Moving to Industry - Picture of packing boxes and a sofa

Postdocs often want to ‘move into industry’. But what does that mean? What do you need to know? Where do you start?

In today’s blog we are going to be looking at how we make those baby steps into industry and what it means.

What is industry?

I often work with postdocs who say, “I don’t want to be an academic, I want to move to industry.” and you can almost see the little factory in their eyes. They really don’t have much more of an idea other than it is somewhere else other than academia! 

The first thing I’m going to say is that any industry isn’t just one thing. For example, if you said to me, I want to go into pharmaceuticals, there are huge pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline AstraZeneca but there are also small start-ups that have either spun out from one of the many universities in the UK or was someone’s dream that they’ve produced. And we also have the small to  medium sized companies (SMEs). Industry it isn’t just one box. So, when you’re saying, I want to move to industry, that’s not enough. It’s not clear enough. What exactly do you want to do? Rather than say, I want to work at AstraZeneca, for instance, drill down actually on what you want to do there. You want to do work in drug discovery, in these surroundings and with these types of people using this part of my skill set. Once you’ve got clarity on that, you can then look at which industrial sector or company meets that. 

It’s much easier and better to do it that way rather than just looking at a company. It might be that you work in one specific part of biology now but the skills and experiences you have mean that you could transport yourself into a different biological sector, because they’re looking at skills and experiences. I think that is the difference really, between the industrial sector and academia. In academia, we’re very used to being in these very niche projects. Industry is a bit broader than that.

The difference between industry and academia

They will be looking at your skills rather than a personal career and research trajectory. The other defining factor between academia and industry is the end product. Yes, we can do research and development all the time in an industrial setting. However, we need a product that we can sell, that there is a market for at the end, as opposed to academia where we are more about discovery. Fundamentally where you are applying for an industrial job, they are in business and that means that they must make money. That might mean that they start up things very rapidly, then if they’re going nowhere, they drop them because that line of investment isn’t profitable. 

What does this mean for postdocs? It means that you must understand a bit about their business. It’s not enough to just turn up with your skills and go ‘choose me’. It’s much more about saying these are my skills. This is going to help you get your drug to market or this is going to help your engine design. They have a product to sell at the end and they need to make money. Even in a social enterprise. Social enterprises are ones that have the aim to do good by being in business, but they still need to make money to be able to do that good. Ensure you have your business head on when you apply! 

You need to understand that you are fitting into a process and where you will fit into that process. Understanding where the advertised role fits into that pathway. My husband works in finance and one of his frustrations with academics coming into his industry is that they don’t understand that they must make money (even though that’s one of the attractions!). The firm must make money, it’s not enough to just produce new and interesting ways of looking at the data. It must translate into a business model. 

The other secret is that your network can really help. Have a look at your network. If you haven’t got LinkedIn and you’re thinking of moving into industry it is time to create a profile. Get some help, either from your university or a professional like myself. But if you’ve got people in your network who work in industries that you are interested in, talk to them, find out that information. For example, what is it like to be a research and development chemist in a brewery? Cast your net wider and ask those who are within your desired industry. 

Think about things like how you could get some more relevant experience to that field. Universities are fantastic places for building skills and experiences. For instance, management is a classic one. You might say, ‘I’ve never held a management position’ but you’ve looked after students, you might have managed technicians so it’s about articulating that. You need to be able to demonstrate that you have the skills and experiences to be a perfect candidate for that role. Some of that might be upskilling yourself but you will have more skills and experiences than you give yourself credit for.

Presenting yourself to employers

You need to find a way to wrap up your skills and experiences and present them to the employer. You need to speak their language. This could be on an application form, a covering letter, or a CV. I’m quite often asked why postdocs have sent off CVs and not received any responses. Put simply, it’s usually because it is just too academic looking. It doesn’t outline the skills that the job description was looking for clearly in a way that can be found in 30 seconds or less. 

Most employers will have hundreds of applications, they’re going to pick out the ones that they don’t have to work at finding the information in. It’s imperative that you make sure you have spoken their language, used keywords from their job description and advert. If those things do not leap out at me in the first 15 to 20 seconds that I am looking at your CV, guess what? You go on the no pile and if you’re on the no pile, you stay on the no pile, you will not get an interview. Your standard academic CV works in academia. It doesn’t work when you’re applying for a different type of role.   

If you need more detailed help on how to do this, I am available for application coaching or career decision coaching.

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