7 PhD Types Destined To Get Hired In 2021 (& 3 Types Certain To Fail)

What is a PhD supposed to do when you send hundreds of resumes out and get nothing back but a few automated responses? This is the question I was trying to answer in my last year of graduate school.

I literally sent out hundreds of resumes. I posted my resume to Monster and other resume aggregation sites and waited for the tidal wave of industry PhD job offers to roll in. Of course, this didn’t happen.

I polished up a generic resume and uploaded it to dozens of industry job websites. I remember getting on Pfizer and Shire’s websites, clicking the PhD job opportunities tab, and seeing all the industry job openings.

“Yes!” I thought. I will just upload my résumé and have an offer by the end of the week. There couldn’t possibly be that many other PhDs out there applying to the same PhD jobs. Right?

I was very, very wrong. I found out later that bigger companies like Pfizer and Shire receive over 2,000 resumes a day. 2,000 a day! The average for all companies including small and mid-sized companies is 525 resumes per open position.

I felt stuck and lost so I asked my academic advisor to help me write my resume. He sent me his 12-page academic CV and said “Here, look at this.”

I knew that industry hiring managers weren’t interested in academic CVs. So, I asked one of the job counselors at the graduate school for advice. She told me the key to getting an interview was to write a very detailed cover letter, make sure that my education history was at the top of my resume, and to include a one sentence “objective statement” at the very top of my resume.

I did not realize until almost a year later that this was also horrible advice, which cemented my new understanding that lifetime academics have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to getting a job in industry.

I had made the mistake of being elitist, complacent and clueless in my PhD job search and it wasn’t until I became an industry-oriented PhD that I started getting job offers.

7 PhD Types Destined To Get Hired In 2021

Job search can be intimidating, but having the right job search strategy can save months in this odyssey. The rigorous training that comprises a PhD degree prepares you for this, however, developing the right attitude is equally important. Before transitioning into an industry career, it is imperative to transition from the academic mindset to the industry one. As a PhD, you are a doctor of learning, a doctor of philosophy, philosophies of knowledge, and the ability to ascertain knowledge. Therefore, approach the job search process with the mindset of a student: a discovery mindset. 

1.    Self-Assured PhDs 

‘Imposter syndrome’ tricks PhDs to think that you are not good enough. You don’t deserve the accomplishments and eventually others would also realize it. Being in academia for long, hoping to be a tenured professor but ending up unemployed might make you question your own career choices. This affects your confidence and makes you think that you are not worthy of industry careers. Although this negativity is hard to overcome, it has to be dealt with a strong hand. 

Overcoming imposter syndrome is absolutely indispensable to explore possibilities. It is important to realize that you had no experience before doing your PhD, but you worked in the lab, did research, authored a thesis, and published papers. The can-do attitude is important.

2.  Discovery-Minded PhDs

PhDs open to constructive criticism succeed. Taking insights from peers might just open a whole new dimension to your work. Although the defensiveness and at times arrogance in defending your work is very common in academia, it translates into negativity in the job search arena. PhDs who are not defensive and don’t think they know everything approach their job search as a student asking:

 What if this works for me? Not, this will never work for me?.

 How does the job search strategy work?  What are the job titles? 

How could I find out more PhD-specific information?  Who could have the best information? 

How do I put the job search steps together into the right sequence?  

You have to remember the joy of curiosity and the thrill of trying new things and taking on challenges: the attitude that you had in the beginning. 

3.  Pragmatic PhDs

These are PhDs who work beyond the Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome, they follow the process instead of thinking that they are above it. If you are setting up incorrect expectations as— if I slightly adapt my resume it would be enough, or adding quantified results to just the bullet points in my professional summary would be fine, I will get every job I apply to, I just have to apply to a 1-2 jobs — then you are setting yourself for failure.

Realize that you are going to be rejected multiple times. You will apply for over a hundred jobs, get only a handful of phone screens, one to two onsite interviews, and maybe one offer letter. Use every rejection as a teaching point instead. Work attentively, make the necessary changes, apply with the same interest for every job. Understand the way the job search funnel works, you need to set yourself up with all valid expectations.

4. Iterative PhDs

Tailoring the cover letter and resume is indispensable. Each job posting mandates a JD-specific resume and cover letter that highlight your skills and how they fit the job requirement. These are your first introduction to the hiring manager, they could make or break your chances of getting hired.

LinkedIn relies on keywords to decide if you appear on searches. Therefore, your profile should have all the relevant keywords. Rewriting your portfolio needs the same dedication that you invested in your doctoral thesis; 3-4 hours of directed, focussed, undistracted time. Reaching out to industry professionals, setting up informational interviews, orchestrating the session with relevant questions, and adding value to your contact is equally important. Investing time and effort into reaching out to people even after a rejection is the gold standard of a successful job search strategy.

