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What The ‘Flow’ Of Your PhD Level Interview Process Will Look Like In Industry

Contributing Author: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

While some people have always planned to move into industry right after their PhD, I, like a number of you, I imagine, started my PhD hoping to stay in academia.

After a PhD in Microbiology & Immunology, I did a 4-year postdoc.

While I really enjoyed my postdoc and my time in the lab, it wasn’t long before I knew that academia was not a viable career option.

But, if not academia, then what?

Although my mind was made up in terms of leaving academia, I really had no idea what I wanted to do.

I considered various roles including Research Scientist, Project Manager, CRA, Scientific or Medical Writer, among others, and had decided to focus on CRA positions.

After a few months of slow job searching (I still had a long time left in my postdoc contract), and 5-10 informational interviews (in person and by Skype), I realized this wasn’t the career for me.

After lots of reflection, I decided (or realized?) that medical writing was right for me.

I only learned after a handful of informational interviews, and many conversations via LinkedIn, how broad medical writing is.

There seems, to me, to be little in common between regulatory medical writing and “educational” medical writing, and yet the job title is the same.

This shows the importance of really understanding a given role at a particular company.

Now that I knew my target, I identified approximately 50 “target companies” to help focus my job search.

I had a couple of real-life connections at those companies, but the vast majority of my networking started by looking up 2nd-degree connections on LinkedIn.

I have had many, many LinkedIn “conversations” with people at my target companies.

Using Cheeky-suggested networking scripts, adapted for what worked best for me, I’d say that around half of my “cold connections” responded, and of those, over half responded to my requests for questions (after 2-3 back-and-forth messages adding value).

While these conversations were very useful in terms of learning about medical writing in general and learning about my potential target companies, I had much more success in getting referrals when I had a real-life connection with someone at the company (eg a friend/colleague, or a friend of a friend).

There were certainly times when it felt like everything I was doing was going nowhere.

I was spending hours a day doing everything “right” but still no interviews.

But then, things started to pick up, and in a period of just over a month I had interviews at 4 companies and one offer.

The job I ultimately accepted came when a good friend of mine put me in touch with a former colleague who works at a company I was interested in.

After a few emails back and forth, and meeting for coffee, this contact offered to pass my resume to the hiring manager, even though there was no opening at the time.

Lucky for me, there was an opening only 2 weeks later and I was offered the position.

All this is to say, it might seem like nothing is working, then all of a sudden, things started happening quickly.

There is somebody in your network, right now, who can get you a job!

I always thought this was maybe true in some hypothetical sense, but, the position I accepted arose through someone I had already known for years.

Why Now Is The Best Time For PhDs To Get Hired In Industry

Hiring is up.

The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been for 50 years and according to Execu-Search 55% of candidates were interviewing for more than one position at a time.

This means that you, as a job seeker, have power to leverage in your job search.

This is especially true because you are a PhD.

You should be going on multiple interviews, getting multiple offers and then choosing the job that is the best fit for you.

Data from Express Employment Professionals show that 42% of job applicants rejected a job offer because it was not the perfect fit.

Don’t be afraid to reject an offer if it’s not right for you.

It’s normal.

Both you and the employer are making a huge investment when you join the company.

Harvard Business Review reported that on average a company will spend $4,129 on hiring per job.

The company wants to know that you are the right fit, so you will likely have several interviews with one company.

There will be as many touch points as possible to assess whether you are the right candidate for the job.

So you need to be ready.

7 Stages Of Your PhD Level Industry Interview Process

There is a specific sequence, or flow, that your job search and interview will follow.

From informational interviews to phone screens to onsite interviews to negotiation…

Each stage will come at a specific time and requires specific strategies.

Are you ready?

Being aware of this flow will enable you to prepare thoroughly for your interviews.

But, so many PhDs skip over key parts of this interview process.

Learn the stages of a PhD level interview and how you can prepare for each one…

Before the interview

The vast majority of your job search efforts will happen before your interviews.

Don’t neglect this part of your job search.

Here’s a quick run-down of what you need to do before you get to an interview…

1. Explore with informational interviews & get your professional profiles in order.

Before you go to a job interview, in fact before you even start applying for positions, you should be doing informational interviews.

Informational interviews are just meetings or conversations that you set up with people who are already working in industry and ask them about their work.

There are 2 big reasons to do informational interviews.

The first is for you to really understand what someone in xyz role does and decide if it’s a good fit for you.

The second is to try and get a referral.

By meeting with people who work at the companies you are interested in and building up a relationship with them you are working towards getting a referral.

This will not happen right away most of the time, but informational interviews are a great way to initiate a relationship that leads to a referral and ultimately to an interview.

When you do get a referral it’s imperative that you have your industry style resume ready.

Your industry resume is very different from an academic CV.

Work on having both your resume and your LinkedIn profile completely perfect by the time you are applying for a position.

During the interview

Your interview will likely have several stages, each is unique and important.

Remember, you can’t get to the in person interview if you screw up the phone screen.

Focus on the interview stage you are at and prepare properly…

2. Prepare for the initial phone screen.

The vast majority of positions will start the hiring process with a phone screen.

This is not just a formality.

It is your first chance to stand out as the perfect candidate.

Often this interview is with a recruiter who is calling to confirm what is written on your resume and to make sure that you have the skills needed for the job.

At a phone screen be prepared to give examples of your skills and most importantly to describe how these skills are relevant to the position you are applying for.

It’s a good idea to have your resume in front of you during a phone screen.

That way you can refer back to what you wrote down and make sure that what you say now aligns perfectly with what you wrote previously.

