Skip to content

A Complete Career Development Plan For PhDs Wanting To Transition Into Industry

career development plan that works | Cheeky Scientist | change your career now
Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.

Forget networking.

It’s a complete waste of time.

After all, Einstein didn’t come up with his Special Theory of Relativity because he had a strong network.

He worked tirelessly by himself to discover it.


Getting a job in industry would be the exact same.

I would work hard by myself, crafting magnificent resumes and uploading hundreds of them daily to open positions, to get a job.

I would use my massive PhD brain to outthink and outmaneuver the competition.

Hiring managers and recruiters would be dazzled by my resume-writing, my publications, and my accolades.

They’d be falling all over themselves to hire me.

And—well—if they didn’t rush to hire me, that would be their loss.

I wouldn’t be hurt by it because they would be the ones that failed to act on my impressive resume.

I wouldn’t be hurt by it because I never put myself out there.

I just played it safe behind my computer screen.

Yep—these are the thoughts and feelings that actually went through my head the last year of graduate school.

I was such a moron.

My job search strategy looked like this…

Write resumes. Get interview. Get job. Win.

Instead, it ended up looking like this…

Write resumes. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.

My complete workflow for getting an industry job was backwards.

No networking.

No industry credibility.

This is why month after month went by without hearing a peep from the hiring managers I contacted.

I thought my strategy was aggressive, intelligent, and even revolutionary when in fact it was tired, dumb, and obsolete.

Silly PhD—Your Resume Doesn’t Matter

You’ll never hear back after submitting your resume online.

A report by FlexJobs showed that 95% of resumes submitted online never get a response.

NPR reported that 80% of industry jobs are not advertised.

Think about that.

Guess which jobs are NOT being published online—the good jobs or the bad jobs?

The good jobs.

Of course.

Networking is the ONLY way to get industry referrals and getting referrals is the ONLY way to find out about the best jobs.

As reported by The New York Times, nearly 50% of jobs at top companies come from direct referrals.

50 percent!

And this number is climbing.

All of this makes your resume (mostly) useless in industry.

A good resume won’t get you a job, but a bad one will keep you from getting a job.

When you first start an industry job search, it’s natural to think that having a great resume or CV is all you need.

Most PhDs believe that the resume is the starting point of every job search.

This is absolutely false.

Networking is the starting point of every job search.

You need to connect to other professionals (both PhDs and non-PhDs) to find out where jobs are and to get referred to the hiring managers for those jobs.

Don’t worry about your resume until after you build up your network and industry credibility, and start getting industry referrals.

Then and only then should you carefully craft a targeted industry resume.

strategies for developing and planning your career | Cheeky Scientist | career change advice tips

The Incorrect Career Transition Workflow

Your job search strategy is measured by where you put your time.

The more time you spend on a particular part of your job search, the more important that part of the job search is to you.

That last word is critical—YOU.

YOU may think that a particular part of your job search is important, like crafting the perfect resume, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually important.

Maybe you read some outdated article online on the importance of resumes.

You’re stressed out trying to get your next paper published in the lab so you didn’t have time to check the article’s source.

If you would have done your research, you would’ve found out that the article was written by some nameless lifelong academic or journal editor who has never worked in industry.

Now, you’re in trouble.

Now, you’ve primed yourself to think that resumes are important.

Now, whenever you do more research online about transitioning into industry, you automatically focus only on articles that confirm to you that resumes are important.

Now, you build up references to support this one idea—resumes are important.

As a result, you dedicate all of your time to writing your resume and uploading it to job sites.

Then you’re baffled when you hear nothing back.

You’re baffled when you run out of funding and are unemployed or working for free.

the wrong career development plan workflow diagram | Cheeky Scientist

This is what happens to most PhDs.

They skim some article online or they recall something they read or heard a long time ago about how important resumes are and act accordingly.

They prioritize their time accordingly.

They spend the majority of their time, energy, and resources on crafting and uploading resumes, and practicing scripted interview answers.

Here’s the problem—it’s not 1985 anymore.

High-level professionals don’t get jobs by sending in resumes and getting invited to interviews anymore.

This workflow is obsolete.

Every hour you spend crafting your resume and preparing for interviews before networking and creating a job search strategy is a wasted hour.

The Correct Career Transition Workflow

The fastest and most effective way to get an industry job is by getting referred for one.

This makes networking critical to all PhDs who want to move their careers forward.

