guy that comes with a fresh PhD. They might also judge based on stereotypes of scientist. For this reason, show them you are social person, a team worker and that you can communicate well. It’s not bad to mention that you are capable of making a long project (4 years) work. That you can handle a complex task, split in smaller parts and finish all of them. Let them know that you can work independently and that you can be held accountable.
  • Dress slightly better than they do. This is the best dressing advice for interviews. You need to figure out how people dress in that company and dress a bit better. If you apply to a modern and informal company, where everybody wears shorts and flip-flops, then sneakers, jeans and a polo shirt will do. They wear suits and no tie? Then you wear it with tie.

The world belongs to those who hustle

Other Things You Need To Know When Job Hunting

Here you have a few other things that you need to keep in mind. Some will reduce the disappointments in the interview process. Others they will maximize your attractiveness as a candidate.

  • What you did in your PhD doesn’t matter much. Only matter those things that you did that will allow you to do a better job, to be a better colleague, to be a great investment. Your fantastic cell culture protocol? Jackshit. Your spreadsheet with the inventory of lab supplies? Crap.
  • People don’t care about your publications. While you might beat your chest proudly when talking about your publication record, recruiters might not be so interested in that. In fact, companies usually don’t give a damn about your publications. They just want to know if you can do the job. So forget mentioning your 5 publications in PLoS One because you strongly support Open Access publications.
  • Show enthusiasm, eagerness. Most of the times, it’s more beneficial to hire a highly motivated and enthusiastic person that lacks some experience, than a highly experienced yet uninvolved professional.

Recommended Books (They Helped Me To Search A Job In Industry)

Career switching and job hunting can be quite scary. You need to figure out first if you really want to switch. Then you will find (hopefully) many job offers. How can you decide which one is a good career choice? How do you discover what your strong and weak points are?

You have decided to hustle for a job in industry, but like me, you like to read some books to prepare yourself for the battle.

Luckily there are tons of books out there that can guide you through. Let me mention some books that I have read recently and that I think they can help you to find a job in industry after your PhD.

The Start Up Of You

This book was written by one of the founders of LinkedIn. So expect sound advice on how to push your career. This book will teach you how to take control of your career by focusing on three ideas: your assets, your aspirations and values, and market realities.

One important message I derived from the book is how to decide if a job offer is interesting: you have to focus on the learning potential of the job. In other words, choose jobs that (while badly paid) allow you to learn a lot and have more responsibilities. You must read this one if you want to understand how the job market is evolving due to technological disruptions.

You can buy The Start-Up Of You here.

Business Model You

This book provides you a framework to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses on how you approach your career. It also provide valuable examples of different career paths and how people achieved success in those careers. The key learning is that your career is like a business, and as such, it can benefit from a business, aka career, plan.

You can buy Business Model You here.

Strengths Finder 2.0

One school of thought about self improvement is to focus on your strengths. Forget improving or being better at your weaknesses, that takes a lot of time and yields poor results. Instead, you should spend all your time improving and maximising your strengths.

You don’t know what your strengths are? Very few of us do. Luckily, this book will help you to discover them. It also allows you to do an online questionnaire to uncover all your talents.

You can buy Strengths Finder 2.0 here.

How To Win Friends & Influence People

You have read how important it is to network to find a job in industry. Unfortunately, we are not born knowing how to get people to help us. How can we convince known and unknown people to spend time on us?

Dale Carnegie wrote many decades ago the ultimate networking book. This book has been the networking bible for several generations of businessmen. At the time were technology could not help you much to network, Mr. Carnegie focused on human interactions. The advice he distils in this book are as valid today as they it was in 1936. A must have.

You can buy How To Win Friends & Influence People here.

 

I have a collection of recommended books for PhDs, and alternative careers here.

Job-Hunting Homework For You

If you have read this far (sorry for the loooong post) you might be seriously considering a job in industry after your PhD. You have balls and hopefully some burning need inside you to find a new job.

