CAREER BRIEF

Toolkit: How to transition from academia to industry

At first glance, academic training can seem ill-suited to careers in industry. However, there are plenty of ways in which researchers can improve their lot.

Focus on skills

A healthy publication record may not impress many industry employers. Instead, they will be looking for transferable skills.

Recognize the skills you already have

PhD students have valuable experience when it comes to critical thinking, using the scientific method, technical writing, data modelling and independent working. Make sure that you highlight all your skills in your job application and CV.

Rank your skill set

Your key skills fit into three broad areas:

1. Technical academic: these are the very specific skills you will have developed during your PhD that are probably not useful elsewhere. Such skills will be specific to your research programme or the specialist equipment you used.

2. Technical applicable: these are the technical skills that will be useful elsewhere. Programming, problem solving and technical writing are examples.

3. Non-technical applicable: these are skills that are useful for almost every job. Time management, collaboration and communication skills fit within this bracket.

Think about how to gain additional skills

Work out what skills you lack. Recruiters identify three skills that PhD students typically lack after graduating:

• Leadership

• Commercial awareness

• Interpersonal skills

By demonstrating you have the three skills — even from a part-time job, hobby or similar — you will stand out from the crowd.

Do your homework

• Practise for the interview

• Be prepared to answer difficult interview questions that focus less on science and more on you. Practise giving answers to the following questions:

• Give an example of a time that you overcame a frustration with a colleague

• Explain how you handle criticism

• Why should we hire you rather than someone else?

• Talk about a time you failed

Research the company

Tailor your CV and all other material to each application. Read about the company and the job they are recruiting for to make sure you are the right fit.

Find out more

Check out this article in Nature

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01332-1

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