The Competitive Advantages Every PhD Has In Industry

If you have a PhD, you’re overqualified for an industry job.

PhDs are lab rats and can’t understand business.

You can’t get a job without industry experience.

Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? Have you been looking for an industry job unsuccessfully and have reached a point where you ask yourself if your PhD has any value whatsoever?

These sentences are myths, commonly said by either academics who don’t understand anything about industry, or by other job candidates who don’t want to compete with PhDs.

Hiring managers for PhD-level industry positions want the best candidates possible. After all, these are the top 0.5% positions available. There is no such thing as being overqualified for them.

If you are truly overqualified for the positions you are applying to, it means you are targeting positions that are beneath you.

At the same time, you need to understand where your value lies if you want to give your career a turn and get hired in your target position.

You have heard me say before that your value doesn’t lie on technical skills, but in the transferable skills that you developed during grad school. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this story that one of our members shared after having transitioned:
I am glad to announce that I transitioned into my first industry job after finishing my Ph.D. last month for the position of Process Development Scientist in a biotech company. An important takeaway was that though hard skills are essential but so are soft skills. Employers seem to like candidates who can disseminate ideas clearly. The key is understanding their requirements and communicating how our research background can help solve their problems.

Today, I want to talk about one of your most valuable transferable skills, the ability to create knowledge.

Most Job Candidates Aren’t Able To Create Knowledge

One of my thesis committee members once told me the difference between leaving graduate school with a Masters degree versus leaving with a PhD. 

He said that a Masters degree is granted to those who have mastered a field while a PhD is granted to those who have added to a field. 

This means that if you have earned a PhD, you have spent years trying to find answers to the most difficult questions in your area. 

You have analyzed these questions from every angle, performed experiments, and reviewed the literature to prove your hypothesis right or wrong over and over again.

Adding to a field is hard. That’s why less than 2% of the population has a PhD. 

Anyone can regurgitate information. But bringing new knowledge into existence for the very first time, that is a different thing altogether.

Keep in mind that most people can’t do a book report. Almost a third of them fail to even pick the book and start reading it in the first place.

You, on the other hand, have spent years creating information and months putting it together into a hundred page story called a thesis just so five other people can read it. 

If you have a PhD, you are a creator of information. This is one of your most valuable transferable skills and something you should communicate every time you come in contact with an industry employer or employee.

3 Competitive Advantages That PhDs Have In The Job Market

Hopefully, you are now convinced that your ability to create knowledge is not something trivial. Rather something that makes you valuable in industry. You have competitive advantage.

The good things don’t stop here though. As you learned how to push a field forward, you also developed other skills that give you a competitive advantage in industry.

Skills you can leverage to ensure you get hired into your dream industry position. No matter how out of reach that seems right now. 

Here, I will discuss three skills that are tightly linked to the ability to create knowledge and how these give you a competitive advantage.

1. Innovation and tenacity

To succeed, or even to survive, a company has to be innovative and constantly add more value than its competitors. 

This means they have to come up with new ideas and reinvent themselves and their products on a daily basis. 

Staying relevant in the current market is one of the biggest challenges for companies of all sizes.

As a PhD, you have this part of the job covered. It is impossible to push a field forward without learning how to come up with strategies for innovation.

This skill is uncommon. It requires a healthy dose of creativity and the ability to ask more and better questions everyday.

This is a challenge for employees without a PhD. Most of whom rarely go out of their comfort zone in the first place.

As a PhD, you have been trained for years on the ability to look at complex problems with a critical eye, ask the right questions, and suggest innovative solutions.

At the same time, you also have tenacity, you don’t give up at the first roadblock. You know that pushing a field forward involves accepting challenges and not giving up in the face of adversity. 

Think of your PhD. Chances are you didn’t even know if the project you were working on had an answer at all when you started! 

But you were competitive, you learned to push forward. Even knowing that everything you were doing – your life’s work – could be proven untrue at any time.

This ability to innovate with tenacity can easily make you one of the most valuable hires in top companies across industries. 

2. Speed of learning

PhDs are competitive. You learn faster than others. PhDs are rigorously taught how to learn. 

After all, the acronym “PhD” stands for “doctor of philosophy” and philosophy stands for knowledge. The ability to ascertain knowledge, which makes PhDs quite literally doctors of learning. 

Your ability to learn quickly, especially on the job, is incredibly valuable to employers. It’s also exceptionally rare. 

Just watch the average job candidate try to learn a new software program or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Then, watch a PhD learn how to use that same software program or SOP. 

The speed at which the PhD learns. The autonomous nature of your learning (PhDs don’t need to be spoon fed every detail) is unmatched. 

Speed of learning is a competitive advantage that frightens other job candidates.

Your ability to learn quickly, autonomously, and on the job is your biggest asset when it comes to finding a job without previous industry experience.

Truth is, industry experience can often hurt your chances of getting a job because the employer has to un-train you on the previous company’s culture and processes before they can train you on their culture and processes. 

As a PhD fresh out from academia, you are a blank canvas. Ready to learn from the moment of being hired. This is especially true if you can show to employers that you understand industry etiquette.

