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6 People to Ignore During Your PhD Job Search

When I first began my industry job search, I didn’t know where to begin.

Most of the people I asked for advice had none to offer. 

Instead, they were adamant I was making a mistake by leaving academia

I’d spent the last six years siloed in academia – I didn’t really know that many people who weren’t doing a postdoc or staying on to TA. 

But I had heard some encouraging things from a few PhDs that had transitioned to industry. 

I was really motivated to try and make the same move, even though I wasn’t sure how to start.

I am an expert researcher, I thought. 

I’ll just do what I do best and look for the answers I need.

And that is how it came to pass that most of my early industry job search advice came from a popular job search blog.

The author billed herself as a “job search guru,” which was, admittedly, a little hackneyed.

Still, her blog was full of reviews from folks who had used her methods and successfully landed an industry position.

I spent hours tweaking my resume, writing cover letters, and applying to dozens of positions as per her blog’s suggestions. 

Weeks went by, and my inbox remained stubbornly empty. 

Not a single interview invitation.

Frustrated, I finally reached out to a PhD I knew. 

One of the ones I knew who had successfully transitioned into industry. 

He looked over my application materials and immediately identified the problem: I was following advice from someone who had never actually hired anyone.

“You’re not just any job seeker,” he said. 

“Your job search as a PhD is unique and complex. You need advice from someone who understands that.”

That conversation was a turning point for me. It made me realize the importance of seeking the right kind of guidance.

I started being more selective about whose advice I followed, focusing on those with firsthand hiring experience and a deep understanding of the PhD job market. 

And guess what? 

My job search took a turn for the better.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson that I want to share with you: 

As a PhD navigating the job market, it’s crucial to discern who you should and shouldn’t listen to. 

6 People to Ignore During Your PhD Job Search

Navigating the job market as a PhD presents a unique set of challenges. 

Your advanced degree, specialized knowledge, and extensive research experience set you apart from the typical job seeker.

These same qualities, however, can also complicate your job search. 

The path to finding a suitable industry role often feels like a labyrinth, with numerous potential missteps along the way.

As I discovered firsthand, the advice you choose to follow can significantly impact your job search journey. 

However, not all advice is created equal. 

In fact, some can be downright detrimental. 

It’s crucial to discern which sources are worth listening to and which ones you should tune out. 

So let’s take a look at the six types of people you should ignore during your PhD job search.

1. Bloggers Who Have Never Hired a Full-Time Employee

In the era of digital influencers, many people present themselves as career experts. 

Bloggers are chief among them. 

Ironically, most bloggers have never hired a single employee.

They lack practical firsthand hiring experience.

Their understanding of what employers are truly looking for in candidates is from the perspective of someone from the outside looking in.

Their advice is so problematic because they’re almost definitely basing their advice on second-hand information or theoretical knowledge. 

This info can be out of touch with real-world hiring practices. 

Practical hiring experience involves understanding the nuances of evaluating candidates, aligning their skills with job requirements, and assessing cultural fit. 

Without this experience, bloggers could be overlooking critical details that can make or break a job application.

Why Should You Ignore Them?

A blogger’s tips are too often generic. 

They are almost certainly not tailored to the specific challenges PhDs face, such as reframing specialized academic skills to the language of industry.

Generic advice like “tailor your resume” or “network more” doesn’t address the complexities of translating research experience into industry-relevant skills.

Bloggers – who, again, have little to no experience hiring full-time, W2 employers – might inadvertently spread misinformation or proliferate outdated practices, too.

For example, they might insist PhDs use the Open to Work banner on LinkedIn to attract the attention of recruiters. 

Or encourage you to “get a foot in the door” at a company and “work your way up.” 

Misinformation like this can lead to wasted time and effort in your PhD-level job search.

What To Do Instead

Blogs are a low-risk place to start looking for industry career advice: they’re free, easy to find, and deliver instant gratification to your need for direction.

It’s practically inevitable that you’ll find one that resonates with you at some point. 

But you need to look for mentors who have a proven track record in hiring or have successfully transitioned from academia to industry themselves. 

Experienced professionals can offer insights into what hiring managers look for, how to present your skills effectively, and how to navigate the hiring process.

