Graduate students and recent Ph.D.s hesitate to look for nonacademic positions for many reasons. Some people don’t know where to start. Others find the prospect of “reinventing” themselves too overwhelming to consider seriously. Still others simply love university life and can’t imagine spending their time doing anything else.
Before we get into our specific rebranding tips, let’s highlight one huge difference between the business world and the world that exists in the shadow of the ivory tower. Whereas a Ph.D. or a master’s degree is required for even entry-level teaching jobs at most higher education institutions, employers outside academe care little about degrees and other credentials. What matters most to them are the skills and knowledge you’ve gained through relevant work experience.
If you’ve ever been warned that your Ph.D. makes you overqualified for jobs outside higher education, you’ve encountered the Ph.D. stereotype. The assumption here is that all doctoral graduates are like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory — überacademics who can’t function in the real world. But you can overcome this stereotype by repackaging your academic skills along the following lines.
1. Speak the language. You’ve (hopefully) learned, as part of your Ph.D. training, how to present yourself professionally. But keep in mind you’ve learned how to present yourself professionally in academe, which is different from presenting yourself professionally outside the university. It’s time to apply those fabulous research skills to acquiring the language and professional style appropriate for your target job sector.
2. Reframe work experience. Reframing previous work experience is probably the most difficult part of rebranding your academic skills. One obstacle is that we tend to treat the eight-to-10-year journey to getting a doctorate as a path that leads to a job rather than as a career in and of itself. Many Ph.D.s graduate from their programs feeling as if they have no work experience.
3. Focus less on hard skills and more on soft ones. It’s clear that employers value technical skills, so there’s no reason to downplay or hide your academic experience. That said, when asked which skills they look for in new hires, HR managers, recruiters and CEOs are more likely to mention soft skills.
Whether you’ve been planning your exit from academe for months or you’re just starting to explore your options, you will benefit from being able to confidently articulate your wealth of skills and experience. The fact that you possess a range of abilities and talents that will help you succeed will become clear not only to you but also to others once you know how to communicate your value.