Another 13 Things to Help You Transition out of Academia

Another 13 things that help someone make the transition from academia to outside work. They aren’t in any order. Just listed and described as they popped into my head.

13. Get a truth sayer – It’s also necessary to have someone who can speak the truth. Someone who’ll be comfortable telling you that your CV needs work. Or that you’re not presenting yourself well at interviews. Or that you’re applying for roles beyond your skills or experience. They’ll tell the truth in other areas too. They’ll let you know that your track record is strong. That the ability to write successful grants is a transferable skill. That asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

14. Know your champions – Many people focus on mentors, and coaches when it comes to job search. But more important than either of those is a champion. Unlike a mentor (who guides through discussion), or a coach (who guides through questions), a champion does their work in your absence. They tell others how good you are. They advocate for your inclusion, promotion, etc., when the question is “who’d be suited to this?” or “who should we hire?”. It is possible for a mentor or coach to also be a champion, but it is worth making sure. You could ask them to be that person. Or you could ask if they have already done that for you (make sure you show your appreciation). For a champion to be effective, they need to know what you are after. Which means you need to know what you are after (see points 5, 6, and 7 of the first part of this blog).

15. Get used to working 9 – 5 – As a PhD student, you may have fallen into habits that are not conducive to a non-academic environment. This could be the way you dress (see point 10 above). But more than likely it is the hours you keep. Perhaps you start late and finish late. Or maybe its start early and finish early. Or maybe start late finish early. Or perhaps even start early, finish late. Whatever it is, make sure you are used to working 9 – 5, Monday – Friday. At the very least, that is what will be expected when you start in a role. So, if you are not currently fronting up to the office/lab like that, then start. I was once supervising a recent graduate and they could not get into the routine of 9 – 5, Monday – Friday. They’d been so used to working in their time, on their terms that they could not sustain the commute and 8 hours of effort five days in a row. As a boss, you’re looking forward to having new staff as it means your workload will change and/or you’ll be taking on new projects. There’s nothing worse than having someone who has all the skills but doesn’t quite get the work culture.

16. Know the industry you want to move into – This is a very literal know. Like question 5, 6, and 7, but know getting concrete rather than ideal. So ideal job might include teaching others. But that could be many industries. So, narrow it down to one – e.g. VET, TAFE, tertiary or even RTO (registered training organisation).

17. Know the employers in the industry – If you’ve answered 5, 6, and 7 then you’ll know role you’re looking for and where. But, if that has been hard for you, take a look at who employs PhD graduates in your region (or regions you’d be happy to live in). What do they do? Is it their head office, or a regional office? Do they conduct work from this office? Or do they just offer sales or after sales service? Where possible, look up their website to see their specialisations, etc. Also take a look at their social media (don’t forget LinkedIn will allow you to find their employees). Looking into a prospective employer is particularly important when you are applying for a role. Don’t rely on the job ad. It is even more important at interview. But it can also be useful to actually finding a role. Particularly if you are willing to use LinkedIn, and your network to connect with people who already work at that company.

18. Know the issues faced by the industry – If you’ve spent your whole studying and working life in academia then you know it pretty well. You know key dates. Key issues faced by researchers versus those who teach only or teach and research. You know the administration struggles, etc. But you probably know nothing about the industry you plan to move into – so take the time to learn. Read blog posts by people in that industry (there’ll be heaps on LinkedIn, as well as Medium). Find out the issues they face. If it is an international industry, understand the factors that make your preferred location more or less attractive as a place to work, as well as a place to conduct business (e.g. regulation, exchange rates, work culture, etc.).

So, if not academia what’s your ideal job?

Have you described it? Write it down. It’ll

help you find exactly what you’re after.

19. Know the issues faced by the employers – This builds on 18 but gets specific to the employers you might want to work for. Like 17, it’s important to learn some of this information as part of the job application process, particularly in preparation for the interview. Issues to look out for include impacts of exchange rates, work culture, regulatory regimes, international trade practices, proximity to partners and competitors, history in specific product lines or services.

20. Know the roles at the employers – Different organisations have different role names/titles. It is important to know what they are. Beyond helping you at a potential interview, it will help you identify pertinent terms for a job search. It will also help when trying to network with people who might have similar roles. Roles that you might be interested in or that might help you get your dream job.

21. Know the jobs of the future – There are lots of lists of jobs of the future and it is worth looking them. They will give you an insight into the kinds of jobs you might find yourself in. They may also give your ideas on what you might want to do. Places to look for these lists include the World Economic Forum, Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, job search sites such as Seek, Indeed, and careerone. These lists are especially useful tools for planning ahead as you can position yourself with the right skills and experience to hold one of these roles in the next 3 – 10 years.

22. Know the skills of the future – Just like jobs of the future there are lists for skills of  the future. The same sites that lists jobs of the future also list skills of the future. Again, like jobs of the future, knowing these lists is useful for medium to longer term planning.

23. Know what jobs are out there/being advertised – If you’re keen to transition immediately, you’ll need to know what jobs are being advertised. So look! Too many people want to leave their academic job, but all they do is talk about it. While talk is great, taking action yourself is way better. Get proactive. Look at job sites. Look through LinkedIn. Look at your network. What are people doing and how did they get there? Learn the stories. Learn the pathways. That way you can replicate them or adapt them to your situation.

24. Know what you don’t like – I think knowing what you don’t want is under rated. Too many people focus on what they want. Or they’ll know what they don’t want but never make it into a list of things they avoid. So, I’m saying take the next step. Write the don’t want list. And then if you see those things you know to avoid them. Furthermore, you can use the don’t want list to create your want list by taking the opposite.

25. Know what you like – Have you ever stopped to write down all of the things you like doing? Not just for work, but in life as well? Write this list down. Note everything. It does not matter if the item could be used to make money or not. Just note down all of the things you like. Then come back, take a close look. How do items on the list relate to work? What about you skills? What about the skills of the future (see item 22)?


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach.

He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).