From academia to industry – preparing for the move
There is nothing more demoralising than the phrase ‘needs industry experience’ when you spot that perfect job and know that you are amply qualified but just haven’t worked outside of academia. As recruiters, we find it immensely frustrating when employers point-blank turn down candidates we feel would be perfect on these grounds alone. So what’s the solution and why is industry experience so important? Our tips on moving from academia to industry…
Why do you need industry experience?
A lot of it is about fear of hiring someone who hasn’t dealt with business objectives in the same way. Assumptions are made in both the private and academic sectors about each other, whereas in reality there are more similarities than differences. Key differences include the overall objectives of the task in hand – you may be expected to take on an administrative burden or advise other departments with your knowledge.
Your manager may have no scientific knowledge and you will have to communicate very clearly your findings. Projects may be quickly halted because of business decisions far out of your control. All these things have proved frustrating for candidates making the move but on the other hand, working in industry can prove more flexible, more exciting and more fulfilling!
Get industry experience and check you don’t already have it!
Industry experience doesn’t need to involve years in the private sector. In fact, many STEM academics did a placement year in their undergraduate studies. It is industry experience – limited but don’t discount it! It could be enough to get you in front of the interview panel.
If you’ve recently finished your studies it may be worth considering an internship or even a work experience slot. A two-week placement over the summer could pay dividends further down the line. It’s great to network and talk to your contacts about your plans – you never know what opportunities may come up.
Demonstrate your understanding of the private sector
Research the company well. Try to glean as much information as you possibly can about the role you’re applying for, the company culture and wider business objectives. Assess how your role sits in that context and look at everything from the company perspective. A common perception within the industry is that ‘academic’ candidates see their research as being a priority over the success of the company.
Remember to focus on how you could benefit the company (always keeping the ego in check) rather than how they could benefit you. Moving from academia to industry involves a shift in perspective and priorities and you need to demonstrate that you understand this.
Identify transferable skills from academia to industry
Again you need to work out why the hirer is sceptical about hiring someone without industry experience. Perhaps they feel that you don’t have experience working with representatives from outside of your department and you will be expected to liaise with legal or marketing teams in this role. What experience do you have demonstrating your research to a lay audience? What knowledge of scientific ethics or public consultation do you have? What hobbies and interests do you have outside the lab that could feed into your candidacy? The leadership of a sports team or charitable volunteering could show that you don’t fit into the (unfair) stereotype of a solitary scientist.
Finally, talk to us! Our clients may ask that we specify industry experience but we’ll be able to tell you what form is required. A two-week placement may be unacceptable for some clients but worth considering for others. Don’t be offended if we say no but you must ask – it’s always worth the risk! The more you understand the concerns and requirements when moving from academia to industry, the more likely it is that you can position yourself for the successful transition.