Are PhDs unemployable?

(53 Posts)
LatterdaySaint Sat 22-Dec-12 09:27:17

Some prety good discussions on this forum.

Anyway, I'm a PhD (Engineering, Edinburgh Univ, 1999). Worked in industry for 3 years immediately after graudation when employment prospects were good. Then made redunant, so went back to university as a postdoc. Did a string of postdoc jobs even though I have never had any intention of becoming a lecturer or running my own lab - I just enjoyed the work. Now out of work for the 2nd time in 3 years. Postdocing is becoming increasinly competitive, what with the global depression, so I thought I'd better start looking for jobs outside academia. Problem is that I have had 0 interviews in 6 months. I've read lots of blogs and posts on the internet regarding PhD unemployment and it is becoming clear that employers don't generally like PhD qualified workers. What are your experiences?

I'm seriously considering dropping my PhD from my CV, even though it leaves a big hole. It's really depressing when I apply for low level 'survival' jobs that I can clearly do (such as working as a operative or technician in a lab related to work that I've done at postdoc level), but get a negative response.

I read a recent news article in which Dyson complained that Britain doesn't produce enough engineers and scientists. I thought I'd give his company a try. PhD from Edinburgh and a good, pre-1997 BEng degree from a pre-1992 university, but my application was rejected. So much for his claim.

Do you think the expansion of HE is a giant scam? It seems that people need additional masters degrees if they want to change career - at a cost of several £k of course!

not getting invited to interview i meant. sorry.

Bluestocking Sun 23-Dec-12 16:10:59

The sentence that stands out from your OP to me is "It's really depressing when I apply for low level 'survival' jobs that I can clearly do (such as working as a operative or technician in a lab related to work that I've done at postdoc level), but get a negative response.". If your application doesn't clearly demonstrate exactly how you meet all the essential (and most of the desirable) criteria in the person spec, you won't be shortlisted. I work in academia and it's amazing how often really well-qualified people just chuck in these lazy, arrogant bog-standard applications where they don't bother to tell us why we should shortlist them. Do you think you might be guilty of doing this?

amillionyears Sun 23-Dec-12 16:18:51

I think you need to go where you think you fit.

I also think that is a bit the problem with the labour market nowadays. It isnt so easy anymore, or cheap, to change careers, without having to do extra studying.

I dont think your heart is in a "low level" lab job, and probably employers know that too.

redskyatnight Sun 23-Dec-12 17:49:51

I have a PhD and haven't had any trouble getting interviews when I was job hunting recently. (in a field where a PhD would not be expected). I've found that interviewers seemed to be looking mainly for very relevant work experience so you should try to emphasise that in whatever job you apply for.

Also, I tended to apply for jobs that were at a slightly lower level than the one I've just left. My gut feeling at the moment is that there are a lot of good people about so if you are going for a job that you are "just" qualified for you may be beaten by better qualified people. But too low and you are not likely to be taken seriously unless you can come up with a good reason why you are focusing on it.

you may want to emphasise that you actually want to move into industry and out of academia, why it's the right time for you to do that and what you bring that is exceptional due to your time out in the academic world.

whatever you do don't assume experience and qualifications speak for themselves these days - sell, sell, sell.

if you think they're going to think you're over qualified or out of touch then address that and reassure them in your application.

SchoolFool Sun 23-Dec-12 19:18:07

A higher qualification is not a barrier but not having relevant experience in your chosen field is a problem after the usual age for a graduate entrant.

If we knew what field interested you, we could advise a bit more specifically.

tricot39 Mon 24-Dec-12 00:02:51

It might be more about your age than the phd. I know that this is illegal but with less jobs about employers will tend to go for more flexible malleable candidates. I have found (to my cost) that older is assumed to be more expensive, therefore interviews are more diffficult to get. The bottom line is that the economy is not as good as it was 10 years ago so employers play it safe.

lljkk Tue 25-Dec-12 17:38:55

Can't win, though, can I? I'd like to state "My previous salary level isn't so relevant because I'm quite happy to take a job with lower pay and less responsibility & prestige than I used to have because that's what would suit me now": but then it sounds like I'm lazy!

rathlin Tue 25-Dec-12 17:51:16

Falling over PhDs where I work (pharmaceutical company) and I believe my job description has PhD as desired so still a demand and this is for non-laboratory office based roles.

My DH has an electrical and electronic engineering PhD and a 1st BEng degree (1st in yr) but found it difficult to get a job in this area so now works in software development.

Xenia Tue 25-Dec-12 21:14:48

Depends on the job. I have done work with the pharma sector mentioned above and PhDs are often used. Law firms and patent attorneys doing very technical scientific work have often fell on requalifying people with PhDs with huge enthusiasm. Thirdly I have done a lot of work with the IT sector and know one company which only recruits programmers with Cambridge PhDs and even then only 1 in 100 is good enough at the programming but at least they do need PhDs.

