I discussed in a previous article the first steps in the process of moving from academia to industry: taking the decision to leave academia and finding purpose for your new professional life. In this second part, I discuss the practicalities of finding that new job. It includes finding target jobs and applying for them.

Needless to say, there are virtually endless paths to get out of the traditional academic pathway. I describe here the standard path of applying for pre-existing positions. I made this choice because it is the most straightforward action to take and the outcomes are expected. Nevertheless, in these times of hyper flexibility in high-skilled job markets, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, many other possibilities such as entrepreneurship, consultancy, volunteering, and further training, among others, are not covered here.

The first thing to bear in mind is that, very likely, the transition from academia to any other kind of job will be a trial-and-error process. If you haven’t done this new job or a similar one before, there will be significant uncertainty if you and the new job fit. Employers know or should know, that. 

So, you should approach the job search with that mindset: you are entering into a process whose outcome, at this stage, you ignore. Furthermore, it might take time, some bad moves, and a lot of uncertainty. The key is to be curious and not fearful and take whatever happens as an experience and learning. Fear is rarely a good advisor. You should embrace uncertainty and the things you ignore at this stage.

Finding target jobs.

This will likely be the toughest part. If you can figure out in which jobs out there you picture yourself having a more or less good time while making a more or less significant contribution, you already went half of the road. Again and again, being honest with yourself will allow you to distinguish a feeling from a mirage, saving you lots of time, energy, and disappointment.

Finally to the point: what are the concrete jobs that might be good for you? There are a couple of routes to be considered; there may be plenty more I forget or I’m just not aware of. The options are listed in a roughly chronological sequence, although iterations and changes in the sequence will occur.

Linkedin. Whether you like it or not, Linkedin, if used wisely, helps a lot on many different fronts: networking, finding job opportunities, being contacted by recruiters, getting to understand jobs and companies of interest, and many more. I log in to my Facebook profile maybe twice a year but I do it every single day on Linkedin (I’m not saying I’m proud of that). So, work on your Linkedin profile. It is by far more fun than writing Cover letters or customizing your CV.

I could write a whole article on how to have a decent Linkedin profile (on the sloppy assumption that mine is). As this is not the main aim of this piece, I will provide some general tips:

  • Have a profile picture that looks professional and reflects who you are. 
  • Do not pay to improve your profile at anyone anytime. Only you know what it should look like. It might take some time until you reach a version that makes you happy, you will train your eye through time and use. Ask for help if you needed it (everybody knows someone on Linkedin these days).
  • Do not abuse (indeed avoid) slogans such as problem solver, result oriented, outside of the box thinker. Use wording that describes truthfully who you are and what it is unique about you. On the other hand, do not use jargon; it is ok to dare some informality but do not sound condescending, disrespectful, or childish.
  • Be as short as possible, always to the point. Exemplify your claims with concrete examples.

Some of the main uses of Linkedin during your job hunt are:

1. Networking: You’d be surprised how willing to help can be people on Linkedin if you contact them asking for advice. I even got quite some influential folks accepting to give talks with no previous interactions other than Linkedin (I would not exclude mere luck here). 

The route here would be: you send a connection request, the other person accepts and then you can chat asking for a phone or video call. What is important here is that you introduce yourself shortly and clearly, and you make your question right away:  What do you want from this person? Golden rules: be transparent, clear on your requests, and respect other people’s time: some like to chat, some don’t or do not have the time. Respect both. 

There is something else that is very important: listen. You might not get the answer you expected. It could happen that you are not a great fit for the job/company/field. Do not argue, make questions to understand why. It is up to you to agree or not, but if you don’t, keep it for yourself and make clear to yourself why (again and again, embrace whatever comes). Truth can hurt but it is always wiser to look at things right in the eyes, even if they are not nice.

2. Recruiters (AKA headhunters). Do not forget they buy and sell candidates, and they get paid for it. They are not your friend, nor your foe. They are just hunting candidates that might fit their clients’ opening positions. If they see you fit with one of their opening positions, they will show interest in you, sometimes borderline with harassment. They will promise you the moon as far as they see a potential fit. However, they will forget you pretty quickly if they don’t see that. This is the way it works. Their job – and the most you should expect from them –  is to get you an interview with the employer.

Here is a proposal on how to interact with recruiters on Linkedin:

  • Identify recruiting agencies active in your field of expertise or interest.
  • Within the company, identify the recruiters. Usually, their positions include the word associate, consultant, or alike. Send them via chat on Linkedin or via email a short and clear explanation of who you are and what you are looking for, attaching your CV and a Cover letter. 

