I'm an early-stage academic (post-doctoral researcher) who is mulling about transitioning to the tech-industry. My reasons for doing so are primarily due to higher pay, decent benefits and predictable work hours than academic life (at the risk of being an "at will" employee who has to work for the company's bottom line first). One question that is often asked in questionnaires is:

What excites you about working in X industry?

I understand what sort of answer they're looking for here, but I'm afraid that if I'm chosen for an interview, my academic past might come out stronger than in written text and be a turn off for hiring managers. In fact, this has happened to me once before — I got interviews at top companies after undergraduate, and nearly everyone said "You seem keen on doing research, and should pursue graduate school.", and I did. The problem is, I still am keen about academic research; I'm a good academic, have published good work and have a steady job (or a clear career path)... but I'm tired of the shitty pay.

I'm confident I'll be good at the industry job (which only hires PhDs), although the work might not be as stimulating (or leisurely paced) as academic research. My mind is more or less made up about moving to the industry and I really do want the job, although perhaps for the wrong reasons from the interviewer's point of view (my heart probably is still in academia... for now). At this point, my main concern is closing the deal at the interview. My question is:

How can I (mentally) prepare myself to fully let go of academia, or at least position myself convincingly to the interviewer and demonstrate that I really want the job?

I understand that the challenge is more psychological than anything else, but I was wondering if someone more experienced (or hiring managers) have a different perspective on this situation and how they sniff out such candidates.

  • 1
    Here are a selection of reasons, maybe some of them apply to you: * From your own question, "The salary in academia is low". Yes, this is a reason. Maybe not the first one you want to mention but it is one. * "I like building products that affect real people." * "I want to be in a fast-paced work environment compared to academia." * "I want the opportunity to move to location, but academia strongly limits my choices." Related to this is some variation of the two-body problem, family reasons, etc.
    – Irwin
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 17:57
  • 1
    You seem to have two good but fundamentally different questions conflated here - how do hiring managers see academics, and how do you actually get yourself out of that mode? Those are pretty different questions.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 0:53

4 Answers 4


You've attached to the core of the problem from the perspective of a hiring manager. Your attachment to academia (or perceived attachment) can be a big deterrent in an industry job because you may "already know everything" or you may be married to a philosophical doctrine taught in academia that has no practical application in business.

The way to counter this is through demonstrating adaptability. Know the difference between a beautiful mathematical or logical solution and a practical one. Often business isn't interested in perfect solutions. The business is interested in the dollars and cents (or euros and yen?) of the bottom line. If a solution is "perfect" but expensive, they'll go with the less than perfect but cheaper version almost every time. A hiring manager is looking for someone who can understand the value in this trade off and won't be hindrance to the process or the team because of staunch philosophical opinions.

Translate your affinity for academia into more than just researching random things. If you have an academic background, you obviously love learning and solving problems. Hiring managers love this trait about potential hires. They want inquisitive people who will self teach. It's cheaper for them, and they get more value out of the person. It should be a fairly simple task to get across the idea that pure academia no longer really holds problems that interest you anymore. Maybe you're interested in more pragmatic, tangible problems. Perhaps you can explain that you want to see more than a research paper in a publication but a concrete project/creation that you can feel proud to have contributed to.

You don't have to prepare yourself to let go of "academia", you simply have to let go of the esoteric division between academia in a university and academia in a business environment. They both require research, trial and error, empirical data gathering, etc. They just have a focus on something different. What you need to do in order to convince a hiring manager that you really want the job is to demonstrate an understanding of this difference and how it applies to the work in contrast to the scientific method.

Also, having not worked in the industry, you can't know that the work is not stimulating. Often, the work provided by business units can be extremely challenging.

  • 2
    Thanks for the answer; good points all around. "It should be a fairly simple task to get across the idea that pure academia no longer really holds problems that interest you anymore. Maybe you're interested in more pragmatic, tangible problems." and "You don't have to prepare yourself to let go of "academia", you simply have to let go of the esoteric division between academia in a university and academia in a business environment." were pretty much what I was looking for :) Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 0:10

Look at it from the perspective of the hiring manager. What is he specifically afraid of in hiring someone from academia? Think about how you can explain that you are not the typical ivory tower intellectual. Give examples!

  • People from academia overthink problems. Business exemplifies the 80/20 rule. Explain that while you enjoy thinking deeply through a problem, you understand that business is not interested in the perfect solution, but the one with the best cost/benefit ratio. Give an example how you consciously lived with a non-perfect solution in your previous working life.

