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While looking through the job offerings, I noticed that everybody seems to be looking for experienced professionals, senior engineers, or at least three years of industry experience.

Was this just a bad sample, or is there a trick to getting your first "real" job?

How do you get started in industry after your master's, PhD or even postdoc degree?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't be disheartened. Some companies ask for more years of experience in certain tools than those tools have been in existence. $\endgroup$ – Mark L. Stone Mar 21 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ I would add that these lists of "requirements" are more a list of vishes than a list of requirements (an Utopian point if you like). Quite often, as @Mark L. Stone says, it is impossible to meet all the "requirements" and if you can put a checkmark next to half of them, you shouldn't vorry about sending an application. $\endgroup$ – Sune Mar 22 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't that half the reason there are internships? $\endgroup$ – Robbie Goodwin Mar 24 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Job offer requirements are almost never strictly "must have", if you fulfill 75% of them you have a chance. $\endgroup$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 24 at 14:31
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Just apply for any job you find interesting and you think you can do well. The trick lies in convincing the people hiring that you are great value for money.

Although this might seem obvious, my advice would be to also consider adjusting your salary expectations according to your industrial experience.

Because asking for too much money is the greatest mistake I have seen academics make during interviews, I'll try to explain how this works from an employer's point of view. I know this quite well because I have been on both sides of the table, and I made that mistake myself in the early stages of my career.

An academic who expects the same compensation as someone who has been working in the industry for an equivalent amount of time is unfortunately a hard ask, as the two skillsets are worth different amounts of money for very good reasons. If you believe that this is not true in your case, this nevertheless is what most interviewers think, so keep in mind that you'll need to convince them otherwise.

In the private sector if you are good your salary goes up very quickly. However, asking for a lot of money without a track record is an easy way to get rejected, because for the same money we can find someone who has been doing xyz in practice for a long time. The reason is simply that an employer's risk in paying someone too much without hard proof that they can do the job is a hard ask.

Note that this is neither about skill nor personal brilliance. It's about skills that are only really acquired by working industrially. Publishing papers is a very different skill than getting a product/feature/service to a state where someone will pay for it. The main differentiator is people's ability to work well with teams and deadlines. I have found that many academics tend to not be very well trained to:

  • Produce results that can be readily used by other people
  • Produce results in a handful of days and move on to the next thing
  • Properly document details so that other teammates can reproduce their work
  • Be happy with something that works even if they don't know why
  • Work efficiently in teams
  • Use modern productivity software
  • Only do what they have been asked to do and ask management what to do next (rather than pursuing some cool random thing we don't care about)
  • Communicate delays/issues to management as early as possible
  • Properly estimate how long something will take
  • Decide when to cut something off because we're out of time

When an employer asks for X years of experience, what you see above is the real reason why. It's not about how good people are at math or algorithms. It's about lowering the employer's risk of a new employee being unable to produce results for a very long time, and we are willing to pay for that.

As an entry-level professional who's making the switch, there are only really two options:

  1. Acknowledge that you lack key experience and ask for a salary that reflects this, OR
  2. Walk into the interview like a boss and convince the interviewers that despite your lack of experience you can do all of these things well, and why.

Option 1. is safe, because people will give you time to accumulate experience and raise your salary on par with the results you produce.

Option 2. is high-risk high-reward, because people will expect results from day 1. If you can deliver that's awesome and everyone is happy. If you can't, you're probably in trouble.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very long ago experience, but I worked with a person who had been a post-doc twice before looking for an industry job. My company gave him a healthy boost over his post-doc salary, but it was still well below what someone of his seniority (years past bachelor's) would expect. He had to move again to get up to scale, and I don't know if that was enough. $\endgroup$ – Ross Millikan Mar 23 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Ross Millikan Yeah, a lot of postdoc positions are just a way of getting someone with a Ph.D. on the cheap. $\endgroup$ – Mark L. Stone Mar 23 at 14:29
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This answers is based on experience from computer science in Germany. Different fields and cultures might differ. However, I think that the core message of my answer is still somewhat applicable in any field, hence I've decided to post it.

They may be asking for "industry experience", but as virtually always with job postings, feel free to convince the interviewers with equivalent experience.

When I did my doctorate, plenty (think, roughly half) of the doctoral candidates around me would switch to industry after completing their doctorate. The typical entry point for them would be as some senior developer or head of a small team position - and when I was at the point of leaving academia, I went the same path.

Rather than as a blocker, I saw the requirement of previous "industry experience" as an opportunity to have something to talk about during the interview. The point is that interviewers from industry are often woefully unaware of how work at a university actually takes place. Thus, I used the interview for some explanations:

  • I could point out plenty of hands-on programming experience.
  • I pointed out that I had to make technical decisions also on a higher level - although just in experimental/prototype projects, I nonetheless had to build software that was somewhat stable and would at least survive e.g. user studies without crashing.
  • With some research assistants working for me, I could point out that I had some experience leading a small team of developers of different capabilities.
  • I could highlight that, with research endeavours often being collaborative in nature, I was experienced with collaboration tools and the human interaction that goes along with it.
  • Likewise, I could point out that I was well capable of communicating not only in domestic, but also in international contexts (thereby also underlining a sufficient level of English proficiency to discuss professional matters).
  • All of the above are connected to good self-organization skills and the ability and willingness to stick to deadlines and manage time between multiple different tasks.
  • They may not care about your scientific publication history, although being able and diligent enough to clearly document technical knowledge is, once again, a valuable skill also for industry software development.
  • Related to that, an experience in preparing and giving presentations on topics of one's work, also in English, can also be advertised as valuable, e.g. for the internal training of colleagues.

Therefore: I think there are plenty of points to make that are relevant for industry work. This is especially true if you are not entering on a very junior level (where you are exactly told what you have to do), but at a somewhat higher level where you have some autonomy or responsibility for making certain decisions.

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I was on the job market a very long time ago, so this information may be past its use-by date. When I interviewed at an industrial lab, I was told that they treated a successfully completed PhD as the equivalent of $x$ years of experience. I've forgotten the value they gave me for $x$, but I think $x\approx 3$ for them (and would likely vary somewhat for other companies). This will depend on the specific employer, the specific position and how closely your graduate training aligns with what they need. Bottom line, if you are interested in a position and think you would be a good fit, it can't hurt to ask whether they treated a Ph.D. or post-doc as fulfilling the stated experience requirement.

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It depends of course on what kind of job you are looking for, but the reason for companies looking for experience is just because then want to see a kind of track record. When we look for new people in our team (machine learning developers or (research) data scientists) we are mostly interested in project samples. Besides the appropriate knowledge you've gained in academia, we are interested in examples where you can show how well you can engineer things and on what level. The first thing I do is check people's Github page. So a good advice is to get your hands dirty and start exploring the ways you can built up a track record that's in line with the job you want to have.

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I recently got a job as a junior software developer, coming from a biology post-doc. I think what got me the job were my personal programming projects, that clearly showed I was interested, and had some level of aptitude and ability - at least enough to be trainable in a reasonable time frame.

Regardless of the exact switch, try looking at yourself as a candidate from their point of view. In all my applications, I acknowledged the experience I didn't have, but then always countered with what I did have, and why that is good.

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For new comers from IT / Computer and Engineering fields, their first job / internship depends upon their final year project / research thesis. So write the details of your final project on the first page of your CV especially the tools and technologies used in it. Submit it to different technology companies. You'll surely be called for few interviews even if you are a fresh graduate but have done a good final year project. Rest depends upon your hard work and luck.

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