This is why I would like you to take action today. I want you to do the following things:

Define your dream job. Find the titles under which your job is usually posted online. Learn the keywords and important skills that are demanded in most of the jobs.

List 10 companies where you’d like to work. Find those companies that might have your dream job. Think also if consultancy companies or recruiting agencies could also provide you with those jobs.

Find people in those companies. You have to find one recruiter and one or two employees (working in similar positions as the one you aspire to). Add them on LinkedIn. Ask them about vacancies in your area of interest. Propose to send them your CV (and a motivation letter if needed). What you are doing now is an open solicitation.

Create 2 CVs. A short CV where you list your education and experience. A long CV where you list and give some detail of your projects, accomplishments and all your publications. You can use the long CV if you still decide to apply to more “scientific” jobs and the short CV for regular companies or to hand out at job fairs. Include a headshot photo of you on a white/light background. Export your CV to a pdf (this is the format you will use).

Pimp your LinkedIn profile. Make your LinkedIn profile as complete as possible. Try also to add in the text fields (interests and descriptions of educations and work experience) as many keywords as possible. This will make you appear in more often in search results. Try also to use the same profile photo as the one you included in your CV. If you need help, you can hire me to improve your LinkedIn profile and your online presence in general.

Create an Alert in Google. Go to Google Alerts and create multiple search queries using the keywords you identified before (add also “job offer” or “vacancy” or “we’re hiring”). You will receive a weekly summary of what’s new on the web concerning those words. This will allow you to detect new job offers.

Search daily in Google and LinkedIn jobs. Use your keywords and the name of the companies you are targeting to search for new vacancies. After a few days, order them for recency, so you only check the new ones.

Hustle. Hustle. Hustle. And when you are tired hustle some more. Hustle when you are sick of it. Hustle when you want to quit. Hustle while you wait.

Hustle.

Now Back To You

How did you manage to get a job in industry after your PhD? What was the key factor that got you hired?

Do you have some extra advice for those that just finished a PhD and are looking for a job in industry?

Leave us a comment below.

About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.

  • Halina

    Well, Julio, your latest post here just cracks me up. I think the profanity was actually quite refreshing- it’s pretty much the kind of wording that was running through my mind while I was a grad student and then a postdoc (x2). Moving on to some of the points you made about getting into industry…I have found that the work assets we desire (besides money) can be found in all kinds of work environments, not just strict academia. Ownership of a project, immortality, authority, respect, lifelong learning- this can come from industry just as easily as from academia. And sometimes even more so, because in industry you are always being asked to set goals and prove your worth. In academia, and depending on your mentor, you might languish in obscurity for months, if not years, doing that same Western or ELISA forever and ever until that mentor’s funding finally dries up.

    Anyway, thank you again for the great read.

    • NextScientist

      Halina, I think the same, some of the assets that fulfill your work life cna be found in academia and industry. What I also like about industry is the fast pace and the diversity of the projects.

  • Isabelle Vea

    Hello,
    Thank you for this post. I think it came exactly right on time for me. We definitely do not have enough information from graduate schools on how to transfer skills and competence we acquired during our Ph.D.

    What I liked about this post is not only you defined the problems in academia and gave us what we say in French a “coup de gueule”, but most importantly you provided some advice and potential solutions to get out of it.

    Finally, I think we should not be ashamed of wanting to earn money, especially if we are going to work and struggle during our whole career. Research has always been a kind of fantasy job for people and it is perceived as “we love so much what we do we don’t need to earn money to do it ” (maybe this is my personal opinion only), but we are human beings, we need more than love and water!

    • NextScientist

      Hi Isabelle, thanks for your words.

      Many PhD students think that graduate schools, or their professors, or karma will help them get a job or postdoc after the PhD. The truth is that nobody gives a shit about your career. Everybody is trying to push forward their own careers, so should you.

      There are still some idealists in academia that would pay to do research. I am not one of those. We are living in an era where information and knowledge drive businesses. Why such a big factory of new knowledge like scientific research should not be compensated with money?

