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Employers Stopped Seeing Me As “Just An Academic” When I Started Attending Earnings Calls

Written by: Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

At the end of my PhD, it was tough for me to see a path forward.

What was I supposed to do next?

I really didn’t want to continue on to do a postdoc.

I’d had enough of the stress and anxiety induced by academia as a PhD student — I didn’t need or want any more of that.

But, was there anything else for PhDs to do?

I felt that my skill-set had me pigeon-holed into a small academic niche.

I had no idea how to escape it.

So, I applied to postdoc positions, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Thankfully, I began networking with people who worked outside academia.

This was an incredibly eye-opening experience.

I saw PhDs who were working at companies, leading happy lives, making an impact on society, and doing interesting work.

What?

How did no one tell me about this earlier?

Some of the PhDs I met were running companies.

Or, guiding the business decisions of large corporations.

These PhDs had once been in a place of uncertainty, just like I was, but they leveraged their incredible talent to learn new things.

They sought out new skills, especially business-related skills, that allowed them to become highly valued industry professionals.

It was an example I knew I needed to follow if I wanted to succeed in industry.

What Is An Earnings Call? How Can PhDs Attend An Earnings Call?

As an academic PhD, you have probably never even heard of an “earnings call”.

But, as you transition into industry, it’s important that you become more well-versed in industry concepts — such as earnings calls.

Because, industry needs employees who have good business acumen.

According to a study by BTS, 65% of business leaders said that a lack of business acumen strongly inhibits the execution of company strategies.

If you develop strong commercial and business acumen, you can be a great asset to a company.

And, listening to earnings calls is a great strategy to develop and improve your business acumen.

An earnings call is a conference call between the management of a public company, its investors, and the media, where they discuss the financial status of the company.

These earnings calls usually take place once per quarter, and discuss the financial results from that quarter.

And, although these calls are focused around the financial performance of a company, you can also gain insight into the company strategies, pipeline, and future outlook.

These calls are open and available to the public.

Usually, you can find the information about the earnings calls on their webpage in the investor section of the website.

Another way to find the earnings calls for a variety of companies is on websites that store these calls after they have been recorded, such as Earnings Cast.

No matter how you find them, it is very important that you take the time to attend earnings calls.

Schedule these into your calendar and plan to listen to them.

Yes, it will be overwhelming, at first.

But, even if you pick up just one or two things that can inform your actions and decisions during your job search, it will be worth it.

Asking one good, insightful question about something on the earnings call could put you over the edge in an interview and make you the candidate they choose to hire.

Top 5 Reasons Why PhDs Should Attend Earnings Calls

You’re ready to leave academia behind.

You’ve realized that in industry, you can truly be valued as a PhD.

But, how do you make yourself a desirable job candidate?

How do you make yourself stand out as the best job candidate?

By demonstrating your knowledge of industry and proving that you are more than “just an academic”.

Here are 5 reasons why you should attend earnings calls as a way to boost your business acumen and get hired…

1. To gain insight into the corporate strategies of your target companies.

An earnings call usually discusses the financial results of the previous quarter.

So, attending these calls will give you a clear picture of the current state of the company.

What are they focusing on?

What areas of research are they investing in most heavily, or what areas are they removing funding from?

Understanding the strategy driving the companies you are targeting means diving deeper into both their current financial status and future trajectory.

Additionally, as a part of these calls, the people hosting the call will discuss how the current financial results impact and drive the strategies of the company.

In other words, what they are going to do next.

Did a particular area of the company report heavy losses last quarter? What are they going to do about it?

They will bring up the major developments or changes occurring with the company because these will impact the financial state of the company.

How a company decides to handle various situations gives you great insight into their corporate strategy.

2. To foresee any potential issues the company may be facing and how they may affect you.

You’ll get to see the big picture on every single earnings call.

But, most scientists don’t listen to earnings calls.

Most employees don’t listen to them either, for that matter.

And, this is a dumb mistake.

The big picture and big goals of a company will impact the work you do, and could impact whether you continue to have a job or not.

Even if you don’t have much decision-making power in your role, there is no reason whatsoever that you shouldn’t be talking with your manager about how your work fits into the overall company goals.

For example, after an earnings call, you could do a debrief with your manager that is framed around the question:

“Hey, did you listen to the earnings call? It has me thinking about the work that I do.
Do you think that what we’re doing as a team fits into the overall strategic goals?”

Evaluate your position in a company, and whether you are contributing to the company’s big goals.

If not, that could be a sign that your role is not secure.

Also, because earnings calls discuss the financial state of the company, if they are facing hardship, you can find out here and prepare yourself for what your next steps may need to be.

3. To learn what positions might be opening up at your target companies.

Based on the analysis of the financials that happens in an earnings call, you will be able to gain insight into the upcoming plans of the company.

As they look back and discuss the results of last quarter, they will also look forward and talk about what they expect in the future.

Is the company going to modify its pipeline?

Do they have any clinical trials in phase 3 that they think might soon apply for FDA approval?

Are they planning more clinical trials?

Or, are they investing in basic research and development?

The answers to these questions (and other similar questions) will drive the types of positions that may be opened or closed in the near future for that company.

For example, if a phase 3 trial is going well, the company might be looking to hire Medical Science Liaisons in the near future, to promote the drug.

While if the company intends to initiate additional trials, they may hire more Clinical Research Associates.

Understanding these trends can help you target your job search efforts and you can network with people in the departments where you think jobs you want may open up soon.

4. To better understand the company culture.

Listening in on earnings calls is a unique chance to hear directly from the leadership team of a company.

The CEO, CFO, COO, president, directors, etc. are usually in attendance and will speak about the state of the company.

What is the tone of these meetings?

How do these leaders talk about the company?

Tapping into the “vibe” of these key leaders can give you insight into the company culture.

Additionally, the call may address actions that the company took to ensure financial successes, and this can reveal the company culture as well.

For example, if a company reports letting people go for not performing well enough, this tells you a lot about culture. Clearly, this company has a culture of accountability.

This is something you would want to know before you accepted a job offer.

5. To be able to ask business-savvy questions at an interview.

Earnings calls will be confusing when you first start attending them.

It’s a jargon that you are not familiar with.

And, that’s okay — you will learn as you go.

At an earnings call, you will learn more about the company, its strategies, and its trajectory, than most other job candidates will know.

This is a massive advantage.

And, the way to leverage this newfound information is by asking questions during interviews.

Asking high-level and insightful questions will make you a more desirable job candidate.

It also shows that you have done your research.

For example, you could say:

“I listened to the recent earnings call and [xyz and abc strategies] were mentioned as
important strategies for the company. How does this team fit into that?”

Especially since you are a PhD coming from academia, this will be impressive.

If any of your interview panelists were thinking that you are “just an academic”, questions like the one above will help get you out of that box.

To get hired in industry, you cannot just rely on your PhD. Yes, your PhD is a massive advantage, but it’s not enough to get you hired. To get hired in industry, you must demonstrate that you have an understanding of business. A way to expand your business acumen is to attend earnings calls. You should attend earnings calls to gain insight into the corporate strategies of your target companies, to foresee any potential issues the company may be facing and how they may affect you, to learn what positions might be opening up at your target companies, to better understand the company culture, and to be able to ask insightful questions at an interview.

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Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.
Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.