Written by Jackie Johnson, PhD
Another day passed by.
I had no measureable progress in my experiments, but I was comfortable in my cozy academic cocoon.
No one in the lab was having breakthroughs.
We were all trudging along together, collectively keeping each other company in misery.
This was comforting.
The lab turned into one big codependent relationship.
As the calendar turned, I realized my birthday was coming up.
I hated this time of year.
My birthday was just another reminder that my career was going nowhere.
It was another reminder that I was in my thirties, with only the affluence of a student.
A reminder that I was living in career purgatory.
This was not where I had expected to be when I joined the upper echelons of academia years ago.
I couldn’t bear it anymore.
I wanted to leave, even if it meant being unemployed.
Those were my options—stay miserable or be unemployed.
There had to be another way.
I knew that there were alternative careers available but I didn’t know how to go about getting them.
I didn’t know where to start.
Still, I set my mind to it and created a job search strategy (or at least what I thought was a job search strategy).
My Pending Unemployment And Embarrassing Job Search Strategy
My job search strategy consisted of uploading resumes to job sites and waiting for interview offers to come in.
That was it—A to B.
That’s how it worked on the television shows I watched growing up.
So I agonized over my industry resume.
Crafting the perfect resume was the key to impressing hiring managers, I just knew it.
I listed all my publications, the conferences I attended, and every technical skill I could squeeze into one page.
I imagined dozens of offers to interview flooding my inbox.
Why did the senior postdocs in my lab always complain about the lack of positions for PhDs?
I found hundreds of positions that I was perfect for!
They were all online!
I applied to them all!
Another day passed by.
Not a single company responded.
That’s when I realized just how inefficient my job search strategy was.
I wasted all my effort on submitting resumes to general job sites where I was inadvertently competing against thousands of other applicants.
Not to mention, the angry resume robot ominously known as Applicant Tracking Software was ruthlessly weeding out my resume.
My job search strategy needed an overhaul.
After a lot of head-banging, I decided which industry positions were right for me, learned how to effectively create a resume that made it past job search engines, and presented myself professionally during interviews.
Following this job search strategy was a game-changer.
Within a month, I was invited to interviews with nearly every company I applied to and received multiple job offers at the same time.
Why You Need To Redesign Your Approach To Getting An Industry Job
You don’t need to trawl the Internet to figure out that academia will not provide you with the job security you deserve.
All you have to do is listen to the conversations at lunchtime.
Just look at the depressed faces of your labmates.
A recent Times Higher Education Workplace Survey found that half of academics are worried about redundancies and losing their jobs while the majority feel overworked, exploited, and ignored by management.
There is no incentive to stay in academia.
But your frustration is understandable.
The amount of hard work that goes into completing your PhD is immense.
And then you are told that obtaining a job outside of academia is going to be yet another struggle.
There are only so many hours in the day and you need to complete your thesis and write that next paper.
Yet, being unprepared for the next step in your career is the biggest mistake you can make.
It may feel like you shouldn’t have to do more than upload resumes in between incubations to get the job you deserve, but you absolutely do.
You have to start seeing writing and shipping off resumes as a distraction.
Instead, you have to start investing in your network and professional presence, and in designing an actual strategy for your job search.
Only then should you concern yourself with crafting the perfect resume.
3 Tips To Get Multiple Industry Offers While Still In Academia
According to Quint Careers, only 5% of job seekers obtain jobs through online advertisements.
And only 15-20% of all available jobs are ever publicly advertised in any medium.
Sit with that for a minute.
Let it sink in.
Do you now understand how much time you’re wasting by only uploading resumes to jobs you see online?
Do you now see how much you’re embarrassing yourself by continuing to do this?
Your time is too precious to waste on 5% odds.
Why not direct your attention to the other 95%?
Why not start attending networking events, leveraging LinkedIn correctly, and setting up informational interviews?
Strategically setting up informational interviews with industry professionals is critical to determining which career path is right for you.
