Marketing Academic Strengths in Industry

So you wanna get an Industry job?  Great! But how do you begin to translate your CV into something non-academics want to read? How do you market your strengths?

First, we have to acknowledge that your CV took years to put together. Not just years to get experience, but years of tweaking your communication to present your best self.  Only now, the objective has changed. Instead of communicating to the 3-10 other academics who care about your area of specialization, you need to communicate your CV to people who may not have any graduate academic experience. Don’t expect to get your academic CV turned into a Industrial resume in an afternoon. It’s going to take some effort. But you have a graduate degree, you know how to put effort in.

Second, we have to acknowledge that hiring managers will spent less than 30 seconds looking at your resume.  And they tend to read the most in the upper left hand triangle of the page, and the least on the lower right.  Optimize that space. For starters, put that “, PhD” right after your name. So, if they ONLY thing they read is your name, then at least they know you did the PhD thing. Then, don’t fill the left hand side of your resume with dates, as some resume builders recommend.  Instead put your job titles over there, and make them stand out.

Finally, the most complicated part of your task is to understand your work and the Industry well enough that you can capitalize on the overlapping skills. Or, what I like to call, “Finding your dissertation sentence.”  You need to find one sentence that describes to a layperson what your work was about. For example, my dissertation was titled: “Forced Oscillators with Dynamic Hopf Bifurcations and applications to Paleoclimate.”  However, in my objective statement on my resume, I say, “My dissertation focused on identifying the driving factors in complex systems like our planet’s climate.” I spent weeks trying to figure out how to make an 90 second elevator pitch for my dissertation work.  And then more weeks streamlining it down to one sentence: “Identifying the driving factors in complex systems like our planet’s climate.” There is is. Six years of work, in one sentence.

I strongly encourage you to find your sentence.  No matter what Industrial field you go into or what your dissertation was about, you will benefit greatly from knowing your sentence. How do you find your sentence? I recommending talking about your dissertation to everyone. Mathematicians in and out of your field. Talk to you parents, pets, friends, or that guy who always talks to you on the bus (well, maybe not him- use your best judgement!).  Watch your listener for when their eyes get glassy and they tune out. When that happens you know that your explanation is too complex or too long, or both.

As you practice, first focus on the how you did your work. You may never need to prove another statement about complex fields again, but you do need to be able to clearly communicate your logic about a business problem.  You might need to be able to extrapolate to abstract concepts to allow a solution that worked in one area of your company to be applied in another. There are concrete transferrable skills that you have learned in your PhD.  But, you’ve been so problem focused (because, you have to actually finish your PhD!) that you probably haven’t noticed the skills you are learning along the way.  These skills, that you can’t yet recognize, are your strengths.

By way of example, here is a skill that every PhD has: You can do something really hard for a really long time.  This is a fundamental strength of everyone who has earned a PhD. What else is specific to your field and your experience? Keep telling your story until you figure that out!

You also need to focus on the outcomes of your work.  I proved that a popular, long-standing model will never be able to reproduce all the features of our planets δO18 data. This isn’t something that very many people on the planet actually care about, but the Industry hiring manger can understand the impact of my work.  I proved that this model formulation wasn’t valuable. Thereby making the other popular models more likely to be telling a true story about our planet. What does your work do? Try to say your outcome without using any math terms. Replace every math term with “Thing” or “do-whats-it” and then work to find non-math terms that can fill in the gaps and still make sense.

Your sentence will not come together in one day, it will take time. But you have skill that you can do something really hard for a really long time!  Apply that focus to the art of translating your work into standard english, and you’ll be a long way towards marketing yourself outside of academics.

If you would like additional context about moving into Industry or becoming a data scientist, I have a section of Social Math devoted to Data Science.  Additional explicit advice on how to write your resume I recommend 10 Things Smart PhDs do NOT Put on their Industry Resumes from CheekyPhD. It’s a really clear summary of the first steps towards making your Industrial resume .



About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
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