Tips on how to prepare and conduct an effective job search.
Contributor Ada Yee
At the Boston Naturejobs Career Expo on 20 May, Lauren Celano, CEO of the career development firm Propel Careers, surveyed her audience: “How many of you are looking for interesting areas?” Most hands went up. “How many know what you want, and just need someone to hire you?” Just a few hands. Celano went on to coach the audience on the job hunt, starting from ground zero: how do you find a job—and then, an employer—that makes sense for you?
Identify the right career path for you
Celano highlighted growing opportunities across many fields, from industry-oriented positions in academia (core facility director, tech transfer, grant management) to non-profits seeking PhDs to do communications, licensing, or advocacy. With all these options, you should think about what suits you, she advised. “Fit really matters!” stressed Celano. “I see people taking a job because the title sounds cool, but maybe isn’t what they’re looking for, and they’re unhappy.”
To ensure that your everyday work aligns to your goals, Celano recommends writing a checklist. What are your passions? What do you or others think you’re good at? Do you want to manage people or do bench work? Salary? Location? “Only 10% of people I talk to have done this,” said Celano. But prospective employers can tell if you’ve thought about it carefully, she added.
Then, evaluate your size preference. Do you like wearing many hats? You may prefer a smaller organization that enables you to grow in many directions. Conversely, if you like specializing, you may want a larger company.
Inventory the skills you have versus need to build, and consider non-bench skills: “Scientists usually focus too much on technical skills,” said Celano. But they often also have experience with other activities such as writing, presenting, teaching, organizing, and analysis, she said.
Once you’ve figured out your job criteria, identify possible employers. In this post-classifieds era, your instinct might be to browse websites of a few big companies or join LinkedIn. But don’t stop there!
At conferences, visit the vendors not just for free swag—they could be future employers. Some international consulates have science networking events (example here) that you can attend. Check out local professional groups such as Women in Bio.
Online portals you use for your research can double as job-searching tools. On Pubmed, search for publications from companies, and contact the corresponding authors. Find organizations by searching recently awarded grants.
To identify new companies that might still be in “stealth mode,” investigate tech “incubators” (in Boston, MassChallenge, TechStars, Dogpatch Labs, LabCentral, HealthBox, and Cambridge Innovation Center) or venture capital firms to see what they are funding. Read industry news through BioWorld or Xconomy, and peruse industry reports, such as Beyond Borders, Build and Beyond, or EvaluateMedtech.
Then write a target list of places you want to work. “This list can empower you,” said Celano. “When people ask, ‘What are you thinking of doing after your PhD or postdoc?’ you can say, ‘I’m thinking about these organizations—can you give me any insight or know anyone there?’”
Identify the right role
Celano also suggests not to get hung up on titles, since different companies call the same role different things. “People ask, ‘What title do I apply for? What’s that job called?’” she said. Instead, list your skills. A handy tool for this is myidp, designed to help PhDs think about how to use their background.
When looking at job descriptions, “If you’re hitting the first 7 out of 10 qualifications, this might be a good match,” said Celano. Then, start developing any skills you don’t have.
One way to assess roles is using “Advanced Search” on LinkedIn. Plug in a job title and study the work experience and education of connections with that title. Then set up informational interviews with people in roles of interest.
Accelerate your search (gradually!)
With all this material, you might feel overwhelmed. Pace yourself, setting goals such as researching five organizations per week.
And don’t be daunted. It’s okay to proceed stepwise, Celano said, thinking first about the next 3-to-5 years and building skills. “You probably have forty more years of your career,” Celano reminded the audience. “There could be number of different paths you take.”