Sunday, January 4, 2015

Do you want out of the lab? Advice to prepare for your non-academic job search

In the middle of academic job season or right around when you're planning for your defense this Spring, you start thinking about jobs outside of academia. But how do you apply for a non-academic job? To complement my post on advice for the academic job search, I have enlisted a guest blogger from industry, a grad school friend who after leaving her postdoc has risen through the ranks of medical writing and pharma marketing, AND who through the years has interviewed many hopefuls like you. This is what she wants you to know.

So, you are sitting at the bench in your graduate program/post-doc and you say to yourself; “this is not where I want to be.” Although it has been nearly 8 years, I remember that moment. It wasn’t a singular epiphany, but more a series of telltale signs that couldn’t be ignored. First, my search for a postdoc lacked focus and long-term planning. Second, once landing a position, I realized quickly that I may be doing a second postdoc because of my lack of planning. Finally, and this is controversial for some, the financial realities of my academic life could not be reconciled with where I needed to be.
The non-academic job search is very different from an academic track. Even simple tasks like resume writing and post-interview thank you letters are not necessarily fundamental skills that one acquires in graduate school. But, after some trial and error and a little experience, I would like to share some tips and fundamentals to help you along the way.

Beginning the Process
The question you have to ask yourself is why not academia? Your answer to this question will help you focus your search. If you want to be at the bench, but not in academia, then you will be moving towards the industry postdoc (as a newly minted PhD or graduate student) or staff scientist (more experienced postdoc). If you do not want to be at the bench, then you must adjust how you view your PhD/postdoc experience and decipher how transferrable your skills will be in a different field. This is especially important if you a moving outside of science/medicine/healthcare.
This brings me to the resume. First, a resume IS NOT a CV. Second, your resume is not one size fits all. It must be adapted to the type of position you are applying for. Resume dos and don’ts include:
  • Do make sure you describe the skills you gained during that time explicitly. A hiring manager (often the first line in the job process) has no idea what it takes to get a PhD; so, make sure you let them know. Your degree is your greatest asset in the absence of job experience.  
  • Do let a group of peers read your resume, especially those employed in fields that interest you
  • Do limit it to one page
  • Do not send a resume which focuses on lab techniques when the job has nothing to do with working in a lab

Remember, a resume is a living document. Keep it up-to-date and ready to go. You never know when an opportunity will come.

Where do I look?
The first rule of any job search is to look within your network.  Start by reaching out to those whom have completed the job seeking process. Often times, their companies may have open positions or searches that are not being advertised. Furthermore, there is generally a financial incentive for people who refer candidates that are successful.  Now that you have a resume that you are pleased with, set up a LinkedIn profile. This will help you build professional connections beyond your immediate circle and give you an idea about the diversity of positions that exist. The LinkedIn job search allows to you tailor your search by company, geography, and certain key words and if you have the premium service, you can actually see how your profile compares with other applicants. If you know that you want to go into a specific field such as tech transfer/IP law, consulting, or data science, investigate potential on-campus recruiting events that could to internship/fellowship opportunities that could turn into permanent positions. Other useful searches include:

While I have not talked about the cover letter process, the writing of a cover letter generally follows the same rules of the resume.  These should be tailored to the position with only the relevant skills highlighted. If you are asking a colleague/associate/friend for a referral, please make sure that you send a cover letter with your resume. It is not their responsibility to sell you to an employer. They are a more direct conduit to the hiring process and putting more expectations on them beyond that is not professional.
At the end of the day, you have to be realistic about your immediate and long-term goals. Are you looking to “just get out” or do you have an ultimate goal? Just be prepared for a potentially long process that may not yield the results you expect.

The interview(s)
If you made it this far, CONGRATS!!! Depending on the field, your first interview may be with a hiring manager, HR representative or recruitment company. This person will be looking at your general qualifications and potential workplace compatibility red flags (i.e. Is this person crazy?). They may have some general knowledge about people with your background based on their experience, but don’t expect them to have an intimate knowledge of your field or explicit skill set. This is where your cover letter and resume are keys.
 In preparation for your interview, please review the website and review your potential interview roster on LinkedIn (if  known). If this is a referral, do try to speak with your contact regarding the company. I know it seems like common sense, but I’ve interviewed people that had no real idea about the company or what we did. If the company is public, review the annual report as insight into company strategy. Regarding printed copies of your resume, always have a couple just in case your interviewer doesn’t bring one of their own.
Most interviewers will give you their cards, please make sure send a thank you note post-interview. It seems to be a dying art amongst the younger job-seeking crowd these days. Send them individually (no mass emails), and note that while it may not get read, it will be noticed if one is not sent. If you manage to land a position, please note that they may want you in as early as 2 weeks after the interview. So, be truly ready to roll!

Final thoughts
You’ve been through the entire process and it hasn’t yielded one hit. Look, it happens. You will have to go through several rounds of this process over the course of your non-academic career. The keys to success are analogous to those of acquiring your PhD:
  •       You have to possess staying power, “stickwithitness” even when it seems like an impossible task
  •        Do you research and be thoughtful and realistic about your prospects
  •       Be prepared for an unexpected result/opportunity. You never know when/where it will come

All the best with your job search!!!

1 comment:

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