11 Most Self-Destructive Excuses PhDs Make During Their Job Search (#7 Is Pretty Arrogant)

I thought I had it all figured out when I started my industry job search from academia. I had several excuses.

Before I even started, I told myself “There’s no rush Isaiah, you have plenty of time to get hired” and “You have a PhD and on top of this it’s a STEM PhD, you will be able to get a job in no time.”

Then, of course, when I didn’t get any responses from the resumes that I uploaded online, I continued to tell myself lies like “There’s not jobs out there right now so I should just wait to apply anywhere else” and “My career is already successful since I’m getting a PhD”, and even “Academia will be there for me …I can always do a postdoc.”

Deep down I knew these were all excuses, yet I kept telling myself more and more lies as time went on and as my career progress continued to stall…

“It’s not fair. I can’t get hired because I don’t have industry experience.” 

“Working in industry is foolish anyway because they can just kill your project.”

“I’m going to take a breather and wait until I figure out the right job for me.”

“I don’t have time to do anything more for my job search. I have to get these experiments done.”

On and on the game went and as the deafening silence to my efforts continued, I started to thrash mentally between being angry and feeling sorry for myself. It wasn’t until I realized that my excuses were the problem that things began to get better. Once I stopped making excuses, I started making progress in my job search. 

The Odds May Be Against You, But You Shouldn’t Be Against Yourself

Studies published in Recruiter Magazine and Glassdoor show that the hiring pipeline from a job candidates point of view is abysmal. Just look at how quickly this funnel tapers …first, a best-case average of 250 applicants apply for any available job online. Second, an average of 4-6 of these candidates get any kind of interview. Just like that, 98% of the candidates are ELIMINATED. 

That’s the best case scenario. 

Jobs posted by large companies like Pfizer, Intel, Dow chemical, and other companies that a PhD would love to work at can receive up to 2,000 applications per posting. 

On top of this, an employer at the same company might find the three or four top candidates they’re looking for and want to bring on a video interview after just 6 calls.

Now, your odds of getting through are just 0.3%. 

You Can Beat The Odds If You Don’t Make Excuses

But, here’s the good news – you still can get hired. After all, the odds that you, as a job candidate would have a PhD are only 1.68% because only 1.68% of the population has a PhD (Reference.com). 

The majority of PhDs rely on internal (bad) advice from career counselors at their University who have never worked in industry. Thus, they get stuck chasing low paying postdocs for an average of 6-10 years (Nature Biotechnology), or end up unemployed (60-80% of PhDs end up unemployed at Graduation). 


You can be different. By continuing to leverage external resources and by having a structured approach to your job search, whereby you follow up on 50-100 job leads at once versus the 1-2 job leads that most PhDs will follow up on before quitting. 

You can also leverage the power of networking with PhDs already working in industry by joining the Cheeky Scientist Association because networking and setting up informational interviews with PhDs in industry increases your odds of getting hired from 0-2% as shown above, to 60-70%. 

11 Self-Destructive Excuses PhDs Make During Their Job Search

1. The “I don’t have time for a job search” excuse

This is the PhD who says “I don’t know where to start in my job search and I don’t have time for it anyway because I’m busy in the lab, or classroom, or…”

You and Einstein and Aristotle all had 24 hours in a day. You and the PhDs who have successfully transitioned into industry before you all had 24 hours in a day. 

Why are you making the illogical argument with yourself that you don’t have time? 

What you mean to say is that you won’t MAKE time for your job search.  You won’t re-adjust your priorities because you’re too scared of upsetting a professor or a PI or someone else, which is really just an excuse for not having the courage to take a stand for your job search. 

Do you want to improve your career, or only your PI’s career

You can make time for Netflix, or a phone call to family or friends, or surfing the internet, or reading another research paper or doing 100 other things in academia that are never going to get you hired in industry, or you can finally make your job search your #1 priority. 

Besides, if you’re serious about leaving academia anyway – why are you still prioritizing it in the first place?

2. The “Industry is the dark side” excuse. 

This is the PhDs who says, “An industry job search isn’t fair. In fact, industry isn’t fair at all. It’s not noble either. It’s the dark side.” 

Academia is full of lifetime academics passing on nonsense like “Industry is not ideal for PhDs because you can have your project killed at any time.” 

…yeah, if the project is a failure (unlike in academia where failed projects can stay on life support for years or even decades).

