Contributor Aliyah Weinstein
“I am a leader and a visionary. I have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. I am a researcher. I am extremely analytical. I am an excellent planner and implementer.”
Everyone who attended Sarah Cardozo Duncan’s seminar on Transferable Skills at the NatureJobs Career Expo Boston on May 20th was told to turn to the person sitting next to them and repeat those sentences. There were uncertain glances and giggles at first, but the room quickly grew noisy as attendees gained in confidence and declared these traits to one another – ones that they, and all other scientists, will organically absorb as part as their research training.
Duncan’s point: while scientists can easily get bogged down by the technical requirements of their work, there are many other skills they will have picked up that are key to remember when interviewing for a job.
Once that truth is absorbed, Duncan said, the next step is to define how these skills pertain to you as an individual. Before your next interview, ask yourself the following questions:
What is your leadership style? Think of 4-6 key descriptive words that define it — inclusive, persistent, thoughtful, perhaps.
How do you see? Think about how you visualize a project or a problem that needs to be tackled. Maybe you envision a series of steps that you will climb. Now think in more detail about the steps. Are they in color or in black and white? Are there a finite number of steps, or do more add on while the project is underway?
Ask yourself similarly descriptive questions about each of your skills: communication, interpersonal, research, analytical, planning and implementation.
When you are on an interview, details about your skills are important to articulate. “If ten people were interviewing for a job, who do you think they’re going to remember?” Duncan said. “They’re going to remember the person who talked about their vision, who talked about their leadership skills, about their communication.”
It shows, she explained, that you’ve evaluated your abilities and thought about what you can bring to the table, and about how your prior experiences can be applied to different positions. Though you may not describe to your interviewer everything that you thought about on your own, the thought process will have helped you clarify how each broad category applies specifically to you and given you the tools you need to articulate this.
It’s also important to have what Duncan refers to as “Six Success Stories” fresh in your mind when you attend an interview. These are stories that provide concrete examples of your skills- the time you successfully designed a new assay to test a hypothesis, perhaps, or when you mentored a junior member of the lab.
In constructing these stories, there are three important sections to include: First, state the problem. Then, tell what you did about it by stating specific actions. Finally, conclude with the outcome and how the situation was resolved.
By having these stories in mind and incorporating them at appropriate points during your interview, you will be able to showcase the skills you possess using concrete, real-life examples. Telling stories is also a useful way to find common ground in an interview, as stories present you as a human being, not just as a set of skills to be put to work.
The way in which you speak about these experiences is just as important. “Own what you’ve done,” Duncan said. “Make sure you talk in the I, not in the we.”
What about using non-scientific examples when highlighting your skills? Duncan says that is okay if you need to. “If you can’t find these skills in your professional career, go to your volunteer work, go to the stuff you like or have fun with, and those might come a little bit easier,” she said. Even if the particular experience you are describing may not as directly relate to the position you are interviewing for as a professional experience, “you can say ‘The reason I was so successful at this was…’” — in order to emphasize your skills.
Duncan said that overall, it is important to arrive at an interview confident in your abilities and prepared to provide concrete, descriptive examples of how you have implemented them in the past. By executing these steps, you are far more likely to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.
Sarah Cardozo Duncan is a career strategist who runs Boston-based consulting firm Career Strategist.
For more information about making the most of your next job interview, check out this article on expanding your base of transferable skills and this article on appropriately “selling yourself” as a scientist.