In ‘Adapting your PhD for a professional career’, I talked about the various transferable skills that you gain from your doctoral training and the additional development that you may have to undertake to transfer industries. In an interesting blog called ‘Jobs on Toast’, Dr Chris Humphrey talks about marketing yourself as a fellow professional when you apply for jobs outside of academia. This is an essential point and one that is crucial if you are invited to a professional interview. After navigating for years within the academic profession, you may be concerned about the types of questions to expect in a professional interview. Will they be surprised that after years of training you have decided to do a ‘U-turn’ in a completely different career direction? How do you overcome what can seem to be quite personal questions about your decision to leave the academic field?
Why are you leaving academia?
The most obvious question will be about your motivation for leaving academia and you need to think carefully about your response. A general answer could be the lack of job opportunities; insecure contracts for young scholars; and the need to gain publishing and teaching experience before a postdoc is even eligible for short listing. While these are all valid reasons, a more positive response is to highlight how your PhD has provided you with a range of transferable skills. Instead of emphasising the differences between academia and the industry that you are interviewing for, it would be better to stress the similarities in terms of skills set. This way it is far easier to argue that applying for a professional post is simply a means of developing your profile further. At all costs, you should avoid talking negatively about the academic profession. Even if academia is not the career for you, remember that an interview panel is most likely looking for a positive candidate.
Will you return?
The why do you want to leave academia question is logically followed by will you eventually want to return? If the answer is no, then you can offer a very clear and easy response. However, if you are unsure or do intend to revisit the option of an academic career in the future, then your answer becomes more difficult. You must remember that a professional employer will invest time and money into your training, so your job in the interview is to convince them that you are worth investing in. The answer in many ways lies in your PhD. You do not stop becoming an academic simply because you are pursuing an alternative career path. This is something that should be stressed at interview, as you may want to attend conferences during your annual leave or publish your research. It is not simply that you are keeping your options open, but you are continuing the discourse with the academic field where your professional skills originated from.