  • People from academia concentrate on theory over outcomes. Show how you are customer/client oriented. Showcase how even in academia, you had to sell your research (in submitting manuscripts, in getting grants etc.) and how you worked with your audience's expectations. Writing research grants is actually a lot like responding to RFIs from prospective customers!

  • People from academia have no people skills. Give examples of how you fitted into teams before. How did you collaborate? Did you follow any processes the hiring manager will recognize, like daily standups?

  • People from academia have no idea about real life. This guy won't like it here and will leave in a couple of months. Explain that you understand what you are getting into and what you are leaving behind.

(Do I need to add the disclaimer that of course neither are scientists all like this, nor do all hiring managers think like this?)

Finally, keep in mind that the hiring manager likely has little academic background. He will probably not have a Ph.D. and will have left college with an undergraduate degree. So his perceptions of academia will mainly be determined by a) his undergrad life at college and b) the mad scientist in the movie he watched last weekend. Don't overestimate his familiarity with your previous life. (But of course, don't be patronizing, either.)


Interesting Question, but one that needs some analysis.

So you are a post-doctoral researcher that wants to give that up and get a Job in computers because it pays more. You don't know much about Computers so you have to start from the bottom and you main concern is closing the deal at the interview.

It's doable, no one out there in the Tech industry is not going to take it into account that you have a Phd and thats a bonus for you. Regardless if you are doing research in farming or medicine or philosophy. Dont think less of that. Believe me its a bonus. It will probably take you about three interviews before you get a job, and thats going to be good for you because you will pick up interview experience.

And as for those interview questions your worried about, some places ask them and some don't. If its an entry job you're going for anyway likely hood is they wont ask you those questions.

They be more personal and honest questions like "Why did you decide to change your Career?", "This is an Entry Level Position, Usually for 17 years olds, You have a PHD and studied for years, Why do you want this Job?"

Stuff like that

You need to think now what type of a Tech job you want.

If you think about it there 300 types of jobs or more just for Programming.

Thousands more others in various fields from Tech support, to Platforms Management to Network Operations to Service Desk, the list goes on and on.

So first find out what job and field you want to go for and choose one that it won't be obsolete in 5 years time.

Also register with a good IT agency, they will give you tips for interviews and find you work.

For the moment choose a basic course in computers and stick that on your CV. I don't know what country you're from but the cost is next to nothing now days unless you study CISCO or MS Engineering, most basic courses at local colleges cost between $20 to $100 depending how long they run.

Good Luck and hopefully you be an IT manager in 5 years, if you choose the right path.

  • Where did I ever say that I "don't know much about Computers" and "have to start from the bottom"? Quite the opposite! I've been in academia solely because I like academic research, not because I'm incompetent. As I clearly mentioned in my question, "I'm confident I'll be good at the industry job"... Also, this is not an IT position (i.e., I'm not going to be a coder) Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 21:49
  • Oh sorry i must have read this wrong "employee who has to work for the company's bottom line first". and I didnt say your'e incompetent quite the Opposite, im happy for you. I read this "who is mulling about transitioning to the tech-industry" and thought is a Tech Job. excuse me.
    – Tasos
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 23:42

I have experienced absolutely the same situation and I did change my job to completely new sphere in the industry. I have now cranes and other special technica outside the window though I was an educator at the university giving a lectures for almost 5 years.

Well, I suppose I should mention first my interview experience that I passed couple months ago. The boss's first sentence was like, "Are you are a teacher?", and he pretended he's surprised, while he certainly knew my background by CV (where I had only 3 positions all of academic). So, my winnning sentence there was that I am a problem solving person and would like to devote a major part of my life of doing something/whatever engineering that really helps the community. Also I told him about my research work that actually doesn't meet the company objectives at all, well, I had to tell him something on the way. In my case I was also doing a lot of things outside the university, the things that were really interesting to me as project management, human resource management, collaboration solutions, etc.

The more complicated situation I had with university departing. Here I would suggest to say colleague your leaving caused by a poor management (this may help your friends a bit forth) and tell the money aspect to your local manager. I met the boss face-to-face and said that at the moment I am quite satisfied, but as I think of my future, I would do something now. He treated this kindly and even promised to support and keep the academic doors open for me if I wish to come back with a new production experience...

At my new place I feel great. I'm able to apply now a lot of cool staff that I was reading before. The only sad thing is my students. I felt badly awkard, to the questions like "Why?" and "Where?" I only had to reply "It's a secret".

I wish all the young researchers to keep explorations on, it will definately help you in the future...

  • I think this answer mostly tell the experience, not really answer the question
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 17:40

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