Jim Gould, a Naturejobs Expert, answers the question: How do I identify and leverage experiential opportunities to bolster my credentials?
Contributor Jim Gould
No matter what you ultimately do in your career, you have to gain and master many skills not directly related to your scientific training. However, if you are focused and efficient, there are ways to build your professional credentials with relevant experiences. Once I had decided that one day run a postdoc office, I realized I would need more experience in four areas: leadership, teaching and service, programme management and writing. I was determined to systematically gain these experiences and take time to reflect on past achievements.
This blog post, for example, is a calculated move. I combined my expertise and experience with my interest for online writing to ask the editor if there was anything I could contribute to Naturejobs Blog.
Through trial and error I developed a process that allowed me to identify and leverage many of the experiences that helped land my current job and position me well for the future. Based on these personal experiences, I want to share a practical approach to identifying and leveraging your own experiential opportunities to bolster your credentials.
Have a Plan
The first step is to do some self-assessment to understand what you need, which can help you create a plan to address the gaps in your training. By establishing achievable goals, tracking your progress and celebrating your successes you will commit yourself to successfully repeat the process. You must give yourself focus by defining a clear vision of what you want to do. Vocalizing these visions and communicating your ideas to others will then solidify them.
By being your own advocate and using your network to help refine your vision you might uncover more opportunities. Involving others will speed up the process by engaging them to consider your goals, think of solutions and share opportunities with you. Finally, execute your plan by taking advantage of the opportunities you found through your network. If there are none, create your own.
Be a willing participant
You will generate more opportunities by being positive and saying yes more often. Offering to help out and committing to do more can establish you as a resource. As you progress, more opportunities than you can manage will come your way so be a team player and share some of those with your colleagues. Once you know what options are suitable to you, you won’t miss the unconventional yet relevant opportunities. You can also maximize your efforts by seeking experiential activities within your current research or work.
Consistently being active and visible within a scientific community helps establish your reputation and allows others to become your advocates. The simplest way to show that you have some experience is to reframe your hard-earned past and present accomplishments toward future endeavors. Joining a well-recognized group, association, club or activity can provide a platform for you to use and develop those accomplishments. The goal is to contribute immediately, learn teamwork and potentially rise to take on a leadership role.
Something the right group or association won’t exist for you. See this is an opportunity to create your own and starting something new. However, by addressing a universal need or filling a relevant niche, you demonstrate strategic decision-making, initiative, an understanding of stakeholders and independence.
Increase the impact of your hard work and expand your network by being inclusive and sharing credit. Including your peers and colleagues in the process helps create and foster a community. You will also receive better mentoring and guidance if you share your work with superiors and supervisors. Harness the expertise and connectedness of administrative support staff to facilitate access to people and resources. Finally, don’t be shy about engaging leaders in the field and developing professional relationships with them.
Put your experience in perspective
After making the effort to gain additional experience it is vital to think about how to frame it in the correct context for potential employers (an example of how to achieve this is in the image above). By following this process you firmly establish your interests and your willingness to seek out the training necessary to succeed and advance. This also demonstrates multitasking, time and project management skills while improving your self-awareness and social intelligence. Finally, in addition to the actual experience you received, you actively developed interpersonal communication, leadership and strategic thinking skills.