Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

5 Job Search Time Wasters That PhDs Should Stop Doing Immediately

Feeling discouraged with your job search strategy?

Have you uploaded hundreds of resumes without hearing back from employers? Are you starting to think you are not cut out for an industry position?

This happens to many PhDs at some point in their transition journey. 

They don’t know how to execute a correct job search strategy. So they waste lots of time doing things that don’t yield any result. Then get discouraged.

An industry job search is maddening. As PhDs we are never trained rigorously on how to do it in academia. Most PhDs are never trained on how to execute a job search at all. 

Knowing how to apply for a job is the limiting factor. It determines how successful your industry job search and subsequent industry career will be.

Here is what one of our members had to say about setting up the right job search strategy to get hired in industry:

I transitioned as a program Manager. In 2018, I applied for ~ 80 positions in the industry and didn’t even get replies. I thus decided to find a job in academia even though I knew I was not happy there. I got introduced to the Cheeky Association and my whole job search and strategy was changed! After joining CSA, I applied for ~30 jobs and I was (mostly) getting replies. What mattered was that I managed to go from zero replies to some. I have to say that I never had to apply to any open application so I do encourage people out there to keep using Linkedin and connect to people. Job hunting is a full time job and quite exhausting but this is what it takes until you finally get an offer. 

Today, I want to talk about some common mistakes that PhDs make when they first start their job search. 

Why Following The Wrong Job Search Strategy Is Anchoring You In Academia

How successful your career is will be a major determinant in your personal level of achievement and fulfillment. Especially after spending decades in academia.

A better job and a better career will increase your quality of life. Also, your sense of purpose. Regardless of your starting point in these areas and regardless of how stuck you feel in academia right now.

Your academic training led you to believe that an industry job search mirrors an academic job search or the peer-reviewed publication process. 

It starts by writing a document similar to an academic paper (resume) and sending it off to reviewers (employers). Then, if the reviewers like your work, they will ask you to come in and defend your position (interview).

The problem is that this strategy is upside-down. Completely disregards the actions that are more likely to yield results in the least amount of time.

5 Job Search Mistakes That Are A Waste Of Time

Academic social norms cannot get one hired in industry. 

Get hired into the best possible job for you. You need to leave the academic way of thinking behind. Set up a strategy that will actually work in an industry setting.

Stop wasting time. Don’t make mistakes. Especially if you are already unemployed or your funding is ending soon.

So, let’s take a look at the 5 mistakes you are making that are hindering your chances of leaving academia and getting a fulfilling industry job. 

1. Spending more time thinking about the possible scenarios than actually taking action in your job search

When it comes to executing an industry job search, here is what most PhDs do:

Procrastinate, think about getting an industry job. Procrastinate more, upload an academic-style resume to hundreds of job sites, fail to get a response, give up. 

I have personally heard from thousands of PhDs from 152 countries. The above sequence encapsulates their current industry job search strategy or the strategy they first tried before giving up and reaching out to me. 

job search strategy

Spending your time procrastinating or playing scenarios in your head without taking action. Make your chances of success zero.

At the same time, you are exhausting yourself. Playing scenarios in your head takes up mental space that you could use to put matter into action. 

2. Focusing on fancy job titles rather than your desired lifestyle

Research scientist, medical science liaison, management consultant, data scientist…

These are great positions. You have probably heard that they are in demand and are well compensated. 

That’s probably why you are targeting one or several of them. But have you stopped to consider what these positions actually entail on a day to day basis?

After years in academia, it is common for PhDs to get desperate. You start targeting any fancy-sounding position. Any position at all.

Unfortunately, this is a recipe for failure.

As a PhD, you have options when it comes to your industry career. To achieve your full potential, you need to find a position that fits your lifestyle, not just any position.

So, stop targeting industry positions just because you think they sound fancy. Focus on determining what your desired lifestyle is and, once you’ve figured that out, research what careers better fit that lifestyle.

3. Uploading resumes into the black hole

Every PhD starts their job search by uploading resumes and hoping for the best. They can upload up to thousands of resumes without ever getting a response.

Uploading resumes to job sites is a complete waste of time. Especially true if you are not even taking the time to target your resume for each position you apply to.

Monster.com gets Over 427,000 resumes each week. That’s just one job website. 

Companies need a fast way to sort out the outstanding candidates. Therefore, more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies are using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to screen candidates’ resumes.

Resume gets rejected. Without ever reaching the hand of an actual person.

Target each resume thinking of the format and words that will give you the best chance to move past the ATS.

A great resume that has been tailored to a specific job, written in an industry format, can get rejected by ATS.

The best strategy when it comes to resumes is to hand it over directly to one of your connections who work at your target company. 

To achieve that, you need to expand your network, which we will discuss later in this blog. 

job search strategy

4. Answering interview questions in your head rather than doing mock interviews

Most PhDs go to their first interview without having prepared at all.

The handful that prepare think that looking at common questions and imagining answering them correctly is a good strategy.

These PhDs don’t know that industry interviews test a lot more than whether or not the candidate has the right answer for a given question. 

Manners, timeliness, tidiness, and company knowledge are the main reasons people fail at interviews, despite being fully qualified.

Be aware of how you come across. You need to be able to command the conversation. Show that you understand the role and the company. 

Knowing how to behave at a job interview, looking natural, controlling your nerves… That takes practice.

This means that you need to do actual mock interviews. Just reading potential answers to behavioural questions won’t cut it.

Ask a friend or trusted colleague to do a one-on-one mock interview. Request that they prepare some common interview questions, then request that they ask you these questions firmly.

