How To Go From Unemployed PhD To Successful Industry Professional

Cathy was in a tough place.

She had just completed her PhD and postdoctoral research at Ludwig Maximilians University.

As part of her work, she discovered candidate therapeutic targets for Multiple Sclerosis, which led to a publications in Nature Medicine and Neuron.

Not easy journals to get into.

Overall, her academic career was a success.

But…

She wasn’t happy.

Cathy realized that the academic career track wasn’t right for her. At least not right now. Instead, she became interested in getting a job in industry and eventually decided to leave academia.

The problem was she didn’t know where to start.

She also had this nagging feeling that she wasn’t good enough to get a good industry job. She felt like she was doing something wrong by leaving academia.

As a result, she ended up stuck.

Not knowing what to do next.

Cathy ended up somewhere she thought she would never be…

Unemployed.

This didn’t make any sense. Cathy knew she was intelligent, driven, and hardworking. She earned her PhD. She earned her publications. She was exceptionally capable.

Yet, she couldn’t shake her feelings of despair and confusion.

How did she end up here?

Unemployed To Success Story

After 3 months of being unemployed, Cathy decided to take a chance.

She decided to get help.

Cathy joined the Cheeky Scientist Association and quickly became a star Associate.

She flew through the program, completed her Industry Transition Plan, and started applying to industry positions strategically.

Cathy enjoyed benchwork, but she wanted a break from it.

She wanted to try something different.

This was a real sticking point for her. She felt like she was betraying her mentors, peers, and even herself by wanting to leave academia.

But this was all in her head.

Eventually Cathy realized that she could move into a different industry and be both happy and successful. She realized that her happiness was more important than what other people may or may not think of her.

She also realized that despite what some fear mongering people tried to make her believe, she could always go back to the bench.

With her new mindset in place, Cathy started using her Associate knowledge to apply to publishing editor positions.

Within a few weeks, Cathy got the job she wanted.

All her past stress, confusion, and depression went away instantly.

To celebrate, she went to Iceland with her husband.

Cathy’s story is a success story.

Wherever you are at in your PhD career–postdoc, graduate student, or even unemployed–you can turn your story into a success story too.

Whether you want to get a PhD job as an R&D project manager, an application scientist, publishing editor, or sale specialist all that’s standing in your way is the right strategy.

Consider Cathy…

She’s a a real PhD who really was unemployed. Now she’s successful and, most importantly, happy.

You can see it in her face…

Cheeky Scientist Associate Successful

What Cathy Did Differently

Every time a Cheeky Scientist Associate gets the industry position of their choice, we follow up with them to ask them how they did it.

What did they do differently?

What strategies worked for them?

We asked Cathy these and other questions and are sharing them with you here so you can turn your story into a success story.

Here are a few of the questions we asked Cathy and her answers…

1. Which strategies made the most difference in helping you get the job?

The biggest game changer was putting in individualized effort on resumes and in researching the company thoroughly.

I thought I was putting in effort before by reading the job posting carefully and skimming the company’s website. This was not enough. 

Once I started really digging into things like the company’s culture, their patents, financial reports, acquisitions, and other very specific information, things started to change. 

This specific knowledge of the position and company  came through on my targeted resume, which in this case I had to submit online. 

It also proved very useful during the interview. 

2. What did you learn through the interviewing process? What did you do well, or not so well?

This might sound unusual but I overprepared for the interview and then went into it assuming I wouldn’t get the job because it was outside my domain.

As a result, I was completely relaxed and just had fun. I could tell the interviewers really liked this.  

I was relaxed, but not sloppy. I was completely engaged.

In fact, this was the first time I walked into an interview prepared to interview the other side instead of just letting them interview me.

I didn’t even realize this was a possibility before joining the Cheeky Scientist Association.

I should also mention that I did a lot of mock interviews. I think all PhDs applying to jobs should do this–just treat it like a mock thesis defense and go through specific questions and answers with 2-3 people across from you. 

In terms of things I did wrong, I was asked “How would you communicate differently with someone who didn’t speak English as their first language?”

I could tell by the interviewers body language that my answer was a little off so I just stopped talking instead of continuing to talk. I’m glad I did stop!

3. If you could go back and talk to yourself a few months ago when you were unemployed and at your lowest point, what would you say?

I would have told myself to be more patient and not be so hard on myself. I would also tell myself to get help sooner–it really made a difference.

I would have started going to Blue Ocean Networking events (non-PhD networking events) sooner too. These events led to a lot of referrals for me. 

