The Post-Academic Hiring Process: 4 Secrets You Need to Know

The first few months of post-academic job hunting are a profound exercise in finding out what you don’t know.

Sure, you knew that academic and post-academic hiring processes are very different. You knew that a resume is not the same as a CV.

But do you understand the difference between a recruiter and a hiring manager? Have you heard of the STAR method? Do you know what is expected during a business interview, and how galactically different that is from an academic interview for a tenure-track job?

Trust us, just becoming aware of how much you don’t know about the post-academic hiring process is a huge step. Once you know what you don’t know, you’ll better understand what to do next.

This post considers 4 important steps in the post-academic hiring process that PhDs should know about. From crafting your resume and cover letter, to the first interview and beyond, we’ll walk through the process and help you figure out what your next steps will be.

1. Crafting Your Resume

We all know that a resume is very different from a CV. If you’re not clear on how, check out this post.

But, even understanding this, it may not be immediately clear how different a resume is.

We’re specifically talking about how you describe your accomplishments on your resume. For PhDs who have spent most of their professional lives in academia, this can be a gaping blind spot when entering the post-academic hiring process.

A CV is a curated list of degrees, positions, publications, courses taught, etc. It is purely factual. Explanatory verbiage is nonexistent.

A resume is all about explaining your accomplishments, not simply listing them. Moreover, it must explain them in the language recruiters and applicant tracking systems look for.

For instance, your CV probably includes a list of publications. On your resume, you include a few bullet points explaining what skills and tools you used in your research, along with a nice, compact metric of your accomplishment. Something like:

“Collaborated effectively across disciplines to manage a multi-year research project that culminated in a 341-page dissertation and 2 published articles.”

Stick close to the language of the job description. If the job posting asks for someone to “collaborate” or “manage” this or that, use those verbs in your resume.

These explanatory bullets, phrased in the precise language of the job itself, will help get your resume noticed.

2. Networking on LinkedIn

As with the resume/CV thing, you probably know that networking is integral to the post-academic hiring process. But knowing how to network properly takes a bit of practice.

To that end, LinkedIn is a fantastic resource. Here’s how to use it:

  • If you haven’t yet, make a LinkedIn profile.
  • Look up some local jobs or businesses you’d be interested in working at.
  • Find a few employees at those organizations and send connection requests.
  • Politely introduce yourself and ask if they’d have time for a quick informational interview.
  • Send a ‘thank you’ message after the interview and ask them to keep in touch if any job openings pop up.

Networking on LinkedIn is definitely a numbers game. Send out 10 connection requests, get two replies. Talk to 10 people, get one referral for a job.

But that one referral may be all you need. Don’t ever be shy about asking people—even strangers—for advice or a quick conversation. You’ll be surprised by how many say yes.

3. The Phone Screen

So you’ve submitted dozens of job applications and heard nothing back from any of them. Then, one day, the clouds part and a ray of hope shines upon you! You’re invited to a phone screen.

A phone screen is a 30-minute phone/video call with a recruiter (who is not the hiring manager, see below for more on that). Following the online application system, this is another filtering mechanism used to winnow the field of candidates.

In a phone screen, you’ll be asked a sampler plate of basic interview questions such as:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • What drew you to this position?
  • How do you organize tasks efficiently?
  • Tell us about a time a manager was dissatisfied with you.

A big thing recruiters look for during phone screens is enthusiasm for the job and a cultural fit with the organization.

The recruiter already knows you meet the basic job qualifications; otherwise they wouldn’t have called. Now they need to gauge how excited you are and weed out any candidates who are less serious about the role.

Warning! Academics are often taught to maintain a cool, reserved, and collected demeanor during professional interactions. In non-academic contexts, this can be read as a terminal lack of enthusiasm. Emotions are much harder to convey during the phone interview than in person, compounding the problem.

Don’t let this happen to you! Convey full-throated enthusiasm!

Tell a story of how you became enamored with the open position and be ready to reference the organization’s mission statement (seriously). Do it all while talking clearly and convincingly about your work experience and qualifications for the job.

Strike this balance of qualification and enthusiasm, and you’ll have a decent chance of landing a legit job interview.

4. The Job Interview

Passing the phone screen, the next step will likely be a full-length job interview with a hiring manager (or team of managers).

What’s the difference between a recruiter and a hiring manager?

  • Recruiter source candidates, do phone screens, and compile a shortlist. They work full-time to identify, contact, and screen potential employees. They may perform quick background checks and look up applicants on social media.
  • Managers usually perform other functions and join the hiring process only when needed, i.e. during the final interview process. The manager interviews the most qualified candidates and makes the final hiring decisions.

Your interview with the manager(s) will typically last 45 minutes to an hour. In the past, interviews were typically done in person at an office. In the era of COVID-19, Zoom interviews are the new normal.

Most of the same tips for the phone screen apply here too. Prepare for all the common behavioral interview questions. Follow the STAR method in your replies. Explain with vibrant enthusiasm what intrigues you about the job. Quote, or at least reference, the mission statement.

If you know someone who works at that organization, ask them to do a practice interview! No matter how thoroughly you prepare, there will always be one interview question that catches you off guard. A practice round with someone who went through the same process will mitigate that risk.

And for God’s sake, don’t talk about your dissertation research! In the non-academic world, your research makes for good bar talk. But during an interview, the last thing you want to do is appear too academic. The more you dwell on your research, the more the manager will assume you don’t really want to work there.

When it’s all over, send a quick thank-you email. A thank-you note won’t magically net you a job offer, but it never hurts. Always err on the side of politeness.

Conclusion

Let’s not mince words here. For lifelong members of the academic cult, the post-academic hiring process can be frustrating.

Job requirements seem vague or ill-defined. Behavioral interview questions sound silly or pointless. Hiring decisions feel subjective, even illogical.

But there is a method to the madness. It takes time, and everyone’s post-academic journey is different. But eventually you’ll come to understand what you know, what you don’t know, and what you need to do next.

Looking for more tips on the post-academic hiring process? Check out our post-ac job search blog.

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