Michele Manzo started his career change in April 2015, after completing his PhD in Applied Physics at KTH in Stockholm, Sweden. In this episode of “PhD Career Stories”, Michele tells the story about his journey from academia to industry, which lasted almost a year.
We learn how Michele, after a few hundreds of applications and with a little reverse engineering of the job hunting system as well as the willingness to completely reinvent himself, was able to land his current position as Electronic Design Engineer.
“Is this the end of the story? Ends are just new beginnings! So the trip has just started!”
– Dr Michele Manzo, Electronic Design Engineer.
Hi and welcome to the PhD Career Stories podcast!
My name is Michele Manzo. I’m co-founder of this podcast experience, and I’m currently working as electronic design engineer for a large manufacturing company of telecommunication electronic systems.
In this podcast I’m not just going to share part of the experience I’ve learnt during my transition from academia to industry, but I will also share the story of my transformation or, as I like to say, my metamorphosis.
So, where should I start this from? Well, I guess the best point is the end, or, as often happens, it was the beginning of a new career life, a new myself.
I was lucky enough to complete my PhD in Applied Physics in April 2015 at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), in Stockholm, Sweden, and I still remember how scared and concerned I was a few months before the defence. But I also remember how much I did enjoy those moments, and the defence itself, it was fantastic, really unforgettable; and I’m pretty sure this is a common feeling for you all.
However, while I was busy being scared for the defence, I started to think about what to do next.What is the next step? What is the next life change I have to face?
To be honest, I wasn’t really concerned about this; I was sure that, by having a PhD in Applied Physics, the job offers would be coming immediately. I was naive enough to think that I wouldn’t even have the time or the need to ask for a job. I was a PhD after all.
So, shortly before April, I started filling in my resume, my cover letter for my applications, and I sent it to the companies and positions which I though I was interested to, or I thought I could fit in.
I was pretty sure it wouldn’t have taken long, so I also underestimate the overall situation. Of course this naive approach to the job hunting didn’t take long to be wiped out.
So, what did I receive? In the best cases I received rejection letters, thank-you-no notes, the “you are not suitable for the position” mails. And this was hard. Especially at the beginning, as I was not very used to rejections and I had a wrong mindset to the overall situation.
Of course I started questioning: what did I do wrong? Why can’t this people see the potential? Why can’t they read through the lines? Why “THEY…”?
And the problem of course was not them, but it was me. The truth is that they were not reading through my lines, they were reading my lines. And those lines were basically academic.
My CV was strongly academic, which means it was filled with technical terms; references to specific areas of physics, and it didn’t take long to understand that this was completely off chart, and I had to take a “U” turn here.
Of course I felt lost, I felt like I have wasted five years of my life doing something which eventually had got me stuck in a limbo: I had too much high education, and nearly no industrial experience. I was “industrially” useless.
What to do now? I was lucky enough to be assisted my a brilliant job coach, Tina Persson, and by the way, don’t miss her story, which is the first podcast of this series, and she inspired me not giving up and taking a scientific approach to the situation. After all, I was trained to do that, I was trained in academia for five years to use the scientific approach. Why didn’t I think about it? Why didn’t I do it before?
It was my natural and familiar approach to things. So did I. While applying for several positions, I was trying to learn as not as possible about the company, so I was doing market research on the company. I started connecting to people working in the technical environment, and with a similar background I had. I started to ask questions to them, discuss about their experience. In this case it was fundamental to understand the market I was trying to fit in. But it also felt it was not good enough. I was mostly still getting rejection letters. … and the flavor of these rejections was becoming day by day more sour and sour, also because it has already passed some time from the defence day since the time I was keep looking for a job.
We are talking about June-July, which is already a couple of months after my defence. Of course one has to keep in mind that there are waves in the job market, and of course June and July might be months when the request of new positions is much lower, because is close to the summer vacations. This can be quite understandable.
So this was actually a good time for me to stop and start thinking about my overall attitude towards the job hunting. It was also a good time for me to develop some new skills.
In the first instance what I did was trying to learn more about my own communication capabilities. I used to be a very introvert person, which means my communication skills sometimes might sound a little bit weird in respect to others. So I started learning about personality profiles. I started learning about how I behave in a certain way and how are people doing the same. So this was a key aspect which gave me the possibility to improve my communication, just by knowing how other people are interacting. This was extremely useful.
On the other hand I tried to develop new skills. And in this regard I learned two languages. I tried to learn Swedish in a better way, and also tried some German. It didn’t work out very well with the German, but the Swedish worked.
This was a very good exercise for me to learn how to learn. The learning was the key aspect.
I had the feeling that during my PhD, I had develop a pretty static personality. I felt the urge to prove myself, instead of being open for failure, instead of being open to learn new things. And this was the time when I developed a growth mindset instead. This was the time when I was ready to fail, and was accepting the failure as a necessary step for personal growth as well as professional growth.
This had a positive response on the overall job hunting situation as well, because I got a better response, and I started to get invited for interviews.
This was another important step of the overall job hunting season, I’d say, because I had to learn how to perform in a good way for interview.
So I studied how to be more successful, I prepared myself for that, and I went for the first interviews. Some of them were not very successful, but they were a good exercise for me to get a feedback about my performances. However the situation was still not very good because the competition was also very strong, and because I was feeling that the positions I was applying were not completely overlapping with my background and with what I was looking for.
Which I guess that’s the main point of any job hunting. I think the main focus is to be able to understand what someone is really looking for. In order to do that I slightly reversed engineered the system. I focused my attention on the details of the job adds. I tried to tune my cv so I could overlap the job add which I liked in the best way possible. And this system actually worked pretty well because I started getting invitations for interviews. And I started getting offers.
Eventually the story is finished with me signing my contract in March, and being in between very many interviews. I had more than 10 interviews in one week, and more than five offers in a few days. So the decision then became very hard. Eventually I got the position which I think is fitting the most my background, which in this period is making me feel realized and committed to what I’m doing.
In summary I would say that a taking home message for whoever is listening, is not giving up on any situation you are facing. Be open and be ready to question yourself in every situation. So don’t assume to be right just because you’ve been right before. Mistake is a normal step, and it’s actually a very useful step for professional and personal growing.
It’s also very important to trust friends. I’m very grateful to the friends I use to run with, which kept my mood up, and gave me very good feedback and very good insights on my job hunting. I am grateful to them.
Never stop learning and be busy learning new skills be ready to grow and be open. Of course be committed to whatever is involving your life right now.
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