Usually, you can have fairly open discussions with recruiters about your wishes and doubts. It all boils down to whether they have a position that might fit your profile.

3. Apply for open positions. Linkedin is also a good place to search and apply for open positions. Given the importance this network has in professional communities, the offer is very large. Also, the job openings you receive based on your previous searches are usually very pertinent.

Job search engines.  Indeed and Monster are very popular. You can set weekly notifications. I suggest not doing it daily, as your email inbox will become useless due to the flood of emails.

Company websites. Once you identify a job you would like to do, it is good practice to identify places where that position exists and check their openings regularly. There is nothing more annoying than finding out you missed an interesting opening.

Open application. Yes or no? Personally, it never worked. Nonetheless, it is not forbidden. You can try it, although I would not spend much time or energy on that. A more effective strategy is to approach someone in the company who might be related to your job of interest (the manager) and send that person an open application. If you do that, I would advise asking for an open conversation rather than an open application.

Applying for jobs

Preparing your CV. In my case, writing a CV from scratch feels like writing “El Quijote”. No matter how hard I try I will not be happy with the outcome. Don’t panic. Below you will find my tricks to make the experience less frustrating.

-Your CV should be one page long if you have 3 to 5 years of experience after your Ph.D. Two pages if you have more experience but never three or more pages.

-The first thing to bear in mind is the physical structure. For instance, how you are going to distribute the text on the page. In my case, that was the most difficult part. A solution if you run out of inspiration: copy. You can browse the internet for examples and choose the one that looks fancy and appropriate. Just use it.

Unless it is required in the job description, do not include in your CV a list of publications. I repeat, do not. For sure, you spent countless hours and sleepless nights doing what it took to get that paper published. Even so, if your potential new job is not about publishing papers, which is the most frequent cause, a full-blown list will show that you think like an academic and therefore that you are not ready to leave academia.

The CV is about showcasing the experience you gained in your previous positions: specific skills and the outcomes. The latter is not supposed to be an exhaustive list but highlights what you achieved with some kind of KPI (number of projects or collaborations ran, money raised, number of people you trained, etc).

Golden rule: if you care about the position you are applying to, adapt your CV to the position. There is no one-size-fits-all CV for two applications. If you send a general CV, it could be seen very quickly that you did not take into account the job description to prepare it and most likely that will put you out. Do you have to write an entirely new CV for each application? No. 

There are two tricks you can use to easily customize your CV for each application: 

  • Copy statements from the job description into your CV. If you do not overdo it is perfectly fine. It shows that you understood what the job is about and that you identify the key aspects of it. You can copy/paste keywords or catchphrases that are more related to your experience.
  • Make your CV modular. That means that your CV is made of blocks that you can modify independently and move around. This is useful, for instance, to list your outcomes or skills accordingly to what is described in the job description.

Preparing your Resume/Cover letter. I’ve seen some discussion about the need to ask for Cover letters at all. I guess it is a personal thing, but I think they are useful. It allows you to put into perspective your experience and focus on your motivations, why you did what you did, and where you want to go.

A Cover letter should be a story of your working life. The trick is to find a connecting wire, a plot, that gives sense to all the things you’ve done and for which this new job is a logical next step. It should be no more than one page long, font size 11.

The same advice applies to the CV in copying/pasting from the job description and modularity, in this case, paragraphs. 

A potential structure for your Cover letter could be:

  1. Introduce briefly yourself: what is your driver and why did you apply for the job. Write this in paragraph one.
  2. List your experience but do not repeat what is on your CV. Focus on the why and not on the what.
  3. Summarize in a few lines what did you learn from all this.  It could be personal and/or professional, and where you want to go next. Make it clear that this job fits perfectly with what you are looking for.
  4. In a couple of lines describe why you are a good fit for the job.

And this is the end of the second part. In the third and final piece, we will discuss how to prepare for the different interviews and their follow-up. 

See you there!

Picture By Emanuel Leutze – The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9520770

David Silvestre
By training, I'm a molecular and cellular biologist, a biotech start-up enthusiast, a long-distance runner, a blogger, and a bookworm. By fortune, I'm the father of two loudly lovely boys. I have spent many years in Argentina, France, and The Netherlands working in academia, start-ups, and biotech companies, looking for ways to translate groundbreaking scientific discoveries into treatments for patients in high need. I write about burning questions in the complex and fascinating world of turning science into medicines.


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