We all know that in this modern time there are more PhD graduates than academic job positions. Additionally, being an academic may not be an ideal job for everyone. With a PhD degree, there are in fact plenty of professional job opportunities in the market available. Having said that, you have to keep in mind that in the industry market, you are competing with many more applicants. To make yourself and your CV outstanding, you not only need to communicate to potential employers who are not necessarily familiar with the metrics of academia, but also you need to translate your research and academic skillsets into more applied settings. Here I am going to share some of the strategies I have learnt that I believe helped me get my job:
Job opportunities can come to you at any time. By ‘being prepared’ I mean you need to keep your documents up to date, especially your CV. You should start to think of and connect with your job referees, and ask for their permission to provide their names and contact details in advance if you can. Don’t forget to keep them informed if you do provide their names for a job application. Also, in this day and age people tend to do online background checks together with reference checks. Thus, remember to check your privacy settings and remove negative posts or comments from your social media networks. A quick google of yourself is a good way to see what prospective employers might find. Finally, in industry you may get a call for an interview at short notice (1-2 days). Therefore, it is important to do your own research about presenting well in a job interview, especially a panel interview. The academic job talk is not a common practice, so you won’t be in your comfort zone giving a prepared talk about your research.
Many companies will not wait until the last day of the application period to shortlist candidates. Often, they do it on a first come first serve basis. To save time and energy, I normally only go for professional jobs that have been recently posted (less than 2 weeks). To avoid missing opportunities, make sure you search for jobs regularly. Search for jobs using multiple job search engines and make sure to check the actual application close date from the company’s original website, as some search engines will keep renewing closed job ads until the listing is cancelled. LinkedIn can be good for making connections and keeping up with job postings in industries of interest; however, its popularity may vary by location and industry.
Keep your options open
Apart from ordinary ways of applying for a job (i.e., through websites, or head hunters/agencies), recruitment by reference is also popular, particularly in Asia. This means you are recommended by one of the company’s staff to apply for an available job position. You are more likely to get interviewed through the reference provided by the employee, though this does not guarantee that you will get the job.
CV: The Pathway to a Job Interview
In industry, you need to make your CV stand out from those of potentially hundreds of other applicants! On average, recruiters spend about 6 seconds to decide to look at your CV (or toss it).
Remember, keep your CV short! Show your official name and short title, including email but not home address. You will want to keep your CV to a maximum of 2-3 pages.
Customize your CV to the position you apply for. I advise against sending out the same CV for every job post. You don’t need to re-write the whole CV but only include relevant experiences in a CV. This is in contrast to the norms in academia. Industry recruiters hate long CVs.
Pay attention to details because good employers will look for this. Additionally, it is common for recruiters of big companies to scan applications for key words from an advertised job description. Therefore, if your CV contains key words mentioned in the job ad and industry, it’s more likely to be seen.
Work experience is very important! In academia, hiring professors may look for your publications and education first, but industry people are interested in what you can DO. Make your work experience interesting by using action words that suggest leadership and initiative (leading a team, overseeing, etc.). The trick is to use concrete figures when describing your previous roles - e.g., leading a team of 20 university tutors, 25% increase in teaching satisfaction scores. You can show off your soft skills here through mentioning what you did in the previous jobs and how you solved work-related problems. Most importantly, don’t forget to list work achievements for every relevant job you did in the past. Depending on the nature of the job you’re applying for, sometimes you may need to separate academic work experience (teaching, research) from professional work experience.
Detailed research activities are not a must (unless you are looking for a job in public or university sectors). You will need to select just a few of your top papers to highlight and if you wish, you can provide more detailed research activities in a separate file for anyone interested. Rewards/scholarships/grants can be included in a CV, but they are just to show how great you are – sadly, many professional folks do not know much about research grants or funding, or they do not care. Remember to also include in a CV your ‘hard skills’, and be specific – e.g., instead of saying ‘statistical analysis’ or ‘programming’, do specify types of analyses or programming languages that you know.
Performing Well in a Job Interview
In the industry, you may be interviewed in multiple rounds by different persons. HR tends to focus on how you can fit in the company regarding your background, including your attitudes and values. Always do your homework about the company background beforehand. They are unlikely to discuss salary at this stage.
Questions about research are also unlikely to be of interest. Line managers tend to focus more on skillsets. Whether questions are specific or not, you must give action-specific answers. Tell them what you did in the past, what you achieved during previous roles, how you solved work- or people-related problems, etc.. Don’t worry about repeating your CV, most line managers may just skim through your CV and expect you to sell yourself during the interview. Tips: The common first question ‘tell me about yourself’ is the first step to impress your interviewers. The actual question here is to ‘tell me what you are good at’ not ‘tell me your life story’, so frame your answers to show your expertise that is relevant to the job and to the company.
Lastly, nowadays most interviews are online due to COVID. Get yourself familiar with talking in front of the camera. Properly set up lighting, camera angle, and background. Practice and test your voice before the interview. Also, be aware of your face and eye movements!
Keep at it
In industry, as in academia, you may need to apply for many jobs, and participate in many interviews, before you get the one you want. Expect a long and difficult process, and keep your eyes on the prize at the end: the job that is waiting for you. You only need one!
