Only an advantage sometimesIs a PhD really more valuable than a master’s degree when you are looking for a job? We asked some company representatives.
“Not a career booster”
“We do not record data on how many of Thyssenkrupp’s 63,000 employees in Germany have a doctorate. That itself indicates the level of importance we attach to the title: not much. The technical or methodological knowledge an individual gains by completing a PhD may be an advantage in some cases, but overall we do not see a PhD as a career booster within our company. An employee’s salary depends on their job profile, not whether the candidate has a PhD or not. Any salary differences—and such differences certainly might exist—are not primarily because one employee has a doctorate. Only in our trainee programme do trainees with a PhD receive a slightly higher initial salary—just 200 euros gross.
Most of our doctoral students come from the University of Duisburg-Essen, the Ruhr University of Bochum, and the TU Dortmund. We use our PhD support programme to promote close collaboration between our company and different universities in cities where Thyssenkrupp has large sites, as well as collaboration between Thyssenkrupp and the doctoral students themselves. PhD students work with us, allowing them to get to know the company while they do their research. This creates a very close connection between Thyssenkrupp and these individual students. In addition, before a new ‘class’ starts in a business area or department, including HR or R&D, our advisers ask whether any other employees are planning to complete their PhDs while they work with us. This lets us assemble a group of ten to fourteen doctoral students for the programme every two years.
We occasionally also support doctoral students at other universities if their topic is of interest to us. In recent years, we have supported students at the RWTH Aachen, the University of St. Gallen, and the University of Cambridge. These are just individual cases, however. In general, we do not finance PhD students who come to us on an ad hoc basis.”
Thomas Reinhold is the PR spokesman for the Thyssenkrupp industrial group.
“A doctorate is almost mandatory”
“Sanofi Germany is a healthcare research enterprise and frequently fills vacant positions with doctors from the natural sciences, such as biochemists, pharmacists, and physicians. We prize their expertise not only in research and development, but also in production and manufacturing, quality controlling, and in the medical department and drug approval. Around 1500 scientists work for our company in Germany alone. Approximately two thirds of them have a doctorate. The percentage of academics with a doctoral degree is even higher in research and development, around 75 per cent. A doctorate in these areas is almost mandatory, and the doctorate is how applicants prove they can carry out scientific work. Depending on the job description, a master’s degree may be sufficient in some production-related areas, such as in quality controlling.
However, the doctorate itself is not the only factor we use to make our decisions. We also consider the content of the applicant’s research work to determine whether it fits into the spectrum of what the company is doing. We often ask scientists to submit their doctoral theses as part of the application process. This does not apply to physicians, however. Physicians who decide not to pursue a clinical or practical career are a rare commodity. The dissertation topic is less important in such cases.
We do not require a PhD for engineers, economists, or lawyers. However, it can be a bonus during the hiring process. We equate the PhD with having several years of professional experience. The doctorate may also affect an applicant’s starting salary. In general, however, we do prefer people with degrees in economics or the humanities with several years of practical experience at other companies over candidates with PhDs who have only worked in a university setting.”
Birgit Huber is the Head of Talent Acquisition at the Sanofi health and pharmaceutical group.
“More than just a line on your business card”
“Companies like to hire people who can carry out in-depth analysis, and who can really get to the root of an issue. We feel that is exactly what having a PhD shows. A doctorate is still essential in some fields like chemistry or pharmaceuticals. It is also a welcome qualifier in other fields, and might fetch a slightly higher initial salary. That often balances out over the course of an individual’s career, however, and workers are paid based on job performance. The person with the PhD might not always be the one with the best career path within the company, or the one who takes on management responsibilities. This is an incorrect assumption, although unfortunately it is still widely held.
In the past, there were more doctors from areas like law or economics who just completed the dissertation to get a title. That has become less common. Today, people who take on the dissertation usually have a topic that interests them and really want to get their PhDs. That’s the way it should be. Students should not try to get a doctorate just to have another line on their business cards. The current situation is also somewhat unusual: it is an applicant’s market right now, not a company’s market. Good candidates are very hard to find in some areas. Because of this, the PhD carries less weight when we are making hiring decisions. We are even happy to take applicants with just a master’s.
If they are planning to do a PhD, we prefer topics that relate closely to company practice. It is also helpful to find a department that fosters close connections to the company and supports practical dissertations. Who wants to write something that’s just going to get tossed in a drawer somewhere? Practical topics are a great starting point once the dissertation is finished.”
Joachim Kayser is a Senior Partner at the HKP Group management consulting firm.
“We look for practical, usable expertise”
“A PhD does not really improve a candidate’s professional prospects at our publishing house. It doesn’t increase their initial salary. It may be a criterion in choosing between job candidates, but only in very rare cases. Instead, we focus on interdisciplinary qualifications. We are, of course, happy to hire a food scientist with their PhD at our food magazines—but ultimately, whether this person is a good journalist or not is more important. You cannot prove whether you are a good journalist with a PhD. We expect candidates to have practical experience and other skills instead.
If you have gained speciality expertise we can use at the publishing house during your PhD, then that is a different matter. For instance, if we are looking for someone to handle agile project management at the company, and there is an applicant who researched modern project management methods during their PhD, or who has perhaps developed and implemented a practical model on the topic, then this applicant will have the professional expertise we are really looking for. In this case, of course, the PhD makes the applicant more attractive from our standpoint. Otherwise, I cannot think of any added benefit the PhD has for positions focused on business, people, sales, and writing texts.”
Holger Wisch is the Area Manager of HR and Administration at the dfv Media Group, which publishes more than 100 trade journals.