Hosted By

Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Chief Executive Officer Cheeky Scientist

Author and PhD Donald Asher joins us to share his formula for successful salary negotiation. Donald is a renowned master of business acumen and industry survival. Then author and PhD Michael Watkins shares onboarding tips for industry jobs gleaned from over 15 years of personally coaching CEOs.

Have you ever wondered where the interview stops and the job officially begins? When are you truly a full-fledged employee?

Donald Asher and Michael Watkins have the onboarding process down to a science.

This week on the Cheeky Scientist Radio Show, we are joined by Donald Asher,  PhD, internationally recognized author and speaker on careers and higher education. Donald is known as “America’s Job Search Guru,” and he has authored 12 books published in multiple languages around the world.

Donald will share his formula for successful salary negotiation strategies for your industry job.

Then we have special guest Michael Watkins, PhD, founder of Genesis Advisers and author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter. Michael will share his best onboarding tips for PhD industry jobs which he has gleaned from over 15 years of coaching CEOs to master career transitions at the highest levels.

Skip ahead to:
00:07:55 Show Me The Data
00::28:48 Donald Asher, PhD
00:57:16 Michael Watkins, PhD

About Our Guests

Donald Asher, PhD,  is an internationally recognized author and speaker on the topics of careers and higher education.

In America, he was named a “Career MasterMind” by the award-winning portal, QuintCareers. He is well known for having written 12 books including Cracking the Hidden Job Market, The Overnight Resume, How to Get Any Job, Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why (named career-management book of the year), and the best-selling guide to getting into graduate school, Graduate Admissions Essays.

Donald has been the career columnist for USAirways Magazine, education columnist for MSN, and a contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal’s and,,,,,, Dow Jones’ Managing Your Career Magazine and National Business Employment Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, and the NACE Journal.

He is a featured speaker over 150 times per year, including recent lecture tours in Canada, Mexico, India, China, South Korea, Ireland and Germany, where he spoke about international career trends and the borderless career.

Michael Watkins, PhD, is the co-founder of Genesis Advisers, a global leadership development consultancy based in Boston Massachusetts, specializing in transition acceleration for leaders, teams and organizations, where he coaches C-level executives of global organizations.

He is also Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the IMD Business School and previously was adjunct professor at INSEAD, and an associate professor at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government.

Michale is author of the international bestseller, The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, referred to as “The Onboarding Bible” by The Economist. 

Key Takeaways

1. Hiring  includes several phases, including orientation, onboarding, and acculturation.

2. After getting hired, PhDs  need a “work buddy” to show them the ropes.

3. Academia is fundamentally different from industry, and you must always research a company’s culture before investing your time with them as an employee.

4. Look for ways to add value in your new role – they may be different than what you came onboard to do…

Onboarding Into Industry As a PhD: A Conversation With Donald Asher, PhD

Isaiah: I’m very excited to talk to you today, because this is the 1st time that we’re going to get a chance to hear your onboarding insights. Can you help us understand onboarding and why it’s important? 

Donald: Well, I always like to differentiate onboarding from orientation and from acculturation. I call orientation “badges and benefits.” Where’s your ID coming from? What keys do you have? What’s your password for the intranet? These questions are answered during the 1st day or 3 of employment. A lot of people think that they’re done at that point, and that orientation takes care of things. Onboarding is when you acculturate to the overt norms of the organization – the written rules.

But you’re not done until you get to acculturation, and the interesting thing  about this phase is that you acculturate not to the rules, nor the regulations. You acculturate to the people and the norms, the unwritten rules. And once you know the unwritten rules, then you’re a member of the organization  – that’s when you’re really done learning the foundations.

Isaiah: Where do you see people struggle the most within these 3 areas? As somebody who’s worked with a lot of academics who were getting their 1st job, where are the sticking points? 

Donald: The biggest problem is thinking that the rules are what you’re supposed to do. So with PhDs in particular, they want to know the rules, and they want to follow them! But in organizations, the rules are step 1, like the “baby step.” PhDs don’t get that you have to acculturate to what the other employees do. On Wall Street, for example, you typically don’t leave the floor until the senior person on that floor goes down in the elevator. So if the senior person works until 5:20, you work until 5:20.

But the minute that senior person leaves, everybody clears out. No one’s going to tell you that. But that’s a norm. That’s a completely acculturated norm. It’s important for PhDs to realize they’re not done just because they have a badge and someone told them where to park. That’s just the beginning of trying to figure out how to succeed in that organization.

Isaiah: So really, you’re talking about the unspoken rules. And what you’re alluding to is that PhDs are very literal, which we are. You’re a PhD yourself, right? You can really be very direct here. How can we get better at finding the unspoken rules when we’re very literal? You know, we like to read  through things. If it’s not on paper, we don’t really follow it. How can we be more aware? 

Donald: Well, let’s start by figuring out how to get you a work buddy. I once conducted a program for mentoring. As a side note, I want to encourage all of our listeners not to use the word “mentor” – it’s just going to get you into trouble. Call them “work buddies.” The best relationships with a work buddy are not in your reporting structure, so they’re not your boss, nor your your boss’s boss. But they do need to be a superior. Sometimes, it can be hard to find someone who is senior to you, but not in your reporting structure. You need someone you can call up and say:

Hey, what do I do about this?


