7 Devastating Replies To PhDs Who Thought Their PhD Was Enough To Get Them Hired

My PhD resume was not enough. I was shocked when I sent out my first 3 resumes in graduate school and didn’t hear back. 

Seriously, very shocked. 

What? Why weren’t these employers falling all over themselves to hire me? 

This was the insecure, elitist shell I was living in. 

Deep down I knew I had no idea how to get hired in industry. 

BUT – certainly my PhD was enough to get a callback. 

Nope. 

Here is the funny thing that most PhDs don’t understand (I certainly did not) – your PhD is incredibly valuable and so are you, BUT you are not above the job search process. You and your PhD don’t give you a free pass to not have to learn to speak the language of industry, to not have to follow up, to not have to learn industry buzzwords and transferable skills; to not have to practice behavioral questions, on and on. 

I have spent the last 10 years trying to teach other PhDs this in the Cheeky Scientist Association. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes, well, it goes very badly. 

When does it go badly? It goes badly when a PhD ignores the process and the Cheeky Scientist methodology I teach them. These PhDs are often too aggressive and rude, or the opposite, they’re too quiet, shy, and afraid to follow up with an employer. Either way, they let their emotions control their job search activities instead of the data—the proven data—that’s been put into a protocol for every situation. 

I try to protect these PhDs from what comes next – devastation. 

When these same PhDs start engaging in the job market with hiring managers and recruiters, most of whom don’t have PhDs and haven’t been indoctrinated by academia into the laws of snootiness, they get hammered. The rejection can be deafening, but it’s well deserved. Why? 

That’s what happens when a PhD thinks that because they’re smart in their niche academic discipline or because they graduated above others in undergraduate, or because they got published in a prestigious journal, or whatever, that they’re automatically smart when it comes to a job search. 

Being smart, proven, or successful in one area does not make you any of those things in another area. So, get over yourself. Otherwise, you won’t be able to avoid the devastation that follows.

The Only Way To Avoid Harsh Rejection Is To Respect The Job Search Process

Jobvite statistics show that most PhDs get rejected during their job search. Statistics shows that every open position at a top global company receives up to 2,000 resumes

Do you really think because you have a PhD that you can avoid doing things correctly in a competitive job market? You can’t. PhDs have to follow the same process as everyone else. This includes spending several hours updating your resume and ensuring it includes the right transferable skills and quantified results for the position you want. 

You have to target each resume to each position, and do everything in your power to get your resume into the hands of a hiring manager. 

How? By getting a referral. 

Yes, this means you have to interact with human beings. Did you really think your PhD meant that you can somehow avoid dealing with humans? 

Humans hire humans. Whatever role you want in industry, you will have to talk to a series of humans in order to get that role. Can these humans stand being around you? Would they choose freely to sit next to you on a plane for 8 hours straight? How would they feel having a conversation with you? Comfortable? Awkward? Annoyed? 

Was your breath bad? Did you fidget constantly? Did you frown and avoid eye contact? What about what you’re wearing? Would they feel like they’re interacting with a professional and or someone who can’t be bothered to clean the coffee stains off of their clothes, let alone buy a new professional wardrobe. 

Seriously – you’re trying to get a high-paying job at a top company, are you even trying? If not, you will be notified. You will be called out for wasting other people’s time. Don’t believe me? Here are some recent replies that PhDs I’ve worked with received after not respecting their job search… 

1. “Please dress professionally next time.”

This is cringeworthy but all too common, which is why I decided to share this. Too many people avoid this subject but it’s important. Chances are, you will have to get on a video interview with someone to get hired, and then you will have to meet them in person. For the video interview, dress like you would dress at an in-person interview. The PhD who received this reply wore a short-sleeved button down shirt for the video interview. Everyone else on the panel was in business formal. Overdress for every interview. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Ask those close to you how you look, what your mannerisms and nonverbal cues are, and, in general what first impression you make. Would you really blow a six figure contract because you couldn’t be bothered to wear a nicer shirt? 

2. “Punctuality is important at this organization. This is not academia.” 

Academics can’t be bothered to be on time, which makes sense. When the stakes are so small, why care to be punctual. PIs and lifetime academics around the world stroll into seminars whenever they feel like it, setting an awful example for their mentees. The PhDs who received the above reply were 10 minutes late to a phone screen. 10 Minutes. I’m surprised the hiring manager even gave them feedback. The PhD’s excuse? I was finishing an experiment. If you think this is okay, you’re wrong. You’re also on your way to unemployment. Your time is not more important than anyone else’s time, especially those trying to give you money and a contract to do meaningful work in industry.

