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Michelle's Corner

Michelle's Career Advice Corner

Want expert advice on career development from an industry pro? Look no further. Our contributor, Michelle, is here to help.

Michelle earned her Ph.D. in Physiology in 2010 and was an AHA-funded postdoctoral fellow until 2013, when she transitioned into a private sector role as a scientific recruiter. As such, she has a unique perspective on the challenges facing academicians looking to transition into industry - both from the side of the job hunter, and as a recruiter trying to match candidates' skill sets with available industry positions. Michelle has now ventured out on her own to found Adeptify, the brain-child of her dual passions for career advice and freelance writing.

 

Tip #5. Informational Interviewing

Informational interviews are the logical next step to follow up networking events and LinkedIn connections. Generally, the person you are interviewing has a position or has followed a career path that you are interested in. You invite them out for coffee, or maybe grab a bite to eat.

Always keep in mind that the interviewee is doing you a favor. This is not the time to foist your resume on the hapless person, or to ask if he or she can help you get a job. The interview is not about you!

Listen. Ask questions--well thought out questions that show you're really interested in what the person has to say. A good one to ask is some variation of, "how did you know that you wanted to do X?" Or, "What do you wish you had known about X when you were starting out?" You will frequently discover that people didn't actually PLAN to be in that particular role--hearing about these career paths can be VERY instructive and helpful.

Be ready to talk about yourself too, of course, because it will almost certainly come up at some point. BE HUMBLE, but not self-deprecating. Don't exaggerate your accomplishments or experience.

If the opportunity presents itself, ask whether your contact can put you in touch with additional anyone else you might speak to about "X."

AFTER the informational interview is done: send a cordial e-mail thanking your contact for his/her time. It's also a very good idea to follow up after a month or two to "close the loop" and show how you've acted on your contact's advice: what progress you've made/successes you've had. It's also a sneaky way to get back to front and center with your contact--JUST IN CASE something has come up, or maybe they've thought of someone else who might be a valuable contact.

 

Tip #4. Networking Effectively

Networking is an essential part of an active job search. To do it right, you will be stepping out of your comfort zone--WAY out. Here are some suggestions that will help you navigate this new, scary world.

PREPARE FOR THE NETWORKING EVENT

1. Find out who will be there 

A big problem I've noticed at many networking events is that it's hard to know who people ARE. Even if there are name tags, it may be difficult to tell what company an individual works for, or what position they hold. I remember one occasion when I found myself talking to the caterer!

To avoid wasting your time, I recommend getting a general idea of who will be at the event beforehand. LinkedIn is very helpful in this regard. If the networking event is sponsored by a group, for example, you can search for people who are members of the group. I wouldn't recommend looking at profiles (remember that people can see when you look at a profile on LinkedIn); it's enough to see names, faces, and job titles in the list. I'm not saying that you should memorize names: this is only so that you can recognize faces in the crowd as people who would be good to speak with. 

Other networking events, for example MeetUps, have RSVP lists--some even with members' pictures and bios! 

​​2. Bring business cards

Resumes usually are not appropriate for networking events.

3. Set goals for yourself

Decide how many people you would like to talk to and exchange business cards with beforehand. Start out small, as you emerge from your cocoon and become more comfortable, then work your way up. The worst thing you can do at a networking event is to find a friend and then stick to him or her like an embedded tick. It's always easy to spot the herds of graduate students and job seekers hovering helplessly at the periphery--don't join them.

4. Have your elevator pitch ready

Be concise and general: your "me in a nutshell" speech should be somewhere between what you would explain to your grandmother, and what you would say to a scientist in your department. K.I.S.S.!!! Watch the body language as you deliver your pitch--don't mistake politeness for real interest!

5. It's not all about you

Hone your conversational skills so that you can discuss other topics besides who you are and that you're looking for a job. Be interesting. Maybe you talk about a World Cup match or The Oscars and don't mention your job search at all! That's memorable.

6. BE APPROPRIATE

This is a professional event! Don't pound 4 beers and be the person everyone remembers for their drunken behavior! Keep the discourse clean, and don't be the one to bring up politics.

 

AFTER THE EVENT

1. Reflect

What will you do next time to improve your networking skills? What did you do well? What was the best moment of the event?

2. Follow up

This is critical! Pull out all the business cards that you collected and find those people on LinkedIn. Personalize a brief message, for example, "Hi, ______! I enjoyed speaking with you last night at the ________ event. I would like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. I look forward to seeing you at future events!"

If the contact isn't on LinkedIn, shoot them a brief, personalized e-mail. 

3. Did you meet someone whose job interests you?

Invite that person to coffee and conduct an INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW (stay tuned: informational interviews are next!).

 

Tip #3. Resume Writing

Unless a job description for a position in industry specifically requests that you submit a CV, assume that you should use a resume.

How are these different?

A CV, or curriculum vitae, generally goes into a lot of detail about the type or research you have done, for example what your project was, what your findings were, and where those findings were published. I have seen CV's that were five pages long, listing every SINGLE publication and/or presentation the applicant ever had. This usually won't fly if you are applying for an industry position.

Human resources administrators and/or recruiters sift through piles of resumes, and a five-page CV will very likely find its way to the oval filing cabinet (trash).

Resumes frequently have a statement that goes something like, "Abstracts and Publications Upon Request." This gets around the problem nicely: you make your resume much more concise while also letting the reviewer know that you HAVE publications.

So, what is a resume?

