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Stop Getting Rejected For PhD Jobs By Learning These 7 Business Concepts

By the end of my PhD, I knew A LOT about neuroscience.

More than nearly everyone on the planet.

So, when I started applying for industry jobs, I thought I would be a shoe-in.

I used job boards to find openings in my field of neuroscience, and then I sent them my CV, which I thought was impressive.

I had multiple publications in high-impact journals.

I applied to about 10 jobs and thought that would be it — so, I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

No one ever contacted me about those jobs I applied for — not even with a rejection.

But, I was the perfect candidate because my technical skills were exactly what they were looking for.

Well, after applying to about 90 more jobs and never even getting a phone interview, I figured I needed to try a different approach.

I started networking.

And, I learned a hard truth: my technical skills didn’t really matter that much.

Sure, I checked the box for technically qualified, but what else was I going to bring to the organization?

Companies had no idea if I had any clue about how industry worked, because I was only showcasing my technical side.

I had to learn to also demonstrate the business acumen and transferable skills I could bring to the organization.

How Business Acumen Will Boost Your Job Search

To demonstrate that you are the candidate a company should hire, you need to be the complete package.

You need the technical know-how, great interpersonal skills, and business savvy.

Having one without the others is just not enough.

According to LinkedIn, 57% of business leaders reported that soft skills are more important than technical skills.

Skills like leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management were at the top of the list.

Business intelligence also made the top 20 list of in-demand skills.

When companies have a pool of talented job candidates, having a solid business understanding can make you the top candidate.

According to Consultancy UK, 41% of Chief Human Resources Officers cited business acumen as the most lacking skill when sourcing new talent.

Your PhD makes you a highly desirable candidate.

And, a solid business understanding will put you right at the top of the list.

7 Key Business Concepts PhDs Need To Understand To Succeed In Industry

You don’t learn about business concepts during your PhD.

But, you need to have a keen business sense to thrive in industry.

So, it’s up to you to make the effort and seek out the information you need.

The concepts here are a great place for you to start learning more about business.

Here are 7 business concepts that, once I fully understood them, completely transformed my job search and got me hired…

1. Mergers and acquisitions.

Mergers and acquisitions play a large role in the biopharma and biotech industry.

So, it’s important that you understand what they are and how they can impact an organization.

A merger is when 2 corporations agree to join together and form 1 new corporation.

Mergers are usually friendly, meaning everyone agrees to the merge, and result in a gain of some kind for both corporations.

Because of a merge, a corporation might gain a new market, more funding, a new product, etc.

An acquisition is when one company buys another company.

This can sometimes be an unfriendly takeover, where the company does not want to be bought out.

If you are working at a company, in both situations, this can result in changes to the workforce.

There could be redundancies or resurrecting that result in lay-offs, so it’s important to build a strong network at your company.

You want the leadership to be thinking about your well-being as they work through the details of the merge or acquisition.

2. Corporate strategy.

Every company will have a unique corporate strategy that defines who they are as a company, and where they see the future of the company headed.

Before you apply to a company, this is something that you should investigate.

Ask yourself if the corporate strategy aligns with your core values.

It’s important that you find a company where you will be a good fit with the culture, because this leads to greater job satisfaction.

You can often find the corporate strategy within the company’s mission statement.

The corporate strategy includes defining what problem the corporation is going to solve, where they are going to do business, and who they are going to work with.

If you have a grasp of this concept, and the specific corporate strategy for a company you are interested in, this can be a great conversation to have in your interview.

It will demonstrate not only your business acumen, but also your interest in the company as a whole.

3. Microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Economics governs how businesses perform on both a small and large scale.

Microeconomics refers to the economics of one company, or even one single transaction with a customer.

The supply and demand of a product or service is microeconomics.

Macroeconomics is economics on a larger scale.

It refers to national and global economic trends that affect a huge number of people.

For example, the entire biopharma industry is a massive trillion dollar industry that impacts on national and international economic trends.

Both these concepts impact the decisions that companies make about a particular company’s future.