3. “We went with a more qualified PhD candidate. While they also didn’t have experience, they did understand the role and our company better.” 

I laugh inside every time a PhD tells me that they can’t get a job because they don’t have industry experience. Sorry, not true. You can’t get a job because you’re too lazy or arrogant to follow the correct job search process. Every time a PhD tells me they can’t get hired because they don’t have industry experience, I ask to see their resume. Every time (seriously, every single time) these PhDs have failed to use a functional resume format. Most of them have failed to even use our Gold Standard Resume format. What a waste of time. My time. Their time. And certainly the time of any employer. The PhD who was told this line had interviewed at a company and then received a rejection letter. When they followed up on why they didn’t get the job, this was the reply. The PhD obsessed afterwards over the response, spitefully railing against the impossibility of someone being more qualified for a role but not having experience in the role.

What? Who cares? Are you trying to catch the employer in a logic trap? Grow up. Employers don’t care who has the most experience or the best logic. They want a candidate who did their research on the role, the company, and the industry. They want a candidate who is 100% CERTAIN they can do the job and will do whatever it takes to get hired. They want a candidate who CAN’T WAIT to work with them. When’s the last time you showed that kind of certainty or enthusiasm for a role? Or, are you too cool to show enthusiasm? Are you too cool to do your homework? 

4. “What are you talking about?” 

I have had multiple PhDs tell me that they heard this reply from hiring managers, recruiters, and employees throughout their job search, usually during interviews, and predominantly after rattling off a bunch of technical skills that the PhDs thought would be impressive.

One employer further replied with “You do know that we have advanced robotics doing that here, don’t you?” Another said “That technology is very outdated. PhDs are still using it in academia?” And my favorite follow up: “I don’t have a PhD and don’t really understand what you’re talking about, but I do know it’s irrelevant for this position.” Ouch. Listen, your technical skills are not what will get you hired in industry. It’s your transferable skills and your ability to speak the language of business. Stop trying to impress people with the likely outdated and irrelevant skills you learned in your underfunded lab or classroom academia. It’s embarrassing.

5. “That’s not the name of our company. You’re thinking of someone else.”

How incredulous! Imagine offering a PhD a career making $92,000 for a top industry role and that PhD showing up to the phone screen so unprepared that they forgot which company they were talking to. That’s what happened here and why the employer replied with the above sentence. If you can’t be organized in your job search, how will you ever convince an employer that you’ll be organized day in and day out into the top role they’re interviewing you for? If you can’t show professionalism in the form of respect and self-awareness before you are even hired …what will you be like 2 months or 2 years into the job? 

6. “To be frank, they thought the PhD came across as arrogant.” 

Do you even know how your personality comes across to others? Or, are you in your head and living in your own little world? You were taught in academia to attack gaps in logic and to cut to the chase. This was valued in academia because it was a cover for how insecure most lifetime academics are in their professional worth, and how unimportant most of the work academics spend their life doing is. But everywhere else, this behavior is unacceptable. In terms of a job search, this behavior will get you delisted from ever being considered by an employer again. That’s what happened to the PhD who evoked the above response. Conversations with numerous Global 500 recruiters have confirmed that PhDs risk coming across as arrogant, defensive, or awkward given their social engineering in academia. You must do as many informational interviews and mock interviews as possible to adapt and ideally replace these traits.

7. “You didn’t seem to know what you wanted.” 

Too many PhDs are stuck in theory when they start interviewing. They are stuck in the causal exploratory frame of mind that they lived in throughout their academic tenure. During the industry interview, employers are not impressed by theory. They don’t want to hear about all of the careers you’ve explored and that you’re open to taking other positions and might one day go back to academia. No. No. No. What employers are looking for is the one thing that academia brainwashed you into never showing – certainty. They want to know that you are 100% certain you want the job at hand and that you are absolutely certain you can do the job very, very well. Did you think they were going to give you a massive paycheck and spending thousands and thousands of dollars training you so that you could dabble in the role? So that you could experiment with industry. Again, no. If you come across flaking in ANY way during an interview or any interaction with an employer, they will not hire you.

7 Devastating Replies To PhDs Who Thought Their PhD Was Enough To Get Them Hired

If you say you’re willing to relocate but then change your mind – you’re gone. If you say that you are set on getting hired into an R&D Project Manager role but then casually say you could see yourself in a Clinical Affairs position, even if it’s at the same company, you will come across as unsure of what you want. Uncertainty in who you are and what you want in industry is a poison pill to your candidacy. You must commit. Stop avoiding confirmation bias. You must be biased to get hired. You must know that you are the best candidate for the job at hand and do everything in your power to convince the other party of the same thing. 

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.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

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