      Cheers,
      Julio

  • Dipen Vyas

    Great read, Julio. I am finishing up my 4th year oh PhD and still at least a year away from starting to look for jobs. I have zero desire to stay in academia and articles like this will only help me make myself more marketable for industry jobs.

    Thanks again.

    • NextScientist

      Hi Dipen,
      If you know that in a year you will need a job, start networking today. Contact people that have the jobs you will want. Add them on LinkedIn. Start a conversation with them, be helpful, useful or just interesting to them. It takes time to grow a network and to have a nice LinkedIn profile.
      If you start today, something good for sure will happen in a year.

      Cheers,
      Julio

  • Nemera

    Ha thank you so much just looking for an exit strategy myself … guess what? Found myself bored out of my freaking mind in an academic position and stuck on top of it!

  • Old Guy; New Doc

    I would also add to your book list: What Color is your Parachute?

    The book helps you assess your preferences (as does Strengthsfinder 2.0…I’ll second that recommendation) in the context of careers and jobs.

    I enjoyed your article!

    • NextScientist

      Thanks for the book recommendation!!

  • dorina kotoni

    Excellent article Julio! I absolutely agree, hustling (polite hustling that is) does get you a job. I was initially timid to use the strategy but it did eventually succeed in getting me in.

    • NextScientist

      Thanks Dorina and congrats for getting a job. Can you share with us what you did that enabled you to get the job? How did you hustle?

  • Mohit Kashyap

    I loved the article, really good pointers, i am actively seeking industry scientist positions after my post-doc but not getting anywhere. I think your point of “what makes me different” from the 1000 applicants is looking to be the sticky point i need to think about before my next application. Also, i am thinking of volunteering to get acquainted with some of the techniques i was not exposed to during my post-doc, which might come in handy for the industry positions I am looking at.

    Great pointers which i will definitely be using!! Thanks again!

  • Supreet

    Is PhD always require to start in the field of biotechnology? How are the opportunities in Europe after doing Master’s in life sciences in the biotech/pharma industry?

  • Rashmi

    Hi Julio

    This was an inspiring article. This brought me back to business :D of searching jobs again. Thanks.

  • Javier

    Hi Julio, I´d like to say that to me it is a very honest article. Some “romantic” ones would say that some of your comments are exagerated or they just do not define clearly the truth, but to me, after completing a PhD in a public research institution, the things you say here are direct, true and I can´t agree more with you.

    The thing is what happens when you have done a PhD which its topic is narrow and not focused in anything relevant in the area where you worked?. This last year searching for a job was the harder one I ever had, I can´t find anything that fits with my experience and background. I was so desperated that even I started to remove the PhD from my CV but it still did not help me because I´m too old to get a job as BsC or MsC.

    I made a great effort during last 4 years to obtain positive results in my thesis and now I feel like I have wasted my time: I have no options to get a job neither in academic nor industry unless I refresh or recycle myself, but how I could do so when I´m 35 and spent the main time of my life studiying and giving up so many things just to get a better future? I am really tired.

    • NextScientist

      Javier, I feel your pain. I have some friends in the same situation.

      Now I can only think of two options for you (please readers contribute other options for Javier):
      - Work for free at the beginning: I know this won’t help you to pay the bills in the short term. It can help to show industry or possible customers (if you want to go freelance) that you can do the job and are committed to make a sacrifice.
      - Study more: also painful because you have studied your fair share during your life. There are free online courses from Harvard and Stanford that can help you prepare for a change of fields. You can always think of an MBA to learn business and management skills, but that is long and expensive.

    • Samuel

      Javier, let’s say you have a PhD in something obscure like Botany. If you’re still interested in the field then you’ll have to be persistent, have perseverance, be tenacious, and be determined to make it in your field. See if you can get a post-doc position in the area you wish you make it in. You can develop additional skills during the post-doc. The pay will be comparable to a teacher’s salary and you’ll have a job.
      I wouldn’t start from scratch. You have a PhD. you can become a teacher in less than a year with the right certification. If you are interested in industry (not pharmeutical or biotech) then you could follow the advice in this blog.

