Book review: “Navigating the Path to Industry: A Hiring Managers’ Advice for Academics Looking for a Job in Industry”

Book review: “Navigating the Path to Industry: A Hiring Managers’ Advice for Academics Looking for a Job in Industry” by MR Nelson (aka Wandering Scientist)

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by MR Nelson

This is a short book (~50 pages). And one that is packed with all the advice you’ll need to find a job in the private sector. The focus may be industry, but I think the strategies in this book apply to finding a job in nearly any career field beyond the academy.

My commentary on the book itself will be in standard font. How this all makes me feel about my own job search and how I take this feed back will be in italics.

My favorite sentences in the book is this from page 12:

Your view of what jobs are available and worth considering has been limited by the filter of academia. You want to take off that filter and really consider all of the options.”

It is more than a little ironic that scientists dedicated to expanding knowledge and exploring possibilities are so myopic and limited. I know I have not been good about exploring possibilities for myself while I was occupied studying nature even though doing it full time seems unlikely to pan out. Of course the research is important, but it’s really important to look at yourself and your own direction too.

The actual advice here is the standard faire you’ll find in most career advice coming from someone who’s worked in industry for awhile and knows what industry hiring managers look for in people transitioning from academia.

It’s not rocket science, just not easy, either (like everything, it’s real work). Start early. Details matter. Show and don’t tell. Nelson walks readers through the steps of a job search with the goal of just landing that first job in industry after academia. The shift isn’t an easy one to make. It requires a shift in perspective, a re-formatting of documents, and of course the biggest thing: building a network before you actually need a job.

Nelson has tips for how to go about it and use LinkedIN in particular to help your networking. The big thing is that it’s not really about self-promotion, but genuinely connecting with people and seeking out information. And it definitely do information interviews. How to find people? Attend networking events.

What’s a networking event? That’s a little unclear to me from the book, but anywhere where people are gathering from a given industry of interest I imagine. My understanding of networking is to genuinely connect with people and ask a subset of them to connect you with other people. It’s best in person and this gives people that live in cities where networking events are a regular occurrence a decided advantage. I live in a small town and it’s hard to find such things, so I’m relegated to online networking (better than nothing and I really do love Twitter).

I also find the idea of an information interview foreign still, though apparently this is standard practice. That networking is about not self-promotion makes me a lot more comfortable with it. It’s putting your voice and skill out into the world and genuinely connecting with people.

The next step in the book is to apply for jobs, utilizing the network you have to help you. The idea of sending your resume and cover letter to your contact as well as through traditional channels is a good one. And even before that the advice about formatting a resume is really sound. Customizing it for each job you apply to is important.

Asking for help isn’t something that is natural to me. And I don’t know if it’s a particularly general trait of academics, but might be. I always feel like it’s interrupting and for some reason that’s the big faux pa.

Customizing resumes is important, but I am still baffled as to how to reconcile this with LinkedIN, a static (though updatable) career profile. And a hiring manager will almost certainly check your LinkedIN profile too. I suppose they get different things out of each, but it still seems like a quirk of being able to connect in so many ways these days.

Wandering Scientist Ends with tips for once you have an interview. Your great resume can’t do much for you at this point. It’s all about how well the interaction goes, how you answer questions, and even navigate the illegal, but seemingly often asked questions of hiring managers that Nelson goes through one by one.

This book is straightforward— the way it’s written resonated with me even if I am starting this process late. There’s no sugar coating. And the tips for dealing with a lot of various career scenarios for someone are presented like having to deal with gaps in a resume or acknowledging that you don’t have a particular skill but are a quick study and shouldn’t be discounted. Nelson also notes that for a first job in industry, you will likely be starting from the bottom, especially if you’re switching fields. Basically, don’t have a huge ego as a Ph.D. You might well rise quickly through the ranks. Focus on doing good work. 

It also doesn’t presume, as much career advice can, that every applicant is a superstar that is polished and amazing from the get go. Nelson acknowledges the human side all of us have. And that to me is refreshing. It also makes clear that people in industry are people too. Something that is easy for an academic to forget, strangely enough.

I am still a bit panicked about my own job search and networking. And just all of it. It’s all so up-in-the-air-uncertain. And as I always have, worry about fitting in or just where my skills would be useful (and what skills I can pick up). This book does give me strategies to try.

No job search is easy, but having this concise guide is quite helpful.

Navigating the Path to Industry is available from Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback formats.


Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

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