Contributor Scott Chimileski
Based on the Developing an Effective Job Search Strategy workshop presented by Lauren Celano, CEO and Founder of Propel Careers, at the Naturejobs Career Expo in Boston, MA, May 20th 2014.
As a graduate student or research scientist, it is easy to forget that you don’t need to, and most likely will not, continue on in the specialised field you were trained in. Your experience and training has prepared you for an entire ecosystem of professional opportunities not limited by your studies in molecular endocrinology or bacterial genetics. The job search strategy outlined below is directed at finding a match between your own qualities and background and the great diversity of available science jobs.
A multitude of career paths exist in academia, at non-profit and medical institutions, and within industry. You may be aware of many of the opportunities in research and development, but there are also science jobs in commercialisation. These jobs range from marketing and market research, to project and product management. There are roles in pharmacoeconomics, clinical communications, medical writing, business development, and sales.
A main point of emphasis introduced early by Lauren Celano during the Developing an Effective Job Search Strategy workshop at the 2014 Naturejobs Career Expo was “fit matters”. It is critical to realise that companies and institutions are distinct places of employment, just as you are unique as an employee. Therefore, your goal should be to find your niche: the particular microenvironment in the professional ecosystem where your skills, knowledge and personality traits will allow you to succeed and grow.
Finding your professional niche starts with big-picture considerations. Do you want to live and work in a city or a rural area? Maybe you have a particular location in mind? Popular locations include hubs for biotechnology companies such as Boston, MA or La Jolla, CA.
Also ask yourself, what are the requirements and responsibilities of the job that I want, and what are my qualifications? You have a toolset of transferable skills and can expand into new areas, but positions will still require specific categories of experience. These categories are generally the first four or five lines in the requirements list of a job posting, whereas those below may be the employer’s ideal or “wish list” items.
After you decide where you want to work and what kind of jobs you qualify for, think about more specific but equally important qualities inherent within each and every workplace. This is where your specific personality traits begin to define your niche.
The overall size of a company will give you a sense for the variety of roles you will likely play, or the “number of hats” you will wear. If you excel by applying laser-like focus to a given task or a few tasks, you will likely be more successful within a larger company where you will have a straight-forward, delineated position. But, if creativity is one of your main strengths, you may have a natural tendency to move from one project to another. In this case, you may be better suited to a small company where you will be expected to work on many jobs as they arise. At a start-up you might do research, but you might also train a new team, manage collaborations or even troubleshoot and fix machines.
Salary considerations and the culture of the company are relevant too, and can be more or less important depending on the individual. For example, companies like Google are known to cultivate a certain intangible energy and company-employee relationship. This distinct corporate culture may appeal to you to the extent that you are less concerned with the actual position. (If this is the case, it is best not to apply for every position that is open, otherwise your applications won’t be taken seriously.) As you brainstorm, you will realise that for you, some elements are critical: these are your deal-breakers. You will also find that you are more flexible and adaptable in other areas.
Now that you have refined your job search strategy, you need access to one of the many places and positions where you think you fit. While this may seem easier said than done, you can make your way to an ideal professional niche through a combination of personal or professional development and job search techniques.
For example, if you want to qualify as a scientist at a pharmaceutical company but lack a certain job requirement, rethink your experience. First, consider carefully whether you already have the experience or skill. Take a step back and appreciate the core experience you have gained, for instance, as a leader or as a communicator. If your transferable experience comes up short, a targeted assignment in another position, an internship or a business course may help fill the experience gap.
When it comes to identifying specific companies or institutions that offer the position you are looking for, attending career events, talking to conference exhibitors and sponsors and taking advantage of personal connections are good strategies. However, also look towards more unconventional strategies. Don’t be afraid to create new opportunities by contacting the corresponding author of a paper or the author of grant or patent.
To accelerate your search, set goals and keep time in mind. Aspire to learn about five new companies per week and seek out at least four informational interviews per month. Informational interviews are meetings with contacts at potential workplaces that are not initiated by an advertised job and give you an opportunity to learn more about an industry, a company or a position. If you want a job in two years, it’s not too early to begin networking in that area and talking to people employed at the companies you want to work for now. After these initial stages, allow three to six months for the actual job search. And remember, finding your next position is a job.
Once you have an offer, you will usually have only a few days to decide whether to accept it or not. If you accept, you will be working there in just a few weeks: a living, breathing part of the professional ecosystem.
#NJCEBoston journalist competition winner Scott Chimileski is a PhD candidate in Genetics at the University of Connecticut. Scott studies biofilms, extracellular DNA, and gene transfer in extremophilic archaea. He is interested in all forms of interaction between microbes and promotes the field of social microbiology on his blog, Animalcule. He is passionate about photography and the connection between art and science. In the summer, Scott likes to backpack through remote wilderness with his sister Lindsay and brothers Andrew and Brock