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6 Phrases That Get PhDs Ghosted After A Job Interview

Far too many PhDs are getting ghosted by employers after job interviews.

They set up a job search strategy, build a targeted resume and LinkedIn profile, and apply to positions where they have internal referrals; only to get ghosted after a phone screen, or even worse, a site visit.

If this has happened to you, you need to prepare better for job interviews.

An interview can go south very easily. Maybe you just said the wrong thing and that caused employers to stop considering you. You cannot underestimate the importance of coming prepared. 

Take it from one of our members who reflected on this topic after successfully transitioning into industry “Prepare your interviews. Doing Mock Interviews is the best thing. I did that and the feedback helped me prepare better for the real interviews.

“You need to learn how to be aware of yourself, your body, mind, and everything surrounding the job search process before you face employers.”

Why You Should Take The Interview Process Seriously

On average, 250 candidates apply for any open position. If you make it to the phone screen, you are among the top 7-10 candidates for that position.

By the moment you get invited to the first interview round, the stakes are high. You have to bring your A game.

If you are not preparing thoroughly for all stages of the interview process, you are wasting all the time you invested setting up your job search strategy

Unfortunately, most PhDs overestimate their interviewing skills and underestimate the amount of preparation required to WOW employers.

In fact, hiring managers report that two of the main reasons employers reject PhDs are being unprepared to discuss their skills and experience and being unprepared to discuss their career plans and goals. 

You need to know what employers want to hear and what they don’t want to hear during a job interview to avoid being ghosted. 


You Should Always Come Fully Prepared To An Industry Job Interview

The goal of a job interview is to show that you are the right person for the job. That you have the right skills and are a perfect fit for the company culture.

The best way to achieve that is to understand industry etiquette and to come prepared.

During a job interview, employers create spaces for the candidate to make mistakes. They are constantly in the lookups for red flags. 

If you come to the interview unprepared or don’t understand industry etiquette. You will end up saying things that will convince employers that you are not ready to transition.

And you will burn valuable bridges in the process.

6 Phrases You Should Never Say At A Job Interview

1.“I’m nervous”

You should never mention that you are nervous, at any stage of a job interview.

Negative language stands out. Especially during first impressions. You might think it shows that you are human, but it just looks bad.

Instead, use positive language. If they ask you “how are you?” Say “I’m perfect.”

If you make a mistake during your presentation, don’t say that you messed up because you’re nervous. Instead, gather your thoughts and start over. 

Many PhDs have a negative bias. They have imposter syndrome and are very critical of themselves.

This ends up hurting their chances of getting an industry job. 

Industry employers don’t want to hire somebody that’s critical of themselves or of other people. They want to hire positive candidates.

2. “I’m not interviewing anywhere else”

Social proof is powerful.

Employers want to hire somebody who is wanted in industry.

When you say that you are not interviewing for any other company, you are telling them that you are not wanted anywhere else.

You should be interviewing with several companies and keep your options open.

At the same time, you need to show employers certainty. Tell them why you want that particular job, why you want to work at that particular company.

So, you can say “yes, I’m interviewing at other companies, but you are my number one choice because…” and then give them a targeted reason.

You can do this for multiple companies. For every job interview, build the rationale that explains why this particular company is your top choice and why you are the right fit for them.

3. “I’ll take that salary”

During the interview process, many companies will ask questions along the lines of “If I offered you this amount, would you take the job?” Or “Does this salary range sound okay?”

You should never commit verbally to a salary offer, no matter how good it might be. You should only negotiate salary once you get a written offer.

In the early stages of the interview process, employers are looking for excuses to reject candidates. If you agree to a higher salary than other candidates, you will not hear back from the company.

Instead, you want to get them invested in you. You will achieve this by deferring and deflecting salary questions until they extend an actual offer.

If they ask you if you would take a hypothetical offer, you can tell them “Sounds interesting. I’d have to look at the numbers on paper, but right now I’m looking forward to learning more about your company and who I’ll be working with.”

Bring the conversation back to the position and what you can do for the company and they will know you are a contender.

4. “I’m leaving academia because I’m tired of the low pay”

This also applies to any other negative reason why you want to leave academia. For example, you don’t want to write grants or you have a bad relationship with your PI.

Remember that negative language stands out in a bad way and that industry employers are looking for certainty. 

Instead of talking about how bad things are in academia, focus on why everything you have done has prepared you to transition into industry, to work for that company.

Tell a story about how you’ve always wanted to leave academia for industry and how your skills and expertise fit with the position they are trying to fill.

 5. “I’m open to any position”

Sometimes employers will test you by hypothesizing about other positions. They might say things like “I know you applied for this position, but would you be open to us shifting you into other positions?”

You might think that this shows they are invested in you and that saying yes will show your flexibility.

But this is a red flag. It will make you look desperate and unfocused.

The company needs to fill the position they are interviewing for. Everything else is just conjecture.

Don’t fall into conjecture, keep the interview on track and focus on the task at hand.

Say “I would do whatever it took to help this company be more successful. I’m committed to this position, but I’m open to talking about other options at another time.” 

They will respect that answer.

6. “I don’t have that skill”

Employers will ask about the skills required for the open position and your previous experience with those skills.

This doesn’t mean that you can only apply to positions where you hit 100% of the requirements, or that you should lie and say that you have experience you don’t actually have. 

But you still have to convince them that you are the best candidate for the role. 

I’ve seen PhD candidates just flat out say “no, I don’t have that skill” and be quiet.

Or they use weak language like “Ithink I could learn that skill, but I’m not sure.”

This isn’t honesty, it’s lack of self-awareness.

You need to show certainty. 

Say “I don’t have that skill, but I have this other relevant skill.” “I don’t have that skill, but this is how I would learn.” “I have the ability to learn that skill very quickly and can master it early.”

This is why it’s so important that you prepare for your job interviews. You have to settle the rationale beforehand so you can build a strong case for them hiring you over someone else.

Otherwise, you won’t get hired.

Concluding Remarks

Many PhDs lose great opportunities to work in industry at the interview stage because they don’t come prepared and say the wrong things. Don’t say that you’re nervous or that you want to leave academia because living there is awful. Instead, use positive language and take control of the conversation. Don’t tell them that you are not interviewing anywhere else. Let them know what other companies value you but tell them why they are your first choice. Deflect salary questions until you get an official offer and show certainty in every answer that you give.

Remember that you are a PhD, you are ready to excel at the position of your choice. 

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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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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