  • Mirza Yawer

    waooo i was totally disappointed to find a job in industries as i am finding a job since 2009 but still can’t .Any ways reading this article bring me a new sensation, now Hustle Hustle and only Hustle once again….

  • Karolina

    wow, that was a great read! I like the brutal style of your post. And let me tell you, as a PhD looking for a job in industry right now reading your blog gave me the kick I needed! Honestly, you have made my day!

  • Anti-Academia

    I must confess, “angry” might not exactly be the right word but something pretty close!! LOL!
    Motivating write up too!

  • K

    Great article! Stumbled upon this as I am currently looking to get my foot in the door. It seems ironic when people ask for prior industry experience???
    I’ve heard this time and again “Nobody cares about how much you published in academia or your leadership skills etc.” Well I think publishing does speak about your research capabilities and team+leadership skills, being part of organizations etc gives you the transferable skills that will come in handy when being part of a team under any setting.
    In the bigger scheme of things maybe these do not matter to industry jobs (I still don’t understand why), but nevertheless, in academic setting this is how PhDs/graduate students gather transferable skills/people skills and I think unfortunately, for what its worth, these experiences are undermined.
    How can one be convincing that they can adapt, have the transferable skills that will enable them to do well in the industry, especially when they are making a conscious choice to go from academia to industry?

    • NextScientist

      I think that having a good track record of publications only shows two things to industry: that you were successful in your scientific life and that you can write. However, writing a scientific paper does not guarantee that you can write some business document, let’s say, a sales letter.

      Some other transferable skill that can be of value to industry is giving presentations. More precisely, organising your information and presenting it in a logical way.

      Example: in an interview I had to prepare a presentation in 30 min to solve a problem a hypothetical customer might have. I approached it like a scientific presentation. First introduction of the problem, then a description of the possible solutions to the problem (methods) and why I would choose each one. Then the expected results of that solution (results) and a summary (conclusions). It worked out well.

      About being convincing that you can adapt to industry. You need to develop social skills, this is, talk and interact like you are not a weirdo. It sounds harsh and stereotypical, but that’s the stereotype some people have of scientists. You need to show them they are wrong. They know you are very smart. Can you show them you can be smart outside of your field of research? Can you understand a new problem easily?

      Cheers,
      Julio

  • Dreamer

    Last evening, I got two rejects.. from a big tech company and one of the big three consultancy. While soaking in the rejection, I came across this article which I thought was just another ’10 ways to pimp up résumé shit’. But I was wrong.. and after reading the article I found it as a reflection of all my thoughts and it really brought me back from my sunken feeling. Thanks!

    However, I am still double minded about hustling.. as forcing yourself upon HR (who btw don’t even understand half of our résumé) which is the only way to recruitment process will make things only worse. For those of us who are a bit old-fashioned and don’t rely on the social networking, an emphatic cover letter and a clear-cut résumé is the only way to go.

    It’s been only three weeks that I have actively started job search and this is four-and-half months before my PhD finishes. I know It can take a while but I am sure I will get a job I really want without any compromise. I will come back that day to share my experiences.

    • NextScientist

      Dreamer,

      maybe you should give social (media) networking, it allows to avoid HR in some cases. You can contact directly the head of a department and catch his interest, even if they don’t have a job opening at the moment.

      It took me 4-5 months of job search till I got a job in industry.

  • Richard

    Hi – good blog, very honest. I have finished my doctorate (social sciences) and am totally unsure of the level of job i should be applying for. Should I go for graduate training programmes or should I aim higher? What level did you go for on average and what did you get in the end? Thanks!

