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Post PhD job interviews for industry.

A post PhD job interview can feel daunting and scary, more so than a ‘typical’ interview. It’s important that you explain how your skills apply to the role, demonstrate your interpersonal qualities, and emphasise your long-term potential.

If after your PhD you’re looking to leave academia or embark on a career that is further away from your field of study, there’s often a lot of mental hurdles to overcome. Before you get to the post PhD job interview stage, you’re likely to have worked out what your current transferable skills are, what your values are, and how to consolidate this all down into a 2-page CV/résumé. If you haven’t read these posts yet, I’d highly recommend it (obviously :P). Moreover, deciding to transition into industry can be confusing, especially if you’re not entirely sure what ‘industry’ means.

If you have been able to land yourself an interview, congratulations! It’s a massive achievement and can be used as important feedback to highlight that you’re presenting yourself in a way that is likeable and suitable for the specific job role. At the post PhD job interview stage then, you’ll want to build on this narrative further and reinforce those transferable skills whilst also demonstrating your interpersonal ones.

Employers unfortunately are very unsure of what a PhD is and subsequently won’t ask many direct or relevant questions during the interview. This is something to bear in mind as it’s important you pitch yourself correctly to a different audience. In my experience, a lot of people actually find that you having a PhD is impressive. Generally, employers see it as a big achievement and something to be proud of. The part where this starts to count against you is that during an interview stage, they’re likely to not understand how this applies to their business. So, the same old narrative of you being an accomplished individual, but just not appropriate for the role starts to form. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to prevent this from happening. Try not to talk about what your PhD is about or why it’s important – even if they find it interesting, ask lots of questions, and show genuine enthusiasm it doesn’t mean they’ll think you’re good for the role.

Instead, you’ll want to assist the interviewer understand how your PhD has equipped you with skills that you can directly apply to the workplace. Much of this includes the skills highlighted in another post – just at an interview stage you have an opportunity to articulate these skills verbally in a more tangible and real-life context. If you’ve analysed data in your PhD for example, you can mention that you’d be more than comfortable analysing or handling data with your new team/job.

The list goes on, but it’s hard to give concrete and explicit advice because the type of job you apply, how similar (or different) it is to your PhD, and the extent to which you have to explain things will differ greatly. Of course, it won’t be the same as explaining to your friends and family, but there might be some elements which are the same. This is something you’ll want to tailor and adjust during the PhD job interview process – depending on the role and the type of person who’s interviewing you. The general, overarching goal during the interview is to highlight how your skills fit the responsibilities of the job. The vast majority of your skills would have been demonstrated during your PhD, but don’t be afraid to touch on other experiences that might aid your explanation. Keep in mind that you want the interviewer to think ‘wow this person is a great fit for the role’. This is one of your main objectives at the PhD job interview stage.

In addition to explaining how your skills fit the role, the next is to explain how you as a person fit the goal and wider company ethos. At this stage, I strongly recommend trying to find the companies values or ‘mission statement’. Placed linked LinkedIn and Glassdoor are great tools. This will give you invaluable insight into the type of people they hire but also the type of work culture you’ll be working in. This piece of the puzzle does not solely rely on what you’ve done in the past, or even whether your PhD matters at all. This is more about who you are as a person. Do they believe in what we’re trying to do, can they interact well with others, will they be able to ‘fit in’? Use this as an opportunity to really demonstrate how relatable you are and how likable you can be. In an instance you lack certain skills, being a ‘good person’ can make up for it. Employers would much rather prefer people who they like who might need a bit of extra support than someone who is an expert at the job but is horrible to be around.

The final and integral piece of the post PhD job interview process is to highlight your other personal attributes that support long term development. Here, try to emphasise that you can learn quickly, doing a PhD was extremely difficult and you’re now an ‘expert’ problem solver (just maybe don’t use those exact words). This problem-solving ability applies also to this new role. For things you are unsure of how to do, you’re more than capable of working things out, or collaborating with others to identify what you can do. Over time, you’ll be more than competent.

Similarly, as you’ve completed a PhD programme, it’s likely that you’ll have a much broader and wider set of skills. In this context, once you’ve managed to learn everything there is to know about your role – you’ll be able to contribute and provide additional skills which non-PhD folk wouldn’t necessarily bring to the table. Over a longer time period, you’ll be more valuable to your employer as you’ll be able to ace the job you’ve been hired for but also supplement and support other parts of the business. This will enable you to progress in the company over time – and once again people are much more inclined to hire someone who is likely to stick around even if they don’t have all the necessary skills than someone who might be a perfect fit but will leave after a year or two.

Another key aspect to communicate at the post PhD job interview stage is the personal characteristics it takes to complete one. We’ve already touched on problem-solving, but other traits such as self-reliance, determination, and the ability to receive and implement feedback are characteristics that should not go unmentioned. As mentioned, you want your employer to think ‘wow this person is a great fit’, if they’re uncertain about this you want them to then think ‘wow, although this person isn’t a perfect fit, I’m confident in their ability to stick at it and learn on the go. They’ll be a real asset’. In essence, you’re sort of priming the employer to defend you and justify any skills gaps if they arise. Once again, this can make you seem more likeable in comparison to other candidates.

The post PhD interview stage can be a tricky ship to navigate! Don’t get disheartened whatever you do! Keep at it and show off those self-resilience skills. Best of luck!


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