Biophysical Society member Donald Chang defended his PhD thesis last year and found himself in the job market. After consideration about what career path to take, and some searching, he now works as an Associate Consultant at C1 Consulting, a healthcare consulting company. In this blog post, he offers some advice on how to get noticed as a job seeker, and why to take advantage of resources available at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting.
There is a quote I often like to use when describing the process of job hunting: “Experience is a hard teacher, she gives the test first and then the lesson.” I certainly had my share of failed tests and learned lessons when job searching. No doubt many of you are looking for a job and are hoping to network at this year’s Biophysical Society Annual Meeting. Others may not have started job searching yet, but realize that you will soon face this challenge. Regardless of where you are in the process, by sharing some of my job seeking experiences as a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Biophysical community, I hope other prospective job-seekers may find my advice useful and utilize the career resources at the Biophysics Conference this year to its full potential.
I have been attending the Biophysical Society Meeting every year since 2010. However, last year’s 2015 meeting in Baltimore was unique for me: it was my last as a graduate student. Before I knew it, the conference flew by, my thesis defense took place, and, with the deposit of my thesis and a few firm handshakes, I was cut loose into the job search.
Unlike some of my peers, I didn’t quite know what path to take after grad school. I considered academia, then industry, and finally, settled on the career path I’m on today as a healthcare consultant. In between, I interviewed and worked at a variety of jobs including a small bio-tech start-up and a research diagnostics lab. In these varied experiences, I learned some valuable lessons along the way that I’d like to share with you.
Manage your expectations. Just because you have an advanced degree or heavy science background does not mean you are guaranteed to find a high-paying job or even be granted an interview. It is important to set the right mentality early on, otherwise you may feel quite disappointed. Many Ph.D. graduates find themselves disappointed when they are repeatedly turned away from jobs despite being a “doctor.” I experienced this firsthand as I applied to multiple jobs with none of them giving a call-back. Recognize that despite your educational background, many companies would still consider you “entry level” albeit with higher performance expectations. What your degree does do is underscore your potential to succeed and back up your intellectual merit should you impress – but first you must grab their attention, which leads me to my second point.
Make your presence felt. People always say “Go network, utilize connections”, but what does that actually mean? Let’s try to ground those statements with some real-life actionable items.
An easy entry into networking, is to create a LinkedIn profile, if you haven’t already, and keep it updated. We live in a digital world where your online resume commands as much attention as your paper resume—if not more. If you already have one, be sure that it is current and well-designed. If you are unsure how to spruce it up, the Career Center at the Annual Meeting can offer some great advice. Be sure to visit them and set up an appointment for one-on-one resume review. I recall spending quite a bit of time on my LinkedIn and resume, asking multiple people to review it.
Another “networking” to-do is connect with colleagues, both former and current, as well as establish new relationships. The Annual Meeting is a great place to start. I didn’t start taking advantage of the meets-and-greets and networking events until recent years, and regret not doing so earlier. The Annual Meeting is a great opportunity to expand your network with minimal effort on your end – just introduce yourself, make friends, and learn to carry a conversation! Trust me, it’s a lot harder to network behind a computer screen at home than to do it in person.
Lastly, stay persistent. Tying into my first point about managing expectations, realize that this is a long process. As a scientist, you’re seeking a job that will challenge you, tap your potential, and open a path for your career to grow. These opportunities do not happen overnight. It is likely you will go through multiple rounds of interviews, lasting anywhere from 1 month to half a year. One job I applied for had an interview process of over 3 months and over 3 rounds of interviews. In hindsight it was an appropriate amount of time, but in the moment, each day seemed to drag on forever. With that in mind, do not be discouraged if you make it to final interview rounds and don’t get an offer. Declined offers, just like failed science experiments, never feel good, but are by no means a sign to give up. Stay persistent and keep at it.
Please note that there is a lot of advice out there on job searching and this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. Rather, the suggestions I shared are just selected ones which resonated the most with me when I was job hunting. There is not a “one size fits all” formula for getting a job and I would encourage you to spend some time researching other tips or making an appointment at the Career Center at this year’s Annual Meeting to ensure you find the approach which best suits you. I utilized the Career Center last year when I was applying for jobs and the counselors were able to help guide me, improving my resume and advising me on my applicant profile. Whether you need help getting past that final interview or getting an interview to begin with, the counselors at the Career Center have seen and heard it all and are more than willing to help.