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.

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.

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.


Update

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 still 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 canceled, 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, 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.

End Of Update


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 studentswaiting 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 sweeter1.

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

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 maximize 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 recognize 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 maximize 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 a 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 to mention 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 maximizing your strengths.

Don’t you 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 is as valid today as  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.

Source: Next Scientist

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