I wanted to share a recent phone call I had with a colleague from my days at KU. He reached out last week asking if I wanted to do a virtual happy hour to talk about my experience in the private sector, specifically tips for finding work and how I navigate being an anti-racist in corporate spaces. He has a professional career coach and wanted to run some of what they were working on by me, as well.

It’s been quite a while since I did my Ph.D. to Private Sector webinar with Versatile Ph.D. and I am still passionate about bridging the gaps between academia and the corporate world. We talked for a little bit about his goals, what types of roles he’s been applying for, etc. and I thought some of what I shared with him bears repeating for those of you who are looking to make a change or deploy your skills in a new industry.

  1. You are who you are. He received feedback that he should adjust or remove his writings on whiteness, race, and gender that related to his scholarly research on his personal website.
    I disagree. The concern was that corporate culture can be pretty conservative, and people looking to hire him might find his writing off – putting. First of all, this guy is an amazing scholar. Secondly, he’s not magically going to stop caring about racial justice when he walks into his first day of work. With the focus from so many companies on “bringing the whole self to work” and the pandemic showing us how big the gap between self and work-self can be, now is not the time to shrink into a mold that does not suit who you are. Being an anti – racist is a daily thing, and very little should change that – especially not an employer or company culture. Which brings me to…
  2. Industry cultures are as varied as company cultures. It can be easy as an academic or someone new to the private sector to think that corporate culture can be generalized as “conservative” (which is what my friend had heard). Thinking of a straight – laced, 9 – 5 style role can definitely invoke images of suits, heels, and cubicles, but not all corporate cultures are like that.

    For example, I worked in the fintech industry and the payments sector was a combination of Silicon Valley-esque entrepreneurs with jeans, tattoos, and blazers alongside bankers and private equity people in pressed suits with pocket squares. The cultures at their respective companies was varied and the expectations for output, office/desk time, travel, and PTO was all over the map. At one company, there was a cafeteria with free lunch every day on site, but the reality translated to people working 13 – 14 hour days without leaving the office. Another company was flexible about time in the office, but many people would complete work on their commute or after hours at home (they called it “flex time”).
  3. Learn more about a company’s culture via a reference, LinkedIn posts, and/or the company’s blog. My preferred way to understand what a company is like: speak with someone who is already there day-to-day. Have a standard set of 2 – 4 questions that hit on your priorities as a potential hire, and reach out to a few people on the current team or prior employees to get their impression.

    I also recommend doing additional research – companies will tell you who they are if you know what you’re looking for and what’s important to you for a potential workplace. Is diversity and inclusion important to you? Look at their leadership team and bios: how many POC and women are at the executive level? Are there recent blog posts about diversity initiatives? What do the individuals who run the company have to say on their profiles about diversity?

    Are you concerned about PTO and company support for mental health? Look for blog posts about “unlimited PTO” or “work – life balance” to see if the message resonates with you. Do they discuss the importance of breaks, mental health support, or therapy initiatives for employees? Marketing departments will likely post on LinkedIn about “wellness initiatives” or holidays around mental health and volunteering if it’s central to the company culture.

    As a final note, 2020 demonstrated a fundamental shift in how people can and will work. With so many companies remaining digital, converting to hybrid models, downsizing, or re-prioritizing their hiring practices, now is the time to think outside of the box. Almost any job you can apply for in the tech sector currently will not require a relocation or will delay it on request.

    If you have any more questions about this topic or have additional advice, feel free to engage in the comments below!

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