It’s also a great way to build your network.
But before you can set up these interviews, you have to create a professional presence online, one that shows you’re ready to work in industry.
You must also display a higher level of professionalism offline at networking events and interviews.
Only then will having a compelling resume matter.
Here are 3 ways to redesign your job search strategy for a smooth transition into industry while still in academia …
1. Make LinkedIn work for you, not against you.
I had a LinkedIn account for years.
Most of my colleagues didn’t use LinkedIn at all.
I naively thought that this somehow already put me ahead, in terms of my professional online presence.
(This is what happens when you compare yourself against other people—you fool yourself.)
The truth is, I was VERY far behind in creating a professional presence for myself online.
A report by Statista found that during the last quarter alone, LinkedIn had 396 million members, up from the 364 million members last year.
That’s more people than the entire population of the United States.
This means nearly everyone has access to your professional background and future aspirations (or lack thereof) online.
Including recruiters and hiring managers.
This also means that the competition for getting industry jobs is fierce.
To my surprise, having a PhD and a few publications under your belt is not enough to get you noticed online.
Companies and recruiters come to LinkedIn to look for talent to fill specific needs, they don’t look for academic credentials.
I started to succeed when I began actively using LinkedIn to follow up with professionals.
I started to succeed when I adapted my LinkedIn profile to reflect the fact that I was ready to work in industry.
Instead of keeping up my low definition profile picture of myself working in the lab with my friend cropped out of it, I got an inexpensive professional headshot taken.
I created a headline that was simple but stood out from those of other PhDs by adding a personal interest.
I also added results-oriented bullet points to my professional summary and then added as many keywords as possible to my text.
I used keywords that I found in job postings for positions that I was applying to.
For example, I was interested in a Medical Writing career, so I read through various Medical Writing job advertisements and used them as a guide to tailor my LinkedIn profile.
This kind of strategic effort will draw recruiters and industry professionals to your profile.
On the other hand, not properly filling out your online profile will work against you.
Not filling out your profile will make you look lazy, arrogant, ignorant, or incompetent.
Why would a company hire someone who is lazy, arrogant, ignorant, or incompetent?
Don’t let imposter syndrome prevent you from marketing your accomplishments for fear of being exposed as a fraud.
You have tremendous value and are highly capable and able to work in any industry field.
Don’t hide your career goals in the off-chance your academic advisor will stumble upon your profile either.
Block him or her from seeing your profile if you’re worried about it.
And remember, you can land an industry job without their letter of recommendation.
2. Ask insightful questions and give ‘transferable skill-oriented’ answers.
Once I created a professional online presence, I started setting up informational interviews and attending networking events.
Suddenly, I started getting referrals and getting invited to interviews.
My first impression was that an interview was more of a technicality, and they would ask the same technical science questions that I was used to from my thesis defense.
I was completely wrong.
They didn’t ask me any technical questions.
Instead, this is what I heard…
“Tell us about a time when you were faced with an ethical situation, and how you reacted to it.”
“Ok, now tell us about your biggest failure.”
Err…do I really have to?
“Tell us about a time you made a mistake.”
I could feel the blood coming to my face.
I was beyond embarrassed.
I compensated by droning on about my academic papers, the nuances of my favorite proteins, the intricacies of the mouse studies I performed, and anything else science-related I could think of to fill the void.
If I just kept on talking, they would eventually stop asking questions.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
An interview is a chance to communicate your transferable skills and determine if the position is right for YOU.
It’s not just a formality.
It’s not just a quiz to see how well you’ve memorized interview questions that you read online either.
Take advantage of the days before an interview to prepare a list of insightful questions and to think about your transferable skills and how these skills apply to the job.
Ask questions that will get them talking and at the same time prompt them to give you insider information on what they’re looking for.
“Can you tell me about a previous job candidate you hired who did a great job at integrating into the company culture? What did they do?”
