My PhD Is Not A Liability – How I Got Hired Into A Management Level Position And How You Can Too
Contributing Author: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.
I had finally had enough.
I could no longer justify the pay I was receiving as a postdoc, and it became very clear to me that I would never become a professor.
The system had strung me along far enough.
It was time for a change.
So I started asking around for advice about applying for jobs, and I started trying to figure out what else I could do with the skills I had.
The very first piece of advice I got was that I should remove my PhD from my resume and LinkedIn profile.
I spent YEARS of my life working toward getting that PhD, I was proud of it.
Now I was supposed to remove it, like my PhD was some kind of liability preventing me from getting a job?
That seemed ridiculous to me.
When I asked people why I should remove my PhD, they said people in a corporate environment will think you are not a good fit, they will think you are just an academic.
This I could work with.
If employers see me as just some academic PhD, and this is preventing them from hiring me, I would prove them wrong.
I would prove that as a PhD I could know as much, if not more, about business than someone with an MBA.
I started learning everything I could about the industry I wanted to work in.
I read and researched about the current industry trends and stocks, and about the market forecast.
When I integrated this new knowledge with my PhD background, the interviews started rolling in and I was offered a leadership position at a great company.
I had the skills they needed, and because I am a PhD, I just had to add in a little bit of business knowledge to prove that I was the best candidate out there.
Why Your PhD Is Not A Liability In Industry
The advice that you should remove your PhD from your resume is antiquated and just generally bad advice.
Your PhD gives you many advantages over other job candidates, and employers are hiring PhDs more than ever before.
Science reported that for the first time ever, the number of PhDs employed in industry is on par with the number of PhDs employed at academic institutions, where each sector employs 42% and 43% of PhDs respectively.
But if you dive into the data from the National Science Foundation that this Science article is based on, the numbers are even more compelling.
NSF found that the majority of PhDs are actually employed outside of the university setting, where 56% of PhDs reported having positions in private companies, non-profits, government organizations, or are self-employed.
Your PhD is in demand across all industry sectors.
Employers know that your PhD means you are an expert in your field, but it’s up to you to communicate to them that you have the other skills required to succeed in industry.
Are you communicating your transferable skills well?
Does your resume look like an academic CV?
And finally, do you sound like a naive academic PhD or do you have a solid understanding of business?
Gaining a keen business acumen will set you apart from the other candidates and allow you to move past entry level positions and get hired into leadership positions.
5 Business Topics PhDs Who Want To Get Hired Into Management Level Positions Should Understand
The amount of technical knowledge stored in your brain is incredible.
You know more about a specific topic than most people on the planet.
But you need to widen your sphere of knowledge to include some business topics.
This is how you will move beyond a technician role.
This is how you will get hired into leadership roles.
You have the ability to learn quickly and to comprehend what you learn almost immediately.
Put that skill to use and begin to develop your business acumen.
Here are 5 business topics to get you started on improving your business acumen…
1. Corporate strategy.
As a PhD you are used to thinking strategically.
You have planned and executed a multi-year project, and that requires strategic thinking and strategic vision.
You had to make choices and take actions that would ultimately get you to your goal.
A corporate strategy is similar to this, it is what guides the decision-making at an organization.
The corporate strategy defines the direction that an organization will take and what goals they will pursue.
As a job candidate, you should do some research to learn about the corporate strategy and to learn about the company’s overall mission.
You can look on the company’s website for their mission and ask insightful questions when you have informational interviews.
Once you have a good idea of the company’s corporate strategy, think about how this aligns with your own goals.
A common interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is a great place for you to show how your longer term goals align with the larger company goals.
You could even turn that question around and ask them about where they see the company going, making the question insightful by adding in some of the information you learned about the company during your research.
2. Corporate culture.
As a job candidate, you should be very interested in the culture of a company.
The corporate culture drives the way that things are done at a business and will influence your day-to-day as an employee.
Overall corporate culture can be defined as the ‘how’ for an organization.
How do they communicate? How do people act? How do goals get accomplished?
Every organization has a specific expectation for how its employees will conduct themselves, and this is set by the corporate culture.
Sometimes culture is deliberate – a culture of competition or one of incredible support.
When a culture is deliberate you can learn about it by reading the company’s mission and vision statements and by reading their public facing content.
But sometimes a culture is accidental.
In these cases, it’s important to set up informational interviews so that you can get a clear picture of what it’s like to work at an organization.
This will allow you to do two things; first, to decide if this company is a place you want to work, and second, to show an employer that you will fit into their corporate culture.
It’s important that you realize how important culture fit is for you and for the company.
3. Organizational behavior.
Every company has a specific way that different parts of the organization interact.
This can be formal and refer to the ‘chain of command’ or it can be more informal and refer to the way an office is structured.
The formal organizational behavior will be driven by the ‘org chart’ which shows which roles reside where in the business.
It shows how the flow of information and decisions will happen.
More informal organizational behavior can be seen in the way a lunch room is structured.
Or if there is a community cafe that all employees use.
Many large companies create these communal spaces on purpose to encourage natural conversation and exchange of ideas.
Additionally, when a company is facing a culture issue or they are looking to make improvements in the business, they will often look toward making changes in the organizational behavior.
4. Mergers & acquisitions.
As a job candidate, understanding what mergers and acquisitions are, as well as being aware of any that are happening at your target company is essential.
A very common question interviewers might ask you is, do you know why this position is open?
It seems like a trick question, but they are trying to figure out how much research you did on the company.
Often the reason for a job opening is that some type of M&A has occurred.
These M&As are especially common in the biopharma industry, so you need to do your homework.
Mergers refer to a situation where two similar sized companies join together and become one.
It’s usually an amicable situation.
An acquisition is when one company buys another.
This can be amicable but can also be hostile, meaning that the smaller company being purchased doesn’t really want to be bought out.
In both these cases, there will be lots of restructuring of positions, removal of departments, creation of departments, and just a lot of changes.
When you are asked the above question in an interview, don’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on, instead, use what you do know to ask about the M&A in an insightful way.
5. Recent trends and developments.
Being aware of the recent developments at a company is key to being successful in your interviews and as a future employee.
In an interview setting you can demonstrate that you are a PhD who knows about the world outside of your university.
Employers might have preconceived notions about you as a PhD – discussing with confidence recent business trends will quickly remove you from the ‘just an academic’ box you might have been placed in.
To find out about these trends you need to expand the types of media that you consume.
Start reading news articles from Bloomberg or MarketWatch.
Start following the major media outlets for the industry you are targeting.
As a PhD you are used to reading and understanding complex journal articles – this is just an extension of that skill.
By reading and researching these new business areas you will begin to develop and understanding of your industry.
You will begin to be able to confidently discuss the recent trends and developments as well as start to form your own ideas and opinions based on what you are learning.
This is business acumen.
And when you can have an insightful discussion about your industry and at an interview, you will blow your interviewers away.
Don’t let employers put you into an academic box. Don’t let them stereotype you. Go into your interviews with confidence and with the skills you need to be seen as an industry professional by learning a few key business concepts. You should understand concepts such as corporate strategy, corporate culture, organizational behavior, mergers and acquisitions, and current industry trends and developments. If you have a firm grasp of key business concepts, you become an incredible valuable asset for any company.
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