3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

If you recently started your job search, you probably feel the pressure of proving that you’re a good fit for the industry roles you’re applying to. 

You have to carefully craft your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile, and prepare for countless interviews just to prove you’re  qualified for a position. 

This pressure can make you feel that employers hold all the power, and the only thing that matters is convincing them that you’re the best candidate for the role.

Don’t let this pressure make you neglect other key components of a successful career, like company fit. 

You’ll likely accept a position because you’re drawn to the work, but you’ll stay because you like the work environment.

Here’s what one of our members had to say about company fit after a their first transition:

In my first industry job search, I was so focused on what kind of career I wanted that I failed to thoroughly assess what kind of work environment was most aligned with my ideal professional lifestyle. 

Before I even finished my PhD, I received a job offer. I was so thrilled that I accepted immediately with resounding enthusiasm. 

After 8 months, I left the position. Not only was the company not a good fit, but the job itself did not align with my talents or my work style, leaving me unfulfilled and unproductive.  

My advice to other PhDs entering industry: have a clear idea of the kind of work environment you want and take your time with the job search. 

Don’t undersell your talents and jump at the first opportunity that comes along. You might regret it in the long-term.

Company Fit(ness) Matters More Than You Think

Most employees rate the work environment – type of company and organizational culture – as one of the top reasons they stay or leave a given position. 

And for good reason. Being in an environment that nurtures your talents and allows you to perform at your best is crucial to succeeding in any career.

While this may seem self-evident, the recent pandemic has shed further light on how problematic a poor work environment actually is, and has empowered many, particularly those in academia, to reassess their working conditions.  

We spend most of our waking hours at work. So, why do we overlook the importance of enjoying our work environment? 

Would you live in a home that caused you undue stress, made you anxious, or diminished your joy? I doubt it. Which is why most people take home-buying very seriously, carefully weighing their options. 

Deciding which company you call “home” is also a big decision and you should treat it as such. If you make the right choice, your next career move won’t be a mere stepping-stone, but the start of a long and prosperous career.

3 Company Characteristics You Should Consider To Find The Right Fit

Identifying your best company fit begins with self-assessment.  

Think of a time when you were highly productive – what was unique about that situation? Were you in a work environment that nurtured innovation or had explicit methodologies in place? Was your work independent or team-oriented? Were you working as part of a large, highly structured organization or a small group that lacked a formal chain of command? 

The answer to these questions will allow you to assess how and where you do your best work. A company that offers a worked environment that aligns with your answers is likely your best fit.

Below, I will take a look at three major attributes you should consider when assessing company fit. 

1. Size

You may not think that the size of the company you work for is a big deal – but think again. 

In academia, lab size is intrinsically limited and even the largest academic labs barely equate to the size of a small company. In industry, company size ranges from a hundred to tens of thousands of employees.

The size of a company impacts the flow of production and communication and, in turn, how people work. 

Larger companies are more likely to have well-defined divisions of labor and reporting structures. Employees’ responsibilities closely adhere to a specific job description, and careers follow a predefined path. 

If you enjoy a highly structured environment, want a defined role where you can hone a desired skill set, or you breathe easier having an established route for upward mobility, a large company might be a good fit. 

However, if you thrived in a small startup lab where you were required to wear many hats and enjoyed a close-knit group of colleagues during your time in academia, a small company may be the place for you.

2. Hierarchy

If you’ve never had an industry job, the concept of hierarchy or power structure, might be new to you. 

After all, hierarchy is almost nonexistent in academia – there’s a PI and then there’s everyone else below them. 

However, in industry, there are different hierarchical structures. Some may be organized by division or department based on function, geographical location, and/or project type while others are more fluid or flat.

In general, hierarchy is highly intertwined with the size of the company with equally sized companies often adopting similar company structures.

Large companies often follow a strict hierarchy that includes multiple layers of management (senior, junior, middle). 

In this type of hierarchy, lines of communication flow from top to bottom (or vice versa) and each employee has an assigned reporting manager. In a strict hierarchy, each employee has a clearly defined role. 

If you prefer structure, distinct levels of seniority, and a clearly defined role, a company with a strict hierarchy may be your winning option. 

Small companies are likely to adopt a more fluid or flat structure where the lines between roles and management levels are less distinct. 

In this type of structure, communication is more fluid, employees may take on a broader range of responsibilities and may experience more frequent operational changes. 

If you yawn at the notion of rigid processes, love the idea of taking on new and unknown challenges, and want to have many options for career progression, look for companies with more fluid or flat hierarchies.

Keep in mind that not all large companies will have a strict hierarchy and not all small companies will have a fluid structure. This is something you should research beforehand.

3. Culture

The term company culture refers to the personality of an organization: its values, attitudes, goals, and overall ideology. 

In essence, it defines the company’s objectives and establishes how these objectives will be met. 

It’s possible that when you think of company culture images of office parties, ping-pong tables, and the occasional casual Friday come to mind. 

But these are only the surface, true company culture lies in the intangibles. 

Three distinct features will provide you with insight into a company’s culture: behavior, symbols, and systems.

Behavior is how the organization and its employees act, speak, and carry themselves. 

During a job interview, observe how the employees communicate. Their tone. Their words of choice. Their engagement in the conversation. 

An engaged  employee who chooses words that align closely with the company’s core values is more likely to be satisfied with their job than one who seems disengaged and uses words with a negative connotation.

Symbols are subtle features of a work environment – company logos, wall hangings, personal workspaces, seating arrangements – that communicate what a company values and prioritizes. 

Is the workspace sterile and devoid of decor? Are employees working in an open space or behind closed doors? Is the hierarchy within the company evident based on seating arrangements or space allocation? 

