How to Smoothly Transition from Academia to Tech: Skipping the Junior Engineer Position
A common complaint among PhD students and postdocs seeking their first position in tech is that hiring managers "don't take their academic experience seriously". Unfortunately, this is not entirely unfounded, as managers often undervalue the benefits of extensive academic training compared to recent BSc graduates. It's up to you, as the candidate, to make the hiring manager understand that you are not a junior engineer and that your onboarding will be smoother, your coding skills superior, and your contributions greater. But, how do you achieve that? Here are some proven ways of action that I discuss with PhD students and postdocs when they seek my advice:
First, you must demonstrate that you can write robust and scalable code. That is the most sought-after quality when hiring an engineer! To do so, highlight any programming languages you have mastered, the types of projects and programs you have worked on, as well as your experience maintaining and scaling these programs to handle large amounts of data and traffic. Incorporating programming into your research as much as possible would be beneficial. Planning ahead and considering the day after you graduate when selecting your research path, is a smart thing to do!
The second most important skill is collaborating with others in a corporate environment. That's something that usually takes time for juniors to learn. However, as a graduate with a few years of experience navigating academic politics, you have the upper hand! We all know you can't get anywhere in academia without mastering this delicate art! To ensure that the hiring manager knows this too, and values it, emphasize any experience you have working with others towards a common goal, such as collaborating on research projects, and provide real-life examples of your ability to give and receive feedback and resolve conflicts.
What about understanding market needs? I warmly recommend that you research the company you are about to interview with and the industry in which they operate, and be prepared to discuss how your skills and experience align with their goals and needs. Emphasize any experience you have with market analysis, customer research, or product development, and show how you can use that knowledge to help the company succeed. Attending conferences while still in university can aid in networking, discussing industry needs with those in touch with clients, and learning from them how to turn theory into successful products.
Finally, as a graduate myself, I know you have plenty of experience presenting your work and discussing it, meeting tight deadlines, and quickly learning new things. Ensure that the hiring manager is aware of these abilities. These are all desirable skills in the tech industry, and undergraduates do not usually have the opportunity to hone them. That is one advantage that you have over them. So make sure you are prepared to answer in-depth questions about your research and describe how you overcame different obstacles by finding a solution yourself.
In summary, as a Phd student or postdoc looking to transition to tech, making a convincing argument for why you are not a junior requires a little thinking about what hiring managers are seeking and a little preparation to persuade them that you possess it. And last but not least, don't forget what juniors typically excel at – motivation and enthusiasm! These are qualities that you should undoubtedly convey to the hiring manager. So, be sure to demonstrate them as well. How do you do that? That's a whole different post…