SO yes there are jobs out there where a PhD helps.

However jobs are hard to find for anyone at present. Just keep trying.

Teachers is another example we have had children's teachers in schools our children were at with PhDs in their subject (private schools and presumably state too)

lljkk Wed 26-Dec-12 15:52:31

Can't get a teacher job in a state school without a PGCE or similar, though. Maybe if it's only for a minority subject, like workshop, music or sport.

Xenia Wed 26-Dec-12 17:04:41

I didn't mean the PhD teachers don't have PGCEs, of course they do but some have a PhD in their subject as well... obviously not the most lucrative use of a PhD of course.

Ronaldo Wed 26-Dec-12 17:14:52

I think jobs are very think on the ground unless you happen to be around London or perhaps Cambridge. Certainly where I live , jobs for highly qualified personnel are no longer appearing. Posts are not being vacated and people are not moving on and so the market is not freeing up for any coming in or transferring.

The reality for most is that they do have to look at "survival" jobs and I find it irksome when some posters cannot see that reality and chide others for admitting they are just "looking for work" - any work. The job centre require this so its no good looking down your nose at those who do what the job centre tells them" Its no use telling them they should apply for posts which are more within their qualification range.... and I dont buy the idea that employers do not want highly qualified personel becuase they see them as likely to move on once trained up because most employers are looking for cheap and chearful short term employees. Clearly some here have never heard of the times when Maggie told us " There are no jobs for life" ( whilst Tebbit told us all to " get on our bikes"!) Well its the same now as then, except maybe worse.

I would suspect being too expensive is a big issue. Ageism is a discrimination and most employes are a bit stupid in that they have not cottoned on to the fact that most older people are more reliable, less likely to have young families ( or females will not be doing child care or pregnancy) and are less likely to be ill ( or have duvet days). Of course, older workers do have a habit of thinking and so I guess that is what puts them off - employers dont want skilled or educated workers they want those who will take instructions without question and try to re invent the wheel , even though we have perfectly good ones rolling around already.

The fact is, thereis no work. Ph.D's are over qualified for most jobs and it may mean finding some plausible excuse to explain aplying for a job for which you are over qualified. Of course a lot of ladies use their babies as that excuse. I used my early retirement and I said I wished to persue other academic interests in my own time.

ViperInTheManger Wed 26-Dec-12 17:15:18

My DH is a senior manager and regularly recruits engineers for projects. He struggles to get good people and is appalled at the standard of some applications (most of them come through agencies). He would be happy to employ a PhD engineer if they were the right person for the job.

Ronaldo Wed 26-Dec-12 17:19:28

It is no longer a requirement for state schools ( acadamies especially) to employ staff who are qualified. Of course unqualified you wiull be cheaper
(and that may just be an inducement to an employer!) if you can show you have the skills and experience.

Independent schools have never required a teacher to be " teacher qualified". They have always asked for graduates.

In a world where so many graduates aretrained to teach anyway, it is not necessarily going to help to not be so qualified though.

You say your degree was pre 1977 - how much pre? Is your degree science based? If its pre 1989 and you have taught at all before that date ( in FE or university) you may be "qualified" anyway. There are some odd rules here.

happilyconfused Wed 26-Dec-12 19:53:30

There seems to be more PhD teachers in science and maths. You do need to have a PGCE or have been through in school training. Our head of physics reckons that within the next few years most chem/physics nuts will have a PhD. Teaching will be a tough job to get into. Good luck in your hunt. What about setting up own design company?

racingheart Thu 27-Dec-12 22:52:11

Sounds like you're aiming way too low. Apply for jobs you think are way above your experience level, that you don't have a cat in hell's chance of getting. Bet you have a higher success rate with them.

Are you interested in a career in academia? It's often assumed that anyone who has studied that long wants to stay in Higher Ed.

LatterdaySaint Fri 28-Dec-12 09:26:11

Good morning.

I've been working on my CV over Christmas, and I think it looks a lot better now. I've emphasised my achievements - my former PhD supervisor recently commented that I didn't talk/brag about my achievements enough when I was a postgrad student. I've also left my publications list off as it probably isn't relevant for non-academic jobs.

I decided to keep my PhD on my CV as I worked hard for it. Don't see why I should hide it. Instead, I mentioned that my PhD led, in part, to a £369k grant to continue investigations into my area of research. That might come across well in industry.

As for gaps in employment, I've dropped months and only have years listed, My current period of unemployment is filled with voluntary activities. As a private pilot, I'm in the process of joining a Volunteer Gliding Squadron as a Civilian Gliding Instructor (under training), so I mentioned that in 2012-present. Will see what happens in 2013.

yes that is it exactly in my opinion latterday - showing how your phd has meant something beyond 'i'm clever'. achieving that funding is great and will look good. don't assume they have imagination - say that having done a phd means you are excellent at self motivation, research, working at a high level of accuracy yada yada whatever it does mean that's relevant. sell it.