But I don’t know anyone like this, you might be thinking. If I did, I would have asked them already.

That’s what networking is for. 

Engage with professional networks, such as LinkedIn groups specifically for PhDs or industry-specific forums, where you can get advice grounded in real-world experience. 

These networks often provide access to job postings, industry news, and discussions that can help you understand current trends and expectations.

Take this networking a step further and start conducting informational interviews. 

Informational interviews with professionals in your desired industry are the best way to gain first-hand insights. 

It’s also the perfect way to generate referrals.

This can help you understand the specific skills and experiences valued by employers and tailor your job search accordingly.

2. Quick-Win Recruiters

In industry, it’s not uncommon to come across “recruiting sharks.” 

Recruiting sharks are recruiters who prioritize quick placements over finding the right fit for both the employer and the candidate. 

Their primary goal is to close deals fast to earn their commission, often at the expense of your long-term career goals. 

These recruiters might seem helpful initially. 

Their advice however, can be driven by their own need to close deals quickly rather than by what’s best for you.

It’s easy to get swept up in their enthusiasm. 

For many PhDs, this is the most positive interaction they’ve had with industry “decision makers.”

The reason for that, you learn later, is that some recruiters can be more like salesmen than they are human resources professionals. 

Why Should You Ignore Them?

Because recruiters earn a commission for placing job candidates, they might push you towards jobs that don’t align with your skills, aspirations, or the direction you want your career to take.

For PhDs, this misalignment can be particularly problematic. 

Your background is unique, and your career goals are likely more complex than simply finding any job. 

You need a recruiter who takes the time to understand your academic achievements, your specialized skills, and your professional aspirations. 

That’s not to say that every recruiter is out for themselves. 

A good one is worth their weight in gold. 

They can connect you with positions you are well-suited for and some have truly valuable insight and knowledge about the industry niche they serve. 

What To Do Instead

Look for well-vetted recruiters who are genuinely interested in your long-term success and are familiar with placing PhDs into industry roles.

A good recruiter will act as a career partner, not just a job broker. 

You’ll know this person by the insightful questions they ask about your background and the tailored job recommendations they provide that align closely with your career path.

Look for those who show genuine interest in your background and are willing to discuss your long-term aspirations. 

Finding the right recruiter can make all the difference in your job search. 

Seek out those who prioritize building relationships over making quick placements. 

These recruiters will help you find roles that truly align with your career path, ensuring a better fit and greater satisfaction in your new position.

3. Biased Hiring Managers

Hiring managers play a crucial role in the recruitment process, but it’s essential to understand that their primary loyalty lies with their company. 

This natural bias towards their employer’s interests can sometimes skew the advice they offer, making it important to filter their suggestions critically.

Why Should You Ignore Them?

A hiring manager’s company-centric perspective means their advice and feedback are often tailored to what the company needs.

A hiring manager’s primary goal is to fill a position with the best candidate for their company’s needs. 

While this can align with your goals, it doesn’t always. 

It’s important to remember that while hiring managers can offer useful insights into what their company is looking for, their advice is inherently biased towards their company’s interests. 

Therefore, it’s crucial to filter this advice and focus on what’s best for your career. 

For instance, a hiring manager might prefer resumes that emphasize dates and job titles because it makes it easier for them to spot candidates with gaps in employment or those who have never held the specific job title they’re hiring for. 

This preference might lead them to dismiss otherwise highly qualified candidates – like many PhDs – who have spent years in academia with few industry job titles or linear career paths.

Another example is when hiring managers advise you to tailor your resume to fit a very specific mold. 

They might suggest you downplay certain skills or experiences that they deem irrelevant to the immediate role. 

However, this could mean omitting valuable transferable skills that make you a versatile and long-term asset to any company, not just theirs.

Additionally, hiring managers might downplay the importance of certain qualifications or experiences simply because they don’t align with the company’s current needs. 

As an example, they might discourage emphasizing research or publication experience if it doesn’t seem immediately relevant to the job, even though these accomplishments demonstrate critical thinking, project management, and technical expertise.