5. Relationship-Building PhDs

Reaching out to old contacts is cardinal. As long as you add value by complimenting their recent article, or accomplishment, they will be willing to talk with you. PhDs who know the worth of human connections, see conversations and follow up conversations as a longterm way to create meaningful professional relationships, not a short-term solution to getting hired. Networking is the currency of the industry, go back and forth to lower the barrier to entry, make them feel appreciated for the work they have done. Read the signs, and once you’ve gained their trust, ask for a referral.

6. Win-Win PhDs

Several PhDs just accept what they are given, this often results from mistreatment at academia. They end up accepting PhD job offers but those that were fit for bachelors and masters as they hesitate to ask for more. PhDs must rather know their worth and negotiate it with employers, not being afraid to ask for what they are worth but also being willing to make concessions so that it is a win-win transaction. Companies want you to negotiate, flip your mindset: deal-making is a social norm, don’t violate it, rather ask an open-ended question. 

You could ask:

Is there anything more that you can do for salary or something else in terms of bonus. What will my signing bonus be?

These are not awkward rather must-ask questions and a pivotal step in the PhD job search process.

7. Industry-Oriented PhDs

Don’t set yourself to fail, rather build yourself for success. Learn the nomenclature of industry, develop your business acumen by reading case studies and by talking to current employees, and communicate your worth to employers in industry language, not academic language.

Learn everything you can about the company you want to work for. Schedule informational interviews with the current employees to know the work culture and your culture fit. This information will help you demonstrate your understanding of the industry and their business goals. The more you understand the trends in your industry, the better you can handle business situations and boost your PhD job search strategy. Companies in industry are highly innovative and dynamically evolving. Hence, they prefer candidates with the knowledge of current industry trends. You must get in the habit of researching new trends and staying abreast with the news about biotech and biopharma sectors.

3 Types Of PhDs Who Will Stay Stuck In Academia in 2021

It is said that being in the right place at the right time is often a big reason why some people get hired over others. However, some PhDs do not realize the importance of starting early, working on their resume and setting up informational interviews until it is too late. For landing the dream PhD job, the right job strategy matters. Reinventing your job search strategy is the need of the hour.

1.  Pessimistic PhDs

These PhDs always assume the worst. Their PhD job search strategy is enshrouded with procrastination, often getting affirmed by confirmation bias. They feel that people perceive them as the ‘failed academics’, as they were unable to secure tenure-track positions, so they are opting for alternative employment. They have been critical of their work, finding errors in their data. Now, they are critical of all the information; of all the people they meet.

Unfortunately, they are also critical of themselves, especially of their skills and capability. All this pessimism grows into a bubble of doubt, discouraging PhDs from trying anything out merely for the fear of failure. Eventually, their focus fixates on how “unfair” a PhD job search is rather than on how to overcome the obstacles that everyone faces to get hired. Success is far away unless one steps out of this bubble.

2. Elitist PhDs

Elitism is a behavior that makes PhDs presume that employers would find them instead of them looking for employers. The whole PhD job search process is appalling for them since they value their elite PhD. The misconception that they are above the job search process blindsides them.

Thus, they ignore it and stay unemployed. Often, they get hired into the same entry-level roles as bachelors and master because they don’t do the work that is essential to communicate the value of their PhD in industry language. The general charge of elitism actually stems from PhDs feeling insecure about their lack of industry-related experience. A PhD has immense value, it puts you above a big majority of students but it cannot compensate for performance; for diligence in investing time and effort in one’s own candidate profile. 

3. Complacent PhDs

Ardent academia believers; who think that academia will take care of them. That their PhD will soon transcribe into a tenure-track academic career therefore they ignore the moderate pain they are in and keep working hard in bad conditions.

It is well-established that moderate pain is the worst enemy of career progress for PhDs because they think all challenges will lead to success, but in academia challenges like doing a postdoc, or being overworked generally never pays off. There may be a termination letter lying on your supervisor’s table waiting for you with reasons like lack of funding, PhD just working as a technician, incapable of writing/procuring grants, etc. The next thing you know is unemployment, with no backup plan.

The overall lesson is don’t be complacent and don’t get used to moderate pain and most importantly – don’t wait for your postdoc or TA to get cut or for you to graduate with no job prospects. The moderate pain that you tolerate today will gradually escalate to severe pain because you have waited too long to take your PhD job search seriously. Industry is constantly reinventing itself, and the same is expected from its candidates. Change before it is too late.

Concluding Remarks

Employers don’t like investing in people who don’t want to adopt the industry mindset  Along with your PhD and transferable skills, growing into the industry mindset is quintessential.  Leverage your skills and expertise in industry language, demonstrate your knowledge of current industry trends, and stay ahead of the game with an industry strategic mindset.

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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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