What’s the record response to that?

You might look through the list of people at the company, find a PhD, and say:

Hey, I just got hired.  I’ve been a postdoc for three years, not really sure how industry works. Would it be okay if I asked you a question from time to time?

Mostly, PhDs will have to find their own work buddy. Of course, a well-designed mentoring program will also do this. They’ll assign someone who is supposed to work with you and answer these types of questions. But my advice is not to wait for the organization to do this for you. Find your own work buddy. And I want to give everybody a warning. When you join a company, there’s going to be someone who comes up to you and wants to be best friends forever. They’re they’re going to glom onto you.

You’re like new, fresh meat in the organization.  I want to encourage you to keep your distance from people who are overly friendly right off the bat – possibly, they’re like that because they’re like the unpopular kid and you’re new. They may not give you the best advice. You might feel the urge to say, I want to be friends with this person ‘cause they’re super friendly, but they may be a pariah to the other employees. So keep your eyes on the horizon at least until you see who gets along with whom and who is admired and who is respected…

Mastering the Onboarding Process: A Conversation With Michael Watkins, PhD

Isaiah: So why did you decide to write books about onboarding?

Michael Watkins: I was teaching at the Kennedy School of Government. I was very interested in organizational change-type work. I was teaching a particular class about a framework on change and some very experienced leader raised his hand and said to me, That’s all very well, Michael, but  you’re assuming I know everything about the organization. And that was the impetus to start down the road of thinking about transitions, because the reality is that you’re taking a job and you’re kind of struggling your way up the learning curve. At the same time, you’re trying to begin to have an impact – begin to establish yourself. It’s hard, right? It’s challenging. It continues to motivate me even today, many years later, as I’m studying the subject. 

Isaiah: I think a lot of our viewers would say that they’ve been academics their entire lives, and they’re trying to make the transition to industry. Of course, we see on our side, over and over again, that all they care about is getting the job. And I’m sure this is the same for any population. Then they get the job and they have no idea what to do. They’re excited, but then it’s a black box. Is this something that you work with people on? 

Michael Watkins: Absolutely. Here’s the closest parallel to the kind of people you’re talking about. I do a lot of work with healthcare companies–like Johnson & Johnson–that have very serious R&D organizations, and they bring a lot of people from clinical and research organizations into this commercial environment. And then people really can struggle, right? Because the whole logic of the way those institutions works – it’s just completely different, right? It’s not that places like Johnson & Johnson don’t care about research – they care about it deeply. But they’re running a company, and there are commercial realities, right? They’re highly regulated. They care deeply about their reputation. And then there’s the reality of navigating these complex organizations, right? Academic organizations are as Byzantine as they can be politically, yet they’re pretty simple in some senses, right?

The most basic question to ask yourself in a new role is, “How can I create value here?” This is effectively a research question, right? So activate your research skills! Figure out what role you are going to play here that creates value, and keep asking yourself that same question. Don’t assume that what you’ve been told you’re there to do is actually what you’re there to do. There is a difference between recruiting and employment – recruiting is like romance, and employment is like marriage. During the recruiting process, we’re falling in love. I’ve got my best suit on, the organization is telling the best version of its story (why it wants you to come onboard and the exciting things you’re going to get to do). You promise that you’ll always do the dishes, and they assure you that they really like your mother. And then there’s the reality – you get into the environment, and it’s a little different. So don’t assume that everything you learned during that recruiting process is the full story. And it’s not that anyone’s lying. It’s just that everyone’s got their best suit on, you know?

You also want to get a read on the organization before you go in. It may not be a natural thing to do, but you should be asking yourself, “What’s the culture of this organization, and is that a culture I want to live in?” So you’ve got to do some triangulation. There are more online resources these days that can give you insight into the nature of the workplace culture you are thinking of joining. You can also try to find people who have worked for the organization before. That culture fit is just so critical – what you don’t want to do is get into that job and find out, I really hate this place.

Isaiah: What questions can you ask about culture, and how can you figure out those unspoken rules? 

Michael Watkins: I think it helps, 1st of all, to recognize that organizations can have very different cultures. You may, for example, assume the normalcy of the culture you grew up in. The same is true of the organizations you’ve “grown up” in, and if you’ve developed your career in academic research environments, they have a certain culture. Yet the culture of most large industry organizations looks nothing like that at all.

The way status works in an industry organization, or the way things are rewarded in those organizations – these are typically very different from academia. You want to ask yourself things like, “What is valued here? What are the behavioral norms that operate in this place?” I’ll give you a simple example: When I was doing my doctorate at Harvard, I was somewhere between the engineering and economics and social science folks. And an economics graduate seminar is kind of like an armed conflict, right? I mean, you go in and you (so to speak) beat the crap out of each other. And then at the end, you smile and move on. Now, if you do that in an industry company, if you come in and you go, “What a stupid idea,” they will not respond well!

** for the full interviews, check out the video above

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