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Derek Bowman

In my experience transitioning out of academia, I didn't find such an elevator pitch particularly useful. I think those making hiring decisions will want to know if you have the competencies and attitude needed to do the job. So if your philosophical training or dispositions have given you certain abilities, showing that you have those abilities is more important than explaining them in terms of 'philosophy.'

I will add the caveat that I don't think I'm a particularly good role model for the transition out of academia, so perhaps others have had more success with other strategies, or perhaps there are more lucrative fields in which being able to spin 'philosophy' to someone would be effective.

Greg Stoutenburg

1. It depends very heavily on the role.
2. I wouldn't try to pitch "philosophy" as such. The work is too diverse and no one knows what "philosophy" means. I'd focus on whatever parts of philosophy you worked in, research experience, and teaching experience.

For my own role, I'd say:
-it makes me able to clearly communicate complex ideas both orally and in writing in ways that are easy to understand
-good at systematic thinking, which is crucial for understanding connections between business goals, user experience, product features, and how other teams across the organization can collaborate
-good at leading new students (users!) to accomplish their goals

Assistant Professor

Like others have said, it is likely less about pitching philosophy and more about pitching your skills as a researcher, thinker, educator, or whatever skills or content knowledge you believe is relevant to the job at hand.

Philosophy qua philosophy is generally not the most helpful part about philosophers being in alt-ac positions, it is the skills in thinking, writing, teaching, etc. that they've acquired through this training.

Also consider complimentary training to fill in gaps (i.e., a masters or certificate in another area that might help you attain useful content knowledge or skills). For example, you might find it helpful to have empirical research skills, or want to obtain training in a topical area in which you desire to apply your philosophical skills.

The OP

Just a clarification since the replies seem to have misunderstood my question: What is a good alt-ac 'elevator pitch' for philosophy, i.e. how should you explain what philosophy is (or what philosophers do) to a hiring manager who is a non-philosopher?

The advice to mostly focus on transferable skills is clearly wise. But I assume - and I have experienced this myself - that, if you have a philosophy degree, you're going to get asked what philosophy is (or what philosophers do) in a job interview. I don't think it's wise to try to avoid this question. And then you'll probably find it useful to have an 'elevator pitch' for philosophy.

Greg Stoutenburg

Hi OP! I now see better what you are asking. Having started to work on transitioning out of higher ed five years ago, and having successfully made the transition just over two years ago, I can say that not once, in any interview, water cooler chat, or any other occasion, have I been asked "what is philosophy?"

If I were, I'd say something like: "it's the study of what our concepts mean, how and whether they apply to the world, what we can really know, what's right and wrong, and what really exists." I'm fully aware that answer wouldn't fly in a conference Q&A. But since even in this hypothetical the person asking the question is a non-philosopher, it will get the idea across well enough.

Derek Bowman


So if you've been asked this question, it sounds like your experience is different from mine (and Greg's). But even so, I'd look less to an answer about what *philosophy is* and more to a question about what *you did.* For example, today in the context of professional network I said this to a colleague at another agency who asked what I did before, when I mentioned I had only been in my role a short time:

"I used to teach philosophy at . The short version is that I went from talking about values like human dignity to working to realize them." (I currently work serving families experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness)

In other contexts I've tried to give a gloss about the kids of topics taught in my gen ed classes, or, in rarer cases, the kinds of topic I focused on in my research (very course grained, e.g. 'political philosophy' or 'principles of justice' or 'the relation between theories and practice').


My experience is consistent with Greg’s—I left academia a decade ago, and not once have I been asked to explain philosophy to a hiring manager or interview panel. In my first alt-ac role as a technical writer, my boss noted that he sought out folks with philosophy backgrounds for that type of work, and three of my colleagues there did indeed have undergraduate philosophy degrees. Three jobs after that one, my PhD work in philosophy never came up, not even as a topic of curiosity, in the hiring process. If asked, I would probably note that philosophy as a field wrestles with big questions, and that my particular subfield of applied ethics meant that I focused on questions like “what do we owe to other people?” I’d also gently challenge the assumption that few non-academic jobs require work on deep problems with unreliable methods, but it could be that the type of roles I’ve gravitated towards also meet that criteria incidentally .

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