It seems a rather odd thing to emphasize, but I thought my past experience as a broker could be turned into a positive rather than a moot point.

Do PhD admissions committees take into account soft skill development as a factor, and how heavily do you think they wieght this? Should I note my sales experience in the application, or ignore it?

My field is finance, or potentially economics depending on which program I can get in; I'll have degrees in both at the time of application.

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    For finance, you certainly can mention that you have worked as a broker. It's not going to get you in, although in edge cases, all things equal, I could see it matter. Keep it short - you can mention passion for financial markets, say; but the only reason to elaborate on it would be if there was a particular topic A you encountered as a broker that you consider focusing on while in grad school. Careful though - if A isn't really a topic to be researched in academia, the admission could turn into a strong negative for ignorance about what a finance Ph.D. really is about. – gnometorule Mar 26 '16 at 18:46

TL;DR: Don't over emphasize work experience, It doesn't "speak for itself" in academia like it does in business. Think instead of using it as examples of how you will make a good PhD student

This is a very interesting question because the answer depends pretty heavily on the field you area looking at, the university you are applying to, and the program that is looking at your application. I and a current Computer Science PhD student, and my path here involved a Masters Degree, then working in my field for 3 years, and applying to PhD programs twice, the first time after 2 years of work ( failing to get accepted anywhere) and the second time after 3 years of work. After I didn't get in, I reached out to one of the professors (at MIT) that I had shown interest in working under in my application. He read my resume and said, "Well theres the problem right there: you haven't done research in 3 years!" I worked at an R&D company all those years, and was surprised that what I thought would be an advantage was actually a disadvantage. The next year, the only time I mentioned my work (which was still pretty often, after all it was most of what I had done since I finished my Masters) was to exemplify how it made me a good researcher...and the rest, as they say, is history.

Really what it comes down to is, just like in business, how are you going to present yourself? You can highlight your business or not, but from my experience detailed above, it seemed to matter much more how you use your work history as an example, and less how much. The people reading our application are likely contextualizing it with their own experience as a person who once-upon-a-time was trying to get into a PhD program and is now a researcher, and the successful cases from their past students. They are going to look at your application and think, "Does this seem like a person who could really contribute to this field?" For me, when I focused on work experience as a part of what made me an applicant, set apart from other applicants coming straight out of school, it actually hurt me in the top schools. This is because all of the people reading my application were researchers and they wanted to cultivate more researcher from their students. As such, my emphasis on work experience hurt me. The following year, when I emphasized what research I had done at my job, as opposed to the general experience I gained at it, I got in to a bunch of top schools.

From what I understand, PhDs in Econ and Finance have very different goals internally (e.g. People who do a PhD in Econ want to do research on markets, trends, and math, and influencing policy vs. People who do a PhD in Finance want to work in finance, maybe do research in Finance, and get job in Finance). Knowing this, what the goals of your PhD are, and the goals of the application readers will help a lot in deciding what is the best way to use your work experience in your application.

Last piece of advice: don't be afraid to reach out. The worst you'll get is a silence or a "I don't talk to prospective students;" no one will hold it against you. You think that some school or someone's research is interesting? If you can get them on the phone or email they will tell you exactly what they expect of their incoming applicants. Was the best decision I made in this long journey of mine...

Good Luck!

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I'd think that having real world experience in finance should help you a bit in your application for PhD work in finance or economics.

The question is just how much should you emphasize this. For a PhD program, you want to reinforce that you have a solid foundation and know what you are getting into (this you have), that you are committed, and that you are truly interested in advanced study.

So, do make a strong case that you have a solid foundation. But spend the rest of the time reinforcing your passion for the subject and your burning desire to learn more and contribute to pushing the boundaries.

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Yes, it would help to have a brief but powerful mention of your past experience. Break down the benefits of working as a broker and what skills you learnt, then compare these against the strengths and personal qualities you are going to need. Showing that your experience is worth something helps paint a picture of your skills as an individual. Experience is one of the least often mentioned things when applying for PHD's but it really shouldn't be as it shows that you have an idea of how to apply your knowledge in real-world situations. You've not simply "ended up" doing a PHD as part of a series of next steps after school; you'd made the conscious decision to pursue a PHD and knowledge over a career in brokering. This is a huge advantage for your application.

With every application it's important to put it into perspective: Who will see your application? Who is running this PHD? Have you met them? With their background, how will they view your past experience, and which aspects of that should you exemplify? Having a meal with a potential mentor / supervisor, doing some real networking is a fantastic way to get to know who you feel you can get on with or work well enough with. It also puts a face to your application; you're no longer "app number 245" you are "oh it's James! He had some great views on my recent paper.". Look at their results as that's the biggest truth you can find. You get to choose your supervisor in most cases so network.

I should add here that as this is my first post on this site, that my experience comes from helping run a family business which focuses on training people to apply for positions in medicine, mostly medicinal and surgical applications for PHDs in the UK. I also train people for interviews and take them through highly competitive, multi-stage processes. Recently our business helped one of our clients achieve their lifetime goal of becoming the Lead Paediatric Surgeon at one of the UKs most well known children's hospitals.

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Adding to excellent other points:

If you could explain succinctly, the challenges you faced as a broker and how you overcame them and give an insight into any kind of data retrieval, management and analysis you employed to overcome those challenges, these could be good points for a potential PhD position.

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By itself, "selling," experience isn't much an advantage, and may be a disadvantage in a PhD application, since the required skill sets are almost the opposite of those used in research.

If you sold a financially complex product such as options or derivatives, that would work in your favor. In that case, emphasize the product, rather than the selling. You might write, "I successfully marketed financial products with Greek-letter references to "derivatives," or rates of change, to people with limited mathematical backgrounds, because of my ability to explain these products in clear, standard English." That would speak to your teaching ability, and be a plus.

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