Skip navigation
From PhD to Life

Transition Q & A: Raj Dhiman


Raj Dhiman completed his PhD in bio-organic chemistry at the University of Toronto. He is currently the sales training manager for Vicinity, a division of Rogers Communications that focuses on customer loyalty and marketing solutions for small businesses. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

What did you hope for in terms of employment while completing your PhD?

Truth is, I really didn’t have a clear career goal or plan for myself. I dabbled in the idea of a “traditional” career and considered a postdoc in a different field of chemistry. I thought about research positions within industry and possibly staying in school to get my MBA. Other than that, my perspectives on possible careers were narrow.

What was your first post-PhD job and how did you get it?

I moved directly into a postdoc with my PhD supervisor for a year. This was a period of time where I reflected on what I wanted to do with my career. About six months into it, I made a clear decision that a traditional academic career was just not for me.

After my postdoc ended, I was officially unemployed for the next two years. In that time, I supported myself by tutoring chemistry and learned the very basics of running a service-based business.

I also wanted to start my own seminar business based on communications training. My background is actually quite diverse with several years of public speaking and acting experience; I could fuse this experience with my business idea. With that in mind, I designed and led training seminars for the department of chemistry at U of T, Sun Life Financial, and the career centre at U of T.

What do you do now?

For the past year, I have been working at a new division of Rogers Communications called Vicinity. I sought full-time employment in a sales role because I had very little money on hand to deal with student debt while trying to make ends meet. I knew I had the right skill set to be successful in sales with the strong potential to earn some serious money.

I started out on the sales floor, making cold calls and selling to small businesses. I devoted myself to learning the entire sales process from scratch then got very good at it. After six months, I was encouraged to apply for the sales training manager position and was successful in being promoted to the role.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily/weekly basis?

The sales training role is focused on the training and development of the sales representatives on our team. My primary role is the training of new hires that join our team and take them through our one-month training program.

I recently started managing a small sales team, and I’ll usually lead a morning meeting or “sales huddle” where we review results from the previous day and get the team motivated for the current selling day. You can take a look at scenes from Wolf of Wall Street to get a sense of how I like to run my morning huddles!

I also work with the sales management team to do any number of tasks including sales scripting, employee recognition initiatives, hiring guidelines, and conducting interviews with entry-level candidates. Finally, I get back on the phones to help out our sales reps and provide them with ongoing coaching.

What surprises you most about your job?

I used to be quite surprised with how chaotic our environment can be and how potential customers can change their minds so quickly. Now, I’m very accustomed to the dynamic nature of our work.

What are your favorite parts of your job?

I went into sales with the primary motivation of making money — especially coming out of grad school and unemployment. Getting commissions and bonuses based on my performance is top of mind in terms of favourite things about my job.

Leading a team of young, energetic, and ambitious sales reps is simply awesome. Watching new reps become successful is the most rewarding aspect of the job. My main motivation to come into work every morning is to see new hires come out of the gate and smash all expectations right from day one.

Because our environment is ever changing, I get to gain experience in different things including sales management, scripting, sales talent development, etc. I look at this job as my own training ground for the next step in my sales career.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

What’s great about sales is that it opens up a huge field of possibilities in related to career paths. While I do see myself at Vicinity in the short-term, I’m also looking at where my sales experience can take me in the long run. Perhaps I’ll end up selling chemicals, maybe I’ll end up selling high end airplanes, or become an independent sales trainer with large companies as my clients! It is still very early in my sales career to tell exactly where I will end up next.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhD’s in transition now?

1. Be prepared to sell yourself.

Unfortunately, the word “selling” has a negative connotation associated with it. Truth is, everyone is in sales. Accept it. Whether we are asking someone to help us, building consensus within a group and even asking for a job, it’s all a sales process.

I compare a job interview to a typical sales presentation. A product or service is being sold to a prospective customer. The features and benefits of the product must be clearly communicated to the customer. Most importantly, the presentation of the product must be tailored to the specific needs of the customer. Every good sales rep that goes into the presentation does not shy away from a little boasting about their product and how great it is!

For an interview, you are the service provider and the employer is the customer that might buy your services. If you can prepare for the interview in terms of the needs of the customer, have your value proposition clearly defined (see point number 2 below), and won’t shy away from shamelessly talking about your accomplishments, you have a stronger chance of landing that job. It’s your chance to shine; sell yourself on why you’re the best!

2. Have a good answer to this: “Who are you and why should we hire you?”

The answer to this is essentially your value proposition or promise of the value that you will deliver upon being employed. I remember the level of preparation that I put into my first interview at Vicinity and still being a little rattled when our head of sales walked in, sat down, and fired that exact question at me to start the interview. I must have done a good job because he finished his part of the interview in less than two minutes!

After being in this role for a few months, I completely understand why he asked such a pointed question. I’m in a position now where I conduct interviews and hire candidates who want to join our team. Job hunters have to remember that companies want to minimize their risk when hiring. A company will be investing valuable resources to on board new employees and it’s a complete waste if a new hire ends up not working out.

If a candidate can come in being prepared in knowing what I need, a clear promise of value and a strong motivation as to why they want a specific job, I would give that candidate preference for being hired. Essentially, the prepared candidate assures me that he/she is worth the investment of our resources.

3. Meet people

I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last to say it either. Meeting people and having productive conversations related to your career is one of the most valuable things you can do.

It’s very simple: Get out there and meet people at networking events. Use social media (LinkedIn is best) and trade publications online to find people who you might want to talk to. Reach out to them and ask for an informational interview. There is a wealth of information online about “how to conduct an informational interview” that can be very useful for those who have never done so before.

Networking with people has landed me job interviews, contacts for consulting work, opportunities to be interviewed, and offers to give presentations. In my experience, this networking thing is like being a ball in a pinball machine. You will go with one specific direction and an encounter with someone will immediately push you in another direction. Sure, you’ll probably get bumped around and end up starting from scratch because you went off in an unproductive direction; however, you’ll eventually get pushed into the right direction where you end up hitting the jackpot. Given the amount of fun I get to have at my job everyday, I really feel like I’ve struck gold!

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. TC / May 28, 2015 at 03:37

    Thank you so much for this enlightening article/interview. With all due respect, it is so great to finally shed light on the “darker” side of the world of PhD’s. University press releases and glossy magazines only feature the so-called successes and over-achievers – those who lucked into great projects, scholarships, and academic positions – while the rest of us must deal with the reality of seeking alternative careers.

    As someone currently going through a rough transition of unemployment (after being used/abused/tossed out from a PhD and post-doc [no, I’m not bitter]) it’s very encouraging to see articles like this. I would like to commend Raj for his bravery of owning his situation, and encouraging others from his experience.

Click to fill out a quick survey