Most PhDs fail to recognize two important facts about networking in relation to finding an industry job.

First, networking is a skill.

It’s not a talent.

It’s not something you’re born with.

It’s a skill that can be improved just like any technical skill you’ve learned and improved in the lab.

Oh, you don’t know how to network?


When you didn’t know how to clone a DNA sequence in the lab, what did you do?

When you didn’t know how to run a Western blot or make a knockout mouse, what did you do?

You learned.

How did you learn?

You practiced it over and over and over again, failing numerous times in the process.

The reason most PhDs refuse to execute this same practice-to-improve strategy when it comes to networking is because they’re scared.

Yep, they’re scared.

They’re scared of getting their feelings hurt.

What if I put in all of this effort to go to a networking event and no one talks to me?

What if I try really hard and don’t get a referral?

What if nobody likes me?

Of course, these fears are mutated into reasonable, PhD-level objections like “I have too many experiments to do in the lab.”

“My PI won’t let me leave the lab during the day.”

“No one responds to my LinkedIn messages.”

“There’s no networking events near me.”

Come on.


You’re a PhD and you can’t see through your own weak excuses?

You can’t sit down with your PI and map out a networking event schedule in advance?

You can’t create your own networking event series and invite people to it or join an existing online networking group?

The hard truth is you will NEVER get an industry job without building up your network.

If you want to transition into industry, networking should be your number one priority.

the correct career development plan workflow diagram | Cheeky Scientist

This is the second fact most PhDs fail to recognize about networking—it should be your top priority.

Everything else should come second.

Your thesis should come second.

Getting published should come second.

Keeping your PI happy should come second.

If you’ve made a decision to transition into industry, you must make networking your top priority.

You must also make creating a job search strategy a top priority.

You must remind yourself over and over again that you’re leaving academia.

If you’re going to leave—leave.

Move your academic priorities downward and your industry transition priorities upward.

Once you make the decision to transition into industry, start making networking and your job search strategy your highest priorities. Start learning the transferable skills you need to get into the position you want. Start mapping out the networking events you’re going to attend every week and the industry professionals you’re going to contact and follow up with them daily. Get serious about these efforts and make sure you’re executing them in the right sequence. The wrong industry transition workflow will keep you unemployed or stuck in academia for a long time to come. But the right workflow will get you the job referrals and job you want quickly.

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.

Cheeky Scientist Association Learn More

Isaiah Hankel


Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Learn how to build the perfect LinkedIn profile to attract hiring managers and recruiters. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven ...

Top 40 Networking Scripts For PhDs

Learn how to get replies from top employers and recruiters as a PhD. This eBook will show you the exact words and phrases to use ...

Informational Interviews For PhDs

Learn how to set up and execute informational interviews with PhDs and other professionals working in industry. In this eBook, you will learn exactly which ...

Top 20 Transferable Skills For PhDs

Learn the top 20 transferable skills that industry employers ranked as "most important" for PhDs to include on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. In this ...

Salary Negotiation For PhDs

Learn advanced salary negotiation strategies for PhDs. In this eBook, you will learn how to set your "walkaway number," spot "appeal-to-authority" tactics,  and avoid "muddying ...

Industry Resume Guide For PhDs

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn ...

Top 20 Industry Jobs For PhDs

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, ...

Related Posts You Might Like

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

  Contributing Author: Isaiah Hankel, PhD How many PhDs miss their calling as leaders because of academic failure?  I remember my own academic education well. ...
Read More
phd at interview for data scientist job

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

Contributing Author: Shobeir K. Mazinani Data science has changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration. Since becoming a data scientist, recruiters have invited me to ...
Read More
PhD in a recession

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

Contributing Author: Isaiah Hankel, PhD I've lost a job. I was offered a contract, and they pulled it back. Everybody is ignoring me on LinkedIn ...
Read More
phd leader at work in conferencd

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

Contributing Author: Sarah Smith, PhD The current crisis reminds me of something that happened to me years ago. I had an interview with a big ...
Read More
PhD walking with confidence

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

Contributing Author: Elliott Brecht, PhD You should have seen my academic CV. It was a total disaster. By academia’s standards, it was fine. But I ...
Read More
PhDs looking confident

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

Isaiah Hankel has your guide to navigating the world of PhD jobs during the coronavirus crisis and using this temporary downtime to your advantage. The ...
Read More