For the last three years, I have been working with PhDs looking for their first jobs in industry. I met academics at many stages of their academic career ranging from starting PhD candidates to tenured professors — and representing multiple disciplines of science, from STEM sciences to humanities. If I could point to one question I hear from all of them, over and over again, it would be: “How do I best format my resume?” At first, this question sounds legitimate: the way you format your resume clearly matters, as it influences your chances to land the job. But at the same time, it is a misfortunate question to ask. Why is this the case? Well, there is one issue that pops up here: Did you make sure that you are applying for the right job in the first place?
While working with PhDs, I noticed that some of them transitioned to industry much smoother than others. These were the people who spent at least 80% of their job search time on learning about themselves, studying the general structure of the job market, and looking for a group of professionals who think and act alike. In other words, looking for their tribe. After they had found their right tribe, getting a job — either by applying for job offers or by means of networking — was only the remaining 20% of all the effort.
An organization with the right environment can make the difference for a person to find their optimal path of development. This is why looking for your tribe is so important.
What do I mean by "your tribe"? Well, every company and organization has a different culture. Some of them prefer flat management structures, while others are strictly hierarchical. Some of them promote almost unconstrained creativity, others require following strict procedures. However, when you take a helicopter point of view at the job market, you can notice patterns or categories of environments which develop according to certain rules. By this I mean that there are environments in which employees share personal values to some degree, and are promoted for certain types of competencies and achievements. If you learn the principles, an organization with the right environment can make the difference for a person to find the optimal path of development. This is why looking for your tribe is so important.
Let's talk about the academic tribe. In terms of working culture and mentality, academia is quite uniform. The vast majority of researchers worldwide are liberal rather than conservative. The academic working style has the same casual and non-procedural demeanor in every country. Some of the values that are generally appreciated (and promoted throughout the academic career) are: diligence, scientific rigor, high-quality technical writing, the ability to foresee the impact of your findings, and choosing the right projects accordingly. One could also argue about creativity as a crucial factor of success in academia, but opinions vary here. Of course, differences exist among countries, but in general, we are connected to the same global hive mind, well represented by Academic Twitter. For this reason, and as a result of our professional growth in academia, we often take many aspects of jobs for granted.
Start interacting with professionals who have a different view, working style, or represent different values. You will soon realize that you resonate with some more than with others.
The situation is different when we find ourselves out there in the open job market for the first time: we soon realize that industry is much more diverse. What is not welcome in one working environment might be very rewarding in another one. For instance, most startup founders love to see unconventional and edgy solutions to everyday problems, while corporate managers prefer you to stick to the procedures and to find ways to become maximally efficient within this framework. In academia, we are mainly evaluated for the quality of the scientific content we produce while in jobs related to (social) media, the way you express yourself and your personality can matter more than what you produce. In public institutions, your PhD will be recognized as a source of authority, while in private companies, employers will value your profit-making potential rather than your education history.
Given the diverse scenarios you can encounter in the open sea of employability, it is important to question all the assumptions about jobs and the job market that you’ve developed in academia. Start interacting with professionals who have a different view, working style, or represent different values. You will soon realize that you resonate with some more than with others. Many of them will have similar life and professional goals, share your sense of humor and (mental) habits, maybe even understand you without words, and make you feel at ease around them. And when you knock at their door asking about jobs, they will likely see material for a coworker in you. In that case, the way your resume is structured barely matters.
The bottom line is: transitioning between two different career tracks requires free exploration and multiple human interactions. Start with finding “your people” and then, quite possibly, you won’t even need a resume anymore.
About the author: Dr. Natalia Bielczyk authored the book "What Is out There For Me? The Landscape of Post-PhD Career Tracks". She also founded Welcome Solutions, a company helping professionals in navigating the job market. Connect with Natalia on Twitter or via her website.
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