4 Powerful Ways To Communicate Your PhD Value To Industry Employers

What’s the biggest gap that you have when it comes to transitioning into industry? How do you communicate your value?

This is a common question I like to ask PhDs. And, very often, I get the following answer: 

Well, I’m not sure how to position myself for industry.

What this actually means is that you don’t know how to communicate your value to potential employers. 

You probably only know how to talk about your skills in academic terms. You only know how to talk to other academics, but industry employees don’t really care for that type of language.

This leaves many PhDs wondering if they even have any value outside of their academic niche. 

There is a mental component to this doubt because as PhDs, we are more prone to have imposter syndrome than the general population. 

But the biggest component is the language you are using. Once you start communicating your value using a language that resonates with industry employers, you will see results in your job search. 

So, what makes you, as a PhD, valuable in industry?

This question is difficult to answer. You are trained to be very aware of the aspects where you’re lacking, but not so much on the aspects where you excel.

PhDs are constantly comparing themselves to the top 2% of the population and are constantly focusing on their weaknesses.

This is a great way to approach your data and information, always anticipating weaknesses and avoiding confirmation bias, but it is not the right way to approach your job search and your life in general.

If you want to succeed in your industry transition, you need to be aware of your value and know how to communicate it using a language that resonates with industry employers.

This is what one of our members had to say about the impact that communicating your value in the right way can have in your job search. 

Resumes, interviews, portfolios, and all forms of professional communication are ways to communicate your skills and expertise in a relatable manner. Learning how to convince people from different backgrounds is really a skill that we all need to practice often. As PhDs, we all have what it takes to do the job, but the most important thing is to let others know this, which is why we need to learn to speak their language (aka sound professional). The process is stressful, so make an effort to keep your mind and body healthy and always try to be positive. This community has great support and help you remember your value as a Ph.D.!

Communicating Your PhD Value Requires You To Speak In Terms Of Your Transferable Skills

Employer survey studies show time and time again that the most desired skills for industry positions are not technical. This is especially true for PhD-level positions.

This applies to all PhD, no matter if you come from a STEM or non-STEM background. 

If you plan to wow employers with your knowledge of HPLC, machine learning, or some other niche skills you developed in academia, you need a new strategy.

Your technical skills have little value in the industry. New algorithms and robotic systems are invented everyday and they will make whatever you’re doing in academia obsolete. 


So, the first step you need to take to change the way you communicate your value is to stop focusing on specialty technical skills and instead learn how to highlight your transferable skills. 

The second step is to stop using technical jargon and communicate your value using everyday language that hiring managers without a PhD can understand.

Once you know how to convey the value you bring to industry, you need to start communicating that value everywhere; in your LinkedIn profile, your resume, during informational interviews, at networking events, and of course during the interview process.

Learn to communicate your value. You will get hired very quickly. 

4 Ways To Strongly Impress Your PhD Value Upon Industry Employers

So, how do you identify what you actually bring to the table and, more importantly, how do you communicate your value to employers?

In the following section, I will discuss 4 things that every PhD, no matter their background, can do and I will show you how those abilities translate to the industry setting.

This will help you convey your value right away when talking to industry employees.

1. You can identify and solve problems

The three more sought-after skills across industries are critical thinking, complex problem solving, and correct decision making. 

In other words, industry employers want people who can correctly identify problems, determine which problem must be solved first, and actually solve the problem. As a PhD, you excel in all three of these areas, never forget that. 

Regardless of your background, you are an expert researcher. 

You are highly trained in identifying problems and finding solutions to those problems.

Think about all the uncountable hours, days, weeks, months, years, even decades, you’ve spent trying to find the answers to the world’s toughest, unknown questions. 

You know how to attack these questions from every angle. You know how to follow a lead through dozens of academic journal articles, eight book references, countless plots, barely readable figures published 10 or more years ago, just to prove some minute aspect of your overall hypothesis. 

So, how would you communicate that to employers? You can say: “My PhD has given me the ability to identify problems much more quickly than other candidates. And I can find solutions to those problems. I’m trained at problem isolation and synthesis. I can come up with solutions to those problems and make a recommendation.

Employers deeply value this, no matter the industry role. So, make sure you communicate this at every step of the hiring process.


2. You can wrangle uncertainty

If you have a PhD or are getting a PhD, you have spent a long time working in the middle of uncertainty.

Having no idea when your next grant is going to be funded. When your next paper is going to get past that third reviewer. When your committee is going to finally give you the green light to defend your thesis. 

You might not even know if the project you’re working on has an answer at all. Everything you’re doing, your life’s work in academia could be proven untrue at any time.

You have learned how to manage this constant uncertainty. Maybe you have reached a point where you’re comfortable with it, or you thrive on it because you know that without uncertainty discovery would be impossible.

Most job candidates don’t understand the relationship between uncertainty and creation.  But industry relies on innovation. Companies that can’t innovate are put out of the market.

Have you told employers that you have the ability to handle uncertainty? If not, you should. 

You can say: “I’m very good at dealing with uncertainty and continuing to work in the face of it.

Most job candidates really struggle with this. They need an absolute guarantee before they’ll work hard. 

As a PhD, you just need to know what’s possible. Maybe have a sense of autonomy. Know that you’re going after something that’s going to have a bigger impact on humanity. 

This is extremely important for a company looking to innovate. 

3. You can innovate to create new knowledge

I remember one of my thesis committee members telling me that the difference between leaving graduate school with a master’s degree versus a PhD was that a master’s degree is granted to those who have mastered a field while a PhD is granted to those who have added to a field, who had pushed a field forward.

That’s why less than 2% of the population has a PhD. 

Adding to a field is hard.

You have spent years creating information and months putting it together into a hundred page story called your thesis. Just so five other people could read it. This kind of tenacity is very uncommon.

Many employees can’t even regurgitate information. They can’t even do a book report. 

You can do that and much, much more. You can push a field forward, come up with strategies for innovation. This is one of your most valuable skills. Never forget that. 


4. You can learn things quickly

Have you ever communicated to an employer how quickly you comprehend things, how fast you learn?

You’ve maybe heard me say that “PhD” stands for doctor of philosophy and “philosophy” stands for knowledge and the ability to ascertain knowledge. PhDs are quite literally a doctor of learning. You know how to learn.

This is something you can tell employers: “I can learn extremely quickly, much faster than other job candidates, and I can learn on my own, with minimal supervision.”

This is incredibly valuable. I mean, watch another job candidate try to learn a software or a standard operating procedure on their own? It doesn’t compare to the way a PhD learns.

PhDs will not only be driven to learn on their own – without having to have their hand held to make sure that they follow through, they’ll learn faster. 

That speed of learning is a competitive advantage over other job candidates. And industry employers often don’t ask about it. So, you have to communicate it.

Concluding Remarks

If get hired into a PhD-level position in industry, you need to learn how to communicate your value to employers. Focus on the skills that will stand out, not some technical skills that a robot can do better than you. Communicate to employers that you can identify and solve problems, thrive in an uncertain environment, create new knowledge, and learn much faster than other job candidates. This is how you will position yourself to ensure you transition faster than other PhDs.

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 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. Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology with a focus in immunology and is an expert on biotechnology recruitment and career development.

Isaiah 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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