Written by Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.
“Your technical skills aren’t enough to get you this job.”
The interviewer looked across at me coldly.
I didn’t know what to say.
“What else do I need?” I thought.
I never actually said this out loud but I thought it.
And I kept thinking about it long after that first industry interview.
There were three job candidates at the interview that day.
All of them had the technical skills that I had.
All of them had publications.
Still, I thought my technical skills might have been a slightly better fit.
Isn’t that what industry interviewers were looking for—the PhD with the best technical skills?
If my technical skills weren’t enough to get an industry job, how would I ever get one?
How could I stand out from other PhD job candidates with similar technical skills?
I found out later that technical skills matter very little at the interview stage.
Instead, during interviews, hiring managers are evaluating one thing and one thing only, your transferable skills.
This makes sense in retrospect.
After all, biotechnology and biopharmaceutical recruiters aren’t going to ask you to make a knockout mouse during an interview.
They’re not going to have you run a Western blot on their desk.
However, they will ask you to demonstrate your critical thinking skills.
They’ll have you demonstrate your communication, interpersonal, organizational, and management skills.
Do you have these transferable skills?
Having transferable skills is not enough—it’s only half the battle.
To get an industry job, you need to have transferable skills and be able to demonstrate them effectively to employers.
Why You Need To Develop Transferable Job Skills
Transferable skills are essential to standing out in competitive job markets.
An increasing number of PhDs are pursuing non-academic career tracks over traditional academic career tracks.
According to a report by the Royal Society, the proportion of PhDs who now manage to secure academic tenure positions is only 1-in-200.
The goal of these programs is to ensure that PhDs can compete effectively for careers outside of academia.
However, this is not enough.
As a PhD student or postdoc, it’s your responsibility to develop your transferable skills while working in the lab.
You should take advantage of every opportunity to improve your repertoire of not only technical skills in the lab, but your transferable skills too.
Without the right transferable skills, and without the ability to communicate your transferable skills effectively on your industry resume, at industry networking events, and at industry interviews, you will not get an industry job.
5 More Top Transferable Job Skills
When it comes to getting an industry job, transferable skills are more important than your technical skills.
No one wants to hire a candidate who is going to be difficult to work with.
No one wants to hire a candidate who is going to be the new person on the team who is awkward to talk to and makes everyone feel uncomfortable.
A survey conducted by the publishing organization Chegg analyzed the readiness of STEM graduates for industry.
Among the hiring managers surveyed, only 32% believed any of the recent STEM graduates they interviewed over a two-year period were prepared for industry.
The majority of these hiring managers preferred to hire graduates who demonstrated strong leadership skills over graduates with strong technical skills alone.
You will not get hired into an industry role if you fail to develop your transferable skills.
The one thing that matters more than anything else is how easily you can fit into the company’s culture and how quickly you can hit the ground running in your new position.
The time to start developing and leveraging your transferable skills is now.
Here are 5 more transferable skills to help you transition into a career with the top biotechnology or biopharmaceutical companies…
1. Information management.
With the growing use of technology globally,the volume of data generated every day in industry is astronomical.
The information available on any specific field or sub-field has increased exponentially.
This is especially true for the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries.
In these industries, collecting larger and larger amounts of data is critical to maintaining a competitive edge.
This means that PhDs who excel at analyzing large volumes of data points and determining the relevance of the data are highly valuable.
In other words, PhDs who are adept at managing reams of information are at the top of hiring manager and recruiter resume lists.
As a PhD, you have the ability to filter through large amounts of research data and identify relevant trends.
Now all you have to do is communicate this ability effectively on your resume and during interviews.
You must also understand that the key to successful information management in industry is not just gathering and understanding information, it’s about translating information into actionable intelligence.
Remember, the goal of any company is to create better and better strategies for maintaining their competitive advantage, whether by developing new products, services, or internal workflows.
Keeping up with constantly evolving industry trends and dealing with the information these new trends generate is one of the major challenges for new industry employees.
As such, information literacy is a highly sought after quality—a quality that as a PhD you can easily develop in the lab and transfer to industry.
2. Time management and organization.
In industry, it’s important to be exceptionally organized while managing your individual responsibilities or your team’s projects overall.
PhD job candidates who are highly organized and display good time management skills are hired over other candidates.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that time management and organizational skills are generic skills that everyone has.
These are very specific skills that few professionals truly have.
