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Advice on Job Search


samman1994
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Hello everyone,

So I have been on the job search now for 3 months, applied to over a billion places (literally everything under the biotech sun), and got a bunch of interviews, but no job offers. Overtime, I learned a few tactics, and went from getting one interview a week, to getting an interview for almost everything I applied for. From getting no job offers, to getting 3 job offers in one week. I thought I'd come here and just give some feedback on what I've learned through my application process, and state what I was doing wrong and how I fixed it. 

Now a lot of this advice is actually pretty cliche. It's nothing new, just things that I had heard but never paid attention to or never realized how important they would be. Nor did I know how to implement them until recently. My experience is from the Biotech field, but I think this advice can extend to probably all fields. 

Resume:

This is what any employer will see first. I had made a resume, fine tuned it, had it looked at and edited by multiple people, and everyone said it was great. However, it was a very great but generic resume. 

1) DO NOT send the same application to everything. Fine tune your application to every job you are applying to. Everyone told me you don't want your cv/resume more than 2 pages. This is absolute blasphemy for my field. Do not be afraid to go over to 3 or even four pages if you need to emphasize specific skill sets or techniques that are relavent to the position you are applying to. I.E. In my lab, we did everything from protein expression, to purification, to NMR analysis, to binding and mutagensis studies, all the way to computational work. I very briefly have stated all that on my generic all encompassing resume. However, when I apply to say a Cell Therapy Specialist (basically a job focusing on cell culture and expression), I modify my resume to focus on my protein expression work. Everything from what cell lines I used, to what ingredients I used, to what antibiotics I used, etc. I went from 2 pages, to 3 by just discussing the details of my cell culture experience. Again, you want to keep it brief, but if it relates to the job at hand, don't be afraid to go into detail. They want to know you have plenty of experience in the field you are applying to, and the more you can demonstrate that on your resume, the more they will be interested in you. (Everyone can write they've done protein expression work. But the difference between someone who did it once, or only did a minor part of it can be easily shown by the amount of detail you discuss in your resume). This applies to everything though. A computational lab? Focus on what programs you used, what scripting you did, what program languages C++ or whatnot that you may have used. Analytical lab? Focus on what chromotography techniques you used. What columns? How often did you use it? What did you analyze and what was it used for? By doing this, I went from the occassional phone call, to getting a phone call or interview for every single job I applied to. 

2) Using "search words" or "key words". Basically, look in your job posting, and see if certain words stand out that you can use in modifying your resume. I.E. From the previous example above. The job description for the Cell Specialist used key words like, cell culture experience required, or experience with cell culture products prefered. So instead of saying I expressed proteins, I add the term cell culture experience. 

Original Version: Expressing proteins using E. Coli

Modified Version: Cell culture experience expressing proteins using E. Coli

Same with the cell culture products. I used a product called Bioexpress and various additives that helped my proteins express better. Same thing with the wording. 

Original Version: Experience using media supplements such as Bioexpress

Modified Version: Experience with cell culture products such as Bioexpress

In the examples above, I changed the wording around to match the wording the job description used. Theoretically, I am saying the same thing in both examples, but to the reader those statements stand out much more as making me "more qualified". 

Interview:

So now they like you, they want to see if you are a good fit to the company, and can support your resume. If you are a good honest hardworking person, then you know whats on your resume, and can basically back up everything they ask you about it and your previous experience, but how you state your skill set is almost as important as the skill set itself. 

1) One of the first questions I was always asked was: "why do you want to work here?" Now for me, I was straight out of college, and wanted to explore the field of biochemistry. I didn't know much about the field and industry, so I thought this would a great opportunity to get experience. THIS IS A BIG NO NO! The company does not want to be the guinea pig to your job search field exploration experiment. They want someone who is looking for a career. When they ask you this question, you better have a really good answer. How can you have a good answer you ask? Well this is exactly why I'm making this post. 

Research the company before the interview (both before the phone interview, and the in person one). Find out what this company does, look at their site, their services, their videos, and what part of it sounds interesting/cool to you. Next, check out the job position, and what role you would have in the company. This will not be as obvious as what the company does, but use the job description and your knowledge of the company to try and get an idea of what you may be doing there, and see what part of that sounds interesting/cool. If you're gonna have to convince them, you're gonna have to convince yourself first. I.E. I'll just use the same example for simplicity. The cell therapy specialist. This company worked on modifying the bodies T-cells to help combat and cure cancer in patients. The method is relatively harmless (compared to chemo) and has a high success rate and low rate of remission. The position I was applying for was a manufacturing position. So my job would be to basically get human T-cells, modify them with the companies proprietary technology, and then simple scale up the modified T-cells and ship it out the patient for injection. This meant I would be directly making the medicine/treatment the cancer patient would be using to cure themselves. So when they asked me why did I want to work there, its because I looked at what the company does, looked at the technology and its success rate, and looked at the job description, and decided I want to be a part of this and save lives. I told them I believe in the companies vision and what they are doing, and I wanted to have an active role in creating the treatment for these poor cancer patients. (I had also seen on the companies site the treatment was not done with its clinical trials, so it was only used for the cancer patients who were basically at their last chance for a cure), so I used that by saying we are the last line of hope for these people, and I wanted to help cure them. 

This will make you look like you care about the company, its vision, and plan a career there. 