  • Alexandra

    Hello Julio, your article was exactly what I needed to hear. I have started my PhD wondering if I would like it and thinking I have enough time for trying before settling for my career. After the first year, I can say that I am sure I don’t want to continue in Academia. Now, my biggest doubt is whether I should spend 2-3 more years finishing the PhD or start working in the industry as soon as possible. I am 25 now and I feel that every year passing makes me a worse candidate for the job market. What would the advice of someone who has been through both be: to do it or to drop it?

    I have started applying to jobs in different countries in Europe to see what would my chances be. The results aren’t too encouraging. While you got 6 interviews from 20 job applications, I got none from almost the same number of chances. So I would like to ask you some things that might be relevant as “control variables”: is your PhD country your native one? Did you apply to jobs in any of these countries or to a third one?

    Thank you for your article and, hopefully, for your advice!

    • Samuel

      I’m more or less in the same boat as you. I’m currently in a Msc program, I’ll finish when I’m 24. At completion, I can apply for the PhD program which could translate to another 4-5 years. My reasons for wanting the PhD is that I want to do high level research in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry at a company like Genentech. I’m also not interested in academia b/c as Julio mentioned it’s essentially a “rat race”. Instead I want to focus on meaningful research that could eventually help cure cancer. Don’t get me wrong… I want to make a name for myself and contribute to scientific literature but I don’t want to feel like I’m on a competitive timeline to get tenure. Also, I want to make at least $100K (I live in the US — I’ll be happy w/ six-figure salary). I’m debating whether or not I can do all this with a Msc.
      I guess in your case, you have to ask yourself what are your reasons for getting a PhD. I listed mine above. I would also research the job market. See what career you actually want. Before anything you should see if your university awards a Msc for students who have completed a good portion of their PhD. You don’t want to walk away with nothing to show for it. You’ll have to weigh your options after you find that out.

      • Susan

        Tread carefully. A PhD is a significant time investment that generally doesn’t get you enough to land you those big pharma jobs. There are A LOT of PhDs in pharmacology/biochemistry/cancer biology etc out there (myself included) and there are NOT a lot of industry post docs. I know probably 20+ recent grads from these types of programs – only two of them have a CV that is likely to even make them a viable candidate for a position to get them in the door at a big pharma company. One because he made a MAJOR, impactful, amazing discovery that changes the game of genetics, the other because he *already worked in industry* before he got his PhD and got 3 patents during grad school, one for a marketable drug. He’s well into his 40s at this point.

        Your best bet is to try to land an internship in industry while you do a PhD. Which means finding a PhD advisor that is okay with you leaving them hanging at some point if you get an internship. Truth be told I’m not sure they exist, but that’s what you want. On top of that, look for an advisor who publishes prolifically in high-impact journals and is making the types of discoveries that generate patents. Get your name on these… 3,4, or 5 first author drug discovery type papers and your name on a few patents and you’d be marketable.

        If you don’t have your eye on the prize from the beginning, and work your ass off, and get lucky along the way, those high-level big pharma research jobs are a pipe dream.

        What’s your MSc in?

  • Simon

    As far as I can see I m a bit late for writing a comment on this as the article was written a while ago. However, I still want to do it because there is one major idea behind the article which I find completely disturbing. It is basically the idea that you are worth little and the company position is worth everything. I believe this is one of the major problems some people have when they start applying for jobs. They don’t look for the perfect match but for how they can become the companys perfect match. This is not the idea behind it! It reminds me of those shared flats applications you have to run through in Germany. You can say a thousand times you’ll be the clean, friendly, open-minded housemate they always wanted, it’s not about that. It s about being a proper match, you feeling well with the people surrounding you and bringing value into the team. For this purpose, you don’t have to change your CV! Of course it’s about selling yourself properly make your position stronger, not weaker! This is why I strongly disencourage the idea of working “for free”. It’s up to you guys, but don’t believe this will instantly strengthen your position.
    There are things in the article I completely agree with as applying on things you are interested in and showing your interest. However, I would go even further, I prepare myself with some proper research on what is being done exactly in the job profile and get 1.) some very good ideas about it 2.) prepare some questions of which I would really like to know the answer. A job interview without asking questions yourself is definitely not a good one.
    In principle, I would recommend a change of mindset. Leave the idea “how do I get this job” and go to “how do I find the job I will like to do, for which I will be excited when I go to bed in the evening. What are the parameters I need for that and how do I find out, that the job offer might provide this”. Think about it, you are applying for jobs for how long? A couple of months? Maybe a year? Well then compare that to how much time you’ll spend there…easy call folks! And if you worry about the money, just do some small thing in part time, you ve got a PhD, you ll find a small thing to earn enough to get over a couple of months.
    And the entire hustle thing…well of course one needs to buckle done and get some work done. But please take breaks too. If there is one thing I find terrifying then it’s mistakes that are being made because people wanted to “hustle” as much as possible. It’s about being smart, not extremely hard working. Usually a thoughtful approach is better than 15 poorly prepared ones.
    Just me 2 p

