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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!

ItsaTIARA Sat 22-Dec-12 09:39:18

If your mathematical modelling is any good you could try "rocket scientist" jobs in the City - they're more than happy to employ PhDs.

notcitrus Sat 22-Dec-12 10:26:01

You need to show how the PhD has taught you transferable skills. Also why are you applying for 'low' level jobs like lab tech? They probably do see you as overqualified, whereas jobs such as middle management are more likely to rate skills of people and budget and time management gained from lab work.

Remember with job apps it's not so much showing how wonderful you are, but what you can do that they need. Good luck!

nickymanchester Sat 22-Dec-12 10:41:45

notcitrus Remember with job apps it's not so much showing how wonderful you are, but what you can do that they need.

This is SO important. You need to show how your skills/knowledge/experience make you the best round peg for the round hole.

You need to tailor what you say in your cv to the job that you're applying for.

If it is a technical role where your technical knowledge will be important then emphasise that. If it isn't a technical role, then they probably won't be bothered that you have a PhD or not - unless you would be seriously over qualified for the role you're applying for.

I would suggest setting up at least three or four different versions of your cv targeted at the different types of role that you are applying for. Each one emphasising the experience/skills you have that are relevant to that type of role. It is then relatively quick to tweak any one of these versions for a particular application that you are making to a particular employer.

But remember, read the job description/role profile carefully and make sure that your cv clearly demonstrates that you meet all the requirements.

LatterdaySaint Sat 22-Dec-12 11:31:13

I'm begging to think that having a PhD is as bad as having a paedo conviction when it comes to searching for jobs in the private sector.

LatterdaySaint Sat 22-Dec-12 11:32:05


LatterdaySaint Sat 22-Dec-12 11:35:21

You are right about tailoring one's CV to reflect the job spec. Recently been trying that, but it seems some employers still don't like PhDs.

PhD = too expensive, likely to jump ship for a better job, possibly challenge boss for his job etc.

lljkk Sat 22-Dec-12 11:52:46

The job market is just tough. I have a PhD in techie subject too, lots of employment history & I can't find a job (years off to raise a family & inability to work full time doesn't help). I believe that the folk who get the jobs I'm applying for are better qualified, though, have more relevant and recent work experience & the specific up-to-date necessary qualifications. By fluke chance I chatted with a lady who got a job I nearly applied for: she has all the qualifications & ample work experience; just as well I didn't waste my time. Yet she was only doing supply before that, was all she could find, too. It's very likely I'll have to look at retraining at a cost of hundreds or thousands. Real upfront cost to me, too, not just a loan that might never need to be paid off.

TheFallenMadonna Sat 22-Dec-12 12:08:28

DH is a director of an engineering company and employs people with PhDs. It's not something he looks for in an engineer, but it doesn't put him off. He's not even that bothered about relevant experience really. He wants a really sound technical understanding that can be applied to lots of different projects. Are you failing to sell yourself?

TheFallenMadonna Sat 22-Dec-12 12:09:47

Are you chartered?

amillionyears Sat 22-Dec-12 12:14:08

What job do you really really want to do
Are you passionate about it
Do you have the qualifications for it

In short are you focused on the job or sector you are applying to do?

BikeRunSki Sat 22-Dec-12 12:52:37

What type of engineering?
Have you considered public sector ? I have a PhD in Civil Eng (Newcastle, 2000) and have since worked for global consultants, mainly on public scheme, then turned gamekeeper and joined the Environment Agency 8 years ago.

I'd say that in engineering not being chartered is a big deal after about 30, far more of a negative than having a PhD.

LaCiccolina Sat 22-Dec-12 13:30:12

Are u sure that the issue is the qualification? Have you thought about obtaining some cv advice? I'm wondering if for private work ur cv doesn't sound right. Not intentional, obviously u are very intelligent but does it sell u? Are u using the buzz words to make ur skills a natural fit?

