Finding a job in industry: lessons from a program graduate
Rong is a recent Ph.D. graduate. Towards the end of her graduate work she decided she wanted to aim for a job in biotech after she graduated. Although she found the job-hunting process very challenging, it worked and she found a job in a small company in Santa Barbara. Here are some of the lessons she learned about hunting for an industry job along the way:
Keys to getting a job as a scientist
1. Being a good scientist/ publishing papers
The first round of screening and interviews is done by a human resources rep (non-scientist), but this initial screen is not what will make or break your application. The second round of interviews, and hiring decisions, are made by scientists. In this interview you need to demonstrate that you are an accomplished scientist who produces good work and understands and can present every aspect of that work.
2. Skill set matching
You will be more successful in positions that are a good match for your expertise and skills. In Rong’s case her experience with a small molecular drug, mouse work including gavage, background in diabetes and pancreatic islet isolation made her a very good match for the position she ended up getting. Based on their research journey each person will have a slightly different set of skills, and so will be a strong match to a different set of positions. You can also tailor your resume for each position so it shows how well you match.
Overview of Rong’s job hunt
1. Application number
Rong applied to 70-80 positions in the 6 or so months around the time of her Ph.D. defense. Of these, she spent a lot of time individually on 40-50 applications. For this set she adjusted her cover letter and resume for each. As the initial applicant screen may involve a computer key word search of your submitted documents these adjustments for the position are critical.
Of the total jobs, Rong felt she was a good match for 10-15 based on her background in mouse models of diabetes.
2. Types of jobs
Rong applied to jobs that said they required a Ph.D. and also some that said they required a post-doc. From the post-doc required pool she did get one interview.
Rong’s job hunt timeline suggestions
1. Prior to 1 year before you plan on applying
(if you know you want to apply to industry at this point, which Rong did not!)
A. Build connections wherever possible.
An internship is ideal for this, although it is more difficult here since there are not many companies nearby.
Try to attend a conference focused on biotech industry.
Use LinkedIn judiciously: do this early, before you are actually looking for a job so you can build a relationship and not simply ask about jobs. People (for example alumni in biotech companies) respond well if you ask them for advice or information, but may tend to ignore direct inquiries about jobs from someone they don’t know.
B. Collaborate with colleagues in your lab and other labs
Collaborations are a great way to learn, and also a great way to flesh out your publication record.
C. Keep improving your resume and CV and customize them for the basic types of jobs you want to apply to.
2. As you start to think about applying, about 1 year before graduation
A. Look through job listings to familiarize yourself with different types of positions
B. Put in some applications to get a feel for the process
3. Close to the time you really want to get a job
A. Make sure your papers are out if possible
B. Hone your application strategies!
The CV and Resume
1. Get your CV together first
A CV is a summary of the facts: Education, Experience, Talks, Posters, Papers. Include all your scientific activities and accomplishments as a starting point. If you don’t have papers yet you at least need to give a sense of what you will have when you graduate, although this is not ideal.
2. Refine your resume
A resume is different from a CV and you will tailor it for the type of position. You may want to highlight things about your research experience that are not so obvious from your CV. For example, in her Ph.D. work Rong used a small molecule from GSK. She put this collaboration front and center on her resume. She also mentioned skills and experience that may not have led to a publication, if they were relevant to the position. You can also highlight your collaborations. Put the most important things first, and then publications at the end. The top and bottom will get looked at first. Remember that big companies may filter by key word, so use words from the ad if they are relevant to you. But don’t take things out if they do not appear in the ad- you never know what else might be an advantage.
Rong recommends providing a cover letter where possible, even if not required, for two reasons: 1) It is the place where you can mention even a tiny connection to this specific company or this position (eg. You have referral from this company; or you have met/known someone from this company before; or even something weak as you know someone who has a solid connection with this company…). 2) Even without any previous connection with the company, a cover letter gives you the chance to sell yourself as an outstanding candidate- your experimental and soft skills, your personality, even your hobbies (whereas a resume does not give you that luxury).
A few last pieces of advice
1. Talk with people who work in different types of environments to see what might be the best match for your. Get lots of information and perspectives, and talk to people at different levels.
2. Don’t be too picky with your first job! Don’t limit yourself to one type of company, there is time for that later once you get more experience.