Industry Options

Academia can be great, but for any number of reasons it might not be the best match for every candidate. If you have doubts about an academic career path, then you may find it fruitful to explore your options more broadly. There are fantastic opportunities outside academia that allow those with Phd training to leverage their research skills and aptitude. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently listed Data Scientist as the "Sexiest Job of the 21st Century". And of course, industry positions generally offer a permanent 0/0 teaching load along with financial upsides well above the typical academic placement.

If you are considering options in industry, you have two straightforward options to give yourself a great chance at landing a great position.
1. Contact a headhunter. A high-skill position with a six-figure salary isn't the kind of thing that gets posted on Craigslist or LinkedIn -- they tend to be curated by recruiters.
2. Apply to Data Incubator, a six-week bootcamp designed to help place Phds (who love data) with companies (that value data), such as Etsy, Foursquare, and Mashable. The program is free for those selected as fellows (food and lodging are the only costs), and in general, it looks like an amazing opportunity. The only caveat is that you need the Phd in hand to be accepted.


Of course, the process of applying for industry positions is more complex than making a call and filling out an online form. Here are a few things to think through as part of an industry search.


Roughly speaking, mid-March the point in the market cycle where it's probably good to start talking about industry options if a tenure track (or visiting) job hasn't materialized. This timeline also aligns with corporate recruiting schedules. While it may be normal to start interviewing for a faculty position 14 months ahead of the start date, corporate openings generally want someone to start in 30 days. So if you're more than 60 days away from defending your dissertation, applying for industry positions may be more complicated than you'd guess. Having the Phd in hand may help open up more doors than you'd expect.
And just because you're testing the corporate waters, that doesn't mean you have to stop applying for academic openings. Between March and June, there will be somewhere between 50 and 75 academic openings announced. However, you probably shouldn't count on a postdoc to suddenly open up. If it does, that's great! But generally postdocs focus on recruiting candidates from allied fields (psychology, economics, statistics, etc). It's also generally the case that postdocs are funded through grant money or other non-departmental sources, so it's possible that recruiting is more focused and/or serendipitous (i.e. you happen to know someone with grant money).

Financial Upside

Academic salaries are pretty flat. According to the most recent AACSB Salary Report, the average full professor in marketing makes 1.3x the salary of an assistant professor. In contrast, CEOs at public firms make 231x the average employee's salary. Of course, there's only one CEO in an organization (and potentially numerous full professors), but the bottom line is that pay scales at major firms move in large steps. Five years after starting an industry job, you might be making 3x your starting salary (and well above the pay scale for full professors).


My personal experience was that I did not contact a recruiter -- I wasn't smart enough to think of it. Instead, I modeled my corporate search after my academic search (plug and chug). In contrast to my inefficient efforts, a marketing doctoral student who was savvy enough to call a headhunter ended up with two job offers inside of a month, a giant signing bonus, and an exciting role at a major consumer products company (and yes, this is a real person). Headhunters typically specialize in an industry (e.g. software) or a geographical region (e.g. San Francisco) or both. Finding the right recruiter to work with may take some effort, though the end result is likely to be better than simply shipping out resumes and cover letters.


Industry positions vary wildly from one to the next -- dimensions range from responsibilities to supervising direct reports to the amount of travel required to figuring out a firm's unique algorithm for calculating total pay (e.g. total pay = salary + incentive pay + end-of-year bonus + retirement contribution + vacation time + sick leave + flex time leave + holiday pay) -- and that's before you factor in things like company culture, opportunities for promotion, whether the work is interesting, etc.

It's not just another application

The decision to pursue industry options may be emotionally draining. Competing for jobs with MBAs isn't the reason anyone signs up for five years in a doctoral program. But we all are looking for a job where we could be happy, and there are plenty of exciting industry options available. The best advice for expanding your search is to be picky and to wait for the right opportunity. You might have been willing to move to NYC or the middle of nowhere for an academic job, but location, salary, type of work, firm prestige, etc. may be important factors in an industry position. Make sure you're ready to think through those tradeoffs.

It may be useful to think about an industry search in terms of options that are "new and exciting". It's easy to characterize the decision as "leaving academia" or "letting down your advisor", but those aren't especially productive framings. It may also be useful to recognize that not every academic position is the dream job you imagined at the start of the phd program. There are plenty of academic positions in undesirable locations with a 4/4 teaching load and a salary at the low end of the assistant professor pay scale. If you can figure out what you really like about being a professor (working on interesting problems with other smart people) -- and how that might translate to an industry option -- you just might find a new dream job with a huge salary in the place you always wanted to live.


As always, if you have thoughts shoot me an e-mail at



Full Disclosure:
The Data Incubator offers some pretty incredible referral rewards. In the scenario where TDI cuts me a check, all funds will be funneled back into MarketingPhdJobs to support future efforts. If the program looks interesting to you, head over and sign up now. And if you happen to be busy with 20 other things at the moment, just hop back here to use one of the links in this post on your way to sign up. Hat tip to Mark Ward at Purdue for sharing this.

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