We speak from experience when we make this statement. Whenever we are hiring for a marketing or communications position, we find that PhDs have many traits that give them a huge competitive edge over other candidates. Here is a list of 8 of these traits.
Built-in bulls*it detector
A couple of years ago, we were looking to fill our first non-technical position and hire a Marketing and Community Manager to help us grow Paperpile. We received hundreds of applications for that position. We read each application carefully so we didn’t miss the right one.
Filtering candidates based on their CVs and cover letters turned out to be surprisingly challenging. So many words, so little substance:
Energizing brands through Marketing Innovation.
Focused on editorial standards and content creation that exceeds current market offerings.
I believe I am the person that will help reach your goals because of my core belief of providing value to our target audience.
In my present role, I have established the "best" ways to market the business in four different countries and "best" ways to work with the different markets and its business professionals.
I believe I can provide value to the team and help ensure brand consistency and taking Paperpile to the next level.
But there were many impressive applications, too. In fact, there was a strong correlation between strong applications and applicants who were career changers with a PhD. Cutting out the bulls*it and getting to the point seems to be a strength of PhDs.
While "Social Media Expert" is a title that doesn't really mean anything, as John Oliver correctly observed in 2015, a PhD means a lot. From our own hiring experience, we found that PhDs have some very specific skills that distinguish them from other candidates, a clear indicator that their knowledge and skills are beneficial to any job.
High resilience and stress resistance
Completing a PhD is a very challenging task. It requires a lot of resilience and patience. It may take many years to finish, which means working on the same project for a long time and still finding the motivation to work on your research every day.
Working for a startup requires a lot of resilience, too. Just like in a PhD, you start a project without knowing where you might be headed or what the outcome will be. You might face a lot of setbacks and constantly need to come up with new ideas and try new things.
PhDs are well prepared to fail and won’t get completely stressed out if one of their Tweets doesn't get retweeted.
And, in the end, you might have to accept the fact that it will take time before your work bears fruit. In science and other research fields, most of the things you try will fail, so PhDs are well prepared to fail and won’t get completely stressed out if one of their Tweets doesn't get retweeted.
Know how to deal with rejection
PhDs know how to persist, despite setbacks—one of the skills you need in a fast-paced environment.
Rejection is a natural part of every job. But some people can deal with it better than others. PhDs have a lot of experience with rejection and persistence thanks to the countless papers, program applications, and conference talks that were rejected during their careers.
So, what if your idea for a blog post doesn’t get the enthusiasm from your boss you were hoping for? What if you presented a new marketing plan and it earned little recognition? You get over it, because you've learned to persist despite setbacks. And that's one of the skills you need to survive in a fast-paced work environment. As a PhD, you've done this many, many times.
Communication and presentation skills
Producing marketing content requires you to express your ideas clearly and PhDs have practiced this skill many times.
In the process of getting your PhD, you have to present your work on multiple occasions. Whether in lab meetings or conferences, presenting your ideas clearly and succinctly is a crucial part of your experience.
The same applies to a marketing job. Producing marketing content requires you to express your ideas and messages clearly and find the right tone for your audience. You might also end up representing the company at a conference or holding a product demo. Not everyone likes being in the spotlight, but a PhD has practiced these skills many times.
Research is highly collaborative. During your PhD, you will most likely co-author papers and learn that not everyone works or writes the same way. It may take a few experiences of writing collaboratively to become really good at it, but once you've become a great collaborator, you can take those skills and apply them directly to pretty much any job out there.
PhDs have already proven their abilities to collaborate and this makes them effective teammates in any workplace.
Just like research collaboration, working in teams at a company requires communicating clearly and showing respect and value for other people's skills—all while being able to make decisions that benefit everyone. PhDs have already proven their abilities to collaborate and this makes them effective teammates in any workplace.
Analytical and statistical skills
Marketing managers need to know what metrics matter and to be able to analyze data—skills that PhDs practice all the time.
A job in marketing is not just about randomly trying out different types of campaigns and waiting to see what happens. The core of it is analytics—trying out different things because the metrics point in certain directions, and then measuring the success of a campaign in order to draw conclusions from it.
A marketing manager needs to know what metrics matter, to be able to analyze data, and know what to do with the numbers. They need data to back any statements they make and they can't be fooled by superficial marketing speak, or "lovable marketing content," as HubSpot would call it according to Dan Lyon's book, Disrupted. How do we know if a candidate brings these skills to the table?
A PhD's job is to research and analyze. Without knowing how to work with data and what sources to trust, there is no chance you will be awarded a PhD. These skills are what makes a PhD invaluable in any job with an analytical component.
Getting a PhD requires conducting original research in a specific field. It is not like a classic master's or undergrad course in which you take a more passive role in "being educated" by other people.
PhDs are self-motivated and well-suited to the kind of independent work that is typical of start-ups.
Doing a PhD means finding a research question that you're interested in and, not just educating yourself in it, but also making a new contribution to the world with your work. This means being proactive and self-motivated, working independently, and, basically, doing your own thing.
The marketing manager we were looking for had to be able to work alone on various projects. This autonomy brings a lot of freedom. It can also be lonely at times, not having daily exchanges with coworkers. This isn’t new to PhDs, however, since they've spent a great deal of time working by themselves.
PhDs’ strong writing skills make them much less likely to produce bad marketing content.
We mentioned communication skills above, but it is worth stressing that most PhDs have strong writing skills. There isn’t a specific degree that prepares someone to write and produce content for websites and blogs. And this is often a problem. There is a lot of mediocre content out there, lacking bite and full of mistakes.
Someone with a PhD is much less likely to produce bad marketing content. Their insights are backed by solid metrics and their grammar and style are on a high level. There is simply no way to get a PhD without being able to express your ideas and research appropriately. We saw this with our own eyes in all the incredibly strong applications we received from PhDs.
So did we end up hiring PhDs?
Yes! In the past year, we hired two PhDs to serve as Product Communication and Community Managers for Paperpile and BibGuru, our citation app for students. Amy and Suzanne come from very different fields (Amy from literature and Suzanne from math), but they both bring the very skills mentioned above to their roles.