I am a postdoc who is considering finding employment in industry. But at this point I have not yet made a final decision to leave academia, and I have already applied to several academic jobs, from which I am awaiting responses.

One of the reasons why I am cautious is that I do not have a very good understanding yet of what it would be like to work in industry. I considered sending in an application to a company, but in the end I have not done it because I did not feel that I was 100% in, and I was worried that if I do get a quick offer and reject it, it may leave a bad impression.

Here I am looking for advice on how it would be perceived if I were to send an exploratory email with the goal to try to better understand what the work and the working environment would be like. I would explain that I have not made a decision to quit academia yet, and that I am looking at both academic and industry jobs. I would tell them that I am looking to learn more about the job. But at the same time I am very worried that this kind of inquiry would be perceived negatively, and maybe even hurt my chances at a potential future application. Perhaps companies are expecting applicants who are 100% enthusiastic about the job, and do not sound cautious. After all, they might get countless applications, and do not even bother responding to such emails. And I heard multiple times that companies like to avoid candidates who are 30+ year old and have never had an industry job.

The problem is that without contacting a few companies, I am not sure how I could learn enough about this kind of work to be able to apply with full confidence.

I am also interested in how quickly applications are typically handled at companies, or whether there is any standard at all. Should I expect feedback in a week, a month, 6 months? With academic jobs I can at least make a reasonable guess.

  • To put it simply, at this point quitting academia would feel like a failure. But this is not a rational thought. And realistically, I may not be able to go on in academia, doing one postdoc after another. I am trying to deal with this and become enthusiastic about doing some other kind of work. To do this, I must get in touch with companies, but at the same time I must not let them find out how I currently feel about the situation, as I am sure that would trigger a very negative reaction.
    – Caracas
    Apr 4, 2017 at 14:56
  • "To put it simply, at this point quitting academia would feel like a failure". I am not sure about that. Lot of people in my lab have moved from teaching/post-doc role and doing very well in Industry. Lot of them have moved to academia from industry as well. You may want different things at different point and it is okay.
    – PagMax
    Apr 4, 2017 at 15:12
  • 2
    Read this - workplace.stackexchange.com/a/37067/2322 - the question is nearly a duplicate?
    – enderland
    Apr 4, 2017 at 16:29
  • Something to keep in mind: an interview is not just a test to see if you are a good fit for a company; it is also an opportunity to determine whether the company is a good fit for you. I always bring a large question sheet to interviews and on several occasions have asked more questions about the hiring department than the interviewers have asked of me (which incidentally has always been viewed quite favorably by the interviewing team). I wouldn't look at an interview as a possible waste of time. I would look at it as an opportunity to determine if you are a good fit for each other.
    – user48276
    Apr 4, 2017 at 18:01
  • @enderland Thank you for the link. Your answer there is a useful read. While it is related, I do not think that it is a duplicate. That question was about what a PhD is worth when applying, and where to apply with it.
    – Caracas
    Apr 4, 2017 at 18:31

2 Answers 2


I think you are overthinking this and may be little bit over-confident (but may be you are that good) that your application will result in a job offer and you rejecting the offer will hurt their feelings. Like you said they do get lot of applications even with PhDs.

I am a PhD working in a big corporate for a long time and I know we reject PhDs all the time and lot of times it is other way round as well. As long as you are professional and humble about it, there is nothing wrong in turning down an offer.

So just go ahead and apply with complete enthusiasm. There will be several stages in the interview where you will get a chance for your queries about 'how it is like' to be answered in detail. It will be perfectly alright to turn down the offer at that time if it does not fit your needs.

I were to send an exploratory email with the goal to try to better understand what the work and the working environment would be like.

Again, you answered this yourself that this MAY be perceived negatively and I do not think you should send such emails. Your interview call itself may be at risk if you already declare you are just exploring. (Unless you have exceptional credentials and very well known in research community and in the area which the company is interested in).

Your entire purpose of interview is give the company a chance to understand you and also you get a chance to understand the role, company and the working culture. I do not think you will be misleading anyone if you do not disclose you are not sure of joining.

Summing up, go ahead and make a full application and then decide with more information with you.

I am also interested in how quickly applications are typically handled at companies, or whether there is any standard at all. Should I expect feedback in a week, a month, 6 months?

I think anywhere between 2 weeks to a month is reasonable time to expect a response on your application. Some companies respond only if they want to interview you and some will respond even if they reject your application. In my experience, if it has been more than 45 days, then you probably will not hear from them FOR THAT ROLE. They will of course have your resume with you and there are cases when they find a match few months down the line for a different role.

  • I see why it might sounded like I am overconfident, however, that is not the case. From what I could gather, I think my situation (PhD + several years of postdoc experience) would not be worth much, and may even be perceived as a negative. But at one particular company I do feel I have a good chance (unrelated to my degrees), and I was quite worried that I may mess that up.
    – Caracas
    Apr 4, 2017 at 18:20
  • Got it! Your postdoc need not necessarily be perceived as negative especially if you have good publication record. You just need to focus on companies which values research and especially your research areas. (Service provider companies do not and you may avoid them).
    – PagMax
    Apr 5, 2017 at 7:32

Companies want to hire someone who will get the job done. They are not interested in helping you in your soul searching. Why would they?

What you need to do: Look for all positions that are suitable. Then you decide mentally that you want one of these jobs. You don't consider it, you want it. Your attitude will shine through in your CV, and a CV by someone who just considers starting a job will go straight in the bin.

The CV should show that you are completely confident that this is the position you want, and that you are fully capable that you can fill the position. The CV must clearly say "I am the man / the woman that you want to hire".

It helps if you have someone who can competently review your CV or help improve it. And you apply for many jobs, because many will not bother to reply, others will reject you, and a few will invite you for interviews.

Two weeks seems a reasonable time for a reply. Four weeks would be a very long time. But then writing and sending out CVs is a full time job, so replies will come in at the same rate long term as you send out CVs.

  • +1 for the first paragraph. I think the rest of the answer is a bit to focused on the CV, and hence isn't really a complete answer to the question. Not sure it this is the reason you are getting so many down votes May 22, 2017 at 11:06

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