Written by: Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.
To apply, or not to apply?
That was the question.
When I started to look for jobs outside academia, online job sites and job boards were my go-to option.
I knew I wanted a position away from the bench, but I felt that a research scientist position was the only thing I was qualified for.
At least, partially qualified for.
Even research scientist positions asked for previous industry experience.
How is one supposed to get industry experience when every job description asked for previous industry experience?
Was this one of those chicken-or-egg brain teasers set up by hiring managers to ward off academics?
I felt embarrassed at even the thought of applying.
I imagined someone reading my resume and laughing while feeding it through the shredder.
I felt like a joke and I hadn’t even applied yet.
It seemed like a complete waste of my time because it just seemed like a hopeless set-up.
Maybe the only thing I was qualified for was an internship or an academic postdoc.
I even thought about offering to volunteer my time at big pharma companies.
I had no sense of the value I could bring to a company — when in fact, all the transferable skills I obtained during my PhD made me the ideal job candidate.
I just didn’t realize it.
As soon as I saw a checklist of requirements that I couldn’t tick off 100%, I wouldn’t even bother applying.
It wasn’t until I started networking with industry professionals that I learned how foolish I really was.
No job candidate ever ticked 100% of the boxes.
Not only that, but hiring managers will choose someone who is a better fit culturally over someone with all the technical qualifications.
I didn’t even know what I didn’t know and it was holding me back.
My imposter syndrome prevented me from seeing my own true worth.
My connections encouraged me to apply for roles I thought I wouldn’t have a chance getting.
I followed their advice and got the call for an industry interview…
Why You Don’t Have To Meet All The Job Requirements
Job descriptions are created by hiring managers and human resources departments; people who rarely, if ever, have done the actual job they are recruiting for.
They create it based on a fictitious persona of the perfect employee.
Based on a list of technical skills that someone left on their desk for the job.
A checklist of skills with some added guesswork and imagination.
Just enough to create a job description that will attract top talent while warding off those who are completely unqualified.
The truth is, despite the checklist, a company would rather hire someone who has key transferable skills and is a good cultural fit irrespective of their experience, than just someone who meets every requirement on the list.
Transferable skills take time (and resources) to teach and some people will never be able to grasp them.
A recent Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives found that 92% believed transferable skills were equally or more important than technical skills, although harder to come by.
Luckily, as PhDs, we have mastered many transferable skills directly related to industry careers.
Cultural fit equates to higher employee retention and higher productivity.
Employees who match the company goals will want to work for that company for longer and work more efficiently.
Happy employees are good employees.
Unfortunately, too many PhDs take the job requirements too literally and are scared off applying for roles where their prior experience has otherwise aptly prepared them.
How To Get An Industry Job Without Matching The Requirements
For every corporate position posted online there is an average 250 applicants and, for larger companies, often up to 2,000-3,000 applicants.
Don’t let this deter you.
No matter how many degrees you have, or how many years of industry experience you have under your belt, you will never meet all the job requirements in a given posting.
Most of the applicants won’t meet all the requirements either.
Remember, the job posting is merely a hiring manager wish list.
They are meant to attract only the cream of the crop.
That means YOU.
PhDs are valuable to industry hiring managers, even if they don’t currently have any industry experience.
Unfortunately, PhDs often lack the confidence and know-how to prove it.
The following 3 strategies will help you get hired, even if you don’t meet all the job requirements to start…
1. Research what a typical day on the job looks like.
You have found a job description that piques your interest.
It’s time to separate your desire to have a job, any job, from the actual reality of doing the specific job you’re interested in.
Can you see yourself in this role?
Read through the job description carefully and try to piece together a typical day in the office.
Go a step further — set up informational interviews with employees who are currently in this role and ask them what a day in their life looks like.
Now go through your previous experiences and determine which current strengths you can apply to perform well in this position.
Hint: ignore the bonus requirements in the job description.
If you have them, great — if not, don’t lose sleep over them.
Most importantly, suss out what part of the job is non-negotiable.
Then, make sure you highlight this skill on your resume and during phone screens, video calls, and the site visit.
In particular, make sure you highlight the previous experiences that indicate you will perform the job well.
Use keywords from the job description and weed out anything in your industry resume that is not directly related to the role.
Use these keywords during the interview too — always be speaking the language of your employer.
Curb the urge to fill your resume and interview answers with other accomplishments to make up for the fact that you do not have all the job requirements.
The hiring manager won’t bother searching through your resume to find out which experiences are related to the job.
They never search.
They only skim.
If they have to search, they’ll just move on to the next candidate.
Tailor your resume and don’t be afraid of white space.
When it comes time for the interview, focus on your strengths and the non-negotiables for the position.
Don’t get caught up in the minutia and don’t stress over the requirements that you don’t meet.
Instead, keep the conversation focused on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
2. Highlight your transferable skills on paper and in person.
Applying for research-based roles can cause PhDs a lot of frustration.
You have found your dream company and the ideal position, but the list of technical skills is a mile long.
You know that being an expert in Western Blotting means you can easily pick up the skill to perform an ELISA.
So how do you communicate that you’re the best candidate for the job, and that you just need a chance?
Through your transferable skills.
Identify other strengths that will put you on equal footing.
Touch on experiences where you quickly learned new skills which led to business-savvy results.
For example: staying on budget, increasing efficiency, or displaying innovation.
Project management roles often call for applicants with previous project management experience.
Even if you are not officially working as a project manager, you have used this skill to efficiently manage your own projects.
You had to complete projects in a timely fashion to generate publishable data.
You need to highlight these skills.
You need to get comfortable highlighting these skills and get confident in talking about them.
Don’t simply list the skills and expect the hiring manager to believe you.
Give evidence and show them you can achieve results that will translate into business.
Write an amazing cover letter where you paint a picture of what you have done well and highlight that you have learned what the company wants and can deliver these results.
3. Get a referral from a current employee concerning your job skills.
If you don’t fit the mold of a typical job candidate but are confident you can do the job, and do it well, your best option is always to find an internal referral.
For PhDs, this may seem more arduous than reworking a resume a hundred times over, but it guarantees a positive result.
An inside connection will vouch for your work ethic and your qualifications better than anything you can write on a resume.
The key is to not wait until the job is posted online.
Start networking early and target companies that are of interest to you.
Attend similar networking events, connect with them through LinkedIn, and ask for introductions through mutual connections.
Put your referral’s name in the first line of your cover letter.
Make sure it stands out as the first thing the hiring manager reads.
You’ve worked to provide value to gain an inside track — don’t be afraid to use it.
Some online applications even ask how you heard about the opening, at which point you can also indicate an internal connection.
Best case scenario, your referral hands your resume directly to the hiring manager.
An internal referral like this will compensate for nearly anything you lack in terms of not meeting the job requirements.
The increasing popularity of online job boards and job sites means that the number of applicants per posting is increasing exponentially. Job descriptions posted for these jobs are a wish list of traits the hiring manager is looking for, but doesn’t necessarily expect all the applicants to possess. Many PhDs make the mistake of assuming that they must have all of those traits to even apply — so they don’t. Don’t make this mistake. Your PhD has prepared you for industry, whether you meet every requirement in a job description or not. You must learn to adapt your resume and interviewing strategies accordingly, highlighting your transferable skills and showcasing your prior experiences that highlight your business acumen.
To learn more about getting a job without meeting all of the requirements, 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.