What Every PhD Wished They Knew About Career Opportunities in the Private Sector

Career Opportunities in the Private Sector

There are simply not enough jobs in academia for graduates. Research indicates that some faculties employ as little as 12% of graduates for tenure-track positions in some scientific fields. Some universities are quicker to hire adjunct instructors at a fraction of the salary that would otherwise be paid to full-time tenure-track professors.

Many PhD graduates, although desiring to stay in academia, are hit with these realities soon after graduating and often languish for several years before nailing down meaningful employment. Others, who are able to land post-doc positions, may have to contend with low wages for years.

What many don’t realize is that there are career opportunities waiting for them in the industry. For those in STEM fields, transitioning into private sector positions is much more apparent. Someone with a PhD in Computer Science, for example, could logically fit into suitable roles available at tech firms. For graduates in less straightforward fields such as Social Sciences and Humanities, however, the path to finding employment in private sector companies is more obscure.

This is understandable because many universities simply don’t make it easy for PhD students to understand private sector opportunities. Students are not encouraged to pursue career workshops or internships within the industry. By the time graduation comes around, it would appear a postdoc pathway is the most logical career option available to them. If you are in such a quandary, know that you can still land suitable, well-paying jobs in the industry, even if you are a grad student or PhD holder in the Social Sciences or Humanities fields.

What are some of these career options you can consider? It depends on the discipline you are most interested in. Learn more about how to translate your academic skill sets to the terminology used in the private sector Podcast - How to use your transferable skills


It may seem your academic background is not suited to commercial business environments, but that is far from the truth. Pursuing a PhD involves many skills that are sought after by many businesses. The list includes:

  • Research and analysis, including market research, think tanks, and social research.
  • Project management
  • Public relations
  • Human resources and line management (including staff development, motivation, and performance assessment)
  • Managing facilities

Why some PhDs should start their own business Make the entrepreneurial leap


The large volume of writing involved in completing a PhD is ample preparation for a career in the field of writing. It is highly unlikely that positions in the private sector will require you to produce thesis-length content. But if you enjoy writing, some of the opportunities existing outside of academia include:

  • Journalism for both online and print publications
  • Proposal writing for companies pursuing new projects and funding bids
  • Producing case studies and white papers
  • Company newsletters
  • Copy editing – also for both online and print publications


It may not be the same as a professorship, but there are teaching opportunities in the private sector that are just as fulfilling. These include:

  • Private school administration, including school principals
  • Creating and designing modules for e-learning platforms
  • Private coaching
  • Public speaking, including for organizations and educational institutions
  • Creating courses and tutorials

Now that it is a bit clearer regarding career paths that may be available to you in the private sector, the next step to figure out is how to make the transition. How can you launch a meaningful career beyond academia?

  • Repackage your PhD

Having a PhD is one thing, but why should a recruiter hire you over someone else who may only have a first degree but have more experience in the field? This is where shedding light on your transferrable skills becomes important. Unless the person reading your resume also did the same PhD degree you are advertising, they won’t know all the skills it entails. As a result, it makes sense to highlight the skills that are relevant to the position and be ready to discuss them in the event that you are able to land an interview.

  • Tailor your CV to each organization

Every company is different. Organization leaders will be on the lookout for certain attributes and skills relevant to their firm’s unique needs. If you send the same CV to them all, you will be wasting time. Take time to investigate each company and the needs of each role and then try to match the contents of your CV with what is required. How to design an attractive Resume Why Companies Ignore Your Resume

  • Approach organizations you are interested in working for

Don’t be afraid to reach out to firms you may be interested in working for, whether through email, phone calls, or social media.

  • Get acquainted with the hidden job market

Many jobs are not advertised publicly, so you will only hear about them through friendships and associations you might be a part of. In fact, some experts believe 70 – 80% of jobs are filled through the hidden job market. It is recommended that you should apply to advertised job openings, but you also need to acquaint yourself with the hidden job market in order to maximize your chances of finding employment in the private sector. Strategies to enter the hidden job market Use Empathy to tap into the hidden job market

  • Grow your network

This is necessary, whether you have a PhD or not. But it is even more important for PhD graduates who never learned much about life outside of academia. How do you grow your own network to help you find employment opportunities in the private sector? Here are some strategies you can follow:

  • Meet new people: This is probably the most straightforward approach to building your network. Nothing trumps going out to events and connecting with people who have common interests.

  • Volunteerism and internships: Both free and paid voluntary work and internships can put in touch with powerful people and professionals. This is one of the pathways many successful PhDs take because voluntary work and internships allow them to show exactly what they are capable of and impress people who may be willing to present employment offers or referrals.

  • Reconnect with PhD colleagues: Just because you are looking for employment outside academia doesn’t mean you should sever ties with your colleagues. Some of your friends may themselves wind up in private sector roles and can help you find opportunities as well.

  • Join professional associations and organizations: Becoming a member of professional clubs and organizations can also help you to connect with industry leaders and personalities who can help you to uncover career options you would never learn about otherwise.

  • Be active on social media: Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can allow you to meet interesting people online and join groups that help you to showcase your skills.

Completing a PhD is a great achievement for anyone to accomplish. But as many have found out, transitioning to a viable tenure track career can prove difficult. Instantly expand your horizons by searching for private sector opportunities using the tips above.

Dr. Tina Persson |CEO| Career & Leadership Coach| Author | Helping people to fulfil their goals

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