3. Ability to work across industries

Academia likes to break things down into very specific fields. So, PhDs end up with a super specific niche that doesn’t really make sense anywhere else. 

You probably define yourself as a computational cellular bioinformatician, a psychological linguistic anthropologist, or whatever your specific niche is.

But these designations mean nothing in an industry setting.

Most industry hiring managers don’t even have a PhD. They don’t understand the academic terms that define your niche.

They are looking for candidates with the right set of transferable skills who can convince them that they can do the work at hand.

You already have the most relevant transferable skills industry employers are looking for.

And your ability to learn and innovate gives you the ability to learn processes outside not only your niche, but your overall field of knowledge. This means that, when planning your transition, you can aim as high as you want. 

I’m telling you this because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve helped PhDs transition into all 11 sectors of business as defined by the S&P 500 index.

I’ve seen humanities PhDs hired into data science and medical writing positions, PhDs in mathematics hired into management consulting, scientists hired in engineering positions and vice versa.

Your ability to learn quickly is, in large part, responsible for my success in helping hundreds of thousands of PhDs getting hired into their dream industry careers.

Whether you want to be one of the highest paid R&D or Medical Directors in your field. The most sought-after Data Scientist, Project Manager, Product Manager, Principal Scientist, Senior Engineer, or Clinical Research Associate in your business sector, the methods you developed during your PhD will lead you to success.

Concluding Remarks

Feeling blind in terms of your industry transition. Stuck in academia with no idea how to change your circumstances. Feeling as though you are begging to get hired or begging to get promoted to your next industry position? It does not have to be your professional experience. As a PhD, you have the competitive advantage. You have the value necessary to be sought after by industry employers. Just identify what makes you valuable. Never underestimate the difference that your ability to create knowledge can have in the industry setting and make sure to communicate this ability at every step of your hiring process. At the same time, be aware of the skills that stem from your ability to create knowledge and leverage them to ensure you get hired into your dream industry position. 


If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of the largest career training platform for PhDs in the world - Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 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 two bestselling books with Wiley and 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.

Similar Articles

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

Should You Delete Your PhD From Your Resume? The Answer May Surprise You

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re overqualified for an industry job. PhDs are lab rats and can’t understand business. You can’t get a job without industry experience. Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? Have you been looking for an industry job unsuccessfully and have reached a point where you ask yourself if your PhD has any value whatsoever? These sentences are myths, commonly said by either academics who don’t understand anything about industry, or by other job candidates who don’t want to compete with PhDs. Hiring managers for PhD-level industry positions want the best candidates possible. After…

4 Skills PhDs Have That Employers Are Desperately Seeking

4 Skills PhDs Have That Employers Are Desperately Seeking

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

The number of PhDs wanting to transition out of academia increases every year. Initially, most of these PhDs were recent graduates and postdocs.  But as the crisis in academia has gotten worse, we are seeing a lot of adjunct and even tenured professors wanting to leave. They feel professionally unfulfilled in academic positions because they are overworked, work in uninspiring roles, and/or are paid marginal academic stipends, fellowships, and wages.  Far too many PhDs are unable to find any meaning or joy in their academic careers, which negatively impacts both their professional and personal lives. Unfortunately, many of these PhDs end up…

The Exciting (or, Dreadful) First 90 Days Of A New Job. Here's What To Expect

The Exciting (or, Dreadful) First 90 Days Of A New Job. Here's What To Expect

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, I thought I could jump into my first industry position ready to hit the ground running. Much to my surprise, this was not the case.   During the first few months of my new position, I felt like I was drowning. Everything I thought I knew about my field, how research is conducted, and how companies operate was turned on its head. I was not prepared for this major shift, and it showed. I waivered between trying to impress my managers and sitting mute in meetings, intimidated by everyone in the room. If I had known what…

The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

The Inside Scoop On The Industry Onboarding Process

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Nothing could prepare me for the shock I received walking into my first industry onboarding experience. Literally, everything was different from what I had experienced in academia. The processes, the culture, the pace – absolutely everything. I also had no idea what onboarding meant. I heard the word tossed around but, to me, it was just the process you went through to get all the mandatory paperwork out of the way. That was so far from the truth. My first onboarding experience lasted almost 6 months. Yet, throughout that whole process, I had no idea that I was still being…

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:  …

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, you may think that Research and Development is the only department in industry that hires PhDs. But the reality is, your skills are needed in every area of industry. That means that every single department within a company is seeking PhD-level candidates. In fact, there are five core industry career tracks that can provide PhDs with meaningful and rewarding work: Information and Data Management (this is a broad category that includes everything from Patent Analyst and Informatics Specialist roles to Medical Writing and Data Scientist roles), Research and Development, Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, Classical Business (e.g., Management…

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What industry position can I apply to? That’s one of the most common questions PhDs ask once they decide to leave academia. What you probably don’t realize is that you have many options when it comes to choosing a career. So, the real question is not what industry position you can apply to, but what industry position is the right fit for you. Which position better matches your professional lifestyle and career goals?  In previous blogs we’ve discussed how to establish your desired professional lifestyle and how to use it to evaluate your target career track and companies. In the…

Top Industry Career eBooks

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.

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.

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.

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.