A resume focuses more on specific skill sets that were obtained during previous employment and training. The very first or second section (after Objective or Summary) of a good resume should be a Skills Highlights section, where you list all of the techniques you are proficient at. You can omit basic, everyday things like pipetting and calibrating the pH meter. Everything else should be listed in descending order based on your level of proficiency

BE AWARE: don't claim to be skilled at something that you did once or twice in lab. If a recruiter calls you, it's because you came up in his or her resume database search based on a specific combination of skills.

If you really aren't familiar with a technique, IT WILL BE FOUND OUT.

The last thing a recruiter wants is to put you in front of a hiring manager only to demonstrate that you really don't know what you're talking about! Worse, the recruiter will likely make a note in their candidate tracking program--visible to other recruiters!--that you have a tendency to fudge your capabilities. Would you know how to troubleshoot the instrument or method? Change/clean the columns on the HPLC?

In short, you will be asked detailed questions on the instrument or technique that are carefully calibrated to assess whether you actually have the knowledge that you claim to have.

Your skills should be reiterated in your employment history. For example, you can briefly state what the aim of your grad school project was, but then you should explain the techniques and instrumentation you used. Did you design new assays? Develop anything novel? MAKE SURE you mention these. Remember that you learn skills in EVERY job that you have! If you waited tables, for example, you could BRIEFLY mention that you learned how to interact with customers, be a multitasker, to be efficient, etc. BE SURE to mention any managerial/leadership experience you obtained.

If you have awards, my preference is to go ahead and put a section in for that (it should go under your employment history). If you've received funding from grants in grad school or during a postdoc, a reviewer can make several tentative inferences from that information--for example, that you are a good writer and scientist.

FORMATTING. This is a big one! KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don't use a bunch of different fonts and/or bullet styles.

Be consistent throughout your resume: keep the same font size, indent, and style for ALL of your headings and subheadings. I am not a fan of fancy borders, or inserting tables. Recruiters will usually ask you for a doc file so that they can quickly tailor your resume for the job they have you in mind for. It gets complicated when they have to move objects around (like dividing lines, tables, and such). The less flashy, the better.

Remember the old saying that the high school graduate with the bullhorn and the loudest cheering section is probably the one who barely squeaked through? It's the same for resumes: flashiness frequently seems to be inversely correlated to substance. 

 

Tip #2. Phone Interview: The Recruiter Call

"Can you say who you are, what you have done, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you would bring to the table--all in the course of a 10 minute phone conversation?"

When you upload your resume to CareerBuilder or Monster, this is the type of call that you most likely will get. Job seekers also frequently apply to positions online and are unaware that their resume gets added to searchable databases. Recruiters search these databases using a combination of keywords for the skill sets they are looking for to fill specific positions. 

Recruiter calls can be dicey because you aren't necessarily expecting them. For whatever reason, you might not be on your A-game. The recruiter will ask you if it's a good time to talk--I'd encourage you to suggest an alternate time so that you KNOW the call is coming and can be prepared.

When you pick up the phone and are greeted by a recruiter, the reality is that the conversation will very likely be streamlined so that he or she can determine if you're a possibility for a specific position--AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.

This is why you should have the following information at the tip of your brain: WHO you are, WHAT you can do, WHERE you want to be in five years, WHEN you can interview/start working, and WHY you are better than the zillion other candidates out there. What are your strengths? What are areas you could improve? 

Also be prepared to be asked about your salary expectations. DO RESEARCH ahead of time to see what salary range is realistic for someone with your credentials and experience. BE HONEST. The last thing a recruiter wants is to have you in front of a hiring manager only to find out that you really WEREN'T okay with the salary range you discussed. This hurts the recruiter's credibility and wastes their time. The recruiter, in turn, will--without doubt--make a note in their candidate tracking software to the effect that you are difficult to work with. Other recruiters who might be curious about you will see those notes (if they use the same tracking program) and think twice. 

You will also likely be asked if YOU have any questions. Don't let dead silence be your answer. 

Beware: Sometimes the phone interviewer will be typing your answers on the other end. It can be loud and somewhat distracting. I find it helpful to address this directly, for example, "I can hear that you're typing...would you like me to wait for you to finish before I move on?"

 

Tip #1. Interviewing

"What's an area you could improve?" This is a favorite interview question. DON'T DODGE. You know the trick of flipping a "weakness" into a strength? DON'T DO IT. My personal favorite, that made me lunge for the phone's mute button so the candidate wouldn't hear me laughing, was some permutation of "I'm an extremely efficient worker, and that might be frustrating to less efficient people." This type of answer inevitably comes across as arrogant and disingenuous.

Interviewers want to see that you are capable of fairly assessing your strengths and weaknesses, and that you have given this some thought. It gives us some insight into your personality and whether you'd be able to handle constructive criticism, strive to improve yourself, etc.  We're not looking for self-flagellation here - just give an honest answer. Everyone has an area that they could improve. EVERYONE. Mine? I really hate and avoid conflict.

I am continually working to improve how I respond to these situations, and to be proactive so they don't escalate. For example, I recently had a sticky situation with a lab technician...

You get it, right?

Do your homework on the company you are interviewing with. Know not only what their products/services are, but how your research/experience directly relates to it. What is their mission? What kind of people work there? 

Be on time, but...DON'T SHOW UP EARLY. Really. Don't do it.

More than 5 minutes is really obnoxious.

I work in an open office where people waiting in the front can see me at my desk, i.e., as I try to cram lunch or administrative work in between interviewing candidates. Yesterday, every single one of my interviews showed up 20 minutes early. It was stressful and disruptive to everyone in the office. 

 

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Effective Networking