This false disdain for industry is a sign of ignorance (and weakness). Lifetime academics are only showing disdain for an industry job search because they have failed to get hired in industry and now they want you to fail too. If they can’t do something themselves, they don’t want you to do it either. This kind of academic mindset is what holds too many PhDs back from getting hired in industry.

Life isn’t fair. Your job search certainly won’t be fair. So, why critique it? 

Why show disdain for it? Too many PhDs would rather consider a job search or critique a jobs search, than execute a job search. 

Stop evaluating. Start taking action. You are where you are because of a lack of action, not because the job market is too challenging and not because someone else didn’t do something for you. 

Wake up to this fact and quit creating rationale for why an industry job search is a poor choice, when it is you who are poor and stuck in academia.  

3. The “A job search is an impossible task” excuse.

This is the PhD who says “A job search is a giant undertaking and the process is so mammoth that just thinking about it overwhelms me.” 

What? – and getting a PhD isn’t a giant undertaking? Of course it is. If you can get a PhD, you can get a job. The problem is that you worked really hard to master your field as a PhD and now you think you shouldn’t have to work hard anymore- excuses. 

News flash – you will always need to work hard …at least if you want to keep growing in your career. Let go of the excuses.

Getting hired in industry involves the same 4-step process as anything else: 

Step 1: Get off your high horse and quit feeling sorry for yourself. 

Step 2: Humble yourself and approach the challenge as a student who is open to learning.
Step 3: Spend time daily learning something and immediately taking action to apply what you learned. 

Step 4: Achieve your goal. 

4. The “I haven’t found the right job yet” excuse. 

This is the PhD who says, “First, I need to choose the perfect job for me, but again I must make sure it’s perfect, then I need to write a perfect resume then the perfect LinkedIn profile, and then…” 

Your resume, LinkedIn profile, networking approach and any other part of your job search are NEVER going to be perfect. Never

And even if you do perfect something related to your job search it will be obsolete in a couple of weeks or ineffective when used out of context. 

For example, you might make the so-called perfect resume for one job posting but that resume will not be perfect for any other job posting because each resume should be targeted to each individual job posting by the keywords in that one posting exactly. 

As such, get over your perfectionism, which is just a screen for your fear of failure anyway, and start executing. 


5. The “I need a guarantee first before I invest in my job search” excuse.

This is the PhD who says, “I don’t want to invest in my job search until I can be 100% certain that what I do will result in a job offer.”

Let me get this straight – you don’t want to work hard until you know that your hard work will pay off. Hmm …has all of your hard work getting your PhD paid off for you yet?

Likely not or you wouldn’t be reading this. 

Can it pay off? Yes, but only if you stop waiting for guarantees. 

There are no guarantees in life, those are excuses. Instead, you have to focus on what you can control. You have to start betting on yourself and your ability to get things done over and over again. 

Notice that I didn’t say focus on your ability to think things through. 

Thinking is not the same as doing. 

Thinking about your job search and playing out scenarios in your head hoping to think up the best possible option – or the option that’s certain to work – is NOT going to advance your job search. Action is going to advance your job search. 

6. The “I’m already successful because I have a PhD” excuse. 

This is the PhD who says “I don’t need to plan the next step in my career because I’m already successful as a PhD and even though I’m poor, underpaid and nobody knows me, my work is noble, right?” LOL – wait, what? 

You’re successful now as a nobody in academia? You have a thesis or maybe a few papers that won’t make any difference in the world whatsoever?

I know that sounds harsh but guess what – the best research and the highest impact, most cutting edge data comes out of industry now, not academia. 

While you’re sharing instruments and borrowing reagents, and begging for funding in academia, high-powered labs and companies are moving at light speed with robotics and algorithms that have replaced you and your pipette –  and even your mind in part. 

You face the choice of having an unknown and unsuccessful career in academia or breaking out to get a job in industry and finally having an impact on the world. 

Don’t fool yourself into believing anything different. 

7. The “Everyone will want to hire me because I have a PhD” excuse. 

This is the PhD who says “Everyone wants to hire me because I have a PhD in blah blah blah…” Here’s the thing about industry and the entire world outside of academia – they don’t care about your academic publications, your thesis that only 5 people read, letters of recommendation from professors who have never done anything outside of academia, or your niche academic background. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that the hard work you did to get published or to get your PhD was for nothing. 

It means that you have to apply it differently. Very differently

Your PhD alone will not get you hired. Your publications, recommendation letters, or niche background won’t help you either. 

