Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

Something that comes up a lot when I talk to new PhDs is that they think they don’t have enough on-the-job experience to apply for the high earning jobs they’re perfect for.

I see this imposter syndrome prevent PhDs from even trying to apply for jobs – and puts a stop to their journey to getting hired in industry. So they settle. 

For academia, where they don’t have job security. 

For jobs that pay less and don’t value their abilities. 

For a job they’re not interested in and don’t want, but they think it gets them “started” in industry when it just gets them to another dead end burn out job where they’re underpaid.

All of this because they’re not seeing their daily experience in academia through a professional lens.

And they do all this because they think, despite being subject matter experts and proven themselves over and over again, that they don’t have enough skills to get started in industry or they have to pay their dues.

They think their time in academia didn’t prepare them for “the real world”. They overthink it, the analysis paralysis takes hold and suddenly, they find an excuse to stay where they are. 

In the dead end academic position, waiting for tenure that’s not coming. 

Taking a job that’s below their pay grade, accepting a salary they think they deserve.

They think that they won’t be able to showcase or back up these skills.

What these PhDs are forgetting is the value of their time in academia – and the transferable skills they have in spades.

Academia Taught You Professional Survival – Flip It To Your Advantage

The years it took to hone your skills, write your thesis, and navigate through the ins and outs of academia weren’t completed in a vacuum. You dealt with a myriad of different personalities, all who had different expectations of the outcome. Right now employers are not just hiring bullet points on a resume, they’re hiring people who have high emotional intelligence, a high ability to problem solve, and the ability to work with others under optimal and suboptimal conditions. This describes your academic career – you have the emotional and interpersonal skills employers in industry are looking for, with the added bonus of being a trained and educated expert. PhDs don’t put a lot of value on their transferable or “soft skills” because they think they’re unquantifiable.

All that time in academia makes them think that  they don’t have solid proof of their transferable skills – that’s patently false.

All of these soft skills are to your advantage when combined with your PhD. You just have to showcase them right to get the most out of it. Because you process things on another level, see things other employees won’t see, here are some ways to flip your transferable skills to your advantage. As a PhD, do you want to leave these hard-won skills to the whims of the institution or do you want to benefit from them in industry?

Your Unreasonable Thesis Advisor Suddenly Became Useful

You have more transferable skills and more professional experience than you think, you just need to showcase those skills correctly. The unreasonable thesis advisor who kept you to tight deadlines, didn’t take no for an answer, never kept to their office hours and was basically a tyrant? You learned what an unhealthy work environment looks like while you honed the ability to work with difficult people who are immovable in the way they do things, have high expectations that are also unpredictable. And most importantly, from this kind of leadership, you learned more about how you want to lead and what you’d bring to the table as a manager. In short – you now know how not to behave and how not to lead, and what does and does not get results from your team.

You can showcase these skills during your job search by talking about being a self-starter – when you didn’t have great leadership or guidance you were still able to meet your goals and deadlines, and you were still able to make an impact.

Your Hard Skills And Expertise Still Matter And Hold Weight

Employers aren’t just looking for candidates with people skills who can meet deadlines. If that were the case, nobody would need a PhD. Your years of research, your hard skills all hold high value in industry. Things that can’t be taught on the job like data analysis, formulaic thinking, years of lab, technical, or coding experience are invaluable to major industry employers.

Your years of experience throughout your PhD still hold a lot of weight –  but its the transferable skills you learned in academia that give you an edge over other candidates with less hard skills and education. Like the other PhDs I’ve helped find jobs in industry, you need to think of yourself from a recruiter’s perspective – as an educated professional who can communicate, meet deadlines and is deeply educated on the ins and outs of the job. Here are some ways you’re set up for success with your transferrable academic skills:

1. Working With Undergrads Who Never Listened And Ignored Deadlines Is Valuable

If you’re looking at managerial positions or are expected to step into managerial roles after being hired, a lot of PhDs balk at that, thinking they don’t have any leadership or management experience. We know that less than 1% of PhDs get tenure so what were all those years as a TA or a lab manager for if not to prepare you for understanding your management style and gaining leadership skills you can apply in industry?

Working in an environment where you were leading and teaching other students while also doing your own work, offering mentorship and guidance with a variety of different students from different backgrounds gave you leadership skills, patience, and the ability to parallel work with a team. These are all deeply sought after skills in industry. Make it a point to discuss your ability to lead and your academic leadership experience when you’re networking and start building yourself up as not just a PhD, but a PhD with leadership experience.

