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Learn These 5 Basic MBA Concepts To Get Hired In Industry As A PhD

Written by: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.

I had been in school my whole life.

Academia was all I knew.

I mean — sure, I’d had a few odd jobs but nothing that anyone would call a “real job”.

And then, the day came when I finished my PhD and I knew that I wanted to leave the academic world behind me.

I was ready for a major change.

But, the reality was that I was unemployed and really had no idea what to do.

I was actually really scared to get a job.

All of my skills revolved around academia and I was sure that no one would want to hire me because of that.

But then, someone took a chance on me.

I got a job with a startup.

And, as soon as I joined? I was bombarded with new things that I had no idea about.

Sales, marketing, clients, customers, leads — it was overwhelming.

I was starting from scratch with all this business lingo.

It was difficult.

I really wish that I had taken the time to learn more about how businesses work and what my role could be within a company.

It took me 6 months to really understand what my role was within the larger company.

But, if I had known some key MBA concepts, I could have demonstrated my value to the company much better.

Instead of them “taking a chance” on me, I could have been a candidate that they really wanted to bring on.

I would have been able to negotiate a higher salary.

I would have been able to bring more value to the company sooner.

It would have just been a much smoother transition if I had a little bit of MBA knowledge.

Why MBA Knowledge Will Boost Your Job Search

Companies want to hire PhDs.

Some of the most highly sought after skills are things that PhDs excel at.

For example, according to a study published in PLOSone, PhDs are highly competent in a range of important industry-relevant skills, including ability to gather and interpret information, ability to analyze data, ability to solve problems, ability to learn quickly, and creativity/innovative thinking.

Having these skills is a major advantage.

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 45% of hiring managers said that job candidates lack critical thinking/problem solving skills.

As a PhD you can stand out by making it clear that problem-solving is something you excel at.

But, it wasn’t all positive.

The study in PLOSone also showed that PhDs are lacking in some of the key skills required to move into industry, especially at the management level.

The skills gaps included: the ability to set a vision and goals, ability to work on a team, and ability to manage others, also known as leadership skills.

And, in industry, these leadership skills matter.

SHRM reported that 35% of hiring managers rejected candidates because they lacked the required leadership skills.

So, how will you prove to the hiring manager that you have what it takes to bring great value to their organization?

By taking the time to learn about business and sharpen both your business acumen and your leadership skills.

You need to prove that you are not just an academic PhD.

When you can bring your PhD-level thinking and technical skills, matched with a keen business acumen, you become capable of targeting management-level industry positions.

5 MBA Concepts That Help PhDs From All Backgrounds Get Hired In Industry

Working in industry is very different from working in academia.

The structure, the culture, the people, the goals, etc. are all different in industry.

To demonstrate that you are the best job candidate, you must understand a few key MBA concepts.

Here are 5 MBA concepts for PhDs looking to boost their job search and land a management position in industry…

1. Organizational structure and working within a team.

The organizational structure is how the different levels in an organization are defined.

Companies usually have an “org chart” that displays this structural hierarchy and shows who holds each position.

The word hierarchy tends to have a negative connotation, but a clearly defined corporate hierarchy results in higher employee satisfaction and a more productive company.

The main purpose of having a hierarchy is to allow for the clear and rapid flow of information though the organization.

From a big picture perspective, each company will have a unique organization structure, but usually a CEO or director will sit at the top and manage other executive managers, and then these executive managers will manage the people within their division.

Ultimately, everyone works for the CEO and the CEO is responsible for the operation and profitability of the company.

To keep things simple and organized, in most organizations, each person will have one direct manager to whom they report.

This also creates clear divisions and teams who are then able to work together.

Understanding the dynamic of the team you join, and becoming a valuable part of that team, is key to succeeding in industry.

The way that projects are managed and deadlines are set is very different in industry than it is in academia.

There is a much greater focus on working collaboratively with your team to meet strict deadlines.

In academia, you may have worked alone on your project, but in industry, your work will be woven together with the other members of your team.

2. The types of companies that exist and how they differ from one another.

When transitioning into industry, there are a variety of organization types that you can enter.

Each company type has a different end goal and and different structure.

Below, a few types are explained.

  • Private corporation: In a private company, the shares (or stocks) that denote ownership of the company cannot be freely traded. In most cases, private companies are much smaller than public companies. A private company will normally start small, grow to a certain point where it needs more money, and then the company will usually seek to have its shares listed on a stock exchange. When it does so, anyone can buy shares in the company and it becomes a public company.
  • Public corporation: a public company is any company whose shares are listed on a stock exchange, such as the LSE, NYSE, or NASDAQ. Most people think of public companies as the big businesses of the world. Companies that employ hundreds of thousands of people and normally measure their quarterly profits in billions. These larger companies also have more complex organizational hierarchies, more standardization procedures, and more bureaucracy.
  • Government organization: government organizations provide services that are not provided by corporations, such as: defence, emergency, justice, and infrastructure. Government organizations are driven by the electoral cycle, societal fairness, and money. In general, government organizations are slow to change and are considered very stable jobs.
  • Non-profit: the key difference between a non-profit and a for-profit company is that the profits generated by a non-profit are put towards the advancement of a cause. They will have a similar internal organization and are still driven to make profits like other companies. Often, the culture of the company will be heavily structured around the specific cause of the non-profit.
  • Startup: A startup is a small company, normally in the technology sector, that has spotted a commercial opportunity that it believes can be exploited. The founders will try to secure funding so that they can make their idea a reality. Working for a startup is challenging, funding is limited, and since it’s a brand new idea, you have to figure out everything as you go.