4. Business ethics.

In general, business ethics refers to a wide range of ethical concepts, including: corporate governance, insider trading, bribery, discrimination, corporate social responsibility, and fiduciary responsibility.

The field of business ethics is a growing area because more and more companies are deciding that they want to be known for “doing good” — which falls under the corporate social responsibility category.

CSR can be things like creating environmental sustainability, ethical manufacturing processes, advocating for social justice, or other social ethical concerns.

As a PhD, you are well aware of the ethics systems in place in academia.

But, in industry, this takes on much more importance.

Maintaining the ethics of a company impacts on patients, the large scale environment, and even the health of entire nations.

These high-level consequences mean that there are teams whose job it is to enforce the business ethics of a particular company.

5. Marketing.

Marketing is a key part of any company.

Without marketing, no one would know about the product or service that a company offers, no one would buy anything, and the company would not make any money.

Large companies dedicate millions, if not billions, of dollars to their marketing departments.

In these marketing departments, companies perform a few specific functions.

They perform market research (which involves learning about the markets where a company is selling or could potentially be selling), they advertise (which is how a company makes themselves or one of their products visible to the market), and they sell (which is convincing the customer to buy).

In large biopharma or biotech companies, the marketing departments are huge.

Whole teams can be dedicated to just one product.

The importance and complexity of marketing is growing, and it is a hot field to be a part of.

6. Operations management.

While marketing is a front-facing and very visible part of an organization, the operations management is just as important but is largely behind-the-scenes.

Operations management is the strategy of finding and executing the most efficient way to reach a company goal.

This area is concerned with the behind-the-scenes necessities that are required to make a successful product.

This includes things like, inventory management, product scheduling and control, quality control, material handling, equipment maintenance policies, and other regulatory necessities.

Without good operations management, a company will fail.

For example, if inventory management is poorly controlled, there may not be enough of a product to go around and sales will be lost, or there may be too much of a product and it will expire before it can be purchased.

Both of these result in a loss of profits.

But, the stakes can be even higher.

When considering quality control, if a company does not execute this well, they may put out a contaminated or non-viable product which can be devastating, especially in the biopharma industry.

7. Sales funnels.

A sales funnel is the process that a customer is led through as they make the journey from potential customer to someone who has made a purchase.

Just as the name suggests, a sales funnel is shaped like a funnel.

At the top of the funnel, there are many leads. Leads are people who are potentially buyers of what the company is selling.

At the top of the funnel sales, efforts are low — think of them as window shoppers.

As you move down the funnel, the potential customers found there are more interested in buying and the sales efforts are also increased.

These people have entered the store and are engaged by a sales clerk.

Throughout the sales funnel process, potential customers may exit the funnel and not make a purchase — perhaps because they are not a good fit, they are not ready to buy, or they are just not interested.

Whatever the reason may be, most of the leads from the top of the funnel don’t make it to the bottom.

But, those customers who are interested, ready to buy, and who are the right fit make it through the funnel and make a purchase.

Sales funnels are used across all industries.

Understanding and planning how a company’s sales funnel process will function is a complex job, and big organizations have entire departments who work on developing sales funnels.

No matter what role you are targeting in industry, every person in an organization will require an understanding of business. Whether you are a scientist developing a drug, or in sales, the concepts of business impact your work. The better you understand key business concepts, the more desirable you become to companies. Understanding business concepts, such as: mergers and acquisitions, corporate strategy, microeconomics and macroeconomics, business ethics, marketing, operations management, and sales funnels, will boost your job search and elevate your career success.

Ready to back up your PhD with MBA-level business management training? Our ScientistMBA program is tailor-made for PhDs who want to dig into core business concepts like corporate strategy, organizational behavior, management hiring, and more. SMBA provides members access to exclusive content including training videos, live webinars, case studies, industry insider documents, and a private online network of business-minded PhDs. Join hundreds of other PhDs who are taking their degrees one step further for that razor-sharp business edge. Enrollment for the Cheeky Scientist SMBA program opens soon – get on our waitlist today!

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Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.
Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.

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