Aaron Wirth, an account manager at a Boston-based startup, on his transition into the world of mobile advertising.

Let me start by saying something that most graduate students in the social sciences know: nothing about the PhD process prepares you to find a nonacademic job, apply your skills, or sell yourself to employers. For years, we have burrowed ourselves into topics that are specialized and narrow, which can be disheartening to discuss with anyone other than academic peers. Don’t sell yourself short: use this specialization to your advantage.

When I applied to MobileFuse, which prides itself on staying ahead of its competitors in the mobile advertising industry, my interviewers were blunt: they sought “intelligent people who were interested in learning new ideas and participating in a close-knit start up company.” When the CEO interviewed me, I informed him that I was not only used to such a setting, but that my specialization and narrow focus in academia was a testament to my superb analytic skills. Indeed, I was in the habit of being very critical of all sorts of ideas and approaches to a variety of problems. Additionally, my years of research in overseas archives proved that I was resilient, efficient, and a quick learner. Lastly, because I had taught for five years, I assured them that I was very comfortable with public speaking. Such skills in one individual are rare in almost any workforce, and they are extremely valuable.

MobileFuse agreed, and they hired me as an Account Manager. I now oversee over 150 global mobile marketing accounts, serve as the primary point of contact for clients, and coordinate the involvement of company personnel in order to meet advertisers’ objectives and expectations. Throughout this year at the company, I have acquired a complete working knowledge of advertising operations and technology and possess an in-depth understanding of the mobile advertising landscape. How did I accumulate such a vast breadth of knowledge in such a short time?

As mentioned above, mobile advertising startups (there are at least a dozen within the greater Boston area alone) are very close-knit groups of like-minded, highly motivated individuals who seek to broaden their intellect and make an impact on their industry. Consequently, there is a substantial degree of “thought sharing,” as our CEO calls it. That is, learning facets of the business beyond our comfort zone. Everyday, I speak with MobileFuse engineers, technical operators, and sales representatives, as we rely on one another to make sure daily operations run smoothly. In such an environment, it is not uncommon for account managers to transition into the engineering team, or for accompany sales reps on trips to New York or San Francisco to get a better understanding of how to interact with clients.

Nevertheless, as much as I pride myself on my qualifications that graduate school gave me, I know that my situation was, like most, serendipitous. About eight months after I was hired, the company’s SVP of Products & Partnerships informed me that I was, in many respects, a case study. A handful of managers were apprehensive about hiring a PhD candidate with absolutely no business background. They believed that it took at least two years to become a successful account manager. Indeed I was lucky: both the CEO and SVP took a chance on me. In return, I proved their argument: with a few months training, a motivated, smart individual who seeks to learn new ideas can flourish in the mobile advertising environment.