Written by Sarah Rodrigues, Ph.D.
I was in the last year of my PhD and was ready to leave academia permanently.
I had three postdoc offers but the thought of spending more time slaving at the lab bench made me shudder.
I felt lost.
This was not the path I was supposed to follow.
But what was I supposed to do now?
What alternative careers are there for PhD science graduates?
I regretted even starting my PhD and now my future seemed so uncertain.
I needed to overcome the imposter syndrome that afflicted me and convince myself that I could find my purpose again.
I was determined to add value to a new job that better suited my personality and my lifestyle.
But I didn’t know where to start.
A managerial position seemed suitable for someone with my education so I started applying to management jobs only.
Networking with my peers seemed like a good idea so I started to attend networking events with other PhD students.
This was a terrible way to start.
First, I didn’t hear back from any of the management positions I applied to.
Second, I had to constantly listen to weak-minded PhDs complaining, frustrated with their work and painting a bleak picture of the job market.
“Only PhDs from top universities will have employment opportunities.”
“You need an MBA to go anywhere.”
The negativity was overwhelming.
That was the last PhD networking event I attended.
I knew I had to approach my job search differently.
I had to diversify it.
Instead of just applying to management positions, I started applying to Application Scientist positions.
Then I diversified my job search even further by applying to lateral positions like Business Development, Project Management, Analyst, and Product Management positions.
I applied to large companies at first but then diversified to applying to small and medium-sized companies too.
Instead of just networking with PhDs, I started networking with all kinds of other people.
When I made contact with hiring managers and recruiters, I followed up with them over and over, even if I didn’t get the initial job I was applying for.
Soon, these hiring managers and recruiters knew me by name and actually started working for me.
They started introducing me to other hiring managers and recruiters.
My job search expanded and diversified exponentially until I finally got a job.
At the peak of my job search, I was having one to two face-to-face interviews each week and receiving up to 5 calls from recruiters weekly.
I did not get my MBA.
I was not from an Ivy League University.
Why You Need To Diversify Your Job Search
The number of PhD graduates is increasing but the opportunities within academia for full-time employment is dwindling.
Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), together with UNESCO Institute for Statistics, developed a survey to track the careers of doctorate holders.
The survey showed that there is an increasing number of PhD holders, up nearly 40% in 10 years, while the number of tenured jobs has decreased during the same time period.
What’s happening to all of these PhDs who are unable to secure tenured positions?
A report by the National Science Foundation has shown that PhD unemployment rates have risen by 22% in 10 years.
PhDs face an incredible challenge when it comes to securing jobs.
Academia cannot absorb all the graduates that are passing through.
On top of this, many PhDs are either unable or unwilling to transition into industry positions.
An article in Le Monde showed there are many misconceptions between academic PhDs and people working in industry.
Over 75% of PhD holders in France and other countries do not have a positive image of industry, and have little idea on how to proceed to be successful in an industry job search.
As a consequence, 14% of these PhDs are still unemployed 4 to 6 years after completing their degree.
On the other hand, there is an inaccurate image of PhDs from industry.
Many companies in industry believe that a PhD’s knowledge base is too specialized.
They believe that PhDs have little ability to be multidisciplinary and are trained only for research-type positions.
5 Strategies For Finding Your Career Path
If you want a job in industry, you must diversify your job search.
You must also go the extra mile to communicate your transferable job skills.
You must work hard to prove that you are the perfect job candidate.
The best way to do this is by reprioritizing your job search.
You must make lateral moves that increase your visibility.
You must follow up even after missing a job opportunity.
In short, you must be willing to keep your options open and seize new opportunities when they arise.
Here’s how to diversify your job search and find a new career path in industry…
1. Realize that career paths do not follow a straight line.
As scientists, we are continually redesigning and tweaking our experiments to prove or disprove our hypotheses.
Very often, the end result of a series of experiments is a complete surprise relative to where we began.
Careers are no different.
There are many diversions along the way and sometimes where you end up is not where you expected.
You must embrace this.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said…
“Life is a journey. Not a destination.”
