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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.

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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

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