Sharmini Wainwright is managing director of Michael Page & Page Personnel Hong Kong. With over 13 years’ experience with PageGroup, she oversees specialist recruitment across finance, financial services, sales & marketing, legal and more.
Is it possible to switch from academic field to commercial field?
Dear Career Doctor,
I am in my late 30s. I have worked in the academic field as research assistant for more than 7 years. Briefly, I have more than 7 years experience of both qualitative and quantitative research in social science. For the past three years, I worked for strategic planning and conducting research supporting planning. And I have several part-time teaching experience in tertiary level. I have already obtained two master degrees in social science.
Since the end of September this year, the office I worked for three years closed due to personnel change and re-allocation of resources. Thus, the institute wasn't renewing my contract. Luckily, I have a part-time job to earn my pennies.
Since then, I have sent out more than 50 application letters both in academic and commercial fields. For the commercial field, base on my experience, I am looking for research related jobs, such as marketing, business analysis and etc. The response was disappointing. I didn't get any interview from the commercial field. I have contacted head hunters, however, they weren't able to refer me for any related jobs to my CV. They suggested me it is very very difficult to switch from academic to commercial field.
Of course, I have applied for civil service or related jobs. However, there weren't interviews offered. Seems like civil service jobs are highly competitive.
I have been invited for interviews in academic field. However, due to my salary is exceeding their expectation without a PHd, I am not able to be employed. Currently, there are many PHd graduates in the market and their salary level is similar to mine. Of course, I am willing to soften my salary expectation. It seems that it is difficult to find a research job in academic field.
In the long run, research support job in academic field isn't promising. The job is heavily relying on funding, and normally is a contract based job. You have to find a new job, once your contract ends. I would like to know is it possible to switch from academic field to commercial field? Or, are there any alternatives offered in different fields? Or what else can I do to increase my chances of being employed?
Sharmini Thomas - Career Doctor
Posted Friday 21st December 2012 08:08:00 PM
Dear Aragon, Thanks for your question. I completely understand the dilemma you are currently experiencing. In most employment markets, a large gap does exist in the ability for professionals to make the transition between the academic field and the commercial field. The reason behind this tends to be that the primary skill sets utilised in each of these areas for a research role is quite different, even though the content knowledge and expertise is similar. You are a well qualified professional, having two Master degrees in Social Science, however I believe the difficulty that you are experiencing in securing a research position in the academic field is due to the fact that employers in the academic sector are reducing headcount. This is particularly occurring in larger institutions and employers are displacing a number of well qualified professionals like you, who are also in the job market applying for positions in both the academic and commercial sectors. Therefore, there is a supply and demand imbalance in the market. My advice would be to focus on the core strengths in your work experience to date; qualitative and quantitative research in social science and strategic planning and conducting research supported planning. Use your expertise in research as the backbone of all your application and focusing on those roles that are related to your specialisation. I would encourage you to spend time networking directly with professionals and current and previous colleagues in your field, and with people from similar institutes. Unfortunately, there are only very few recruitment agencies in Hong Kong that specialise in placing roles in this field, which is why you are finding these services less useful. Some other tips to improve your employability include ensuring you have an updated and impactful CV and creating two resumes - one focused on job opportunities in the academic field and one focused on job opportunities in the commercial field. This will ensure you can highlight the relevant experience and skills accordingly. I wish you all the best in securing the right opportunity. Kind regards, Sharmini