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.

Right?

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.

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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?

And…?

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.

Seriously?

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.

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Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should 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 Hankel Ph.D.
  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    I have to confess to goofing up about half of this, although I did eventually find the job I wanted in industry, much to my contentment. But I’ve got to say that no one was talking about these kinds of things the way you are. In fact, I do remember PhD candidates slacking off a little on finishing a thesis and getting out there and networking more, and I found it a little annoying. The perfectionist in me could not see it at the time. But they were right – they were looking forward and I wasn’t. Good for you for breaking the contract of silence and telling people what they really need to know.

  • Kathy Azalea

    This is so logical. I really want to do a good job of learning to network by the time I’m ready to start looking. Do you recommend starting early, like before you’re even halfway through grad school?

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      Absolutely, Kathy. Networking is a skill that takes practice and the sooner you start, the better. Plus, the pressure will be less if you start early.

  • Julian Holst

    I really like this. The infographic pretty much says it all! I, for one, spend a lot more time thinking about resumes, CVs, papers, and experiments than I spend thinking about – or doing – any networking. I’ve got to get on it pretty soon as I don’t have much time left. Thanks for this kick in the pants.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      You’re welcome, Julian! You’ve made a strong decision, now take action.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    I know for sure that even PhD’s can fall off ladders and do other things that don’t qualify as intelligent. So I guess I had to laugh when you suggested that some of us can’t see our own excuses! Fear is the cause of a lot of hiding out, staying late in the lab, trying to be a perfect model of what the PI would want, etc. A lot of us are a little nervous about how we’d do outside of academia, ESPECIALLY because we’re doing so well in academia! I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve had kind of a creeping feeling that I might end up like a duck out of water after I’m done with academics.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      LOL it was the ladder’s fault, Madeline 😉 But seriously, now that you’ve acknowledged your fear of feeling like a duck out of water, you can be proactive and do something about it. Taking action will diminish the fear.

      • Madeline Rosemary

        Thanks so much. And I’ll watch out for those darned ladders! 🙂

  • Harvey Delano

    Wow, it sounds like you really had to step out of your comfort zone and work on the networking skills and evaluate what’s really needed in industry to get a good job. But look where you are now! It’s impressive, and I hope I can do the same.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      You can, Harvey. Nothing is stopping you. Thanks for commenting.

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    It takes a lot of focus and energy to write such a comprehensive, well-explained blueprint to a successful career in industry. Thanks for all those efforts and for sharing your story. I certainly intend to apply myself to meeting all those goals.

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    This is great. A lot of your work is helpful even to those of us who already have a position in industry, because I believe one has to stay sharp and continue the networking/credibility building process throughout a career. Thanks for keeping us focused on the outcome.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      You’re welcome, Matthew. I love your mindset, keep pushing forward.

  • Winona Petit

    Even the most seasoned professionals have to pay attention to this advice, because it’s ongoing. The article is definitely geared to networking to get that first plum job, but in reality we all have to keep growing and continually scout out new opportunity in the field.

  • Sonja Luther

    This is great, no matter what field your in. The truth be told, we’re in a different world right now, and anyone can slap together a resume. I believe networking is so important because employers want to see the real person, not just a bunch of words on paper. 🙂

  • Theo

    I think it’s funny … people would think that as successful as you are now, you never had a misstep. They would think that you never went down the wrong path, felt bad about yourself, or had the wrong information. When I read how you used to think about job searches, and how your thinking has evolved until you’re now able to help others, I’m really impressed with how you elevated your life. It makes me want to keep learning, because big things are possible.

    • http://isaiahhankel.com/ Dr. Isaiah Hankel

      Exactly, Theo. Fail (and learn) your way to success! Thanks for your comments!

  • Migue el Suricato

    This is me right now…But I got the point. I will start with my Linkedin network. Thank you.

  • Aleks Schein

    Networking is a great thing… The only problem is-it does not exist. Nobody will recommend you to any position, unless they know you WELL and PERSONALLY. “Networking events” are myths, invented by Dr. Isaiah Hankel

  • Dr Jamuna J Bhaskar

    Thanks for such a motivating writeup. I always wanted to join industry after my phd, but had only postdoc in my mind. I had never thought of other positions. I am happy to have read your articles which helped me to take major career transition decisions.
    After my doctorate I had to take a career break of 4 years for my baby and I do not have any industry experience. Will I still be able to get a job in industry?