Interviews with Industry Professionals

I think the most frustrating and puzzling aspect of job hunting is the absence of any feedback after I click that submit button. A month goes by. Two months is up. And now I think I’m not going to hear back. OK. No response probably means that something (or some aspect of) about my application is not fitting for the job, as deemed by the potential employer. But, really, the interpretation is left to my speculations with no way to really validate them.

So I set out do a project: I will conduct informational interviews with industry professionals, who are involved in hiring process, and get their input on what they are looking for and/or what they hate seeing on applications. In doing so, I will try to ask them for actionable suggestions, meaning one message they want to send to you. These are going to be on an actionable scale, meaning that these will be specific pointers, things like avoid using expressions like X and show more Y, using specific kind of language, Z.

I’ve asked a couple of people for an informational interview and I’ll post them on the basis of getting these interviews. I’m really excited for this and if you have a question, please send it in and I’ll make sure to include your questions during the interview! 🙂

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Apply for Jobs Even If You Don’t Have Any Publications (Yet)

In one of my last posts, I confessed that I didn’t start applying for jobs until it was already time for me to graduate. One big reason for this was because I was waiting for my first first-author publication, which came out in April of 2015 and I graduated in May of the same year. At that time I felt like my application will not be taken seriously if I have nothing to show for all my claims about the kind of scientist I am (prior to my first first-author publication, I had one middle-author PNAS publication).

I decided to do a post to urge you to NOT do this because having one more publication contributes only minimally to your getting a job in industry. And this may be partially true in academia as well. I learned this from watching my colleagues.

One of my friends who is working at a major biotech company as a  technical representative shared through LinkedIn that his first first-author publication just got published — 2 years after graduation.  He is not alone in this. I have another friend who had a number of middle-author publications and no first-author publication (at the time of his application) got a research position in a major pharmaceutical company last year.

To top this off, one of my very close friends got a postdoctoral position in a lab of Nobel laureate before she had her first publication out, which came out 6 months after she started her postdoc.

My hypothesis behind this is that people understand that publications can take a while to come out and as long as the candidate can practice sound science and has the skills that fit the job description, the rest is not as important. So, if the lack of publication is what is holding you back, please convince yourself that this is by no means a major factor in your gaining employment, especially in industry.

Find an Internship Before Finishing PhD

Yes. Even at doctoral level (at least prior to finishing PhD), there are internship opportunities.

I remember asking people around me and on career webinars about internship opportunities for PhD students. And the answers I used to get were all big NOs. So after graduating I did some searches and found that while there are not too many opportunities around, there are a handful of them out there. If you are geographically close to them and can have your adviser give you the time off (or reduce hours in the lab for a few months), this is a golden opportunity to get your foot in the door.

  1. https://www.looksharp.com/
    • Looksharp is a website where you can put up your profiles and also look for available internships at all levels. I know there are not too many but this is one of the few places that I found that would post internship opportunists for PhD students.
  2. https://www.mitacs.ca/en
    • Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that helps the partnering between academia and industry in Canada.  This organization offers internship opportunities for PhD students and postdocs but the caveat here is that you have to be currently working at a Canadian university in order to apply.
  3. Looking for an Opportunity at Your Local Biotechs: This is something that I heard from a colleague who actually called a biotech (or an industry that you hope to work in) and asked for an internship/ volunteer opportunities. Luckily, for him, it worked out and he ended up getting a job there when he graduated. I know this sounds like a fairy tale but this might be worth a shot.

And as for postdocs, I was not able to find any programs for internships (other than industry postdocs, which doesn’t really count) but I know of a program that may help postdocs with their entry to industry.

Postdoc Professional Masters from Keck Graduate Institute : This is a masters program that promises its students (PhDs and MDs) an industry internship as a part of the education. I’ve been to their information seminar and it sounded pretty interesting. They claim that 87% of their graduates get an industry job within 6 months of graduation, which is pretty good. But of course, this program roughly costs $15,000 plus cost of living in Irvine, California. Here are pages where you can check out the program info and tuition.

Finding an internship isn’t easy. But I think anyone who wants to get into industry should try to get one because it can really help one’s entry into industry.  So, why not check out these websites or write an email (or call) to a local company today?

* I know that what I listed here is by no means exhaustive. So if you know of a website where PhDs can look for internships, please let me know and I’ll add them to this post.

** For international students in the U.S., F/J visa does not allow work outside of the university, so some of what I wrote here may not apply to you. I will do a post about working opportunities as a foreign national on F/J visa.