    • NextScientist

      Hey Simon, thanks for the detailed reply.

      My reasoning is that I liked what I did in my PhD. I looked for jobs where I could do similar things in industry, thus I expected I would also like those jobs. And yes, I think you’d better be working in something you really like. Life is too short to waste it on something you don’t enjoy!

      What I found out is that currently it’s a buyers market. Lots of candidates for few job openings. That’s why I think one needs to make himself attractive for employers.

      Smart preparation is key. It can save you a lot of time. From my experience though, I found that I learnt the most about the match with the job at the interview and not just by doing research on Google. Going there and having the chance to feel the environment and ask your questions gives you a much better impression about the job.

      Cheers,
      Julio

  • John

    Hi Julio,

    So here’s the deal. I’m a recent PhD graduate and I have been looking for a job for almost 2 years now with no success. From the start, I was looking into industrial positions because I want to get some industrial experience under my belt. I don’t mind going back sometime to academia one day but I don’t want to do it right now. I did all what you outlined above but to no avail. Every time I get interviewed for a position I am told that I was not the best fit (which is a cliche if you ask me) I’d rather get some details as to why and how to improve my skills if I lack some. Even positions where the advertised skills where exactly mine and far from reach from other candidates I have seen, I was still not the best fit (maybe the PhD had to do something with it ? The rest of the people where MSc’s). Even sessional teaching positions I have hard time getting into. Once a deadline for one of these passed and because no one applied but me, they extended the deadline. And I’m guessing they had only two candidates for it and guess whom they chose ? Not me ! haha. You might think that there’s a problem with me given all that but I assure you ask anybody who knows me and they will tell you that I’m competent, likable and personable. The problem for me is what to do now ? It’s easy not to lose hope after 6 months or a year, but 2 years ? Come on, I should have found anything by now. The only job I found was a postdoc with my PhD adviser which he was kind enough to offer me . Now when it’s over in a few months what do I do ? I won’t be able to afford the rent in the near future. I keep hustling but at one point it just become daunting.

  • nikhil-petro .

    hi Julio ..
    ……….first of all thanks a billion for such a honest post…i have done MS in Process design engineering from petrochemical bag-round and was in dilemma about Phd. But thanks for opening my eyes at right time because nowadays with my post graduate only i am facing so many problems like people think that i am highly qualified and will demand more salary .

    Brother i really had worst time in last one & half year in job hunting…there was a time when i was looking at ceiling fan for long time and thinking something weird because of frustration. now finally got a small job on contract basis in my desired domain.

    thanks again for such a hustle orientation and make me aware that i am not the only person who is suffering.

    thanks again

  • Violet Tong

    Hi, I’m Violet. I’m a PhD graduate with no working experience at all. My 1st love would be to get an industrial job; and all I have are rotten luck. It is not only tough to get a job in the industial world but academic as well for me; due to my lack of experience. Its very hard to stay positive after having to face countless number of rejections. It is so frustrating and depressing. So far i have rejected the only university who is willing to hire me because I thought this particular company was going to hire me (i have positive feedback from them). From then on, its a down hill trip for me for all the jobs i have applied.

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