2. Your Hard-Won Transferable Skills Show Employers You Are Flexible And Can Thrive In Industry

It’s no secret that academia is an unpredictable field, during interviews and networking opportunities describe how you’ve handled multiple priorities with competing deadlines and competing expectations. Discuss how you handled and grew from criticism or were able to redirect a project after the parameters were changed or funding was redistributed. Flexibility is a skill that can’t be taught – employers want someone who can adapt in industry. Successful companies are ones that can adapt and change with fluctuating supply chains, high employee turnover, and have employees who can process uncertainty.

Especially with the changes automation and AI have brought to the tech industry, showing your academia honed-flexibility can make you an attractive candidate to employers and recruiters. Transferable skills like effective communication, resilience, and problem-solving are essential to the success of the modern workplace.

3. The Time You’ve Spent In Academia Shows Stick-to-itiveness And An Ability To Work With Difficult Personality Types

Since November of 2022 and the Great Resignation, more than 4 million Americans quit their jobs each month, which is why retention is important to employers. When recruiters and employers are interviewing candidates they’re looking for someone they think will have the most staying power. Highlight the longevity and success of your projects, show them you’re interested in their company by asking fit questions, company culture questions and what they want from a person in this position long-term.

This gets both you and recruiters thinking about your long-term fit and what your longevity could bring to the company. While you shouldn’t make a point to brag that you can withstand any manner of horrible bosses and bad work environments, by way of being a PhD you’ve shown you can see difficult situations through to produce a high-quality end result. Being an employee they want to retain means you’re an employee they’ll want to promote and compensate.

4. The Grant Funding You Brought In And How Well You Managed In Matters In industry

You know that money is the bottom line; in academia, and in industry. Your PhD is valuable to employers because you were able to handle finite budgets to meet specific deadline needs to a desired outcome. Not a lot of job applicants can say that. Even in higher-level interviews, it’s not uncommon for employers to ask how you handle money or what your cash processing experience is.

Different industries will have different expectations on how money is handled by employees, and even if you’re not handling money in the field you’re aiming to join, you’re still showing potential employers that you can be trusted with big responsibilities that are pivotal to the organization’s daily functions. When big-budget projects come in, even if you’re not in a financial role, employers know you can still be trusted to keep the bottom line in mind and stick to a budget while being able to ask for realistic funding and, most importantly, show the supporting data.


5. Your Strong Foundation In Ethics And Integrity Is Impactful to Employers 

As a PhD you have a strong foundation in ethics, which matters in todays’ workplace from lower level issues with quiet quitting to the bigger questions surrounding the conversations in AI, your years in academia primed you to think critically and ethically about the factors surrounding new products and ideas. Major industry employers need people who have a strong foundation in ethics and integrity. Your academic background helps you highlight this value as a candidate. Your research had to go through third party testing, it had to be validated and verified, you weren’t able to get by on bad results or bad data.

Concluding Remarks

As a PhD, you’ve had a marked and full professional career. The problem is that a lot of PhDs don’t see their time in academia as beneficial and something they can leverage to their professional advantage; they just assume that potential employers will write them off for not having a lot of professional experience. Transferable skills combined with your hard skills as a PhD are more than enough to get you hired in industry. After the great recession, employers are looking for people who want to be there, and who can withstand fluctuating workloads, understand how to work with teams that may have differing expectations and objectives, and most of all, someone who is an expert in their field. 

You can showcase these things while you network, during your interviews, and in your resume by accepting that your PhD has value, and so does your time in academia. 

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was determined to stay in academia… until I wasn’t.  It took almost six years for me to reach the conclusion that academia just wasn’t for me.  My PhD defense was just a few months away, and I can’t lie: I was literally willing myself to stick it out. But what about after that? Professorship had been the goal for me before I ever even enrolled in college. It had been my dream. I had absolutely no idea what to do if it wasn’t going to teach. I knew what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be tethered to…

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

It was by chance that I even considered a career in biopharma.  As far as I was concerned, academia was all there was. The world of industry was a big question mark to me, and that was fine. I found myself working on a postdoc, waiting for a tenure-track position to open up.  At first, it was exciting: a real, paying job as a PhD-level scientist. I showed up early, stayed late, and was happy to do it.  But a change happened, gradually. There was so much repetition in my day, and so much emphasis on performing tasks that required…

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

From the time I started graduate school, there was only one point in the future that I could focus on: the finish line. I was swept up in my own expectations and also caught up in what I thought was expected of me. But something I hadn’t given much thought to was what I actually wanted to do. I was about six months away from defending my thesis. That’s when I started to give some serious thought to what would happen after I added the “Dr.” to my name. It’s when I began to admit to myself that academia was…