What To Do Instead

Consider how a hiring manager’s suggestions align with your long-term career goals – not just the immediate job opportunity.

Clearly define your own interests, keep them at the foreground of your mind, and consider how well the company’s requests align with yours.

Is there an intersection of goals and values, or would you be taking a career detour in this role?

Considering the company’s perspective and objectives is important, but ensure you balance it with your own career goals. 

Instead of hiring managers, who have a pretty clear agenda, seek advice from mentors or career coaches who have your best interests at heart. 

These advisors can help you navigate the job search process with a focus on your long-term career aspirations, ensuring that you make choices that benefit you.

In the end, your career trajectory is unique.

The advice you follow should support your broader aspirations – not just the needs of a single employer. 

4. Outdated Ex-Recruiters and Ex-Hiring Managers

The job market is evolving at a breakneck pace.

This is largely due to the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and technology. 

This evolution means that the strategies and tactics that were effective even a few years ago may no longer be relevant today. 

This is why it’s crucial to be cautious about taking advice from ex-recruiters and ex-hiring managers who are no longer active in the field.

Modern applicant tracking systems (ATS) and AI-driven recruitment tools have transformed how resumes are screened and candidates are evaluated. 

These systems use complex algorithms to parse resumes for specific keywords and skills, often prioritizing different criteria than a human recruiter might. 

As a result, the job search landscape has shifted significantly, with a greater emphasis on optimizing resumes for ATS and understanding the digital footprint candidates leave behind.

Why Should You Ignore Them?

Ex-recruiters and ex-hiring managers, while knowledgeable about the job market of their time, may not be familiar with these new technologies and methodologies. 

Their advice, although well-intentioned, is more than likely outdated and not reflective of the current job market dynamics. 

They might suggest traditional resume formats or job search strategies that no longer work effectively in today’s AI-dominated environment.

For instance, they might recommend focusing heavily on detailed work histories and chronological resumes, which were once the gold standard. 

However, in today’s market, a functional resume that highlights transferable skills and keywords from the job description is often more effective, especially for PhDs transitioning into industry roles.

The networking landscape has also changed. 

The rise of social media platforms like LinkedIn has made online networking and personal branding more important than ever. 

Advice from those who are no longer active might not account for the significance of maintaining a strong online presence and engaging with industry communities through digital channels.

What To Do Instead

It’s essential to seek guidance from individuals who are currently engaged in the field. 

Current recruiters, hiring managers, and career coaches who are active in industry are more likely to provide up-to-date advice that reflects the latest trends and technologies. 

They understand the nuances of today’s hiring processes, including how to optimize resumes for ATS, the importance of digital footprints, and the most effective networking strategies.

That said, it’s important to respect the experience and knowledge of ex-recruiters and ex-hiring managers.

Their advice may not always be relevant in today’s rapidly changing job market, but they may still have valuable connections and inroads they can share.

Just be sure to prioritize guidance from professionals who are actively involved in industry to ensure you receive the most current and practical advice for your job search.

5. Friends or Colleagues With Different Experiences

It’s natural to turn to friends or colleagues for advice during your job search. 

However, it’s important to recognize that everyone’s job search experience is unique. 

It’s unique to you as an individual, and it’s also unique to you as a PhD.

What worked for someone else might not work for you. 

This variability in job search experiences means that advice from someone who had an “easy” job search might not be applicable to your situation. 

Especially as a PhD transitioning into industry.

Why Should You Ignore Them?

Your friend or colleague who seemingly breezed through their job search might not have faced the same challenges you do. 

They might have different skills, a different network, or simply lucked out with the right opportunity at the right time. 

For instance, they might have had a friend working at the company who referred them, bypassing the usual application process. 

Or they might have been in a field with higher demand and fewer qualified candidates, making their job search significantly easier.

Their advice, while well-meaning, might not address the specific obstacles you face. 

For example, they might suggest a simple resume format that worked for them, but that format might not be optimized for ATS or highlight the unique transferable skills you bring to the table as a PhD. 

They might tell you that networking isn’t that important because they landed their job through an online application, not realizing that for many PhDs, building a strong network is crucial for getting noticed in industry.

