How to Land an Industry Job
When you go through an MSc or PhD program, you acquire a lot of skills that are very useful in industry. However, it’s important to “sell” those skills properly since some industry employers don’t always appreciate the benefits of hiring someone with an advanced degree. This page contains some advice on how to do this.
NOTE: The advice is useful when applying for a ‘regular’ industry job only. If you are applying for an advanced research position or an academic research job, the way you create your CV and market yourself is totally different than what is described on this page.
Industry employers sometimes hesitate to hire an MSc or PhD grad. They may say things like:
- “You’re over-qualified for this job, you’ll just get bored.”
- “You’ll only stay in this job until you can get something better.”
- “Researchers don’t understand what’s important in industry.”
In order to be attractive to an industry employer, you need to intentionally counter each of these sentiments.
Overcoming those Hurdles
Concentrate on Your Skills
While publications are extremely valuable in the research community, they are not well understood or used in industry. You need to make sure your CV promotes the skills you have that are valuable to an industry employer, not simply list your publications.
Do graduate students have skills that are useful in industry? Of course! Graduate degrees are challenging and very technical. While completing one, you will have gained the following skills:
- How to take an ill defined problem and break it down into a series of concrete steps that will accomplish your goal.
- How to wade into a huge amount of information, quickly process that information, discard what is irrelevant and extract the few key things that are important to your work.
- Given a technical problem, how to evaluate a number of possible tools for solving that problem and picking the best one.
- How to formulate and support an technical argument.
- The experience of studying and understanding a technical area in depth.
- The ability to quickly teach yourself new skills and techniques.
This is a general list of skills. You need to create one for yourself. In addition to these general skills, you should also be able to come up with a number of specific technical things. Things like:
- “Implemented a 5000 line Verilog core for a software radio receiver.”
- “Applied statistical analysis to characterize the random wireless channel.”
- “Developed mathematical approximations for the throughput in an error prone packet network.”
When listing your skills, always try to state specifically what you did. Statements like “Proficient in C/C++.” are not useful.
Be Aware of Your Limitations
While a graduate degree is overall very valuable, it is possible to pick up some bad habits that will turn off a potential industry employer.
- The inability to explain a technical idea in terms a regular person can understand and to resort to using over technical words.
- A tendency go into too much detail and explore side issues because they’re “interesting” or “novel” rather than being important to the business.
- Assuming you have lots of time to accomplish your task.
- A feeling of superiority and entitlement because you have an advanced degree.
Learn About Your Employer
Before you apply for any job, you need must research both the company and the position. Ask yourself:
- Why do I want to work here?
- Is this job a good fit for me?
- How can I promote my skills in a way that will be attractive to the employer? What should I emphasize? What should I not emphasize?
If you get an interview, it always makes a good impression on your employer to be able to ask questions about the company.
- How does the position I’m applying for fit into your broader business?
- How do you see your business evolving over the next few years?
Focus Your CV
Academic CV’s are many pages long (often 30 or 40 if you’re a professor). If you are applying for an industry position, your CV should be a maximum of 2 pages. Even this short, a busy employer may not read your CV in detail. You need to put your most important points in front so that a busy reader will see them first.
What is an employer looking for in a CV? Things like:
- What skills or experience does this person have that are relevant to my position?
- Solution: You determine this by researching the position and then cross referencing your skill list.
- How does this person stand out from his/her peers?
- Solution: Awards and scholarships are good. Publication count and marks are ok but you need to put it into context (ie. compare your stats to the average produced by other UofC students).
- Is this person well rounded, pleasant to work with?
- Solution: List any extra-curricular/volunteer activities you’ve been involved in.
Remember, a clear CV that is focused on what the employer is looking for demonstrates that you are able to understand they key things important to the employers business.
- Always have someone else look over your cover letter and CV. They //will// spot errors that you missed.
- Always customize your CV to each job posting. Learn to ‘read between the lines’ for what the recruiter is asking and give it to them in your CV.
- Especially at large companies, assume that the person reading your resume is a junior HR clerk with 200 other resumes to read today. Make your CV short, concise and match the job posting as closely as possible. Hit as many keywords as you can within your CV text in case your CV is scanned by a machine.
Workshops such as mock interviews are very helpful to gain feedback and confidence. There is also helpful material under the above link, including YouTube videos of the workshop presentations. Be sure to sign up well in advance as workshops can fill up quickly.
The Science and Engineering Career Fair happens every September and the Career Expo happens every February. Be sure to target companies beforehand to use your time efficiently and be able to ask intelligent questions.
Ask the Headhunter
- As a headhunter for the tech industry, Nick Corcodilos has an unconventional perspective on job hunting. He advocates targeting few companies, learning as much as you can about them, then approaching hiring managers directly while avoiding the HR department. Remember, headhunters work for companies, not for you. Sign up for his informative weekly newsletter.
APEGA Salary Survey
- Want to know how much engineers make in Alberta? Here is a good guide. In 2013, B-level advanced technologies engineers made 73% as much as the average engineer, and 60% as much as an engineer in oil and gas. But you’re not in it for the money, are you?