How and Why PhDs Can Succeed in Business (Opinion)


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It may have been my dissertation isolation during the pandemic years that got me, or the fact that I finally felt at home again after years of moving around for academic work in my native California. It may have been a combination of things that motivated me to leave academia. But the most important – and the most positive – was being recruited into the world of executive search and into a rich group of Ph.D.s.

The executive search industry, a type of high-level recruiting that focuses on roles from manager to CEO, has proven a great way to break into the business world. The need for developed soft skills and few hard skills means that PhDs can seamlessly transition and grow into the space. Also, with the knowledge I’ve gained since transitioning, I’ve learned that executive search is by no means the only hiring industry for professions with a large number of PhDs, CEOs of consulting firms, corporations, and startups among them. .

When looking at academic market options, PhDs are often constrained by the idea that their skills are not transferable outside of the higher education system. But savvy business leaders recognize that PhDs, trained with the determination and commitment to be effective contributors and managers, and savvy communicators, are vast and underutilized.

For example, while management consulting firms such as Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company are known to produce more MBAs than any other industry, a little-known phenomenon is the growing demand for PhDs. – Walter Kitchell III in his book called “business intelligence” is a growing trend The masters of strategyThese consulting firms and impact companies are looking for talent in academic buildings in the humanities and social sciences departments to better address the changing demands of the workplace.

In my company, for example, Ph.D. Graduates can apply for a three-month paid internship that can lead to full-time employment. Our project managers look at four main areas in a graduate student’s skill set when we are looking to fill positions for internal and external recruitment and development at management and executive levels.

  • Rapid agility with new cases. Business leaders constantly shift gears between new clients, projects, and problems, and they must approach those issues with authority and determination. PhDs necessarily develop such skills in the classroom, in workshops, and in countless interdisciplinary areas of research. The ability to learn and learn new subjects quickly gives PhDs a strong advantage in business environments.
  • Communication and presentation skills. At the core of the business world is communication and persuasion, both skills that PhDs are largely equipped to employ. In the seminar room, whether teaching undergraduates or sitting on a conference panel, many PhDs prepare well-crafted presentations, convey information effectively, and respond to audience questions and comments tactfully and diplomatically.
  • Management and organizational skills. Many PhDs have the drive, organization, and leadership skills to keep projects on track, work closely and effectively with teams, and focus on the big picture while solving day-to-day challenges. They include such managerial skills in teaching, leading long-term projects, organizing departmental events, and navigating institutional bureaucracies. Those skills make PhDs well-qualified to enter a company at a management level.
  • Creativity and thought leadership skills. PhD The ability to analyze, evaluate and critically examine data and trends enables to envision new ways of working processes, systems, behaviors and company information. The ability to look externally through a critical lens and then recommend viable innovations is a skill employers cannot afford to ignore.

All this does not mean that the transition to the business is without challenges. After all, one of the biggest problems with leaving academia can be the loss of identity and purpose that academic work inspires. My transition into the business world was, without a doubt, somewhat emotional.

But it was also informative. I have learned that the skills, goals, and identities they have built during their higher education do not simply disappear or disappear. Many employers want the creativity, critical thinking, and passion that PhDs bring to their workplace, and good managers recommend that they lead their employees effectively.

At my organization, I’ve found that this talent approach has had significant results in increasing employee satisfaction, creating a workplace culture of open collaboration, and consistently outgrowing their peers from other backgrounds. This kind of work is not for everyone, but it is there for those who want it.


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