A close friend of mine, Chris Poirel is graduating with his PhD soon. Unlike many new PhDs, though, he isn't interested in pursuing a career in research or academia. Over the past couple of months and quite a few cups of coffee, I have attempted to give him some guidance in re-inventing himself and his resume to make him more targeted for the type of position he really wants: a data scientist.
His initial applications were for jobs at larger companies, and often companies with a history of hiring for research in industry. His applications were well received, but after a round or two of seemingly successful interviews the companies were passing, often without much of an indication of why. My suggestion was that many of these companies, with their large HR department, were reticent to hire a fresh graduate into a senior position, regardless of their academic pedigree.
The reasoning for their decision is simple: it's a matter of risk. My suggestion was to look into jobs with startups because startups, like angel investors, are in a position to take a risk for someone unproven who might be incredible. Because they don't have much to lose and potentially quite a lot to gain, startups are almost uniquely able to take the leap on the unproven but brilliant PhD, or the 18-year-old woman with the incredible Github account, or the reclusive genius who insists on working from his cabin in Montana. While they might not always work out, taking these "angel hiring" risks potentially offer startups the elusive large multiple.
What does that mean for you? If you run a startup, be willing take risks in hiring (but be prepared to fail fast!). If you're looking for a job, and particularly if you're unproven, consider looking at startups. Of course, as a startup employee you are taking a bit of a risk too, though, again, it's worth it. As for Chris, he just found his data scientist job at RedOwl Analytics, where he'll no doubt be building some seriously next-level software.