Getting Your Foot in the Door
According to Jacobs, an early entry into the private industry job market is important. He advises starting a job search for an entry level staff scientist position when you are tidying up your doctorate rather than at the end of your first postdoctoral fellowship. Many larger pharmaceutical and biotech companies also are now developing their own postdoctoral programs. For example, MedImmune is about to rollout a postdoctoral program for next year. “We may have up to 16 positions available,” says Jan Popp, director of project management and business operations at MedImmune.
Once you’ve identified some companies to apply for, “there are definite strategies applicants can undertake to snare an interview,” says Popp. “Do not apply for every position the company advertises – stick to those that require your specialist knowledge. Write a resume, not a CV, write it to the job description, and keep it short – three or four pages – including references. Describe, in point form, how you are able to meet the requirements of the position. Use key words, as hiring managers will use these for the initial screening, and always use active language. Where possible, incorporate management experience, whether project, financial, people, time, etc., and be certain to highlight skills involving oral and written communication, collaboration and teamwork. Don’t write about your hobbies or personal goals.”
“Also, recruiters look for industry experience,” says Popp. “Internships in industry during your undergraduate studies or having industry scientists involved in your projects or thesis can highlight connections and experience with industry.”
Another piece of advice: if the company you’re applying to is publicly-traded, call its investor relations office and ask for a copy of its prospectus – the document provides an incredible wealth of information.
“The first phone conversation is a screen that may result in an invitation to a formal interview,” says Popp. “You must be prepared for it. In the past, I have decided not to proceed with an applicant based on this first conversation. You must be clear and concise and able to think on your feet. Practice talking about yourself, but not in the sense of a biography. You need to be able to describe your skills and knowledge and how you apply them. Practice this with friends over lunch or whenever time is available. Get them to ask you questions about what you do and how you do it. This is something you should be relaxed with; it shouldn’t be presented as if by rote.”
The successful phone screen usually is followed by several one-on-one interviews with a panel. “Don’t feel weird just because you are better dressed than members of the interview panel,” says Popp. “If you don’t know what to wear, then look at what people in the public eye are wearing. News presenters and politicians are generally good role models in this respect.”
You also will be asked to give a seminar on your research work to a broader company audience. Jacobs gave a seminar in each of his interviews. “Have a polished and practiced seminar ready,” advised Popp. “And make sure you tell a story rather than just present a bunch of data. Also, do mock interviews. Practice.”
“As well as being able to express yourself, you also must show that you have good listening skills,” says Popp. “These things are important because they relate to your ability to collaborate, to work effectively with colleagues. And, lastly, have questions prepared that you can ask the panel. Being able to ask about the company and the job, rather than just the work conditions, gives you an opportunity to demonstrate some knowledge of the company and interest in the work it does.”