“Which interpersonal skills, in your eyes, are most important for working effectively with other professionals at the company?”
Those are real questions.
Also, study common behavioral interview questions and remember to answer using the STAR format: situation, task, action, result.
Set the scene, describe the purpose or problem, explain what you did, and what the outcome was.
Relate all your answers back to your transferable skills and the job requirements to show you have value to add to the company.
Very importantly, study your own resume.
Realize that the first time many interviewers will see your resume is when you sit down across from them at an interview.
Once you start talking, be concise and avoid using scientific jargon.
Know how to tell someone about your accomplishments in a few sentences.
Know your audience too.
If you are interviewing with a team of scientists, be prepared to answer more technical questions.
If you are interviewing with the CEO or hiring manager, be prepared to show that you are a cultural fit to the company.
Since you’re coming from academia, be prepared to answer common questions like, ‘Why this company?’ and ‘Why not stay in academia?’
Keep your answers professional and never speak ill of your academic advisor, no matter the circumstance.
All answers should be positive and in line with the company’s values.
Your goal is to present yourself with firm professionalism while also being personable.
This is true for interviewing as well as for networking.
After the interview or networking interaction is over, make sure you follow up to say thank you.
Follow up in a way that provides closure to the past interaction but leaves a future interaction open.
3. Create a compelling industry resume to complement your job search.
I did it!
I improved my LinkedIn profile and I connected with recruiters.
I attended networking events, set up informational interviews, and was even invited to in-person interviews.
Now, people were asking me for my resume.
So, I sent them an exquisitely drafted 5-page novella of all of my accomplishments, experiences, and expertise.
I knew they would be impressed with the 30+ conferences I attended, so I listed them all.
I listed all the jobs I had since I was an 18 year-old restaurant server in college.
I included a list of the abstracts I had written and a complete list of my academic publications.
My resume was deservingly trashed (likely before being read).
Why would I expect anyone to spend 30 minutes of their time to go through all my academic activities?
Remember, your resume is not being read.
It’s being skimmed.
But what are hiring managers and recruiters skimming for?
I thought they would skip over everything and go straight to my list of publications.
Then I realized the hard truth…
No one in industry cares about your publications.
Not even R&D hiring managers care.
I know this is hard to accept, but it’s true.
So what do they care about?
Companies care about numbers and tangible results, that’s it.
Your goal should be to paint a picture of the impact you’ve made in your past positions.
Not only does it sound more impressive, it shows you have an understanding of business acumen and industry trends.
It also shows you can see past your thesis and publications to the bigger picture.
Think in terms of increasing efficiency and effectiveness, meeting timelines, saving money, bringing in funding, hitting a budget, building relationships, and adhering to regulatory guidelines.
Whenever possible, add a figure to your result.
Percentages, dollar signs, ranges and frequencies.
These figures and symbols will draw the eye and grab people’s attention.
I know what you are thinking.
You spent the past ten years doing western blots, looking under a microscope, analyzing results, and yet have no quantifiable results.
Here are some examples:
“Composed 12 research manuscripts, wrote 10 award-winning abstracts, delivered 6 selected conference presentations, and contributed data that led to $750,000 in grant funding.”
“Developed 3 new methodologies for determining novel protein interactions, optimized 2 system-wide workflows that saved $20,000 in reagents, and established collaborations that led to the development of a new product that is now distributed to 8 countries.”
These examples are concise, use action verbs, and are more compelling than an entire page of publications.
Don’t be a shy introvert on your resume.
By being proud of your accomplishments, industry leaders will want you on their team so you can accomplish even bigger goals for them.
Getting a job outside of academia will not happen passively while you are trapped behind the lab bench. You have to make concerted efforts to prepare yourself for your transition. You have to create an effective job search strategy. The first step is to ensure that you are seen as an industry professional online and that you enhance your professionalism offline by setting up informational interviews and attending networking events. Only then will you be in a position to hand off your compelling resume to referrals and industry interviewers.
To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.