What Draws People to the Private Sector from Higher Education

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In an earlier article “Benefits of working in the private sector” we looked at a number of reasons why you might consider a move out of academia. In this article we will hear from individuals who have made the move and their reflections on the motivation to do so.

Moving away from or towards

Before looking at the case studies, let’s take a moment to consider if you are basing your career change decision on what you are moving away from or what you are moving towards.

  • Are there aspects of your current work, which you would like to move away from?
  • Are there aspects of working in the private sector, which you would like to move towards?

The more that you can base your decision on what you are moving towards; the more likely you are to succeed and be satisfied with the move. Employers want to see at interview candidates who have researched their company and are enthused and motivated to work for their organisation. You need to be clear about your motivations and what you can offer the employer in terms of your strengths and skills. This is particularly important in a competitive job market.

So, focus on what you want to move towards and identify employers and environments where there is likely to be a good alignment with your values, personality and skills.

Researching the options

Find out more by speaking to people who have firsthand experience of moving out of academia and in to sectors that interest you. Take it a step further and set up a mentoring relationship to benefit from their advice, insights and knowledge. A mentor can build your confidence and extend your network of contacts. The insights shared in the next part of the article give you a starting point to explore a move to the private sector.

Making a difference

Dr Simon Raybould has over 24 years experience as a researcher in universities as well as having worked as the manager of the UK’s largest social science research unit. Simon was initially drawn to working in the private sector as it was important for him to “make a difference in a more hands on, applied and immediate way. The move outside academia has enabled me to communicate ideas and my knowledge to business. Being part of the bridge to apply academic knowledge to the private sector is rewarding”.

The main difference is that in business and industry you get immediate feedback. I train people one day, they apply it the next and the impact is felt by the end of the week. I need to see things in action.”

Broader scope and variety

Dr Giles Brindley has a DPhil in Chemistry and a move to the commercial world has given him:

the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills and experiences. The exposure to differing organisational cultures and the opportunity to work directly with a range of clients motivates me. In terms of career progression there is the scope to move sideways, as well as up or down and the potential to earn higher salaries than in academia. The DPhil helped me to develop the ability to work on my own initiative and be a self-starter. It also gave me the additional maturity and confidence to take my skills to the job market and to build experience in the private sector.

Here are further examples of the opportunities and benefits of working in the private sector:

  • Opportunity to impact the shape, scope and direction of the business you are joining
  • Ability to ‘test and apply’ theoretical concepts to a real live and active business
  • Opportunity to become a key influencer of key decision-makers in the business
  • High pace and challenge of corporate life


  • What opportunities and benefits would you value from a move to the private sector?
  • What is important to you?
  • What will you gain from a move in to the private sector?

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