Job Interview Question

Why do you want to switch from an academic field to business/industry?

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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The one big perception / misconception about academics is that they can’t make it in the ‘real’ world.  They are secure in their ivory towers and not coming out any time soon. So if you find yourself trying to leap from your own ivory tower (or ivory laboratory, as the case may be) your interviewer is going to want to know why.  What will you have to say for yourself?

This question is an excellent jumping-off point for you to talk about your drive, your enthusiasm, and your ambition.  Break the stereotype!

If it were me, I would say something like this:  “I want to switch because I want to be rewarded for the things that I do.  In an academic field I can work day and night, 24 hours, and no one will notice, and I will not be paid any more than my peers are.  In a business role, it’s my perception that the harder I work and the more that I do, the more the company will reward me.  I’ll have even more opportunities to take on more responsibility, which will in turn give me more reward.”

What can that reward be? Recognition, money, more authority as you climb the ladder, the opportunity to influence others, the chance to be appreciated for what you do, and even the opportunity to be treated differently based on your success.

Anytime you have something in your background that goes against the norm (a gap in your experience, a sidestep off your career path, a job that looks like a demotion, and so on) the interviewer will want to know why.  All you have to do is provide a reasonable explanation.  You have the power to tell your story in a way that reflects well on you.  In this case, the story shows that you want something more for yourself. You are ambitious and energetic and want to be rewarded for your hard work.

In most cases (including moving from academia to industry), you want to tell the story in a way that makes it clear that you aren’t running away from whatever situation you were previously in…you are running TO the situation you want to be in.  You’re not ever going to talk about how bad it was where you were…you’re only going to talk about how excited you are to be moving forward.  Keep your story positive.

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