“I had no idea jobs existed outside academia for PhDs.”
Several PhD holders have sent me a version of this message over the last couple of years.
It sounds shocking but until recently, very few academic institutions actually prepared PhDs for non-academic careers.
It was PPP (PhD-Post-Doc-Professor) all the way!
And so, it is not surprising when people discover there are, in fact, several fantastic non-academic career paths they could pursue after their PhD programs, they’re not even sure which questions they need to ask to get started.
If you’re in this spot, do not worry!
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you prepare for, and navigate non-academic careers.
What do I bring to the table for the company or companies that want to hire me?
No, it is not just your PhD. Think about how the skills you gained on your educational journey can solve PROBLEMS in that industry.
For instance, during your STEM PhD you might have really enjoyed doing lab work and so want to do the same thing in industry. Which companies will value the type of laboratory experience that you have?
If you did a lot of flow cytometry then perhaps your skills might be valuable to that company that sells flow analysis software?
Or perhaps, you used a type of methodology in grad school that comes in handy as a UX researcher at a major tech company.
You bring a lot more to the table than just your PhD degree.
Sit down and consider (and write down) those skills you gathered along the way during your PhD.
In which industries can I solve problems?
The short answer to this question is: there are many industries where your skills can be valuable.
I highly recommend you follow The Bold PhD Interview series to learn of PhDs with different backgrounds who have ventured in career paths that at first glance don’t look like they aligned with their degrees.
This requires some research on your part. The videos linked above will give you a head start. One of the things I’ve learned through these interviews however is that the sky is the limit here.
How do I convince those industries of my skills and experience?
Now that you’ve looked at the skills you possess and the industries where those skills might be valuable, it is time to put together a resume (and these days, a LinkedIn presence) that speaks clearly and convinces hiring managers that they should consider you.
I’ve talked before about the difference between an academic CV and an industry resume.
Yes, these are two different documents.
In academia, we love performance and so decision-makers want to see your publications, talks and grants you’ve garnered.
In industry, hiring managers want to know if you possess the skills they need for a particular function.
Thus industry resumes tend to be more skills-focused whereas an academic CV may focus on markers of research and teaching success rather than specific skills.
In the video above, I compare my academic CV with my industry resume to illustrate the differences.
Which non-academic roles are at the intersection of my interests and aptitude?
I was good at lab work. It doesn’t mean I enjoyed it or wanted to pursue a career in it.
On the other hand, I was good at teaching and writing and have always been fascinated with marketing.
So landing a job as a medical writer focused on marketing is literally a career dream come true.
And so this is an important question to ask as you navigate non-academic careers – based on your work and educational experiences so far, what are you good at AND what do you enjoy doing?
What are my non-negotiables?
What would cause you to say no to a career path?
This is where you may have to consider your values.
A non-negotiable for me was that I didn’t want a job that would require that I travel constantly.
Recently, it’s been important that my work is at the very least hybrid (part of the week at home and part of the week in an office setting).
What’s it for you?
If you’re looking to navigate non-academic careers now and in the months or years to come, I highly recommend you answer these questions for yourself.
It will put you in the right mental and emotional space and you will be able to position yourself as a great candidate once you start applying.