Not sure about your next step as a PhD student in AI? Knock on Kai Lemkes’ door

Kai Lemkes has been a recruiter in the AI domain for ten years. Since a few months he has been a matchmaker within the ICAI Launch Pad program where he coaches PhD students. Lemkes: ‘PhD students have a blind spot when entering the labor market.’

Kai Lemkes

What does the ICAI Launch Pad program look like?

‘After a first introductory meeting with the PhD students, I coach them in how they can best prepare for a job application, how to build a resume, how to present themselves on LinkedIn, et cetera. We evaluate that and then look at how this person can best present themselves and enter the labor market. We can also hold a closing meeting on request. My door is always open.’

Why is there a need for Launch Pad?

‘Many of these PhD students are at a crossroads where they don’t really know what they want next. What I encounter a lot is that students want to stay in the domain they’re already in, purely because they already know it. I recently spoke to a girl who was strongly attached to the research domain. But when I asked her to describe her ideal job, she said that she would prefer to keep improving products, give presentations and a number of things that you see much more in the commercial domain. It is therefore very important to show this group clearly what they actually choose. That’s a blind spot.’

‘The AI ​​domain has exploded in just a few years. At the moment, almost every company I work with – mainly top-500 companies – is investing in AI. For that reason, many young professionals are quickly lured abroad by companies. Foreign companies are sometimes a bit more ‘aggressive’ when it comes to recruiting talent. They proactively approach PhD students and offer them a substantial salary.’

What are Dutch companies not doing well besides less actively recruiting talent?

‘I see the recruitment process go wrong quite often. Candidates have to sell themselves in a very short time and that does not always result in a good match. Based on two or three conversations, it is quite difficult to determine whether someone is a good fit for a company for the long term. Right now, you need the luck to meet someone who likes you. If you’re having a bad day, you’re not going to look good. And especially in the technical domain you will find many specialists who are a bit more introverted or who find it less easy to present themselves, so that they already start such a process quite tense or uncertain.’

How can companies better handle this?

‘It is better to set up a process in which a company really experiences a candidate and to schedule interviews with several people from the company and not just one person. It is also a good idea to let a promising candidate speak with the whole team. Because the demand for AI specialists is so enormous right now, you sometimes see that companies present themselves as super high-tech and that a young professional later finds out that it is not that high-tech at all. Or they find out that there are no other specialists with whom they can consult. And then they can feel terribly alone. Companies need to be honest about what they have to offer.’

What is your solution to this problem?

‘I am developing the digital platform Future Impact. This should become a lively community in which students and young professionals can help each other, have peer-to-peer conversations and give ratings to companies. On this platform, companies can also present themselves and tell what they have to offer as an employer. Virtual appointments can then be scheduled for a first acquaintance. I also want to organize meetups here with people who, as PhD students, have made the step into the commercial world and can coach others in this process.’

How did you get into this job?

‘I really enjoy making matches and connecting people. I like to network and chat. I stumbled into the AI domain by accident, but I really fell in love with it. Such beautiful things happen here; startups working on zero-co2 emissions technologies, for example. AI offers so many possibilities.’

What does ICAI mean to you?

‘I am originally a commercial recruiter, but for ICAI I am really more of a coach. And actually, as I found out again, I think that’s the most wonderful job. In this role as a coach, I enter the conversation with a different intention than as a recruiter. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction. In addition, my network is growing. My highest goal is to get to know the entire AI ecosystem of the Netherlands.’

Kai Lemkes is a matchmaking expert within AI. He is the founder of several matchmaking platforms including Future Impact.

Interested as a PhD student or organization to participate in ICAI Launch Pad? Register here or send an email to