ImageYesterday, I participated in a cool Twitter chat led by Jennifer Polk – @phdtolife – on the subject how academics talk about themselves to employers and nonacademic audiences.  Academics from ABDs to postdocs to tenure track professor weighed in with questions and comments on positioning and branding.  You can check out the Storify compilation here or you can follow the entire Twitter chat by searching for hashtag trend #withaPhD.

Some of my tips from our chat:

  1. Don’t lead with “I have a PhD in…”  – This type of introduction quickly derails any introduction or interview.  Your listener begins to focus on your degree rather than the skills, interests and values you bring to the position.  The conversation can go down a deep rabbit hole really quickly, especially if you have not learned to quickly describe your research in terms that nonspecialists find accessible.  To avoid this uncomfortable and unproductive scenario (trust me I’ve fumbled on this a few times to know it can go really wrong), briefly discuss a few skills you acquired while earning the degree and how those can benefit your prospective employer.
  2. Start with them, not with you. This piece of advice can sound a bit harsh but remember, a company is hiring to fill a gap in services and skill set, not because they care about your eight-year research project.  They have a pain point that needs to be solved, quickly. By beginning with the company’s needs, you show that you understand the challenge or gap you can help them overcome to better service their customers or clients. How do you know what the company needs? Take deep dive into the job description and familiarize yourself with company culture via its website and social media platforms.
  3. Career exploration cannot be done through career assessments alone. PhDs who want to enter the nonacademic job market are a type of career changer. In a career change you take time to assess where you’ve been, the skills you’ve used, what you’ve enjoyed about your work, your passions and interests, and your values and preferred lifestyle. Career assessments like the Strong Interest Inventory or MBTI can be helpful to learn about your work preferences.  I like to couple these tools with vision planning and vision boarding to get a broader picture of where you want to go next.  Still, these assessments alone can be confusing at best.  One-on-one and group coaching are great ways to work through these assessments and dig deeper into how to operationalize the results. These formats provide a sounding board, help you identify action steps and provide support and camaraderie on the transition journey.
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