Did your PhD get you a job?

I often hear post-docs complaining that although they’ve spent years and dollars to obtain their PhD, employers don’t seem to be interested. To qualify this statement, I’m speaking of non-academic career searches, employers outside of the post-secondary world.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been told I’m over qualified. I’ve also been told I’m ‘under employed’! Entry level jobs into the industry of your choice are hard to find. When you’ve applied for hundreds of positions, had a few dozen interviews, and still have nothing to show for it you start to question whether putting your PhD on your resume is a good idea.

Executive search companies want to know all the details of your experiences and education. That way they can find a better match of employer to employee. When you respond to an online posting you need to read the fine print, or the subtle messages. If it says junior level, entry level, or trainee you might want to do a bit more research on the company to see if they value higher education. Do the profiles of their people mention their degrees? If not, then this might be the time when you scale back the education section of your resume…and do not, under any circumstances use your title, DR!  Yes, I know you have earned the right, but when you apply for a job and use this well earned title, it can scare employers away. Pull it out and dust it off when you really need some punch, but this isn’t the time or place.

Let’s say the company profiles all mention their various degrees and industry certificates. Examine the profiles to see if anyone in the company has a PhD, and what is their position. If PhD’s are at the top of the company ladder, followed by master’s and then bachelors, know that if you are applying for an entry level position, you will need to down play your PhD, don’t use your title, and emphasize your experience. Unless your PhD was a late career choice, chances are you are not applying for an executive level position straight out of school, and you may not have enough experience to qualify for a management role anyway. Without relevant experience, your PhD is not going to get you the job!

When I hear the phrases ‘over educated’ or ‘over qualified’ in reference to my PhD I have a ready response. You need develop a few of your own, but it might look something like: “Getting a PhD was a personal goal, not a career move.” OR “A PhD doesn’t over qualify me for this type of work…after all, my research was on the rotation of curling rocks. I have the experience you are looking for though.”  There are a number of variations on this theme but you get the idea. Emphasize the experience and skills needed for the job. Skills…you learned a few while doing your PhD, so don’t forget to include them. Organization, time management, budgeting, project planning, report writing etc. Add those to your job experience skill set and any others you can think of.

You’ve earned your PhD, but your career choice will dictate how and when you use it.