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

An indomitable spirit is a rare quality, but not among PhDs. Perseverance is a prerequisite that comes standard with every doctorate.  It seems like there’s no shortage of things that can stand in the way when you’re pursuing a terminal degree. Yet I’ve only met a handful of PhDs who weren’t cut out for the hardships of academia. They made it past the gauntlet of frustrating academic advisors, endless hours in the lab, and year upon year of compounding stress. But there are some things that arise that you simply can’t prepare yourself to push through. Sometimes life happens. PhDs…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When you envision yourself in an industry role, what do you see? Like many PhDs, you might imagine yourself in a research position where you are developing and performing experiments, analyzing data, presenting the data to your research team, and so on. After all, that’s what your PhD has trained you for, right? But if the thought of spending a life-long career conducting experiments fills you with dread, start looking beyond the bench. There are plenty of fulfilling career paths within Research and Development (R&D) that keep you close to the innovation. As one Cheeky Scientist member recently shared:  …

Here's What Others Are Saying

"I am happy to share I am starting a new position as Principal Fatigue Specialist at Qantas!"

Gemma Paech

Gemma Paech

Principal Fatigue specialist

at Qantas

"I am grateful to Isaiah, Meera, Abha and all the CSA for their constant help and support. This was my transition from academia to the healthcare industry...I accepted this offer as I am in urgent need of a job as my current lab is closing soon. Thank you!"

Divya Amin

Divya Amin

Program Coordinator

at University of Missouri Healthcare

"I'm happy to share that I am starting a new position as Senior Scientist at Eikon Therapeutics!"

Hank Cheng

Hank Cheng

Senior Scientist

at Eikon Therapeutics

"I'm excited to announce that I have accepted a position as an Innovations Analyst at Cleveland Clinic. Looking forward to using my background to help commercialize healthcare innovations!"

Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas

Innovations Analyst

at Cleveland Clinic

"I'm happy to share that I will be starting a new position as MSL at Sanofi! I want to thank everyone that took the time to speak with me about their MSL experience and to help me land this position!"

John Crawford

John Crawford

MSL-Vaccines

at Sanofi

"Thank you for your advice, Isaiah! I’m super excited and grateful! I would never negotiate the salary and the other details of the offer if it weren’t for Cheeky Scientist. Thank you again"

Marta Silva

Marta Silva

Policy Analyst

at Health Canada

"You will not believe it..... I got them up another 60K and they changed my title!"

Ryan Hendricks

Ryan Hendricks

Project Manager, Rapid Industry Solutions: On-Set Virtual Production

at SMPTE

"New offer - went ahead and signed contract today - - excited and thank you for the confidence booster - grateful for investing in Cheeky Scientist."

Wael Bahnan

Wael Bahnan

Senior Scientist

at Minervx ApS

"Good news...I've secured a job! Thank you for your support during the job search process and for giving me the courage to transition from academia to industry."

Marlyn Brookins

Marlyn Brookins

Regulatory Submissions Coordinator

"I landed a dream job as a revenue management analyst at british airways."

James Washak

James Washak

Revenue Management Analyst

at British Airways

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as Senior Actuary, Pricing at HDI Seguros!"

Claudia Wehrhahn

Claudia Wehrhahn

Senior Actuary, Pricing

at HDI Seguros

"I am deeply grateful for all the incredible support, professional and personal, I got here and was essential for me to get here. I just completed 4 months at my present company and successfully transitioned, from the training process to working full-time in the team in the team I was hired for, this last week! I never fully thanked Cheeky for all the help they gave me in the training in the job search process, in a way that I was able to realize succes on one of the first jobs I applied for, only a bit more than a couple of months after joining the association. I heard and was told it was possible to have such quick results,but I never believed that it would happen to me; for this I am deeply grateful for you all! Joining CSA was one of the best decision I have ever made, and is something that will still help me for many years to come, for as long as my career goes on!"

Jose Hugos Elsas

Jose Hugos Elsas

Geophysical Researcher

at CGG

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as R&D Scientist II at Chemring Sensors and Electronic Systems, Inc.!"

Karim Dawkins

Karim Dawkins

R&D Scientist II

at Chemring Sensors and Electronic Systems, Inc

"I finally signed my contract and will be starting soon! I am very happy with the compensation package they have offered me and it meets my expectations."

Indrani Mukrajee

Indrani Mukrajee

Product Manager

at Miltenyi

"I got a job offer from a pharma company, which I am going to accept..thank you for your amazing support!"

Gonzalo Rosso

Gonzalo Rosso

Formulation Scientist

at Coriolis Scientist

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.