Help an academic move into the corporate world with as few gaffes as possible.
March 8, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

What advice or tips can you offer to an academic who is about to move to the private sector?

I am a social scientist who is leaving academia for a job in the corporate sector. I saw this question for IT workers but was wondering what more general advice, tips, or cautions you have for me. The job is with a marketing agency. I have already ascertained from the hiring process that there is a lot of new lingo to learn and that I need to dress nicer on a daily basis than I normally do, but that's not a problem. What other things might seem obvious to a private sector worker but not to an academic?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I am a social scientist that left for government. Some thoughts:

- dress nicer
- get haircut and other personal maintainence stuff more frequently
- be prepared to be less in control of your daily and overall schedule and work patterns
- you're likely to lose flexibility in terms of vacations, taking days off when you want to
- you may not have to work at night or weekends anymore
- stop talking like an academic with theoretically driven language, in fact, be ready to throw theory out the window
- you may not be wanting to throw your PhD around
posted by k8t at 11:40 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did the opposite, went from private to academic. No one in the private sector will care about where you went to school or want to hear about your theories. You will have a lot less flexibility in most everything. You will not be able to argue points or have personal values. Academic environments thrive on freedom and openness (along with some brutal politics). I worked for several major and well respected firms. They pretty much had a culture of intimidation and conformity.

And yes, you should dress a lot nicer.
posted by fifilaru at 12:02 PM on March 8, 2011

Abide by deadlines. In my experience, academics are used to going at their own paces.

Also--enjoy the income.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:07 PM on March 8, 2011

Oh, as for working nights and weekends. Unless you have a union, you may be asked to work overtime. You will be compensated, unless you work for a labor law firm and they figure out how to not compensate you, like the one I worked for did. But we did get cookies.

If you are a salaried worker, the expectation may be that you will work as long as it takes and come in when needed, including nights and weekends. I know I was required to work into the night when told I had to. Luckily for me, I was not experienced enough to be asked to work on weekends. Now that I am an academic, I willingly work around the clock, all week.
posted by fifilaru at 12:07 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Saying this as both a former academic and when I see the phrase marketing agency, because I’ve worked with a few in different capacities.Shudder, but there were positives, although that is not the question

• Your schedule may become very unpredictable (as in they may put you on “salary” and expect you to work evenings, weekends, etc. Never seen an agency that didn't do this

• Depending on the agency, there can be major inefficiencies (let’s have a meeting to discuss this meeting; now let’s have the TC to discuss the meeting; now let’s have other people schedule the timeline for you, even though they have no idea as to what you do

• The work environment can be distracting versus having your own office (although the well-designed agencies will have an office set aside where you an work if you need to)

• Turn around can be very high/people can bump up their salaries and or job titles very quickly quitting and getting hired at another agency

• Actually, my guess is that they will want to you to use the PhD in your title, especially with the clients; there are lots and lots of agencies that hire people for that reason and if you happen to quit your job and want to go to another agency in the NYC-area, I can point to quite a few that prefer to hire PhDs …I may be able to figure out the same info for a few agencies in other states in the US…but a good recruiter should be able to figure that out for you, too
posted by Wolfster at 12:45 PM on March 8, 2011

There's a wider variance in culture among private sector firms than in academia--think Google (at least the pre-IPO Google) vs IBM. So step one is to understand the culture of the company you are joining. Do they wear suits or not? Do the top managers sit in big offices with doors shut, doors open, or together with the rest? The closer the culture is to your own personality, the better you'll like working there. And the more you adapt your behavior to mesh with the culture, the more successful you'll be.

In addition:

-Teamwork: Collaboration, meetings, working together, sharing credit, producing a joint product are routine in the private sector. Less so in academia. Get used to working with people you may not like.

- Hierarchy: If your boss "suggests" something, that's an order. The culture may permit or even encourage you to debate it with your boss; it ain't the army. But he/she gets to decide.
posted by mono blanco at 12:47 PM on March 8, 2011

1/ Time = money - people will expect you to get to the point, not necessarily explore every aspect of a topic

2/ You do not necessarily get to decide when something is finished - the boss does
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2011

All of the above, plus:

- don't expect it to be any less political than academia
- you probably will not have a union, so if there's trouble, expect to be the only responsible person on your side
- don't assume you will get any benefits; in particular, unless you know there's a retirement fund and what your percentage contribution is, take your age and divide it by two and you have the minimum percentage of your gross salary that you will need to allocate to private retirement funds; rinse and repeat for any other benefits you have had in academia
- in an agency, every hour may be billable, so you will have to be seen to be productive for every minute of each hour. I'm talking "don't take too long in the bathroom" productive. Don't assume that because you have a meeting you will get any slack about finishing any of your other work, and don't assume that you will be allowed to stay later to finish it. Both billing extra time without cause, and working without billing the time, are terrible.
posted by tel3path at 1:40 PM on March 8, 2011

Unfortunately, in the corporate work you usually can't BS with your colleagues about different political, ideological, philosophical, etc. points of view without really shocking and offending someone (to the point of negative career consequences). They're just not socialized into the same environment of free exchange of ideas and "sport arguing" that's the hallmark of academia.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2011

Oh and deadlines are a *lot* less flexible. You could always put off writing that journal deadline until later -- you can't keep putting off writing that business report.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:09 PM on March 8, 2011

Oh, and, don't assume you'll be compensated for working nights and weekends. You won't be, unless your contract specifically says so. Also, if there are any legal limits on the number of hours you can work in your region, check and see if your contract requires you to sign those legal rights away as a condition of employment. Also check and see about your intellectual property rights, as you may also be required to surrender all rights to all your creative works produced while in the employ of the company, including totally unrelated stuff done on your own time and using your own materials.
posted by tel3path at 3:04 PM on March 8, 2011

...oops hit send too soon. Signing away your rights to limit working hours isn't nearly as legally binding as that sort of employers want you to think.

So, with working hours and intellectual property, check and see if those things are in your contract, and if they are, consider not signing the contract. IMO such things fall under the umbrella of "contracts you should never sign".
posted by tel3path at 3:08 PM on March 8, 2011

Intellectual curiosity for its own sake is seen as a liability, not an asset. Learning more than the bare minimum to get a project done is seen as a waste of company resources.

I work in video and electronic media production, not marketing per se, but we overlap with a lot of marketing folks and the same rule seems to apply.
posted by dr. boludo at 5:55 PM on March 8, 2011

Don't be a stuck-up asshole that thinks you're smarter than everyone else. I've worked with several people that made the same switch that you're talking about, and they could never figure out why nobody ever asked them out for lunch.
posted by ducktape at 2:13 PM on March 9, 2011

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