- By Gi Chonu
This blog post aims to summarise the 12 tips provided for early career scholars on having policy impact on our policy page. That page distils the genius of three impactful social psychologists and includes links to lengthy interviews with them on a range of topics. The featured researchers are: community and clinical psychologist Eleanor Wertheim (LaTrobe university), environmental psychologist Kelly Fielding (University of Queensland), and cross-cultural psychologist James Liu (Massey University). The short version is:
1. Join Networks and Teams
A central point that all three scholars made is not to imagine you can do it alone - teams are more impactful. Try to find people with like-minded passions, and try to find people with an established track record as mentors, Eleanor Wertheim advises. In general, international collaborations are more impactful. James Liu adds: seek to be part of a team or system – e.g., look for internships – you can't be out there alone.
In an ideal world you might even consider policy networking before you choose your PhD advisor. Have they a record of making a difference, of disseminating research? Don't just look for publications. But even if your PhD research ends up as part of a narrower discovery-oriented vision, you can also start to look around for additional role models and mentors during your PhD and as an Early Career Researcher.
Opportunities come up to join networks and teams on professional e-lists and as you start to make yourself known at conferences and through publications. A critical point is that if you see an invitation to a meeting, as Kelly Fielding advises, turn up! Go to the meetings, sit down, be friendly, be open, and be excited - show enthusiasm. This is how you signal to others that you are a like-minded person that could be part of an ongoing network.
2. Plan and Learn
A closely related point is that like “doing great research”, “having policy impact” requires planning and lots of acquired skills and knowledge. Think about what difference you want to make in the world - aside from career and reputation, what difference will you make? If you already know a general area you want to contribute to, plan for this. Research and join organisations and interest groups. You should also be aware of who is working in the field and approach them to introduce yourself and explain your interests. Think of being in a global network: follow people on Twitter, follow them on google scholar, and join the e-lists of the major NGOs and Institutes that work on the issues you care about.
3. Seize opportunities
While research has a long term horizon and discovery (blue sky) research is slow, policy changes happen in fits and starts. Often opportunities only open for change in a country for a window or moment. You will need to learn from your mentors what the state of play is in your area, and what part of the policy cycle people are in. It is a lot easier to spot chances for leverage or learn about needs as part of a network than on your own.
Relatedly, you will need to look not just at what you’re interested in, but what government and funding bodies and inquiries and policy-makers are interested in. Think of how you can find common ground. But don’t just think alone – as James Liu says, get advice from your mentors about how to position your research. You will want to practice with mentors how to frame a pitch in terms of what you can bring to particular industry, NGO, or government audiences.
Policy impact is not a metric that feeds into getting a job in academia, and it doesn’t help you to get promoted or tenured. It is possible that a policy focus during your PhD could help you to get a job in industry or government, but seek advice if this is your aim – often times that type of job is few and far between. Winnifred Louis advises, to reduce risks in your academic career, you might aim for one line of work that is more predictable, mainstream, and published using methods other high status people in your department/ discipline recognise and value, and in journals people recognise and value. Ticking the boxes in that mainstream area allows you to take on policy work, which has uncertain timelines, controversial topics, mixed methods or under-valued methods, and may go to under-valued journals, or be disseminated in totally different formats (e.g., like websites or workshops) that others discount or see as ‘unscientific’.
So, with that caveat in mind, if you’re interested in policy work, ignore the advice to focus narrowly during your PhD. That advice is designed to make sure you get publications and finish, but you will take responsibility to do the former while also jumping at the chance to work with people from different disciplines and outside of academia. Seek to develop pluralistic methods – learn both qualitative and quantitative approaches, etc..
Dealing with conflict and negative feedback
Search for impact can bring you into contact with difficult personalities, and into arenas of passionate, bitter conflict between parties with different interests and values. There is no easy solution to this, but you can seek to become self-reflective about your own interests and values, and to upskill on conflict and change for individuals, groups, and societies.
Another important point is that much like research and academia in general, in policy work you generally encounter a very high rate of negative feedback. This is especially true early on in your career. You’ll want to practice getting used to the heat of the kitchen – people telling you what you are doing wrong is not a sign that you are failing, it’s a sign that you’re doing challenging work that not everyone values or understands, plus you have a steep learning curve to climb. Mentoring and peer support can help to get over the heavy ground when it all seems too much.
Manage your expectations and sustain your motivation
A related point is that policy changes happen in fits and starts, and like research, a lot of projects fizzle and fail. So go in with low expectations – outreach increases your chance of impact, but there are no guarantees. James Liu adds, it’s important to understand that you can't control a situation when you are out there in the field – the rigor of the research can be compromised, but this may open you up for insight. You have to be flexible, and be responsive to community needs. Community-engaged and policy-relevant research rarely goes as you planned. It’s a great adventure that keeps you growing as a person.
In summary, advice to keep your motivation during times of crushing disappointment includes having a long-term focus, sharing social support with like-minded people, having a growth mindset where you focus on learning and progress not outcomes alone, and having a values mindset where your focus is on how you can do what you can to enact your values with the opportunities that are available. And finally, recognising with humility that there are many factors that you do not control: you’ll need this skill repeatedly, and it will greatly improve your well-being.
- By Winnifred Louis
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.