You might be a top computational analytical chemist but in industry, they’re not looking for someone with that niche background. Instead, they’re looking for a “Scientist II” or  at best, a “Senior Chemist”. 

Do you understand the difference? 

Do you understand the problem?

 Your academic mindset is what is holding you back from being hired. 

8. The “Academia will eventually pay off for me” excuse.

This PhDs says, “I’ve seen other people get into professorships so I still have a chance, and sure, all the professors I know are miserable and beg for funding all day, but things will be different for me.” 

Really? They will be different? How? 

More postdocs and teaching assistants are losing funding than ever before. Fewer PhDs are getting hired at graduation than ever before. Fewer full-time professorships exist than ever before. Even tenured professors are getting canned. 

With over 650,000 academic jobs lost last year alone in the U.S. alone (Chronicle), there is no future left for you or any PhD in academia. 

Academia has turned into a factory of hundreds of thousands of PhD students, postdocs, and expendable contract and adjunct professors propping up the few remaining full-time professorships that exist. 

Get out of this factory. 

You are nothing but cheap labor to the academic elite. 

9. The “I have plenty of time to start my job search later” excuse. 

This is the PhD who says, “I am early in my graduate school career and have plenty of time to worry about my job search later, there’s no rush to start building an industry network now or to start planning my career trajectory.” 

Wow, it’s funny how many PhDs underestimate the time it takes to get into a top industry job. Did you know the average industry salary for a PhD who makes their transition successfully is $91,112. 

Do you think that industry employers just hand out this kind of money freely? 

Did you really think you’d have time to execute your job search later, like when you’re doing your thesis or when your postdoc runs out of money? 

That is the WORST time to search for a job and to start building an industry network. By then, it’s too late. 

The average industry job search can take a PhD 18-24 months, especially when they try to do it by themselves. 

Waiting is a one way ticket to ending up unemployed. 

10. The “I’m too sad or frustrated” excuse.

This is the PhD who says, I knew I couldn’t get hired in industry without industry experience.” Or, “I knew I couldn’t get hired without a visa.” 

Or, “I knew they wouldn’t hire someone with my PhD background.” 

Or, “I knew it wasn’t going to work out.”

No one ever told you that a job search would be easy. 

A job search is very challenging and it involves many steps that must be executed correctly. You will face rejection, especially if you’re trying to do it alone and especially if you waited too long in your career to get access to an industry network. You will feel fear, anxiety, a sense of loss and rejection, anger and even sadness in your job search. 

But guess what – you’re going to feel these emotions during your life anyway. 

At least by engaging in your job search head on you are CHOOSING what is going to make you feel this way instead of just letting life happen to you. 

Would you rather face these emotions due to being unemployed and wasting your PhD, and having your career stall in complete failure? Or, would you rather face them on your way to improve your career and life for yourself? Stop with the excuses.

The choice is yours. 

11. The “I’m special and don’t need to follow the process” excuse. 

This is the PhD who says, “I know networking and getting referrals is important but I’m going to try to get hired on my own first. Sure, I might waste 6 months but at least I don’t have to talk to anyone else.” 

You will never get hired into a top industry job, or any industry job for that matter by living in a bubble. 

In fact, if you’re in academia, look around you. Look around at the lack of success. Look around at the silence and the negativities. Look around at the meager resources and the lack of funding. 

All of this is caused by a failure in the academic system – failure to teach you and other PhDs the importance of building up a powerful network of peers and professionals. 

Instead, academia teaches you to not only be critical of your data and work, which can be healthy for avoiding confirmation bias, but to be critical of others. 

Academia teaches you to push others down as a means of feeling better about yourself. There’s no other way to feel successful in academia. So, many lifetime academics keep you pitted against others as a means of distracting you from being critical of the system that’s using you as cheap labor. These are just excuses.

Professional relationships are the key to your success. They are even the key to success in academia. 

Science, Nature, and Cell have published articles confirming that it’s NOT the best science or research of any kind that gets the most funding. Instead, it’s the labs and departments and professors who are the most well connected. 

Love it or hate it, your success depends on building professional relationships. Without them, your career will fail.

Concluding Remarks

The longer you keep making excuses, the longer you will stay in academia, and the more difficult it will be to land a top industry position. You have what it takes to transition into the role of your dream, but you have to take your job search into your own hands. Set the elitism apart, ditch the excuses and hold yourself accountable to your job search. You will only get the industry position you deserve once you stop making excuses. 

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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