How to move into business from academia

People go into business because they want to create something, sell it and make a profit. If you don’t have that desire then perhaps the commercial world isn’t for you. As an academic you may not realise that all businesses are driven by their bottom line and profit. If a company fails to make a profit it will simply cease trading – it is dependant upon the success of its products or services. Even if you work in a company’s R&D Department, your goal is going to be to create new products that sell. Understanding this is the first step to successfully transitioning from academia into business.

Two men having a job interview

The first step of transitioning out of academia is deciding if you want to stay in research or if you want out. If you want to stay in research, then you might want to consider searching for R&D or other bench positions.

If you want to move into sales, marketing, or upper management, your best course of action is to move into an applications-based position. The main job of an application scientist is to teach a company’s customers how to use their products. This often involves teaching customers about the broader fields of science related to the product.

Here are our top tips to help you move into business from academia.

Go to job fairs, networking events, and conferences

If you are good at making a positive impression then going to live events is the best and fastest way for you to transition into business

Your PhD means everything

Less than 2% of the population has a PhD, and as of 2018 experts predicted there wouldn’t be enough data scientists in the world. A data scientist uses all available and relevant data to effectively tell a story that can be easily understood i.e an academic scientist. Which means that PhDs, especially science PhDs, are some of the most valuable people entering the work force right now.

Your PhD means nothing

People who rest on their laurels don’t get ahead. Your future promotions and raises will rely on what you’ve done since getting your qualifications.

Value innovation

You will be asked “why do you want to leave academia?”. This is your opportunity to share with your interviewer why you want to transition – is it because you want to see your knowledge translated into a tangible product that you could sell? Is it because you want to see your products make people’s lives better?

Value money

Money might be a dirty word in academia but it is the root of all good in business. No business can survive without it.

In business, publications don’t matter. Profits matter. Of course, you don’t want to sacrifice things like integrity to profits. But, you do need to make sacrifices to make a profit. Start seeing money as a means to create something amazing, not as the root of all evil.

Every product is just a widget

All products are merely widgets and are bought and sold according to supply and demand and countless other laws of economics. It doesn’t matter if you’re launching a new line of T-shirts or a new line of computers, things like the law of diminishing returns will apply to both.

The fastest way to learn is to get a job and then dig into it. Try to understand what makes the business run and compare it to how other businesses are running by talking with other people in the industry.

Be confident and decisive

Confidence is currency in the business world. This includes the ability to stand up for yourself and the ability to take responsibility for your own mistakes. The buck has to stop with someone and you will do better in business if you volunteer to make the buck stop with you. By taking responsibility you will be given more of it.

Learn to value decisiveness and a can-do mindset over patience and pontificating.

Promote yourself

In business, everyone is on a team but everyone is also out for themselves. This is a good thing. It means that you’re responsible for your own success. Many academics are taught to sit back and wait for things like praise and promotion to be bestowed upon them. Don’t do this. Instead, learn to promote yourself, without being annoying.

Leverage your abilities

Most academics are trained to be ruthless perfectionists so it makes it easy to admire everyone else’s strengths over your own. Perfectionism is a valuable trait when it comes to reviewing data and drawing scientific conclusions, but not when it comes to positioning yourself for business success.

Stop focusing on your weaknesses and start leveraging your strengths. One of the most important things you can do to transition successfully into a business is to spend your time doing the things you’re naturally gifted at. If you’re good at presenting – do that. If you’re good at writing – do that. If you’re good at selling – do that. Don’t be scared to embrace your natural skills.

Improve your interpersonal skills

Numerous surveys and studies show that interpersonal skills matter more than technical skills in business. Be friendly, ask more questions, and work to improve your understanding of other people as well as your ability to help them understand you. It comes down to communication, poise, and patience. Master these three things and everyone will want to work with you. Remember – soft skills trump hard skills.

Become an opportunist

Learning to ruthlessly seize opportunities is a critical part of transitioning into business. You can’t sit back and wait for someone to give you a chance. No one is coming to pat you on the back or hold your hand.  When an opportunity presents itself, jump on it and ride it until you get what you want.

Teach yourself

Most academics applying for their first job in business will not have any business experience. This can be a real sticking point for most students. Do you need speaking experience? organise one of your own speaking events on campus. Do you need product development experience? Create an online product or service. Do you need sales and marketing experience? Start selling and marketing your product online. Alternatively, you can volunteer for local businesses or charities to get this experience.

Connect with everyone

A study published by the Academy of Management Journal concluded that successful business managers spend 70% more time networking than their less successful counterparts. Other studies have shown that networking in business is positively associated with salary growth, number of promotions, perceived career success, and job satisfaction. And almost half of all job hires at top tier companies are referrals. Networking is a skill you should start sharpening now. But don’t just aim to collect business cards and shake hands. Aim to build strong business relationships that will last for the rest of your career.

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