They are also skills that hiring managers and recruiters ruthlessly evaluate before and during industry interviews.
For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, large quantities of highly time-sensitive clinical data and regulatory submissions are generated daily.
As such, time management is considered a crucial transferable skill for this sector and pharmaceutical hiring managers rigorously test candidates for this skill.
Making effective use of available time on a daily basis and maintaining progress towards organizational goals is essential to your success in industry.
No matter what top industry position you obtain, you will be involved in multiple projects, which means you must be able to prioritize your various duties and adequately designate your time to each of them.
3. Customer service and “client facing” skills.
More than anything else, a company’s success relies on keeping its clients happy.
Or rather, keeping its clients happy enough to keep buying.
As such, these companies are very hesitant to hire PhDs who display even the slightest level of arrogance, self-entitlement, insecurity, shyness, lack of patience, or any other kind of social awkwardness.
No matter which industry position you get hired for, there will come a time when you have to talk to a customer.
You might be a research scientist asked to explain your results at a scientific meeting, or a technical sales specialist asked why your product is better than a competitor’s product.
Either way, you’ll be facing the client directly and will have to communicate your answer in a pleasant, yet effective manner.
For this and many other reasons, it’s impossible to be successful in the industry without professionally interacting with others.
Refusing to develop your customer service and client-facing skills is a career-killing mistake that keeps many PhDs unemployed.
Industry is far more collaborative than academia.
In industry, you will be required to attend many more internal and external meetings than you are used to.
This is why biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies rigorously screen job candidates’ personality traits.
They want to know…
“Can he work well with our established team?”
“Will she maintain her professionalism at all times?”
“Will he lash out at clients when he’s having a bad day?”
PhD candidates who have the required technical skills but lack the ability to interact with customers will not get hired into industry roles.
The only way to differentiate yourself from the competition for these roles is to develop and leverage your ability to collaborate with other professionals, even in unfavorable situations.
4. Project management and strategic planning.
Project management is a critical skill in innovation-based industries.
In these industries, complex projects need to be well-planned and efficiently managed.
Even if you are not officially working as a Project Manager, you will need to know how to efficiently manage your own projects.
You will need to know how to hit both timeline and budgeting goals.
Fortunately, these are skills every PhD already has.
As a PhD, you have already managed research projects utilizing a limited budget while working in an academic lab.
Make sure you communicate this in your resume and during your phone, Skype, and in-person interviews.
Of course, there are some critical differences between managing an academic versus industry research project.
In academia, the purpose of your project is to generate publishable data, but in industry, the purpose is to generate products, services, and workflows that advance the company’s overall mission.
Most importantly, the purpose of your project in industry is to increase profit.
This is not a bad thing.
It simply means that you must be more meticulous in hitting your timeline and budgeting goals.
Project management and strategic planning skills are also a significant determining factor in career progression.
As you move up in the company’s hierarchy, you must learn to manage not only your own timeline and budget, but also the timeline and budgets of your subordinates.
5. Professional awareness and adaptability.
Industry employers value candidates who learn quickly and demonstrate flexibility.
In particular, hiring manager and recruiters are trained to identify candidates who are able to shift between functional roles as necessary.
This is especially true at startups and medium-sized companies where promotions and lateral moves are frequent, and where you’ll be asked to wear many different hats on a daily basis.
However, given the increased pace of business transactions in today’s economy, you will be asked to make lateral moves and wear different hats even in large organizations.
This kind of professional awareness and adaptability is very rare.
A study published in Nature showed that PhDs coming directly out of academia are often too specialized and find it difficult to adapt to the broader work environments found in industry.
According to the study, a candidate’s ability to adapt to changing trends and work in different functional roles was seen as a highly valuable transferable skill.
A key to maintaining this kind of adaptability is to have a strong sense of self.
You have to understand who you are and what your role is in the present moment.
Do you understand the problems your company is facing right now?
Do you know what the most important task to get done today is?
Are you thinking ahead to how you can help the company move forward tomorrow?
Flexibility and professional awareness, though not technical, are critical skills in industry. Other valuable skills include project management, strategic planning, customer service, time management, and information management. Remember, industry organizations not only value your scientific knowledge and technical skills, but also your ability to transfer your non-technical skills into their culture and their working environments overall. If you hope to transition into a non-academic career, the time to start developing your transferable job skills is now, not later.
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.
Latest posts by Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D. (see all)
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