3. How to develop and implement a unique selling proposition.

When marketing a new product, the marketers need to identify what makes this product unique and what makes it better than other products on the market.

This is its Unique Selling Proposition (or, USP).

In your job search, you need to apply this concept to yourself.

What is your Unique Selling Proposition?

What makes you stand out from other job candidates? What are you better at than other people?

But, most importantly, how is this relevant to the organization you are applying at?

Just as a marketer will think about the potential customer when deciding on the USP for a new product, you need to think about the hiring manager and the company as a whole when creating your USP as a job applicant.

What result have you achieved in the past that will benefit the organization?

What transferable skills do you have that would make you the more effective than other candidates?

The more powerful your USP, the more likely you are to get hired.

Use this same concept when designing your elevator pitch.

What makes you unique and would make someone want to engage in conversation with you?

It’s not just what you have studied or where you graduated from — that’s not exciting.

Be creative when crafting your USP and elevator pitch.

4. Honing your presentation and networking skills.

In industry, your communication skills are key.

This includes how you communicate during formal presentations, as well as less formal networking situations.

Do you speak clearly?

Did you convey the concept in your industry presentation in an engaging way?

Are you personable?

Do you know what your body language is saying?

Often, your body language is more powerful than the actual words you speak.

If you practice and develop good body language habits, you can use this to your advantage and learn to project a confident, outgoing exterior, even when you feel anxious.

Here are a few tips.

Project strength and confidence by standing tall and squaring your shoulders with others during conversation.

Smile and make the right amount of eye contact to show warmth without sacrificing your projections of confidence.

Avoid blocking your body with your arms or other items, as it demonstrates that you are closed off to conversation.

Don’t rub your arm or the back of your neck these movements indicate that you are uncomfortable.

Don’t play with your hair or touch your face, as this shows that you are nervous or insecure.

Being in control of your communication is key to being viewed as an industry professional.

You will be required to give presentations and interact with people within and outside of your company.

This is a “soft skill” that you will need to put some effort into mastering.

5. Understand the sales and marketing aspects of industry.

Every company is providing some product or service at some cost.

So, having an understanding of how things are sold is essential in industry.

Even if you don’t plan to go into sales or marketing, you need to understand the basics of this field.

Marketing is a huge industry and it is essential to every company.

If no one knows about the great new thing you have created, how will anyone buy it?

That’s where marketing comes in.

Marketing is the process of convincing a potential customer to buy your product or service.

A great way to start getting familiar with the concept of marketing is to learn about the 4 P’s of marketing.

This model was developed by E. Jerome McCarthy and any product that a company wants to sell will have some combination of these 4 P’s.

Product: Without a good product (or service) there is generally no business opportunity. That is, unless the three other P’s are exceptional and the customer is willing to sacrifice product quality.

Price: It’s not always best to offer a lower price. Price reflects the quality of the product and often people are willing to pay more for what they assume will be better quality. Deciding how to price a product is more about the perceived value of the product, rather than the actual costing of the product.

Promotion: Promoting the product to the right potential buyers is what most people associate with marketing. Things like advertisements, sales promos, and special offers fall under this category. This is arguably the most important P because how can people buy something they don’t know exists?

Place: This refers to where and how a product is sold. Is it online or in a store? How are the items displayed? Is there a particular style or feeling the place should evoke?

These 4 P’s guide marketers as they convince potential customers to buy their product or service.

Also, remember this is just a basic understanding and there are entire courses dedicated to understanding and using the 4 P’s of marketing.

As a PhD, you don’t need an MBA to get a management-level industry position. You already have many of the skills required for these positions. What you do need is to increase your knowledge of the business world and the concepts that drive businesses. A few key MBA concepts that PhDs need to understand are organizational structure and working within a team, the types of companies that exist and how they differ, how to develop and implement a Unique Selling Proposition, honing your presentation and networking skills, and understanding the sales and marketing aspects of industry. The more you increase your business acumen, the more desirable you will become to industry employers.

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Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Jeanette is a chemistry PhD turned science communication enthusiast. During her PhD she realized that her favorite part about research wasn’t actually doing research, but rather talking and writing about it. So, she has channeled her passion for discovery into teaching and writing about science. When she isn’t talking someone’s ear off about her latest scientific obsession, you’ll find her on the soccer field or reading a good sci-fi novel.
Jeanette McConnell, PhD