I would have started making my resume more specific sooner. I would have started researching companies more too. In my case, knowing everything down to the company’s financial reports really paid off.

Oh, and I’d tell myself to be ready. Once you have the right strategies in place, everything will happen at once. You’ll suddenly get an interview, get a job offer, and then be on a plane with your husband celebrating in Iceland!

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

Similar Articles

5 Ways Academic Career Centers Fail PhDs

5 Ways Academic Career Centers Fail PhDs

By: Amanda Johnson

If anyone should have known how to execute a PhD job search, it was me. The institution I was earning my PhD at was one of the top 10 across the nation. It was awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) in the award’s first funding cycle. My career center was one of the best. What made it one of the top ranking career centers was that they provided opportunities and resources to help trainees prepare for a diverse range of careers. I had taken courses on intellectual property, college teaching, and participated in training…

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Contributing Author: Maxwell Caughron A year before I got hired, I didn’t even know the career I currently worked in existed. My path to industry success has not been a straight line, so let’s start from the beginning… My PhD is in Asia Pacific Studies, and after about 6 years in academia, I needed a change of pace. I can’t put into words how anxious I was about finding a job but I started looking at various career tracks. I had absolutely no idea what valuable skills I had or where to look for relevant positions.  It was then that…

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

How many PhDs miss their calling as being a leader and or a boss because of academic failure and not realizing the leadership skills they have?  I remember my own academic education well. Like other PhDs, no one taught me how to develop my leadership skills. Leadership is a core part of real life, of industry. But it’s not a focal point for academia, which is why so many students get their PhDs only to face a harsh reality… Instead of success and recognition, PhDs feel used. They’ve been used by a university system that chewed them up and spit…

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

By: Shobeir Mazinani, PhD

Becoming a data scientist has changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration. Since becoming a data scientist, recruiters have invited me to apply for positions in their own organization. It wasn’t always like this though… It used to be the academic life for me – lengthy hours, little pay, and even less appreciation. But I made a decision to join Cheeky Scientist and take my career into my own hands. Now, it’s normal to receive multiple job offers, which I negotiate for higher salary and improved signing bonuses. Does this sound like a luxury? Like a distant achievement that you…

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I’ve lost a job. I was offered a contract, and they pulled it back. Everybody is ignoring me on LinkedIn now.  I was communicating with somebody about an upcoming interview, and now they’re not replying to my emails. My postdoc is not going to be renewed.  This is the kind of message I’ve been getting from countless PhDs all over the world. The recession has made things challenging for everyone. A lot of PhDs thought academia was going to take care of them, but they’ve found out the hard way that it isn’t true. For weeks now, I’ve been warning…

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

The current crisis reminds me of something that happened to me years ago, before I had leadership skills. I had an interview with a big company, and it was scheduled to take place on an upper floor of a tall building. I took the elevator, which turned out to be the wrong choice. Normally, I’d have chosen the stairs, but I was feeling nervous and didn’t want to make my heart rate increase – it was already beating fast. The elevator got about halfway up to my floor and abruptly stopped. The doors didn’t open. There were several other people…

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

By: Elliott Brecht, PhD

You should have seen my academic CV. I would have set off anyone’s anxiety. It was a total disaster. By academia’s standards, it was fine. But I had a real monster of a CV, over 5 pages long and full of academic jargon. And there was no cover letter either. Can you guess what industry employers did after taking a glimpse at my CV? They probably threw it away – that’s assuming it even reached employers. More likely, it was filtered out of candidacy by application tracking software. You might think that, given the current situation, you should be focusing…

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Isaiah Hankel has your career guide to navigating the world of PhD jobs during the coronavirus crisis and using this temporary downtime to your advantage. The financial markets have crashed worldwide.  I can tell you from experience what’s going to happen next. I was a PhD student in 2008 during the financial crisis, and history tells us the hiring market is next to crash. After 2008, I felt like there were no jobs, and I had no industry network to connect with. My PI couldn’t help me – he didn’t know anybody either.  He was in the academic bubble with…

5 Ways PhDs Find Successful Careers As Medical Writers

5 Ways PhDs Find Successful Careers As Medical Writers

By: Alejandra Viviescas, PhD

As a PhD, you already have the strong communication skills you need to succeed as a medical writer. You just need to focus them on other audiences besides academics, like doctors, patients, regulatory bodies, and the general public.

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.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 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.