Job Hunting Advice from Experts: Part 1

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Having watched a loved one recently go through the process, I can personally attest that job hunting is no cup of tea. It is often frustrating and rarely easy on one’s self-esteem. Earlier this week I attended a panel discussion at the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering’s(ISPE) Mid-Atlantic Life Sciences Showcase entitled, “Engineering a Blockbuster Career.” The discussion was sponsored by BioBuzz and moderated by BioBuzz’s own, Chris Frew. The panelists have certainly engineered blockbuster careers and they all have significant experience in the job hunting and hiring arenas. The panel included –


There was a ton of useful information provided, too much for one summary.  Therefore, I’m going to summarize the most important points that I feel would be most helpful in two separate posts.  This one will focus on the job hunt and early stages of the application process.  Next I will cover topics like the interview and how to land the job.

  1. Setting Expectations for the Hunt

Before beginning a job hunt, the panelists suggested getting in the right mind set. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Myers. To cope with this intense experience, which may be on top of a full-time job you’re looking to get out of, Myers suggested keeping a regular schedule for yourself and tracking your progress with a log that includes contacts made, conversations had, and future actions you plan to take.

Fackler reminded the audience, “The interview process is not an exact science and this is hard for scientists.” Penry echoed him by explaining that there is a lot that goes on “behind the scenes” at a company looking to hire. For instance, an advertised job could end up morphing into two jobs. “Set your expectations accordingly,” advised Fackler.

  1. Applying for Jobs

It may be tempting to apply for every job ad you come across but Penry recommended that you take time to first “know yourself – understand what gap you fill.” Myers explained, “The more you understand your skills, the better you can communicate them.” She suggested doing one of many skill assessments available online.

More than one panelist also mentioned it’s not just your hard skills but also your soft skills, like communication skills, that are invaluable for job searching. Frew pointed out, “Scientists forget about soft skills.” Chada echoed this by explaining that many scientists go in wanting to talk about cool science and their research in a way that is not understandable and doesn’t translate to what you have done or accomplished, which is what the interviewer is likely looking for.

If after a skills assessment, you feel there are areas you’d like to expand your skill set to include, Fackler recommended looking into courses available at Montgomery College, BioTrain, as well as the NIH Training Center’s (NIHTC) website, which has a plethora of online courses and seminar recordings. Ultimately though, when selecting jobs to apply for, don’t get intimidated by what is on the advertisement. Fackler estimated, “Usually the job is filled with a person who only fits 50-60% of the qualities.”

However, knowing yourself and deciding what jobs to apply for goes beyond knowing what skills you possess. “Before you fill out an application, ask yourself, ‘do my values align with the company’s values?” recommended Penry. Knowing yourself, your skills, and what you value before applying for a job will help you determine what jobs might be a good fit. It will also help you later in the game when you have to evaluate an offer.

  1. Networking

In discussing professional development, networking comes up ad nauseam but the panel reiterated throughout the discussion that networking, human contact really, is still the best way to get a job. Chadha’s advice was to “Cultivate your network before you need it. The best time to start networking is when you don’t need it.”

If you are trying to build your network, the panel had a lot of recommendations. First, Chadha suggested setting a networking calendar. He said, “Networking is not passive – it is very intentional.” Much like with the job hunt, he recommended you know specifically what you want out of networking and become visible in whatever area you want to be in.

“When networking, make it a goal to talk about them (the person you are hoping to connect with),” suggested Fackler. However, Penry recommended, “Have your elevator pitch ready” for when the conversation does turn to you. She also suggested utilizing your LinkedIn and coming to events, like BioBuzz events, so that you are seen. Chadha echoed this sentiment, “Position yourself at the front so you can get your info to someone that has influence.”

Of course, once you have developed your network, you must utilize that network. The panelists suggested reaching out to former colleagues or acquaintances who are currently in positions related to your interests. Frew mentioned the importance of having a “champion” within the organization you hope to be hired by – someone willing to go for bat for you when decisions are being made. Chadha echoed this, “At the end of the day, it’s the face to face connections” that make the difference.

  1. Preparing for the Interview

Landing an interview is great progress but there is footwork that should be done before the interview takes place. All of the panelists urged job hunts to prepare responses ahead of timeand use bridging messages to ensure the interviewer leaves knowing how and why you are the best candidate for the job.

Fackler recommended you “think about situations where you took action and had success”and then organize that story to fit that pipeline (situation –> action –> success) and practice transitions to get to these stories, called bridging messages. He said, “Almost regardless of what the interview question is, you need to have your answers ready.”

Chadha also offered an easy formula for developing these tailored responses. You might say to the interviewer, “I understand you are looking for X. Let me tell you how I did A, B, and C.” Myers recommended you formulate these tailored responses from your skills assessment so that you “have examples of your skills”. She also mentioned that some good resources for this preparation are Forbes and Business Insider.

Beyond preparing tailored responses, Chadha also suggested putting together a slide or two about yourself or how you dealt with a situation. “You can utilize this as a visual on a tablet so now you are presenting to the interview committee” – impressive!

A tablet in an interview setting could also be used to pull up articles or press releases related to the company or to their competitors, which you may have found when you were researching the company. Myers instructed, “Walk in with a lot of knowledge about them.”

I’ll release the final post next week, but in the meantime all of the panelists volunteered to provide further advice and answer additional questions over the coming few weeks in theMaryland BioHive, BioBuzz’s new regional online collaboration platform, so feel free to log in and learn more there in the Careers Hive.

Elizabeth is a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying T regulatory cells in autoimmunity. She is fascinated by the role the immune system can play in treating disease. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys biking, cooking, beer tasting and spending time with her boyfriend, Cassidy, and their awesome dog, Simon.

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