Knowing yourself, what you want and what motivates you should be the foundation of your job hunt, says Ulrike Träger.
Finding the right job and organization to work in after your PhD can be a daunting task. Coming from an academic setting, researchers tend to struggle to identify skill sets needed for a change in their career paths, asking questions like ‘what skills should a medical writer have?’ Job titles sometimes explain little about the actual work responsibilities—did you know, for example, that an ‘Innovation Facilitator’ communicates science and sets up links between academia and industry, to help speed up drug development or begin business opportunities?
And, while many know the big name employers, how do you find a company that’s right for you? Luckily for everyone looking for a new job or employer, Lauren Celano, Co-founder and CEO of Propel Careers and an expert in career development, helped answer these and other questions at the Naturejobs career expo, Boston. Her top tips for job seekers are summarized here.
Lauren advocates sitting down and spend a few hours concentrating on simply identifying what you want. Which jobs interest you? What are you good at? What motivates you? The options are plentiful: academia, industry, non-profit organizations, consulting, science writing, science policy and more. Sure you could apply to a variety of options, but it’s better to concentrate on where your passions really lie than to spread yourself too thin. An interviewer will always notice whether you really want their job, or you’re just looking for any job.
What type of company fits you?
When considering if you prefer a smaller or a larger company, ask yourself: Are you the type that likes having a lot of different responsibilities? If so, a smaller company might work better as it’s likely that you’ll have to help out in different areas. If you prefer concentrating on a specific area of expertise, a larger company might be the better fit for you. But remember there are exceptions to every rule.
Besides the size of the organization you should also consider the location (city vs. rural, home country vs. abroad, etc.) and work culture (in a team or hierarchical order) you want to work in, as well as your salary expectations. Working out what you would prefer when it comes to all these factors will help you narrow your search and may also help you make a good impression at interviews, as you’ll come across well-prepared and informed about where you’re planning to work.
Find places to apply to
You may already know the big organizations, but how can you find smaller or less-known players? Screen jobs boards, both at events and online. Naturejobs and LinkedIn are two obvious examples, but try to be broad, as not everyone advertises on these.
Check the websites of conferences in your area of interest: Who’s presenting? Who’s exhibiting? Looking through the abstracts of scientists in industry may well be one of the best ways to find out what their research is in, as industry tends to be less transparent than academia when it comes to research areas.
It’s also a good idea to check upcoming presentations by larger companies: Which conferences do they attend and who else is there? Other sources are papers, patents and grants. If there has been a NIH call for applications on a specific topic, see who applied. If they got the grant they may well be planning to hire soon.
The earlier you start thinking about what you want from your future job the better. Once you identify a career path, contact people who are currently in that job. And if you do not know what a specific job title like “Innovation Facilitator” means, try using LinkedIn’s advanced search function to find people with the job title or at the company you are interested in.
After you’ve found ‘em, try to talk to them to find out what their daily work life is like and see what additional skills they had that qualified them for the job. Is there anything you could do to improve your chances?
Only 50% of jobs are advertised anywhere, and only 20% of all jobs are given to a person previously unknown to the company or the person hiring. Networking to get yourself into those larger percent brackets really is key. Through hook or crook, seek to build your network, and stay in touch with as many people as possible.
Ulrike Träger is a post-doc at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. Her research focuses on the development of immune cells in different tissues. Outside the lab she loves to travel and run, ideally combining the two. You can follow Ulrike on Twitter or her blog.