I'm also wondering why u are going for low level positions. It sounds off. U should be aiming above that. The best people for advice could be firms that specialise in returning redundancy people to work. This is because they specialise in people who have worked in x location for 5plus years and need to update for y position.

Try reposting in going back to work or employment issues. There are hr professionals there that could critique ur details for the positive.

Good luck. It's tough out there presently.

LaVolcan Sat 22-Dec-12 13:37:32

Network Rail were looking for engineers for their electrification projects, and were willing to train up engineers from disciplines other than electrical engineering, so you could try them.

LatterdaySaint Sat 22-Dec-12 14:56:48

My BEng is in electrical and electronic engineering and my PhD is in semiconductor technology. Seemed like a great career choice in the early 1990s.

I probably do need to get a professional to comment on my CV. Will do that after Christmas. I've seen the Network Rail website - will look at that again as well.

I'm not chartered. I did start half-heartedly working toward chartered status when I worked in industry, but I lost interest and stopped paying my subscription fees when I couldn't see any benefit. The large global company that I worked for at the time (STMicroelectronics) couldn't care less if I had a Ceng or not. I found that very few job advertisements require CEng status - certainly not relevant in academia.

I also have a PPL. Could train to become a CPL or ATPL, but that costs many thousands of GBP more. Besides, pilots are having a hard time finding jobs with airlines right now.

I do have my eyes on the NHS Scientist Training Programme. I expect the process with be fiercely competitive, but I'll give it a try.

Got quite down about not even getting an interview. Thought of using bribes to get a job. Don't know if it will work though. Idea I had this pm was to offer to take my future hiring manager on a 60 minute pleasure flight over the beautiful Gower Peninsula - perhaps even take him and his wife out for dinner as well. Would that even be legal, let alone moral? Suppose it might be seen for what it is: desperation!

lljkk Sat 22-Dec-12 15:09:39

DH has similar maybe same first degree, although no PhD. He was unemployed for a year before present job (which luckily he loves). Unemployed back in 2003 when jobs were supposed to be plentiful.

I wonder if passion is the key; I don't have any myself, either.

Are you a member of IEE? DH had a IEE mentor for a while, helped him with jobhunting.

nickymanchester Sat 22-Dec-12 20:29:14


You are right about tailoring one's CV to reflect the job spec. Recently been trying that

Sorry, I don't mean to come across as getting at you, but this is something that you should have been doing since day one.

I've seen the Network Rail website - will look at that again as well.

OK, so I took a quick look at it and in the first 30 seconds found these comments:-

''you are credible, commercially astute, decisive and articulate.''

They then give a comment from a recent starter:-

”I’m now a distribution and plant engineer in Preston near where I live. I’m responsible for making sure maintenance is delivered on time, preparing next year’s plan, reviewing technical work, proposing new works and dealing with staff issues. It’s demanding – but I enjoy it.”

So, I would suggest that your cv needs to show that you are ''credible, commercially astute, decisive and articulate.''

and that you are used to dealing with a lot of planning, timely delivery of projects and staff issues.

You need to give specific examples in your cv of what you have achieved eg ''The changes in the manufacturing process that I proposed and saw through to implementation resulted in a saving of X million pounds per year''

You do need to demonstrate that your technical abilities are first class, but there are an awful lot of people out there who also have first class technical abilities as well. It's what they say in the job description that is important and how well you show that you match it that will differentiate you from the other candidates.

amillionyears Sat 22-Dec-12 20:52:54

Also research the particular company. Why do you want to work for them.

Waswondering Sat 22-Dec-12 21:00:14

What about the oil industry? Electrical engineers valued in the Aberdeen area, prospects are good and pay is very good. Look at professional hire sections of employers' websites.

Also if you're postdocing do use your careers service - they may have a Careers Advisor specifically for postdocs/staff.

Also have you looked at the website for CV advice?

Good luck and sympathies - dh is a PhD and has been through the postdoc treadmill.

