Whether you are considering a move out of academia either by choice or necessity this article will help you to consider the potential benefits of working in the private sector.
Moving to a sector outside of academia will provide the opportunity to experience working in a different environment and culture. Within the private sector, you will find organisations of all shapes and sizes, with differing organisational cultures and values. Do some research, and consider jobs where you are likely to fit in.
If you have worked in Higher Education for a number of years you may find the culture change particularly significant and it may feel like leaping into the unknown. Think of the benefits of taking such a step and consider if this is something you may actually enjoy. The more you can prepare and consider the positive aspects of the challenge and change, the more likely you are to take the step in the first place and then succeed.
One of the most effective ways to find out about a potential career move and to ensure it is the right move for you is to interview a relevant individual in the organisation you are interested to join. Ask questions about the company, their role and the culture of the organisation. This will help you to find an employer where there is an alignment with your values and personality.
The opportunity to use your skills
It is also important to find a job where you can use your skills, strengths and expertise in the role. Let’s think here about the skills you will bring to the commercial world and the benefit of this to you and to the organisation you will be working for. Even if you lack the direct experience the employer is looking for, consider how your expertise and skills gained in academia can transfer across.
“I believe academics have far more to offer the commercial world than either may be aware. Higher Education requires a depth and richness of thinking, a propensity to consider both sides of an argument, the ability to focus on the matter in hand, a reasoned and logical approach to problem solving, knowing the difference between the symptoms and a root cause, the ability to consider the bigger picture as well as the detail – to name but a few, and these are exactly the skills commercial enterprises need but often lack”.
This is a quote from Doreen Yarnold, who has held senior positions in the automotive industry, and now has her own training and consultancy business. She works on projects with senior managers from the commercial world and is increasingly working with academics to bring together expertise to the benefit of both sectors.
Reflect on the skills listed in this quote and start a list of transferable skills and expertise you could offer the private sector.
- How would you benefit from applying your skills in new ways?
- What would be the benefit to you of gaining experience in the private sector?
Depending on the size of the commercial organisation, there is likely to be scope to progress your career in a number of ways including promotion, sideways and retraining opportunities. Commercial organisations tend to invest in the learning and development of employees who show potential, for example leadership training for high flyers and technical training aligned to the direction of the business.
- What are my career goals and what is important to me?
- What will I gain from a move in to the private sector?
If you are concerned about a move out of academia, where you are likely to have invested many years to gain qualifications and a track record, then again consider what is important to you. The way we manage our careers is changing and it is increasingly the norm for individuals to change organisation and even profession multiple times in their career. You can move away from the traditional linear career progression, and still develop a successful career. In fact, gaining experience in a range of sectors is likely to stand you in a strong position with the dynamic nature of the jobs market. Longer term taking your new commercial skills back in to the academic environment could help you to stand out and develop a successful academic career.
We all tend to have our own way of measuring our personal career success and we are driven by different aspects of our work life. Consider the personal benefits of a move in to the private sector, for example:
- Material rewards – if you are keen to increase your earning potential, working in the private sector often provides higher salaries than other sectors, particularly if you progress to senior positions.
- Influence and responsibility – there is scope in commercial environments to take responsibility for key aspects of the business, with tangible objectives and recognition for achieving results.
- Creativity and innovation – many commercial organisations look for new solutions and ways of working to provide a competitive edge, providing employees with the opportunity to be creative and contribute their ideas.
- High pace and challenge – working to tight deadlines with short lead times for projects is a feature in many commercial workplaces. Targets and tasks can provide individuals with challenge and a fast pace.
Consider the pros and cons of these benefits and whether they would motivate you. Be clear about what is important to you and do further research to uncover opportunities in line with your career drivers. Even if you decide the commercial world is not for you, use some of the tips from this article to explore other sectors.