 

Regularly Check Out Job Postings by Setting Up Online Profiles

In my last post, I mentioned how I started my job search very late (a few months before graduation), when I knew better. Why did I not start early? Because I felt like I did not have enough head space for it. I was wrapping up experiments, training people , writing my thesis, revising my paper that was under review…the list kept growing. This was my fatal mistake. Adding a task like job searching that is time consuming and important to my to-do-list when I was down to the wire in terms of finishing my degree was bound to not get accomplished. I’m sure some of you can relate to this.

So what I want to talk about today is finding easy ways for you to keep up with general trend/availability of the kind of jobs that you want. I believe this is really important because you need to know what are some general job requirements for your ideal job and start building appropriate skills early on. For example, if many of your ideal positions are looking for people with bioinformatics skills, you should look for way to obtain that. This is doable only if you have enough time and have this information.  So I want to introduce some ways that you can get job info (or have them brought to you) easily and regularly so that you don’t have to spend extra energy thinking about this.

I find that the best (easiest/ least time -consuming) ways are signing up for career emails from companies, setting up job feeds from social media outlets, and uploading your resume online. Doing each one may take about 15 to 30 minutes. I’ll explain each in more detail.

  1. Sign up for company career emails: I’m literally talking about signing up on a company’s website. I did this for really big companies and companies that I personally wanted to work at. To name some, these are companies like Pfizer, Roche, Thermo Fisher,  Johnson & Johnson…etc. I usually get one email per week or two. If I’m busy, I ignore them but when I have a minute to kill, I check out jobs that catch my eyes. This is a good way for you to check out job postings without having to spent your limited time to search. So please sign up today.
  2. Set up career preference filters on social media platforms like LinkedIn: Do you have a LinkedIn account? If you don’t I encourage you to sign up even if you don’t plan on setting up your profile immediately. Linked In offers Jobs feature that is really useful. I find most feeds are spot on in terms of their matches to my preference or interest. And Linked In emails you (almost too frequently) when there are new job postings that you might want to know.
  3. Upload your resume on popular job listing websites: Another thing that I would suggest is putting your resume on websites like monster.com or indeed.com that are not specific to science jobs. I recommend this because I’ve gotten many emails from recruiters in the past about a position that seemed interesting. And they reach out to you. So there really is no time investment on your part.

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There are 3 simple things that can really help you keep up with your dream jobs, from which you can get ideas as to how to curate your skills to have a better shot at them.

Start Early (1 year rule)

Do you see yourself graduating or finishing your position within a year? You should actively job hunt now. One year is probably the minimum that you should allow yourself for looking seriously into your job prospects. 

I know one year seems like a plenty of time. I felt that way, too. I even heard this in person from a Science Liaison at Amgen but I still did not start a month before graduation. And now understand why students/postdocs have to start early: most PhDs are employed within 2 to 5 years within graduation (see this Science article). In other words, many graduates are not working for 2 to 5 years after graduation. How awful is this? We work hard. Really hard. And this is what awaits us?

This is why one needs to start early, at least one year before finishing. And I think the ground work (i.e., uploading C.V.s to companys’ talent pool, subscribing to career-preference-matched job emails, writing (mock) cover letters)* needs to come even before that. 

If you don’t believe me, I’d advise checking out other career-oriented blogs for scientists like this one: Next Scientist. And see what other people have to say about this. 

So, if any of what I said applies to you, start today. Then in a year, you might have something and you will be proud of yourself for having started early. 

* I’m going to do a post on each one. 

 

Introduction

I thought I’d start this blog with a little bit about myself and reasons why I started this blog (and maybe couple of other things  along the way).

I graduated from a R1 university in 2015 with plans to pursue a career in industry. To my dismay it was only much later that I understood getting a job in industry is not only difficult but requires some strategic ground work. With the realization, I felt regrets and frustrations because I did not understand why these information is not readily available to more PhD students (while they are still in school). And why more people are not talking about ways to prepare students for industry (or non-academic jobs).

That is why I decided to start this blog.

I wanted to share some ideas I had while job hunting that could increase one’s chance of getting an industry job. I’m talking about things like looking for an industry internship while in graduate school, setting up career-matched emails from companies or knowing where to look for job postings. While these things are not the most brilliant or novel ideas, I find that most of my colleagues do not think about them ahead of time. This includes myself.

So I’m hoping that my posts are helpful to you in preparing your leap from academia to industry. Or if you are already in industry and would like to chime in, please do so. I’m sure people here are happy to hear how you did it.

-Valerie