If this phone screen is with a recruiter realize that you should not be using high level scientific jargon.

This won’t impress the recruiter and they might misinterpret what you say to mean that you are not qualified.

Instead, use the keywords that are in the job description to talk about your skills.

For example, if the job description asks for experience with ‘Chromatography’ just use that word to describe your experience. Do not launch into a long explanation of the details and specifics of the type of chromatography that you did, unless you are asked.

This is important because as soon as you say you have chromatography experience, the recruiter will check that box for you.

Done.

Don’t prolong something unnecessarily.

By being succinct you give the recruiter space to ask you more questions where you can further reassure them that you have the required skills and should move onto the next round of interviews.

3. Set up for your video interview.

The number of companies doing video interviews is increasing and you need to be prepared for them.

As the world becomes more global, companies often have partners and employees that work in different locations.

Video communication is very important.

So, not only is this the first time that the employer will see you, they are likely testing your ability to communicate via video conference.

The really great thing about video interviews is you have complete control over what the interviewers see.

Leverage this by finding a place in your home with great lighting and a clean background.

Lighting is your number one concern with video interviews.

If you are shadowed or washed out the employer will not be able to see you clearly and this will impact negatively on your ability to build rapport.

Once you have found a place with good light make sure that it doesn’t have a cluttered background.

A simple wall with nothing on it is the best choice.

But make sure that your background doesn’t have anything especially distracting, such as a mess, pets, children or any other people.

Find a quiet space where you can be alone.

Once you’ve got a good space set up, you need to prepare the same way that you would for an in person interview.

Do a practice run through with a friend.

Practice common behavioral questions.

Be confident about what is written on your resume.

This is your one chance to impress your potential employer.

Don’t think about the next steps, focus only on where you are now and put all your effort into making it an excellent video interview.

4. Shine during the entire onsite interview.

If you have made it to an onsite interview then you have already proven to the potential employer that you are a top candidate.

Now they want to see if you are someone they would like to work with.

That means that your onsite interview will be heavily focused on your transferable skills.

At this in person interview, you will no longer be just talking about your transferable skills you will have to demonstrate them through your interactions.

Before the interview make sure you get a good night’s rest, eat well and hydrate.

It’s almost like you are preparing for a sporting event.

Interviews are high stress situations and many onsite interviews can last the entire day.

Your mind and body need to be ready for a full day of questions.

You need to be ‘on’ and fully engaged for the entire day.

Being attentive and excited the whole day demonstrates to the interviewers that you are invested and committed to the position.

Finally, just like you did in the video interview, forget about the future and your desired outcome, focus completely on the interview.

5. Deliver a great interview presentation.

Many PhD level industry positions will require you to give a presentation as a part of your interview process.

This presentation is not going to be like your standard academic talk.

Usually the presentation covers one of these 3 areas:

  1. Presenting about yourself
  2. Presenting about your research
  3. Presenting about their products or a hypothetical product

Once you have clarified what you will be presenting, ask who the audience will be and how long your presentation should be.

These are basics that you need to find out about in order to prepare properly.

Once you have the brief, get to work.

There is a complete industry presentation guide here.

In general, make sure that your presentation is engaging and that you highlight results.

Just like with your resume, a presentation needs to focus on the industry relevant results and how you will bring value to the company.

Practicing your talk with some friends is also a really great idea.

After the interview

When your interview is over, the work isn’t done.

How you act after an interview will influence the decisions that an employer makes.

You need to send the appropriate follow up and prepare for negotiations…

6. Send an enthusiastic and personalized thank you.

Before you leave the interview, find out the contact information for everyone who interviewed you so that you can send a thank you email.

Within the first 24 hours after your email you must send a thank you.

Send this followup thank you as soon as you can, even just a couple hours after the interview is a great time to send the thank you.

Write a personalized thank you email to each person.

Add a tidbit in the email about something specific that you talked about with that person and express your excitement at the possibility of joining the team or company.

Reiterate why you are a great candidate by quickly summarizing the value you will bring to the company.

Additionally, you can send a physical thank you note to those who interviewed you.

To get their mailing address you might need to call the human resources department, just tell them what you are doing and ask for their address.

Be sure to send this as soon as possible after the interview so that it will arrive the next day.

7. Negotiate the job offer with confidence.

Do not accept the first offer that is given to you.

This offer is almost always lower than what the company is willing to pay you.

Do you research to find out what the average salary is for the position you are applying for in your area.

Always keep focused on the value you will bring to the company.

Never get defensive.

Start by asking open ended questions to keep the ball in their court.

Salary negotiation is something that scares many PhDs, but this isn’t necessary.

You can learn this skill just like you learned incredibly complex skills and concepts in your PhD.

There is a complete salary negotiation guide for PhDs here.

During these negotiations always remember your value and always keep a win-win attitude.

The interview process is long. It is tough. Employers do not want to invest in someone that will end up not being the right person for the job. Be thoroughly prepared for each stage of your PhD job interview including taking the time to explore with informational interviews and get your professional profiles in order, prepare for the initial phone screen, set up for your video interview, shine during the entire onsite interview, deliver a great interview presentation, send an enthusiastic and personalized thank you, and negotiate the job offer with confidence.

To learn more about What The ‘Flow’ Of Your PhD Level Interview Process Will Look Like In 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.

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Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya has a PhD in Physics from the University of Toronto, Canada and a passion for Nanotechnology. His PhD project focused on 3D magnetic nanostructures and he is now combining this passion with his keen business acumen and works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.
Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.