Taking note of these seemingly irrelevant features will help you to determine whether you would be comfortable working in that environment. 

Systems are the processes a business puts in place to achieve its objectives. These can include anything from organizational structure and infrastructure to employee recognition and performance management. 

To gain insight into how a company operates, you can inquire about the process the company uses to take a project from inception to market. This will give you an opening to discuss the company structure in more detail. 

You may think gaining insight into company culture before getting hired is difficult, but the information is out there if you take the time to look for it.

Most businesses have a company website and a presence in social media like Twitter or LinkedIn. You can also go deeper by looking at review sites like GlassDoor. 

The company’s website can give you a broad overview of its immediate goals and where the company is headed in the future. 

Social media and online reviews can also provide you with information on their priorities, how they posture in the public eye, and how both current and previous employees rate their experience. 

These resources are helpful, but keep in mind that many companies are guilty of virtue signaling (making statements not backed by action for the sole purpose of improving their public standing) and that those most apt to leave a review are current or former employees who are dissatisfied with their experience.

You can also learn a lot about the inner workings of a company by performing informational interviews with current and former employees. 

Finally, take full advantage of your interview process. While the primary aim of an interview is to assess your fitness for a particular position, this is also your chance to better understand the company’s organizational behavior and decide if it’s a good fit for you.

Ask questions that promote engagement with the interviewer. For example, instead of asking “How is the company culture?”, you could ask “If a newspaper wanted to write an article about the company’s culture, what would it have to include?” 

Asking more pointed and creative questions will increase the likelihood of a candid response while simultaneously demonstrating your knowledge of industry etiquette.You can also get some intel on business behavior by showing up early to a site visit. This will allow you to observe people’s behavior and determine if the environment matches your desired professional lifestyle.

Concluding Remarks

Success and long-term fulfillment require more than doing a job you enjoy or receiving a good paycheck. It’s also not as simple as working for a Fortune 500 company or a rapidly growing startup. Your ability to advance in a field depends largely on how well your goals, values, and workstyle align with the company that employs you. To identify your company fit, you should consider the characteristics of a company that impact how you perform your work, such as its size, its hierarchy, and its culture, and compare them to your desired professional lifestyle. This will allow you to craft a more conscientious job search strategy and, ultimately, to land not only your ideal job, but your ideal workplace.

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.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
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.

Similar Articles

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re overqualified for an industry job. PhDs are lab rats and can’t understand business. You can’t get a job without industry experience. Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? Have you been looking for an industry job unsuccessfully and have reached a point where you ask yourself if your PhD has any value whatsoever? These sentences are myths, commonly said by either academics who don’t understand anything about industry, or by other job candidates who don’t want to compete with PhDs. Hiring managers for PhD-level industry positions want the best candidates possible. After…

4 Skills PhDs Have That Employers Are Desperately Seeking

4 Skills PhDs Have That Employers Are Desperately Seeking

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The number of PhDs wanting to transition out of academia increases every year. Initially, most of these PhDs were recent graduates and postdocs.  But as the crisis in academia has gotten worse, we are seeing a lot of adjunct and even tenured professors wanting to leave. They feel professionally unfulfilled in academic positions because they are overworked, work in uninspiring roles, and/or are paid marginal academic stipends, fellowships, and wages.  Far too many PhDs are unable to find any meaning or joy in their academic careers, which negatively impacts both their professional and personal lives. Unfortunately, many of these PhDs end up…

The Exciting (or, Dreadful) First 90 Days Of A New Job. Here's What To Expect

The Exciting (or, Dreadful) First 90 Days Of A New Job. Here's What To Expect

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, I thought I could jump into my first industry position ready to hit the ground running. Much to my surprise, this was not the case.   During the first few months of my new position, I felt like I was drowning. Everything I thought I knew about my field, how research is conducted, and how companies operate was turned on its head. I was not prepared for this major shift, and it showed. I waivered between trying to impress my managers and sitting mute in meetings, intimidated by everyone in the room. If I had known what…

The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Nothing could prepare me for the shock I received walking into my first industry onboarding experience. Literally, everything was different from what I had experienced in academia. The processes, the culture, the pace – absolutely everything. I also had no idea what onboarding meant. I heard the word tossed around but, to me, it was just the process you went through to get all the mandatory paperwork out of the way. That was so far from the truth. My first onboarding experience lasted almost 6 months. Yet, throughout that whole process, I had no idea that I was still being…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When you envision yourself in an industry role, what do you see? Like many PhDs, you might imagine yourself in a research position where you are developing and performing experiments, analyzing data, presenting the data to your research team, and so on. After all, that’s what your PhD has trained you for, right? But if the thought of spending a life-long career conducting experiments fills you with dread, start looking beyond the bench. There are plenty of fulfilling career paths within Research and Development (R&D) that keep you close to the innovation. As one Cheeky Scientist member recently shared:  …

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, you may think that Research and Development is the only department in industry that hires PhDs. But the reality is, your skills are needed in every area of industry. That means that every single department within a company is seeking PhD-level candidates. In fact, there are five core industry career tracks that can provide PhDs with meaningful and rewarding work: Information and Data Management (this is a broad category that includes everything from Patent Analyst and Informatics Specialist roles to Medical Writing and Data Scientist roles), Research and Development, Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, Classical Business (e.g., Management…

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What industry position can I apply to? That’s one of the most common questions PhDs ask once they decide to leave academia. What you probably don’t realize is that you have many options when it comes to choosing a career. So, the real question is not what industry position you can apply to, but what industry position is the right fit for you. Which position better matches your professional lifestyle and career goals?  In previous blogs we’ve discussed how to establish your desired professional lifestyle and how to use it to evaluate your target career track and companies. In the…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.