Ronaldo Sun 23-Dec-12 13:36:45

This is just my experience,but I have found there is a good deal of inverted snobbery and prejudice against Ph.D candidates outside of university departments and research posts.

I have found that state schools ( I was made redundant from a university a while back) Ph.D's are a mills tone round your neck in getting a job!

I got a post in an independent school where there doesnt seem to be quite so much anti - feeling. Thats probably because independent schools measure their worth and market themselves through their staff lists. The more Ph.D's the better it seems.

Even in the world of work (I have a top maths degree) its a negative if you have a Ph.D

btw, it is illegal to miss off your qualifications. If you wereto get a job as a result and later found out you could find yourself prosecuted for gaining employment fraudulently. Missing qualifications off is considered in law to be the same as adding them on or making them look better than they are.

Its called gaining pecunary advantage by fraudulent representation. Just thought you should know.

TheFallenMadonna Sun 23-Dec-12 13:44:44

Not my experience of state schools. I work in a challenging school, and they are much keener on the title than I. There are teachers with PhDs in the majority of the state school Science departments I'm familiar with. Maths not so much, mind you.

Ephiny Sun 23-Dec-12 13:47:15

I don't think it's a disadvantage as such. But if you're applying for jobs that don't require the PhD, you need to make a convincing case for why you want that particular job, and that you're enthusiastic and committed, as well as emphasising your skills and experience as well as the qualification.

I think often when people complain about being rejected for being 'overqualified', it's more that they see the job as being a bit beneath them, especially as a long-term prospect, and that comes across to the employer.

There are a lot of people with PhDs (in maths/engineering/physics/computing) in City finance type jobs, especially quantitative modelling and technology roles. However there are people now doing postgraduate degrees specifically in quantitative finance and similar, so you would have to show that you have the business knowledge to go along with your technical skills.

Have you asked for feedback on your unsuccessful attempts? (assuming you're getting to the interview stage)

Ephiny Sun 23-Dec-12 13:56:07

Oh, I see you've been struggling to get interviews recently. In that case it's obviously your CV and cover letter you need to look at in the first instance. Definitely do get some advice if you can, yes it's a difficult time for jobseekers, but if you're not even getting an interview for jobs you're qualified for and in areas you're experienced in, it's likely that there's something fixable you're doing wrong.

I'm not sure this obsession with 'employers don't like PhDs' is very helpful for you.

Nor is referring to 'low-level survival jobs'. If you have such a low opinion of the job, how are you going to convince an employer that you really want it? And if you don't really want it, why shouldn't they give it to someone who does? Also, while it might be obvious to you that 'clearly' you can do the job, you still need to spell out why you can do it, and do it better than the other applicants, backed up by evidence.

crazymum53 Sun 23-Dec-12 16:00:06

Yes it is possible to obtain a job with a PhD but you do need to look closely at the type of job you really want to do and also convince employers that you want to move away from academia into industry as this could be a stumbling block!
Have several versions of your CV for technical jobs, management jobs etc. so that your CV is geared to different sectors of the job market.
You could try asking a professional organisation such as AWISE (Association of women in Science and Engineering) provide help and advice for women in this sector as well as networking opportunities.
Are you tied to a particular location? If not have you considered working abroad, you may find a more positive attitude to PhDs in the US or Germany for example.
Finally does the university where you are doing your post-doc or your supervisor have any relevant contact with industry and have you let them know you are considering a move back to industry. This type of networking can be very successful as they may know about jobs coming up in this sector which would suit you! Many of my friends with PhDs found work this way rather than going through advertisements.

swallowedAfly Sun 23-Dec-12 16:05:07

i'm afraid this reads a bit like, 'people don't like me because i'm beautiful'.

you have no real reason to think it's due to phd. lots and lots of people have been applying for jobs without even getting an interview - many of whom will have relevant recent work experience (whereas you've been working for uni's) and professional qualifications and still find themselves not getting invited to uni.

if you decide 'it's because they don't like phds' you leave yourself with nothing to work on.

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