The experiences during your industry transition will not be one-size-fits-all.
They will be unique to you.
They will be relative to you and your long-term career plan.
Be willing to apply to new positions, especially positions lateral to your initial target positions.
Focus more on experiences than on titles.
If a position is open at a great company but not in the ideal department, apply to it anyway.
Once hired, you will get to know the company culture, build rapport within the organization, and then be able to move laterally into a position that is more in line with your ultimate goal.
Do not be closed-minded.
Do not close doors on potential opportunities.
Instead, be creative with your career path and be open to alternative opportunities.
2. Network with people who have the jobs you want.
A job may seem like a perfect fit on a piece of paper but be a disaster in reality.
There’s real value in hearing about positions from within the company itself.
The best way to do this is to reach out to people on LinkedIn, through shared connections and during networking events, who work at the companies you’re interested in.
Suggest a meeting over coffee, your treat, and say you’re interested in learning more about them and how they got to where they are now.
Set up an informational interview but make the conversation all about THEM, not you.
Informational interviews help to break down the barrier between academia and industry.
They give you insider’s information into new fields while building valuable connections.
It can also recharge your job search and reassure you that your career path does not have to be so clear-cut.
The industry professional you meet with may suggest new strategies for finding your path.
They may also know of new positions that are opening and how you can best apply to them.
3. Set weekly goals during your job search.
Unemployment can be extremely demotivating.
It is easy to let days and weeks pass by without getting anything accomplished.
Setting weekly, attainable goals is an excellent way to stay on top of your search and see you are making progress.
It can also help to ensure you are keeping your search field broad.
Your first goal should be to build your network with recruiters.
Every week, set a goal to reach out to 5 new people, whether at a networking event or online.
These five people should come from diverse fields.
Keep a list of who you reached out to and when you reached out to them so you can follow up and continue to foster your relationship.
Along the way, you should be crafting very targeted resumes.
Once you have built your ideal industry resume, your next goal should be to send out a given number of resumes per week.
This includes finding NEW job postings each week that will force you to be less and less strict about the job title you’re applying for.
Remember, you can always turn down a job offer once it’s extended to you.
4. Make your LinkedIn profile professional and well-rounded.
When you are job searching, your LinkedIn profile is who you are.
It tells recruiters and hiring managers why they should want to hire you.
It is worth the extra time and effort to make sure you are being portrayed on LinkedIn in a meaningful way.
First, get a professional photo taken.
Second, create a compelling summary and litter your profile with keywords that will attract recruiters.
Use your LinkedIn profile to enhance your credibility while separating yourself from the crowd.
Show what you have achieved and what your goal is moving forward.
Invite people to connect and optimize your profile to your target audience.
Most importantly, humanize your profile.
Put a personal interest in your headline.
Add a hobby or an award or a volunteer pursuit in your summary.
Show people that you’re more than just a PhD.
The more you control your online presence, the more your connections will grow.
5. Follow up with hiring managers and recruiters even after a negative response.
Not every interview goes as planned.
Perhaps you have been told you are not a good fit for this position.
Perhaps the position’s start date did not match your availability.
Do not delete this record from memory.
Instead, build on it.
Perhaps the next opening at the same company you just interviewed with will align with your skills and your timeline.
By keeping the lines of communication open with hiring managers and recruiters, even after you get turned down for a position, you maintain your visibility.
In fact, if done correctly, hiring managers and recruiters will contact YOU the next time an opportunity becomes available.
The key is to ask for feedback when an interview goes poorly and then immediately build on the criticisms you hear.
You will be surprised how open people are to sharing their own experience and offering advice on how to gain the experience you may be lacking.
By showing you are willing to improve, you are proving that you are adaptable and fit to transition into an industry career.
Finding a new career path is not easy but being narrow-minded about your options will make it even more challenging. Being open to alternative career paths and making lateral moves during your job search can lead to unique possibilities. Don’t be afraid to set up informational interviews and ask the professionals you meet with about their career trajectory. You’ll be surprised by how many professionals arrived to very successful positions by diversifying their job search and staying open to new opportunities.
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.