Referencing my question here and the multiple suggestions to ask here as well.

What could be the reasons for (so far) only getting rejections on my applications as Doctoral Candidate?

Are there some special differences applying for jobs in the industry compared to academia (all applications were the same as I would apply for a job in the industry, which was always really easy and successful - max timespan from sending the application over the interview to job offer was about 1-2 weeks)?

Short background

I finished my master studies in 2014 and after 5 years of working in the industry, I want to change in an academic environment. My CV and skill set matches the positions I applied for pretty well, but I got only rejections.

During a short phone interview for one position, I was asked if I considered it well to take such a position because of the workload - for at least the next five years - and taking into account that I have two kids (that I mention in my CV - in Germany it is common to mention personal points in your CV). I wouldn´t have applied for such a position if I didn´t consider everything regarding this step.

I really want to change to an academic environment because I´m really unsatisfied working in the industry (although I´m rather successful and good in what I´m doing), but everything around the job - management and how it is handled and the politics around it, and everyone placing their own interests (in middle to upper management) above the product, the way the work is handled and how to improve the quality, product and the company. This (I think/hope) is way better in academia.

  • Did you ask for any feedback? – posdef Aug 8 '19 at 10:56
  • Regarding the rejection? Regarding the one I had the phone call with: There were two professors who supervise the position, and the other one said that I was not the right fit. Regarding the other ones...no, I didn´t. I don´t think I would get a reliable answer, or yes? – SMa Aug 8 '19 at 10:59
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    No way to know until you ask. It may be that you'll know if the feedback you receive is reasonable/reliable. – Emma Aug 8 '19 at 11:03
  • Just checked some of the rejection emails again. Some just say that they selected another candidate, or that they have so many applications and only details mattered in that decision. I can´t tell for sure, but in my opinion, these are very generic answers, but since I got one I didn´t bother to ask again... – SMa Aug 8 '19 at 11:17
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    Regarding your reasons for considering academia, please be warned that politics, self-important management and lack of interest in product quality are not unheard of in academia. I believe that the variation in these aspects is greater between different organization (be they industrial or academic), than on the level of industry vs. academia. – lighthouse keeper Aug 8 '19 at 12:21

Without knowing more about your specific case, here are some potential reasons (in no particular order) why you might not be getting the job(s) you are applying to:

  • your profile/prior experience is not as relevant as you think it is for the position
  • they already have somebody in mind
  • they might think, having been in the industry for some years, you will look into doing research as a "9-to-5 job" (for better or worse, in most countries academia is different than industry). I am guessing this is what you refer to, with mentioning kids? I have plenty of colleagues with small children, that alone is not a problem.
  • they are concerned you do not fit the rest of the team
  • they found somebody better than you
  • they might be concerned about your reasons for switching to academia

Without more information it's impossible to say which one, if any, or which ones apply to your case. Your best bet to ask for feedback when you are given a rejection. It's important, and I cannot stress this enough, to be polite when you do so. The idea is to get meaningful feedback so you can improve your chances for your future applications, and definitely not to get a justification for their decision. They have absolutely no reason to justify their decision to each individual applicant.

What kind of feedback you get back will ultimately vary, sometimes you get a meaningful message with relevant feedback, other times you will get the boilerplate "we regret to inform you..." and not much more than that. Most often you will get something that is general enough, but with some nuggets of feedback.

For example, I recently got a rejection from a consultancy company I sent a general application to. I was introduced to them for the first time last year, when they were attending a career fair part of a conference I helped organize. I asked for some feedback, and in between the typical corporate HR BS, there was the indications that they had pivoted away from the areas where my skills would be valuable to them. So my take home message from that is that this company is not relevant for me anymore, even if it may have been last year. And yes, even if the job description fits my CV really well, they are not looking for someone like me.

I am giving this example only to serve as an example, I am sure your situation will be very different. But the point is, try to read into whatever feedback you might get.

Lastly, if I were you, I would try and see if there are any possibilities to get some career coach or something like that. It would be good to get some recruiters point of view on your CV.

EDIT: I noticed that I didn't address some of your questions

Are there some special differences applying for jobs in the industry compared to academia?

Well, yeah... I would guess that academia would put more weight on your prior education, what courses you have done, whether or not you have published anything etc.

Industry, I reckon, cares more about your prior work experience, i.e. what you have done before.

The core difference is that academic positions are aiming at you developing your skills, learning new things, acquire a critical understanding of complex subjects. Industry positions primary require you to do something, have a contribution in the value chain in whatever the company is selling to its customers. You improving your skills, learning new things etc is a secondary concern. You being critical of your own, others' or even your superiors', work would not fly as well in industry as it does in academia, I would guess.

all applications were the same as I would apply for a job in the industry, which was always really easy and successful - max timespan from sending the application over the interview to job offer was about 1-2 weeks

How many jobs have you applied to? Think of it as a sports stat, if your 3-point percentage is 1/1, sure it's 100% but you are hardly league's best 3pt shooter. :)

In general, I think academic positions are not filled as quickly as industrial counterparts. There are many things that need to be cleared by the dept/faculty/university admissions etc. Also the positions need to be open for a minimum of X working days, depending on the institution.

TLDR: Stay patient, ask for feedback, keep trying


First of all note that the timescale for any bureacratic process in the German (semi)-public sector is much longer than that of a comparative process in industry. Academic hiring processes typically take months not weeks.

Second, note that your intend path into a doctoral position is non-standard. The typical profile of candidates applying for doctoral students is somebody just completing his/her masters with good grades and (hopefully) some recent relevant research experience. It is therefore extra important to explain in your application how you particular path makes you more suitable for the position than a "standard" candidate.

In particular it is important to convey that you have a good grasp of the research that you will be doing. (Has your experience in industry helped you prepare for the research? Has it given you a unique angle?)

  • @Norbert: Selecting a candidate itself can be a long bureaucratic process by itself. – mmeent Aug 9 '19 at 5:34

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