Four simple steps will help you find a career to be happy in, says Naturejobs journalism competition winner Judith M. Reichel
Find a job you love – and you will still have to go to work every day. There are plenty out there; some are great, some are a stepping stone, and some will simply pay the rent. The key is to identify your own strengths and passion, in order to find the perfect job for you.
Finding the perfect job is easier said than done. With that in mind, the career strategist Sarah Cardozo Duncan provided the audience at the recent Naturejobs career expo in Boston with four cornerstones on their way to finding and ultimately getting that perfect job. The first step is to recognize your own backstory.
During her session, Sarah asked everybody to tell their seat neighbors in three minutes what inspired them to study what they studied, and how they’d gotten to where they are. Some participants were inspired by their kindergarten teacher, others by a supportive parent who encouraged critical questioning at an early age. No matter what the inspiration was, a touch of background information on your own story will personalize you to any prospective employer, and make you infinitely more memorable to anyone you’re telling the story to.
The second cornerstone is to acknowledge your own expertise and skill set; what could you bring to any particular job that no one else could? To answer this, take a step back –don’t just think about methods or knowledge of specific proteins you could bring to the job. As Andrea Itano of GSK pointed out during another panel, even hiding a buffer from your lab mates to ensure you have enough left the next day can be interpreted as risk assessment, risk- and time management and problem solving all at once. These are highly transferrable and desirable skills to have, and prospective employers are looking for them.
Aside from your practical skill set, there’s the third and perhaps most important cornerstone of all: identifying your true passion in life. What is it that you NEED to be doing in order to make sure your job is meaningful to you? As Toby Freedman puts it in this video, job satisfaction is more valuable than a big paycheck.
Once you’ve identified these cornerstones for yourself – personal backstory, individual skill set, passion – you can now proactively seek out your perfect career opportunities. At this point, though, you need to be honest with yourself about what you want to do, and where you want to be in the future. If you blindly start contacting people and try to mold yourself into any job opening you see, you may have fooled everyone, including yourself, into a job you never really wanted, and six months later you may have a new job, in a new city with new people, but just as unfulfilled as you were before. So, take aim and make a list for yourself: what are you looking for, where do you want to be in one, five, ten or twenty years from now? Don’t just focus on needing a new job: focus on where you want to be in the long run.
Now that you’ve covered the first three steps and found a job opening, the best way to get ahead of other candidates is through purposeful networking. This means that you should research your prospective employer not just in order to learn about the job requirements, but also in search of possible shared connections. If you don’t share any direct contacts, you can even dig a little deeper: maybe you share an alumni connection with someone who’s already there, who might introduce or refer you to someone else.
You can use this contact in so-called “warm referral” emails that will hopefully garner you an informational interview. However, an informational interview is not to be confused with an actual interview. This is your chance to gather additional information on the prospective job, and to leave a lasting personal impression on a representative of the company you’re interested in.
These four cornerstones that were laid out by Sarah, Andrea, and the other expert panelists at the Naturejobs career expo in Boston, provide a great foundation in the hunt for the perfect job at any stage of your career.
All of these steps are important, but for me one of them stands out especially: Passion. You can pick up a new skill set, you can stream-line your backstory, and you can even fake your way through networking events, but the one thing you cannot fake indefinitely is passion. We all have to earn a living and most of us will spend more than two thirds of our adult life at work. But imagine if you’re lucky enough to find and get a job you’re actually passionate about; your time spent at work could be so much more than “just another day at the office”.
Judith M. Reichel obtained her Ph.D. in neuroscience/ neuropsychiatry in March 2015 from the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany. Since April 2015, she is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Judith is an active member of the Einstein Postdoctoral Association (EPA) and the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). If Judith is not at the bench or writing, she enjoys exploring NYC. Find her on LinkedIn, Researchgate, and Twitter.