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
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.