How Do You Pivot From Academia to the Private Sector?

Leaving academia requires a game plan and a series of questions. There are several options outside of academia that range from the public sector and the government that this blog article does not cover. I wanted to write a short guide for the pivot into the private sector since I have the most experience with this path.

While these are “steps,” you may have to revisit steps. You may find that your career pivot makes the most sense sidestepping in an alternative direction or you may need to develop a skill further that requires more questions. I originally wanted to be a Data Scientist, but I leaned toward my strengths (after much self-reflection) and ended up doing SEO and digital marketing.

Ask Introspective Questions About Why You Chose To Pursue a PhD

Before you can make the journey into the private sector, you need to determine what led you into the academic path in the first place. There are many paths that exist, and just going down any path and finding out it wasn’t right for you can waste valuable time. Below are a few questions that can help you make sense of your values and innate passions:

  • Did I want a PhD because I enjoy research?
  • Did I want a PhD because I like to teach?
  • Can I do these things above in academia that I can’t do elsewhere?
  • Have I talked to anyone working outside of academia?

As you may have guessed, research and teaching is not unique to academia. I found that I can dig deep into topics outside of academia and educate others about what I do! I also learned that my assumptions about the private sector occurred because I barely talked with folks who worked in the private sector.

Create or Revisit Your LinkedIn Account

People often criticize LinkedIn for a lot of valid reasons, but you should have a LinkedIn if you want to network with people in the private sector. Start networking yesterday.

LinkedIn is the space where people in the private sector talk about news, discussion points, and their workplace. If you want to get a job, you have to be aware of what others are talking about in the industry you want to pursue.

– After Your PhD

Revisit or create your LinkedIn profile and add as much information that tells your story and where you want to go next.

Your LinkedIn is akin to a resume that depicts your accomplishments, expertise, and more importantly, your brand. You can be much more creative with a LinkedIn profile which includes sharing text posts, links, and multimedia like photo and video.

Part of using LinkedIn effectively is determining how you want to approach the platform. Find your niche and connect with people that make the most sense. If you want to pursue marketing, find a niche (like SEO for example), and connect with people with marketing titles (like SEO Director).

When it comes to personal branding, ask yourself, how do you want recruiters and hiring managers to perceive your profile? Is it a positive experience? Do I appear that I want to continue learning in a new profession?

Explore Job Titles (Briefly) and Choose What Fits Your Current Skillset

An important part of pivoting is understanding (a) what jobs interest you (b) what jobs you think you can get hired to do.

For example, if you have a strong qualitative background as an anthropologist, looking at data scientist jobs may be a tough ask. Although if a job requires strong interpersonal skills and interviewing skills, a career in project management or UX could be a worthy option.

Use platforms like LinkedIn to help you research different job titles that interest you. When I was looking on LinkedIn, these popped into mind:

  • Data Analyst
  • SEO Analyst
  • Marketing Analyst
  • UX Researcher
  • Market Researcher

Once you have the job titles down, look for people with that type of role.

Conduct Informational Interviews with Working Professionals

As mentioned in the informational interview guide, asking questions is so important in your pivot and informational interviews are a way to learn from actual working professionals about what they do. Informational interviews act as a catalyst for your pivot. Here are some important reasons why informational interviews can help you in your pivot:

  • Informational interviews let you explore beyond the job title. What is in their job title you didn’t know?
  • Informational interviews can help you learn the language of the industry.
  • Informational interviews help you determine your skill gaps. What does the interviewer know that you don’t know?
  • Informational interviews let you form genuine relationships with people without the assumption you are getting a referral or job from the conversation.

Use What You Learn And Make Updates To Your Resume, LinkedIn, and Skill Gaps

Know you learned some important information from the steps above, synthesize this information, and make the real pivot by your actions.

Make changes in your career pivot strategy including:

  • Your Resume
  • Your LinkedIn
  • Your Online Portfolio
  • Your Skill Gaps
  • Your Understanding of the Industry You Are Pursuing

Keep Networking And Be Patient

No matter what, keep networking and talking to people. There’s a reason why it’s called it’s called a career journey. There’s going to be ups and downs.

Once I found the right person, I was connected to another person led to (A) internships (B) special projects (C) full time-jobs.

Focus on what you want to do, communicate it to others, work on your skill gaps, and keep connecting with people, and will eventually land where you need to be.

The worst thing you can do is not reach out.

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