By Dora Farkas, PhD
I have been working in industry for a few years now, and students ask me the same question that I was struggling with during my job search: “How can I get a job in industry if I don’t have industry experience?” Like many other students, I had my heart set on an academic career path when I was in college. I spent my undergraduate summers working in the labs of a Nobel Laureate, and I went straight to graduate school after my Bachelors. As an enthusiastic first-year student I set out to learn everything I could about my field to prepare myself for a faculty position. Within a few years, however, it became clear that the academic job market was, to put it mildly, saturated. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies were springing up in my area looking to hire bright young minds. There was only one problem: all job descriptions required prior industry experience.
The reality is that employers prefer that you have industry experience, but if you have the right skills for the job, you have a good chance of getting an interview, and maybe even an offer. I was a postdoc for three and a half years. I did not have any industry experience, but towards the end of my postdoc I received several phone calls from recruiters. I was also active in professional societies, and I followed up over email with potential employers a few times a year. My networking efforts paid off and I got calls from my industry contacts for recent job openings. When there is an opening in industry, employers need someone fast. Timelines and budgets are tight, and the sooner they can hire someone the faster they can meet their goals. Even more important, they need the right person. The right person does not only know science well, but he or she has leadership qualities. If you are a PhD in industry, there is a good chance you will have direct reports, so employers will screen for candidates who have demonstrated that they can lead research projects. If you have not held leadership positions in research, be sure to emphasize in your application how you contributed intellectually to the development of your thesis, any mentoring experience (e.g. teaching assistant, training younger graduate students) as well as any officer positions in student organizations.
Whether you are just out of academia, or you have been out of the workforce for some time, here are some ways you can set yourself apart from other candidates:
Yes, getting a job is a full-time job. If you have the right skills, by all means apply to jobs even if you do not have industry experience. Most importantly, tailor your CV and cover letters to the employer, and emphasize what value you are bringing to the company. Why are you the solution to their problem? Think like the hiring manager: if you had 30 seconds to look over the CV, what would you want to see? Important information has to be easily visible. Applications can take days to put together. If you cookie-cut them, they will end up in the recycling bin. In your cover letter (and any email correspondence you have with potential employers and networking contacts), focus on what the company needs and how you can help them.
The following excellent books have even more ideas for landing a job in this tough market:
Dora Farkas received her Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and her Ph.D. in Toxicology from MIT. She is currently a Senior Scientist in AbbVie Bioresearch Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Dora is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of Grad School Net, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, Q&A columns and blogs on her site, www.gradschoolnet.org
Other Blogs to Follow
Thinking About Starting Your Own Blog?
Two of our favorite web hosts are Bluehost and Weebly, and we've partnered with Bluehost so that the link below will give you an automatic discount.