After you answer the questions, ask them to give you honest feedback.

5. Thinking about getting rejected rather than reaching out and networking

Your network is your net worth. 

I already told you that. As a PhD, you have all that it takes to succeed in industry. But getting that coveted job without a healthy network of industry professionals is going to be almost impossible. 

Right now, you have the skills needed to work in industry, but you don’t have any credibility. Industry professionals don’t know. So, they have no reason to take a chance on you.

job search strategy

Boost your industry credibility. Expand your network and build relationships with employers to the point where you can generate referrals.

If you are avoiding reaching out to industry employees because you think it’s uncomfortable. You are wasting your time.

Telling yourself that you can make your transition without reaching out to other people. Just focusing on the theory of a job search. Stop lying to yourself.

Networking is a skill, not a talent. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. The more you do it, the better you will become, and the more comfortable you will feel.

Commit to networking. Otherwise, you will remain invisible to industry employers. 

Concluding Remarks

Currently executing the upside-down job search strategy that you learned in academia? Stop wasting your time and efforts. Set up and apply the right job search strategy. It will play a significant role in how successful you are in your career. Stop making mistakes like procrastinating and playing scenarios in your head. Focussing on fancy job titles without considering your desired lifestyle, uploading resume into online black holes, not doing mock interviews, and avoiding networking will not help. Instead, commit to a job search strategy. One that shows you understand the industry landscape and know your value as a PhD.

 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

ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of 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 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. 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.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

Why Hiring Managers Often See PhDs As Desperate (& How To Avoid It)

Why Hiring Managers Often See PhDs As Desperate (& How To Avoid It)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Recently, I spoke with an absolutely brilliant physicist. She had a decade of groundbreaking research under her belt, was well-respected and well-known in academia, and she was ready to make the move to an industry career.  And she was stumped.  She couldn’t understand why her job applications had been hitting a brick wall for the last few months. Despite her impressive credentials and numerous publications, she hadn’t received a single interview invitation in months.  The worst part? She’d already stepped away from the research and teaching that had been sustaining her financially.  When she doubled back, thinking maybe it just…

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“We regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application due to concerns that your qualifications exceed those required for the role.  We feel it would not be a good fit. Thank you for applying.”  Oof, that’s part of a rejection email a PhD sent me. An employer had sent it to them after the first interview.  Another PhD told me this recently… “I feel like I’m both overqualified and underqualified for the jobs I apply to Isaiah.”  Which do you feel is more of a problem for you? I asked.  “At first I thought…

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“‘Why do you want to work here more than anywhere else? And why are you leaving academia?’ Those are the questions I got stuck on, Isaiah.  I told them why I liked their company, mainly because it was aligned with my values, but I also wanted to be fair and ethical so I told them that I was considering other companies. Then I explained that academia was no longer a good fit because I wanted to do more than write grants all day.”  “Okay, I replied, anything else? What did you say after that?” “I asked them a few clarifying…

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Isaiah, I applied to ThermoFisher two weeks ago and a hiring manager got in touch with me and I had my first interview…. But then a second hiring manager reached out to me about another job I applied to there.  I started talking to this second manager and they asked if I applied to any other positions there.  I couldn’t lie so I told them about the other job and the other hiring manager.  Now, neither of the hiring managers will get back to me.  What should I do?”  This is what a PhD told me over the phone last…

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Be real Isaiah, there’s not a government bureau keeping track of how our resumes perform.”  This is what a frustrated job seeker said to me recently.  “What do you mean I have a reputation score?” they asked.  “Of course there’s not a bureau dedicated to this, at least not yet” I said.  “But you absolutely are being scored and ranked” I went on, “and your ranking is used to indicate how reputable you are as a job seeker.”  This is what I’ve explained to countless people looking for a job in today’s job market, most of whom were getting initial…

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I spent over a year looking for a job in academia and flew to multiple interviews. I didn’t get one offer.” A PhD told me this recently and many other PhDs have told me similar stories.  Of course, the stories involve more than just looking for a job for a year.  They involve living on a meager academic budget, trying to support themselves and their families, often in very expensive cities where many of the biggest universities are located.  They involve decisions to never go on a vacation, to feed their kids cheaper, less healthy food, and to work all…

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My last year in academia, I didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas. So I spent it in Iowa City, mostly alone.  I was broke (of course) so I decided to shovel snow out of driveways for $10 per driveway. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to be a PhD shoveling snow for money. “What I wouldn’t give to have a better job”, I thought.  That was the gift I wanted for Christmas and the holidays.  A better job.  Not to be a student or a postdoc or an academic PhD getting paid less than I was…

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Writing a resume for an industry job is one of the biggest sticking points I see with PhDs entering the job market.  What worked even a year ago is not working today due to recent and rapidly accelerating advances in Applicant Tracking Systems.  These systems, called ATS or just AI today, are software tools used by companies to filter resumes.  They scan for specific keywords related to the job role, abilities, credentials, and qualities desired in a candidate.  As a PhD seeking very competitive roles, including relevant keywords in your resume is essential to pass through these systems and get…

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I had a recruiter reach out to me, Isaiah, and after I gave them my resume and answered their questions, they never got back to me. What should I do?”  I hear this a lot.  I also hear, “Isaiah, I was on the phone with a recruiter and as soon as they heard that I needed a visa, they hung up” …”or as soon as they heard I had no industry experience, they hung up.”  Man, I personally hate this. What a waste of time. The recruitment industry is broken.  The good news is its being devoured by Artificial Intelligence,…

Top Industry Career eBooks

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.

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.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

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.