GrendelsMum Fri 28-Dec-12 10:23:16

I was just about to say that I thought your CV was a very large part of the problem, and then I saw your last message, saying that you'd put your publications on your previous CV when going for other jobs. Nothing says 'out of touch with a commercial environment' like a list of publications on your CV (ok, generalising a bit there, but I really don't want to see your publications when I hire someone with a PhD to do non-research work, which I do).

An academic CV is TOTALLY different from a CV that you will need for most other jobs. Have you been to the University careers office to talk through your CV in detail? Have you been to the library to get books with examples of how a non-academic CV should look?

Putting in your achievements is very important, and mentioning the grant sounds like good thinking. I was also recommended a book called, I think, 'Brag: the art of tooting your own horn' which is excellent about promoting yourself in a positive, non bragging way.

LurcioLovesFrankie Fri 28-Dec-12 10:56:04

Another PhD scientist here - I work in R&D, and would say that of 200 people in our R&D dept, probably at least 3/4 have PhDs. So I agree with other posters that you really need to tailor your application to the specific job. I've recently been promoted (single mum, and part time, so v. chuffed to discover that it can be done even in those circs), and I and my managers put a lot of time into my application - making sure that for every criterion on the list, we had evidence to show that we'd ticked that box.

Go through each application with a fine tooth comb. Make a list of each buzz word, and do two things - work out what from your past experience can be put down as evidence that you fit, and look through the company's website for the sort of project they do that makes this feature an important one for them, and try to show that you could be a useful addition working on projects of that sort. You have to do this separately for every job - you cannot have a generic, one-size-fits-all CV that you send out with a half-arsed covering letter.

To be honest, knowing what I do of academia, if I were a potential employer, the bit that would worry me is not the PhD, but the multiple post-docs. Anyone with any ambition knows you apply a "2 and you're out" rule - if you haven't landed a lectureship by the end of postdoc no. 2, you should move on to industry/public sector/an alternative career. When I see someone who's been post-doc-ing for 10 years, I think that either they're hopelessly unrealistic and can't give up on the dream of a lectureship, or I think that they're a bit of a drifter who lacks ambition and can't get their act together to find something longer term. If I read your posts right, you've pretty much admitted that you're in the latter category (not a bad thing - I err in that direction myself, and the world would grind to a halt if we were all massively ambitious), but you really need to be able to fake a suitable level of ambition and committment when circumstances demand.

Good luck - lot of useful advice here, I think.

MamaChocoholic Fri 28-Dec-12 10:58:37

Re the "survival" jobs, I am an academic scientist and would hire a PhD for an RA job if they were prepared to work for the salary. She or he would need to convince in the cover letter though that they were going to work hard and with enthusiasm, not see the job as beneath them. I would wonder about hiring a PhD for any academic job who didn't have ambitions to be a group leader though. I want to hire those who will work hard so they can move to a better post, not those who want to tread water, so if you continue to apply for these jobs, be careful how you present yourself.

lljkk Fri 28-Dec-12 14:48:03

GrendelsMum's statements are quite depressing: there is no industry for my PhD skills within an hour's drive; we're not moving house soon and never on earth would I want to be a lecturer.

I'm going to grovel to my old employer (university) to see if I can pick up some work at the bottom of the pay scale/casual rates. Anything that covers my costs and lets me juggle childcare.

Good luck, LdS.

lljkk Fri 28-Dec-12 14:51:10

oops, Lurcio's post is one that depressed me, GrendelsMum fine (sorry).

Funny none of the jobs I apply for call for CVs to be submitted. They ask for the same info, but in their own job app format. And since I'm applying online using their apps, there's no way to submit my CV or another doc as a supplement. The real clincher is in the personal statement, I think. Making sure it has all the buzzwords & says how I meet their reqs.

GrendelsMum Fri 28-Dec-12 15:42:12

Oh good, I didn't hope to depress you!

You might want to have a look over on the Employment sub-forum and see what people have said in the past. It might also help if you had a chat to someone who hires people to get their perspective (if poss, not from academia).

Essentially, when we hire, we have prepared a summary of the role, and a list of the requirements and experience needed to do the role. When we look at CVs, we're looking at them hoping that someone has just the right match of qualifications and experience to do the job. Now, someone that's been, say, an editor at a journal may have the skills to run an academic department, or they may not - I don't know what a journal editor does, but I do know what skills I'm looking for, because my colleagues and I have spent hours thinking about this. If the journal editor can show me on her application that she already has all the skills needed to match my job description, then I'm going to interview her (unless there are numerous other candidates who also have the skills I'm looking for and something else as well). Does that make sense?

It's not about buzzwords or management jargon - it's about me, as a responsible person who has to justify their decisions about hiring, showing that I chose to interview the people who best fitted the job description as we had formally agreed it.

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