Everything You Need To Know About Pitching Yourself To An Industry Employer

I wasted the first three years of my graduate school career networking the old fashioned way. 

I would go to internal seminars with the same people over and over again, arriving just in time and leaving right after it was over. 

Once or twice a year, I would go to a conference and stand in front of some poster I had made at the last minute, expecting that people would care.

I would also go to job fairs held at my university, collect business cards from industry employees and think “I’m networking! I’m networking! It’s happening! I’ve been discovered!” 

Only to go home and never have anyone who took my card or gave me a card reach out to me.

It never occurred to me that there was something wrong with my strategy. I was convinced that I could stay in my comfort zone, having as little interaction with others as possible, and eventually someone would hire me.

But when I reached my last year of graduate school and faced the reality that I had no career options outside of doing a postdoc, I became desperate.

I started reaching out to those people whose cards I had collected over the years.

Sending lengthy messages about my willingness to work in industry and the technical skills I had developed in grad school.

Of course, I only managed to burn bridges with that approach. 

First, I had no leverage with the people I was reaching out to. I had spent years connecting without ever spending the time to develop valuable relationships through appropriate networking.

Second, I had no idea how to position myself for an industry job. I was sending extensive messages talking about technical skills that were obsolete, without spending time thinking about what industry employers were looking for in a job candidate.

It’s Not The Most Skilled PhD Who Gets Hired, It’s The One Who Pitches Themselves The Best

Connecting is what happens when you meet someone. Networking is what happens when you follow up with them to build a professional relationship

Most PhDs never network. They meet someone at a conference, seminar, or poster section in person, or they press the blue connect button on LinkedIn, and that’s it.

This takes them nowhere. Understand – when you’re a job candidate searching for a job, it’s your responsibility to turn connecting into networking.

There is no substitute for networking and your career will never reach its full potential if you don’t network. We live in a relationship-driven world and love it or hate it, your relationships and access to decision-makers will dictate your industry success.

At the same time, you need to know how to position yourself and show industry employers and employees that you can add value to their organizations.

PhDs often struggle with this because academia teaches them that any type of promotion is bad and should be avoided.

This is bad advice when it comes to transitioning into industry. As a job candidate, you – the combination of your skills and work ethic – are a product that you’re trying to sell to employers.

If an employer has an open position, this means their company has a need. It is your job to find out what that need is and show that employer that you can fulfill their needs if they hire you.

In other words, you need to pitch yourself to employers.

Two Keys To Pitching Yourself To Industry Employers

The more you know who you are, what you want and why, the more influence you will carry in your job search and in life.

This will allow you to target positions that are well fitted for your professional and personal goals. 

Knowing what you want will also allow you to be ready to pitch yourself to employers once you start networking and interviewing. 

There will be rare occasions in your job search where you will achieve moments of focused attention from those you’re connecting with.

For example, when a professional at a networking event says, “Enough about me, what about you?” or when a hiring manager asks, “Can you tell me a little about yourself?” at a job interview.

These moments will be very fleeting so you need to be prepared for them. You will have seconds, literally, to impress the other person.

Today, I want to explore two tools that will help position yourself when talking to employers. 

You can start developing these tools from the moment you start planning your transition and polish them as you learn more about your target positions and companies.

Unique selling proposition

Before you can pitch yourself to an employer, you have to understand what makes you unique in the job market. 

Then, you have to position your unique qualities as a proposition that will benefit someone else. In other words, you have to craft a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). 

The term Unique Selling Proposition, also called Value Proposition, comes from the world of advertising, marketing, and branding. 

A USP is a description of the factor or factors that differentiate a company’s product from its competitors. It’s the main reason that the company presents to consumers to convince them to choose their product over those of the competition.

Remember that, as a job candidate, you are selling your skills to employers. So, your USP should focus on the skills that uniquely qualify you to solve an organization’s problems and help them succeed.

To arrive at your own USP, you need to consider 3 factors from an employers perspective:

  • What the company needs
  • What you do well
  • What other job candidates do well

You can imagine each of these factors as a circle in a Venn Diagram of three overlapping circles. This gives us a total of 4 overlapping areas, one between every combination of two circles and an overlap of all three circles at the center of the Diagram.

The purpose of visualizing the USP this way is to better illustrate the areas you want to avoid and those you want to focus on.

You should avoid the overlap between “what other candidates do well” and “what you do well” but not “what the company needs.” This area is not relevant to employers.

You should also avoid the overlap between “what the company needs” and “what other job candidates do well” but not “what you do well” because this will play to your weaknesses instead of your advantages.

Now, consider the overlap of all three circles. You might think this is a safe place to be, but it’s not. This is a risky zone because you are highlighting skills that many candidates have. In other words, you are not differentiating yourself.

This is what happens when you highlight your technical and niche-specific specialty skills or talk about your PhD training and education because you are competing with other candidates with PhDs who are likely highlighting the same skills in the same way.

The only way to differentiate yourself from other job candidates is to focus exclusively on the area of overlap between “what the company needs” and “what you do well” but not “what other job candidates do well”. 

This is where you win intelligently in the job market. This is your area of differentiated strength. This is your USP. 

In this area you will find your transferable skills and the unique combination of your technical skills and transferable skills.

The more you network with industry employers, the better you will understand their needs, which will allow you to target your USP for each specific company or industry.

Elevator pitch

Your elevator pitch is a personalized, top-of-mind script that you can use to sell yourself when interacting with decision makers.

An elevator pitch is a powerful tool that will allow you to break free of the academic stereotype: non-social nerds who can only hold conversations with other non-social nerds about their latest experimental findings. 

The key is to practice and revise your pitch until you have developed a winning introduction that can be expressed in a conversational tone. 

In order to create an effective pitch, you need to answer three questions about yourself:

  • Who are you (both professionally and personally)?
  • What do you want?
  • Why should someone else care?

Notice that the first question asks you to explain who you are both professionally and personally. For the personal component, consider a hobby that is not related to your PhD work and is very qualitative in nature. 

This personal addition to your pitch humanizes you and helps hiring managers and recruiters, who rarely have PhDs, identify with you. Playing an instrument, playing a sport, gardening, arts and crafts, traveling, and cooking are all good examples.

For the second question, you should mention your target position and your target industry or company.

Finally, for the third question, you should focus on the skills or combination of skills you identified as your USP and put them in the context of how you want to contribute to an organization.

An example of an effective elevator pitch is, “I’m an immunology expert who loves to bake – German chocolate cake is my favorite recipe! – and I’m seeking a project management role because I want to help coordinate research into treatments that will help cure XYZ disease and improve patient lives.” 

With your pitch in place, all you have to do is present it to your target audience with confidence and good body language. 

Pinning down who you are professionally in addition to what you want and why are not easy tasks. It takes careful thought and execution of a proper process to arrive at a simple sentence that communicates your professional who, what, and why. 

This effort is worth it however. An effective elevator pitch will make you stand out from other job candidates and will result in referrals, interview invites, and job offers.

Concluding Remarks

If you want to transition into a PhD-level industry job, you need to network in the right way and learn to position yourself to industry employers. Through networking, you will create professional relationships with people willing to vouch for you and by learning how to position yourself, you will ensure that you show your value to industry employers and employees alike. The best way to position yourself is by working on your unique selling proposition (USP) and your elevator pitch. Your unique selling proposition is a description of the skills or combination of skills that uniquely qualify you to solve an organization’s problems and your elevator pitch is a personalized, top-of-mind script that you can use to sell yourself when interacting with decision makers. Both of these tools are very powerful when it comes to showing your value to employers and advancing your career.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published two bestselling books with Wiley and his methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

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