5 Things That Keep PhDs From Getting Jobs

So we’re venturing out into a bit of an esoteric topic this week, covering a rare but difficult job seeker, trapped halfway between academia and the real world: the PhD graduate looking to leverage their background into a career in business.

Starting a new career can be a confusing process for any professional, especially if you’re transferring into a new industry. The path is especially difficult for PhDs trying to transition into a career in business. This is because the worlds of academia and business are very different. It’s also because most Universities offer little or no career training for graduate students. As a result, newly minted PhDs who opt out of academia are tossed into the business world with no clue how to navigate it. They’re given a few networking tips and told to send out resumes over and over again. But nothing happens. In fact, the number of PhDs who will have a business job at or soon after graduation is below 40%. And the number of Life Sciences PhDs who will have a business job at graduation is below 20%. The truth is most PhDs will never get a job in business even though they’re doing all the right things. The problem is they’re doing the wrong things too. The key to starting a great career in business learning what not to do. Here are 5 things to avoid:

1. Networking with your competitors only.

Most PhDs network exclusively with other PhDs. That’s like dressing up as a needle and jumping into the middle of a haystack. You’re never going to be noticed at these events. You’ll never stand out. Everyone is just like you. Not only that, the people at these events want the exact same jobs as you. You’re not going to hear about any job opportunities because the other PhDs are going to keep those job opportunities to themselves. Now, consider going to a networking event outside of your direct field of interest. Let’s say you go to a meet-up for architects, lawyers, business executives, painters, real estate agents, etc. First, the people you meet are going to be impressed that you have a PhD. “Wow, a PhD, I haven’t met another doctor here before.” When’s the last time you heard that? You’ll never hear it in a crowd full of PhDs.

Second, because you’re different, you’ll be memorable. If someone at that event hears of a PhD-specific opportunity or knows of one already, they’re going to tell you. They have no reason not to tell you because their interests are different than your own. When networking, go to events where you’ll stand out and where you won’t be seen as a threat. As a side note, this is also one of the biggest reasons you should learn how to network in graduate school. When you’re student, no one sees you as a threat. But as soon as you enter the job market, you get a target put on your forehead. Now, no one wants to share information with you. Now, information comes at a price.

2. Inflating your title and your attitude.

A lot of PhDs think playing up certain things on their resume or CV will help them connect with people at networking events and get a job. But it won’t. It just turns people off. Besides, if you have a PhD, it’s not a lack of hard skills or credibility that will keep you from getting a job in business. It’s a lack of communication skills and a limited network that will keep you from getting a job. Instead of inflating your title or acting defensive about what you’ve accomplished, be real. Talk about the real people and companies you’ve worked with or the real learning experiences you’ve had. Then talk about what you really want and what you’re willing to do to get it.

3. Waiting for other people to contact you.

No one is going to chase you down to get a job. This might happen later on in your career but not when you’re in graduate school or doing a postdoc. The ball is always in your court. It’s up to you and you alone to drive the hiring process forward. No one will do it for you. Especially if you’re trying to transition from academia to business. The fact that you’re changing industries adds a new, extra-heavy layer of inertia to the process. This means you’ll have to follow up with people you meet at networking events, follow up with hiring managers before interviews, follow up with them afterwards, follow up, follow up, follow up. Following up is the only activity that people in business respect. And it’s the only activity that will remove the many barriers standing between you and the job you want.

4. Be an interviewee and not an interviewer.

Most PhDs prepare for interviews like they’re preparing for a test. They study up on potential questions they might get asked or they practice a short chalk talk, obsessing over formal inquiries they think they’ll get from the audience. The problem is that employers of top companies don’t care how you handle their questions as much as they care about how you handle yourself. No one is going to sit across from you with a big red buzzer waiting for you to give a wrong answer to some technical question. Employers don’t want to know if you can recite information, they want to know if you can you find problems, find solutions, and communicate them both effectively.

Getting an interview is an invitation to interview a company, not an invitation for you to be interviewed. The best way to show you can find the problems and solutions is to turn the tables on the interviewer. Don’t let them interview you. Interview them. Investigate them. Ask them about their company and the position you’re up for like you’re digging for gold. Seek out everything there is to know and really determine whether or not this job is right for you—not the other way around.

5. Undervaluing yourself.

If you don’t see yourself as valuable, why should anyone else see you as valuable? A lot of graduate students and postdocs go into interviews ready to accept anything that’s offered to them. This is a mistake. Employers can always tell if you’re desperate. They’re going to assume you’re desperate by default because you’ve been working for almost nothing in academia for years. It’s up to you to prove to them, and yourself, that you’re not desperate. You have to know your own value. Remember, you’re highly trained. You’re in the top 2% of the world in terms of education and academic training. The key is being confident in yourself and your worth without acting defensive or like you’re entitled to anything. This can be hard. Especially if you’ve been mistreated by your academic advisor or beat down by the academic system in anyway.

Put some time into understanding you’re worth and showing it in the right way. Start thinking and acting differently than most of the other PhDs who are trying to get a job in business. Go to networking events outside your field, follow up with people consistently, prepare for interviews as the interviewer—not the interviewee—and, most importantly, be yourself.

Good luck!

If You’re A PhD And Do This, You’ll Never Get A Job | Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D. via Cheeky Scientist.

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