PhD in English? What Have You Been Doing?

Last Updated on September 15, 2023 by Robert Porter

Seeking a job outside academia with your PhD? Learn from common mistakes made by PhD holders transitioning to alternative careers. The key lies in showcasing your intrinsic value, not just the degree, during non-academic job interviews.

Many PhD holders feel a disconnect when entering the non-academic world. One reader humorously commented about considering omitting his PhD from his resume, jesting that he'd claim a decade-long coma instead of a lack of practical experience.

It's a common misconception: undergraduates often pursue a PhD thinking it paves the way for both academic and non-academic opportunities. Paradoxically, some PhD holders find that after years in academia, their resumes may seem less practical than those of individuals with entirely different life experiences.

The crux of the matter? Addressing that perceived gap in your resume when transitioning from academia. The inevitable question in interviews: "Tell me about your background." Responses often gravitate towards academic achievements, which may not resonate with non-academic employers.

For instance, during an advertising agency interview, I found myself highlighting my stint as a peddle-cab driver (essentially transporting tourists between restaurants), sidelining my extensive academic achievements. While the latter sounded impressive on an academic CV, the former showcased real-world interactions and commercial engagement.

The lesson learned? In the past, I leaned heavily on the prestige of my degree when communicating with potential employers. Now I realize the importance of conveying the underlying passion and commitment that drove me to academia in the first place.

In conclusion, while a PhD or MA may not directly translate to jobs outside of academia, it’s about articulating the reasons behind pursuing such a degree and leveraging that to bridge the experiential gap on your resume.

How to Get Nonacademic Jobs for PhD’s

Here's the essence: Instead of selling your academic credentials, market the determination that drove you to commit a decade in graduate studies.

This perspective contrasts the advice you'll typically receive from professors and career advisors. Once you step outside the academic realm, the common counsel is to highlight your research skills, analytical prowess, and adaptability.

While the non-academic sector does value problem-solving abilities and innovative analysis, these academic competencies alone might not guarantee a paycheck.

Consider this: you'd hire a lawyer not just for their skill in understanding legal intricacies, but for their hands-on experience in court. This underscores the difference between untapped potential (like a PhD holder seeking non-academic roles) and validated capability (perhaps a candidate with an undergraduate degree and five years of industry experience).

By emphasizing the inner motivation that led you to pursue, say, a PhD in English, you position yourself uniquely in the job market. You appear as a versatile professional eager to transition, rather than someone who couldn't make it in academia.

Do You Know What Makes a PhD Hireable?

Spending a decade crafting a dissertation on Emerson and mortality isn't the sole factor making you an attractive candidate.

So, what sets you apart in the job market and maximizes your changes of scoring the best occupation you always dreamed of?

It's not merely your profound grasp of culture. It's not your research prowess, analytical capacity, or even your familiarity with ambiguity. Nor is it the academic titles – BA, MA, or PhD – you proudly display on your bookshelf.

Your true asset? An unparalleled work ethic. Think about it. The evidence suggests that you're a uniquely dedicated individual, making you an ideal fit for numerous roles.

Share with potential employers how you opted for grueling 60-70 hour weeks instead of idyllic beach vacations. Emphasize your passion for mastery, detailing how you emerged as a leading voice in your academic arena, recognized as a "promising young scholar of modernism."

Highlight the competitive nature of your journey: securing over $90,000 in funding and outpacing countless peers to clinch a coveted spot in your PhD program. Recall the tenacity you demonstrated by delivering groundbreaking research while juggling multiple jobs and managing debt.

Impress upon them your voracious appetite for knowledge: devouring over 100 books annually and penning more than 100,000 words of critical analysis. Showcase your ambition: your intrinsic drive to constantly challenge and outdo yourself.

Now, convey your readiness to channel that unwavering commitment into their organization. Emphasize that your priorities extend beyond perks or pay. Instead, you're seeking a domain to channel your zeal into, anticipating fair recognition for your tireless dedication.

Assure them that if they invest in you, the same intensity you invested in academia will now be directed towards your new role. Commit to familiarizing yourself with the industry, attending professional courses, embracing weekend tasks, and striving to become an authority in your new domain.

When you present this narrative, employers will inevitably compare you with others. They might consider the "standard business grad" who perpetually demands more, settles for minimal effort, and erroneously assumes a basic business course preps him for vast organizational responsibilities.

While such individuals might boast of simplistic academic achievements and flaunt their social media presence, you've mastered the art of synthesizing vast amounts of complex data into groundbreaking work.

Your PhD may not have direct correlations outside academia. However, instead of merely stating the conventional "my problem-solving skills are invaluable to firms," emphasize the relentless spirit behind the degree, capable of undertaking intricate missions.

Outside of Academia Your PhD Has Little Value

While your PhD may not directly resonate with non-academic employers, it doesn't mean you lack valuable skills. It's similar to being a top-tier Martial Artist aiming for a Boxing title – both impressive, but distinctly different disciplines.

Yet, the journey of obtaining your PhD honed your ability to break down large projects into manageable tasks, showcasing creativity and high-order thinking.

You might initially lack certain hands-on skills for a specific role. However, with your proven work ethic, you can rapidly acquire and perfect these skills within a short span. Convey this determination and adaptability to potential employers.

One challenge is that many employers may find it hard to categorize you, especially if you lead with academic accomplishments like presentations at esteemed institutions or intricate theoretical work. While these may be intellectually commendable, they might not directly correlate with the company's bottom line.

Employers could lean towards hiring someone with more industry-specific experience and fewer academic credentials.

Yet, someone who embodies dedication, intelligence, and a genuine eagerness to immerse themselves and excel in a new industry? That's a candidate deserving of a closer look, if not a second interview.

Academia Didn’t Make You

Your intrinsic drive isn't bound solely by your educational journey. While academia may have utilized your passion, it didn't mold your essence. You channeled your fervent ambition and zeal into the academic world, but it's a reflection of who you are, not its origin.

Any insightful hiring manager will recognize that a relentless work ethic combined with innate curiosity can overshadow half a decade of lukewarm experience from an average employee.

Thus, don't solely rely on your intellect. Embrace a singular focus: dive into learning a new industry with the same tenacity you devoted to your literary pursuits.

And then, transform that intention into action.