I am considering dropping out of my mechanical engineering PhD program (only a year in) to return to a career in software engineering. During my job search I feel I have had a mediocre response from potential employers for jobs where I should have been a knock-out, home run candidate.

On my resume I have listed that I am currently a PhD student. Is it possible the in-work PhD is hurting my response? If so, what should I do to better sell myself to potential employers? Furthermore, is the fact that my PhD and career choice are in different fields hurting?

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    Note that a year into a PhD program (at least in the USA), you should be looking to pick up a Masters as you leave, if your university has a non-thesis option (awarded on the basis of coursework). The courses you were taking to prepare for qualifying exams generally meet most if not all of the requirements for a non-thesis Masters. This also fills in the empty year in your resume very nicely, and even if you mention that you once thought of going on to a PhD, leaving with a Masters won't label you as a quitter. – Ben Voigt Jun 2 '15 at 4:47
  • @Ben Voight. Thanks. I've considered a masters but I don't think I have a non-thesis option (I'm fully funded and my research is what justifies my pay). I still might do a masters but would be looking at ankther year. – chessofnerd Jun 2 '15 at 5:55
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    Can you turn what you've done so far into a Master's thesis, with say 2 months of writing? – Moriarty Jun 2 '15 at 7:45

I had a similar case, though my incomplete Master's came before a completed Master's in an entirely different field. Any gaps or oddities in your past are questioned. In my case, I had not completed a Master's in Biology, left, worked for a few years, finished a Master's in Computer Science, and then got a much better job.

Do not remove that entry about being a PhD student. It can potentially come back to bite you down the road if it is found during a background check/re-evaluation, as you are purposely concealing potentially vital information.

Instead, prepare to be asked why you are leaving the PhD program during your interview phase. I am not sure of your reasons, but you should be able to bounce your answer off any friends and supportive colleagues to see if they are convinced.

Also, consider contacting a technical recruiter to go over your application to evaluate your portfolio. That will help you narrow down any other potential issues with your resume.

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It's possible that they're not taking you as seriously as you would hope because they think you might want to make your PhD the priority and quit the job soon and return to academia. Or, they may see you as non-committal—one who jumps careers—and they are looking for somebody who will stay with them.

Also, software engineering is a hot field right now. There might be a ton of other really stellar applicants, so you might be facing stronger competition than you expected.

Of course, it does depend on a host of other factors, some of which are in your control and most of which are not.

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  • You must use your cover letter to set the stage for yourself, and addressing this question should be one of your priorities, @chessofnerd. – juandesant Jun 10 '16 at 13:26

I think that such questions do not have general answers. IMHO, it all depends on your particular situation and variables, associated with it. In particular, I believe that it is crucial who is looking at your resume or CV and through what "lenses" (perspectives). Additionally, some other factors might be at play, such as timing, areas that you're trying to find jobs in, how well your cover letter, if any, is customized to a particular position, style and contents of your resume/CV, and many others.

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