Moreover, the strategies that worked for them might not align with the latest job market trends and technologies. 

As I mentioned earlier, the job market is constantly evolving.

What worked even a few years ago might not be effective today. 

For instance, the rise of AI in recruitment has changed how resumes are screened and candidates are evaluated. 

Your friend’s advice might not account for these changes, putting you at a disadvantage.

It’s essential to focus on your unique path and challenges. 

As a PhD, you have specialized skills and experiences that require a different approach.

What To Do Instead

You need advice that is tailored to your situation, taking into account the complexities of transitioning from academia to industry. 

This means seeking guidance from those who understand the nuances of your background and can offer relevant, up-to-date insights.

Instead of relying on advice from friends or colleagues, consider seeking out mentors who have successfully navigated the transition you are aiming for. 

Look for fellow PhDs who have made the leap to industry and can provide specific guidance on how to leverage your academic background. 

Additionally, professional career coaches who specialize in working with PhDs can offer personalized strategies to help you overcome the unique challenges you face.

Advice from friends and colleagues can be valuable, but it’s important to remember that their experiences might not be directly applicable to your job search. 

Focus on your unique path and challenges, and seek guidance from those who understand the specific nuances of transitioning from academia to industry. 

By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the job market and achieve your career goals.

6. Non-PhDs

When seeking advice during your job search, it’s crucial to keep in mind all the unique challenges and opportunities that come along with having a PhD. 

The path of a PhD is distinctly different from that of non-PhDs. 

As such, the advice from those without a doctorate might not fully address the nuances of your situation.

Why Should You Ignore Them?

PhDs face specific challenges that are often foreign to those who haven’t pursued advanced academic degrees. 

For instance, the prolonged period of specialization and research can create gaps in traditional work experience that might be hard for non-PhDs to relate to. 

Additionally, the skills and experiences gained during a PhD – while incredibly valuable – may not align neatly with typical industry job descriptions. 

Non-PhDs might not understand how to effectively translate academic achievements into industry-relevant skills.

Moreover, the job search process for PhDs is often more complex. 

The transition from academia to industry involves not just a change in environment but also a shift in mindset. 

Non-PhDs might not grasp the significance of this transition or the specific strategies needed to make it successfully. 

They might offer generic advice that works for individuals with more traditional career paths but falls short for someone with an extensive academic background.

For example, non-PhDs might suggest focusing heavily on your technical skills and research publications, thinking that these are the most impressive aspects of your background. 

While these are important, they might not realize that highlighting transferable skills like project management, teamwork, and problem-solving is crucial for making your resume stand out in industry. 

They might also overlook the importance of networking within industry-specific communities, which can be more impactful for PhDs transitioning to non-academic roles.

What To Do Instead

The nuances of navigating postdoctoral positions, handling the stigma of being “overqualified,” or addressing gaps in industry experience are all areas where the experiences of fellow PhDs are invaluable. 

Those who have been through the process can provide insights on how to effectively communicate your value to industry employers, how to leverage your academic network, and how to position yourself as a competitive candidate.

That’s why, as a rule, it’s most beneficial to seek out guidance from fellow PhDs who have successfully made the transition to industry. 

These individuals understand the academic world and the specific hurdles that come with leaving it. 

They can offer tailored advice on how to reframe your academic experience in a way that resonates with industry recruiters and hiring managers.

Additionally, connect with professional organizations and networks that focus on supporting PhDs in their career transitions.

These often provide access to resources, mentorship, and job opportunities that are specifically designed for individuals with your PhD background. 

These organizations often host workshops, networking events, and job boards that cater to PhDs, providing you with a much more targeted approach to your job search.

Conclusion

Advice from non-PhDs is well-intentioned, but it often lacks the depth and relevance you really need to help support you in your transition from academia to industry. The path from academia to industry is a unique one, filled with challenges and opportunities that non-PhDs may not fully grasp. By seeking guidance from fellow PhDs who understand the unique challenges and opportunities you face, you can gain valuable insights and strategies that will better equip you to navigate your job search and achieve your career goals.  They can offer tailored advice, support, and resources that are specifically designed to help you navigate the industry job market and achieve your career goals.

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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

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