2) The next most common question: "Why do you want position X (what you applied for) instead of position Y (another possible position)"? The company will want to know what your true interests are. Again, this is to determine whether you are looking for a career in this position (which is usually what they want), or just want a quick job and applied because you thought you were eligible or whatever. I.E. Again similar example. In Science, you have R&D, Manufacturing, and QA/QC. These are the most common examples, and each one is different. R&D is researching the medicine, coming up with new and improved drugs. Manufacturing as you might have imagined is making the drug, and QA/QC is quality assurance/control and is to make sure the drug is being manufactured properly basically. Now many scientists want R&D, because its challenging, mentally stimulating, and always changing. Manufacturing and QA/QC is usually just doing the same thing over and over and over again, and no one wants to feel like they went to school for multiple years to simply become a robot. So in my position: "Why do you want a Manufacturing position instead of an R&D position"? "If we had an R&D position available, would you like us to put your resume into that?". The solution for both of these are the same as above. Research the company, and your position in the company, and find out what about it is interesting and cool. So when they ask you this, you can give them an in depth and detailed answer why you are applying for that position. You don't want to come off like the job your applying for is your last choice and you just wanted to get whatever you could. Make it seem like you really want this job, and that this is a real dream career for you. 

3) This is something more on the spot, improv if you will, that I found to be incredibly helpful and got really good feedback from the people I was being interviewed by when I did this. So the next most common question outside of the 2 above is: "Tell me one of your strengths (and sometimes weaknesses too)?" Now you could give some generic answer "I pay attention to detail, or am organized, great time management, etc. etc etc.", everyone says this and it will not make you stand out. This will almost never be the first question, so you will have some time after they ask the first question and your answer, to gauge the interview a bit. What i mean by this is try and get a feel for the person, for the company (now that you're in the building), for the position itself (after doing some research and discussing it with the person). Then, give an answer that is actually applicable to the position you are applying for. I.E. Again, same example as above. The building I went into was very chaotic, and everyone was sorta running all over the place. I thought it humorous, so as the guy was walking me to the interview room, I commented on it, and he said its a very intense and busy place, and everyone is always doing something. The guy himself seemed very straight forward, professional (non-conversational), and terse. This is for a Manufacturing position dealing with human cells, and cells are very time sensitive. So gathering all this info together, when he asked me what is one of my strengths, I didn't just give him a one word answer, but rather described my strength. I told him back when I was an undergrad, I had classes, and had to keep up with the lab. Bacteria are very time sensitive, so you had manage your time properly so that they didn't die, and your experiment wasn't ruined. At the same time, you had to make sure you managed your time with your classes, and the classes and research of other lab members in the lab too, so that you didn't impede on their work, nor fail your classes. All this taught me valuable time management skills allowing me to successfully juggle multiple things in a busy environment. He told me that is exactly what they are looking for, and then went into detail about how time sensitive their samples are, and how busy their work place is, etc. etc etc Describe your strength, and do so in a way that directly applies to what you are applying for. 

One other thing that I wanted to add that always ended positively for me is, your previous skill set is a strength too (don't be afraid to throw in a 2nd strength even if they asked only for one). I.E. Same example above. After my time management, I told him I also had experience with cell culture and expressing cells. I know how to work in a lab with other people, while working independently as well. Working with cells also means you need to have asceptic technique (another key word in the job description). Finally, I had to constantly maintain a lab notebook and write all the details of my experiments down as they were being conducted, so I have experience maintaining and writing notes on everything I do (this type of manufacturing is regulated very heavily, and it is crucial you document every tiny thing you do, otherwise it is a huge liability on the company). Therefore, I would focus less on basic training, and be able to get incorporated into the job faster and focus more on the in-depth detailed training, not only that, since I know the foundation of all of this due to my biochem background, I'd also understand what is going on at a molecular level, and wouldn't need to learn the foundational knowledge for what is going on, but rather take my knowledge and simply apply it to the job. All of that, makes me stand out even more now, because I just indicated i have the experience and knowledge that will help me succeed through the training faster, making me start the job faster (which is basically what they want). 

4) One final thing that I think will really help you stand out, is a good question to ask them (because they will always ask you if you have any questions to ask them). Now there are many questions you can ask them "Can you take me through what I would be doing on a daily basis here" or "How do you like working here" etc. The one I've found to be the most useful goes something along the lines of this: "Since I'm looking at this position as a career, what potential opportunities for growth does this position have?". I think this is a really good question because it makes it look like you are looking at the position as a career and not just a quick job, but also because you are looking at the position, company, and your future within it seriously. I think its a great closer, and lets them know you are serious about starting a career with this company in the position you applied for (and that you aren't just going to leave as soon as you get something better). 

 

 

I'm sure I'm missing a lot, but these are I think the basics and I think the most important. 

A Tl'Dr version:

Make your resume detailed so that it stands out and makes it look like you know exactly what you're applying for. 

Make sure you research the company and position in depth so you can discuss why you would be a good fit for the job, and why you even want it. 

Make sure you ask good compelling questions that show you are putting in some serious thought about your future in the company.

All in all, make it seem like you REALLY want this job. This job is your career, your potential future, and your current desire. The company is investing in you for the long haul, and they want to know you are investing in them too.

 

I apologize for how long this turned out. I had meant it be shorter, but I really wanted to go in detail so I could fully explain what I was trying to say. The advice I state above is very common advice, but I really wanted to show clear examples of how to actually use that common advice. I hope this helps anyone in their current job search! And if anyone has anything to add, feel free!

NOTE: This is all from my personal experience searching for jobs in the biotech industry. Each industry and experience may be different, these are just things that helped me that I thought may also be applicable to jobs outside of the biotech industry. 

Edited by samman1994
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