How A PhD Gives You An Edge Over Other Candidates At A Job Interview
Written by Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D.
When I started my PhD, I felt special.
(I know it sounds lame, but it’s true.)
One friend even described my PhD as a noble pursuit to better the world.
But as time went on, graduate school started to seem endless and pointless.
I was spending all my waking hours surrounded by other brilliant PhDs or PhD candidates.
It seemed like everyone had a PhD, and I was just another average PhD to add to the mix.
I started to think that anyone could get a PhD.
I started to think that my PhD wasn’t valuable.
I looked at the postdocs in my lab, and saw that they were unhappy and poorly paid.
If these experienced PhDs were only worth a low academic salary, I thought my value must be even lower.
I began to think that I was worthless and, in my mind, I diminished the value of my PhD.
I started developing limiting beliefs like, “I can either do meaningful work, or be paid well for my work”, “I can either pursue alternative career interests, or keep my advisor’s support”, and “I can either do a postdoc after I graduate, or become unemployed”.
I’d heard horror stories about working outside of academia.
People told me, “In industry, you can get fired for anything”, “No one in industry will sponsor your visa or permanent resident card”, “Don’t even try to get an industry job because it’s too competitive”, “You can’t get an industry job because you’re overqualified”, “You can’t get an industry job because you don’t have any industry experience”, and “You’ll be miserable in industry”.
It was overwhelming. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I had lost sight of my value and of the value of my PhD.
But I remembered how I felt when I first started graduate school, and wondered if it was academia that had made my PhD seem worthless.
I looked outside of the ivory tower, and saw well-paid and highly regarded PhDs doing meaningful work.
The postdocs in academia had learned to accept less pay than they were worth and they learned to accept less mentorship and support than they deserved.
I changed my perspective and began networking with industry professionals.
I discovered a wide variety of industry positions and decided to get focused again — no more feeling worthless.
I reconnected with my worth as a PhD and was determined to transition out of academia.
Why A PhD Is An Advantage At A Job Interview
Less than 2% of the world’s population has a doctorate.
According to the US Census Bureau, only 1.2% of the US population has a PhD.
This makes having a PhD very rare.
But does this rarity indicate value?
Most PhDs entered their graduate school program at the top of their class.
At that time, they felt unique. Different. Valuable.
However, after several years in the academic system, most of these PhD candidates started to lose sight of their value.
They started to develop a “less than” mentality.
Despite being some of the most hardworking and talented people, PhD candidates suffer a high rate of depression.
According to a study done by UC Berkeley, 47% of PhD candidates were depressed.
Another recent study published in Research Policies, found that 50% of PhD candidates experienced psychological distress.
PhDs have lost sight of their value and it’s ruining their mental health.
This loss of value that PhDs are experiencing is unfounded.
PhDs are rare and they are valuable.
But, PhDs are not rare because they are close to extinction.
In fact, according to the National Science Foundation, more PhDs are being granted than ever before.
PhDs are rare because they are difficult to earn — they are valuable.
However, this value is dependent on context.
PhDs are not valuable in academia anymore.
There are simply too many PhDs in academia now.
There’s an oversupply of academic PhDs and as a result, these PhDs are paid very poorly.
PhDs outside of academia, however, are exceptionally valuable.
Industry companies, which include for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations, are hiring more PhDs than ever before.
Because in industry, employers place a high value on PhD job candidates.
3 Reasons PhDs Are More Valuable Than Other Job Candidates
As a PhD, you are more valuable than other job candidates, but it’s up to you to communicate this value.
No one is going to communicate your value for you.
To convince another person of your value, you have to believe in it yourself first.
Recognize your value by looking beyond academia.
There are many reasons why PhDs are more valuable than other job candidates in industry, but the following three reasons stand out from the rest…
1. PhDs are expert innovators.
There’s a difference between discovery and understanding.
By definition, a Masters degree of any kind requires the recipient to master a field.
On the other hand, a PhD requires the recipient to add to a field.
You cannot simply repackage, or memorize and regurgitate, information to receive a PhD.
Instead, you must identify and organize new, cutting-edge knowledge.
To earn a PhD, you have to identify something that no one else in the history of the world has ever discovered.
This makes you an expert innovator, because you know how to develop something new.
Innovation is extremely valuable in industry.
In today’s world, companies must either innovate, acquire other innovative companies, or die.
Innovation is especially important in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, making PhDs highly sought-after job candidates.
2. PhDs are masters of conflict resolution.
Imagine walking into a television episode of Shark Tank and having your project, your logic, your career, your hopes, and your dreams mercilessly picked apart by five people.
Now, imagine doing this every few months.
Imagine also that these five people are doctors at the top of their fields.
This is your life as a PhD.
As a PhD student, you have one of these “Shark Tank meetings” every few months before you graduate.
The universities call them thesis committee meetings.
And the conflict-ridden meetings don’t stop once you finish your degree.
Postdocs and associate professors continue on to have lab meetings, advisor meetings, tenure track meetings, journal clubs, and many other variations of these Shark Tank meetings.
As a result, you end up with significant training in conflict and conflict resolution.
PhDs have learned how to navigate difficult relationships and how to respond professionally to hostile attacks.
You know how to work with very dominant personality types, in very tight quarters, for several years at a time.
Do you think everyone in the world has the ability to work with 5+ other extremely demanding people who are all working on different projects in a 10-foot by 10-foot box called a lab for 5+ years at a time?
This in itself is an achievement and makes you very valuable in industry, where managing difficult personality types, including your own difficult personality, is crucial to getting large projects done on time and on budget.
These transferable ‘soft’ skills make you a great industry job candidate.
3. PhDs are doctors of learning.
PhD stands for “doctor of philosophy.”
Philosophy is the study of knowledge and the nature of knowledge.
This means that PhDs are literally doctors of learning and knowing how to learn.
Almost anyone can do what they’re told.
Some people can learn new information after being told what to learn.
Very few people can determine what they need to learn on their own without being told, and then take it upon themselves to go ahead and learn it.
PhDs like you can often learn anything faster and better than anyone else, because you have been trained in learning at an expert level.
Do you think that just anyone can decipher a complex peer-reviewed journal article about some obscure protein or algorithm that only 12 other people know exist?
Of course not, but PhDs can.
Likewise, any PhD can learn how to understand a profit and loss statement, or a complex business case study, or an intellectual property legal document.
Not only can you learn to understand these things, you can learn how to make strategic decisions based on your understanding.
As a PhD, you can learn anything. You are an expert learner.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s something you can’t understand.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there’s something you aren’t qualified for either.
Know your value. You can understand anything. You can qualify yourself for anything.
PhDs like you have countless technical and transferable skills that make you an extremely valuable job candidate. However, the academic environment can make it seem like your PhD is worthless, and that you, in turn, are worthless. Do not give in to this mentality. Having a PhD is a rare and valuable trait. You are an expert innovator, a master of conflict resolution, and a doctor of learning. As a PhD, your concern should not be that you may lack value. Your concern should be that others may not understand your immense value, which is why it’s your job to communicate your value to others, including your future industry employers.
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