From academia to a job: Free advice from a Phd

Werner Erhard and Associates v. Christopher Co...

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[tweetmeme source=”lovestats” only_single=false]I’ve been asked on a number of occasions how I found a job in market research after completing a Phd in psychology. You’d think the opportunities are endless but, like any career path, there are always obstacles.

Interviewers have told me to my face that they refuse to hire or they don’t like Phds. They’ve even given me strange tests to determine whether I’m human or robot, like “What does this abstract painting on my wall mean to you?” (Honestly, that piece of crap is major ugly.)

So here is my advice. It’s free advice so the confidence intervals are wide. Please do ask questions and I promise I’ll answer all of them.

  1. The fact that you have a Phd means you know research and statistics. Don’t waste your cover letter proving this.
  2. The fact that you have a Phd means employers think you don’t know the real world and that you can’t speak casual english. Prove this wrong in your cover letter. Write in business dialect not in dissertation dialect. This is one case where fancy words do NOT impress.
  3. Forget the stats speak. When they ask you what a t-test is, don’t tell them it’s an analysis of mean scores and confidence intervals of a quantitative variable for a second qualitative variable. Speak english. Say it’s a way to determine if two groups of people differ on a measure like height or weight.
  4. Join a few online survey panels so you can get a lay of the land. What questions get asked? How are they asked? Do you want to shoot yourself during the survey because it’s so horrid? This will give you insight about the business you think you want to get into and…
  5. … something to talk about during interviews. In which you will speak like a human being not a professor.
  6. Go to a used bookstore and buy a Market Research 101 textbook. Learn it.
  7. If your field isn’t psychology, you would do well to take a course in social psychology or personality psychology. It will give you great insight into survey question design.
  8. Learn either SAS or SQL. Not the menu driven kind, the syntax programming type. Even if you don’t end up using it on the job, you will be better able to talk to the statisticians and get what you need in the time you need.
  9. Accept that in the business world, projects take 14 days not 14 months, with sample sizes of 200 not 2000, and conclusions that are final not proposals for 8 more years of research. Now is not the time to try to convince your gracious hosts otherwise. They aren’t stupid.

You are already qualified. You just need the right vocabulary and the right perspective on research for business. Any questions?

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    2 responses

    1. Great post. I’ve heard repeatedly that MR companies do not like to hire PhDs, mostly because they’re perceived to not be good business persons. My guess is that non-PhDs who work in MR have a greater learning curve for the statistical and other technical aspects of the field and less so for the business side, on average, while the opposite might be true for PhDs.

      When you first made the jump from academia to MR, how did you know what level job to apply for and how did you address salary questions? I’ve seen a lot of job ads that want people with a “master’s and 5 years experience or a bachelor’s and 10 years experience,” but have never seen an ad for someone searching for a candidate with a PhD and 1 or 0 years experience (with the exception of the pseudo-academic MR companies). It makes it hard to target certain jobs. Also, I haven’t a clue of how much salary to ask for. In my field and part of the country, a new PhD hired as an assistant professor makes about 80-85K for a 12 month contract with excellent benefits (especially vacation and sick days). A new PhD in a “service position” in academia makes about the same. How do you translate that into a salary request when salaries are benchmarked to a different market?

      1. In all honesty, I applied for jobs that I thought I would like as opposed to jobs that seemed to be ‘my level.’ My advice otherwise would be to be bold. If you think you are capable of handling a senior position (whether manager/director/VP), then apply for it and prove that you can do it. The worst thing is that they don’t call you. The best thing is that you have a great job. In terms of salary, first get a job that gets you quality experience. Then, when you’ve got that experience, move on to job #2 which has the salary you want.

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