By Suna Gulay, PhD
As researchers, we frequently make the mistake of focusing on the small details of our projects and not spending enough time on how to communicate the bigger picture to the outside world. Especially during a job search, we need to be thinking about why our specific work experience should matter to others and why we should be considered for positions or given certain perks during job negotiations.
On February 26, 2016, the NICHD Office of Education held a refreshing workshop on networking, led by Scott Morgan, titled “21st Century Networking: LinkedIn and Beyond.” Morgan has led many other networking, public speaking, and science communication workshops at NICHD—he knows how to work with scientists. At the latest workshop, participants learned how to improve their LinkedIn profiles to be more visible to potential employers, as well as how to deliver an elevator pitch and negotiate terms with future employers upon receipt of a job offer.
Morgan offered several ways to improve LinkedIn profiles, including:
- A mission statement or a slogan instead of a title
- A profile picture
- Presentations and videos on your work
- Interaction with different groups, companies, thought leaders, and alumni
Our first activity was to improve the “Title” field of our profiles. The aim was to replace something like “Fellow at NIH” with a mission statement or a slogan that is specially tailored to you but relevant to a broad audience, basically reflecting your “niche.” For example, I work on eukaryotic translation initiation. Considering my previous experience as well, I came up with “expertise in regulation of gene expression at the level of protein translation” during this activity, and I have been getting noticed more on LinkedIn since then. My colleagues came up with even more interesting slogans, so give it a try yourself.
Next, Scott Morgan talked about the components of an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a 30 seconds to two minutes long summary of yourself and what you do. The name comes from a scenario in which you happen to be in the same elevator with an important person and you only have until the end of the ride to make a good impression. We practiced it with the second activity of the workshop: professional speed dating. Participants talked to one person at a time, making their pitch, and moving on to the next person when prompted.
The aim is to grab the attention of the other person by starting with the big picture and finding common ground, and then to talk about more specific points of your work emphasizing the significance. If a dialogue does not follow, there should also be an “exit strategy,” a last sentence to conclude your pitch.
A way to find common ground may be sharing something relatively personal, such as your passion, or something about your family. Interestingly, the personal conversations seemed to stick a bit better with the participants after the activity was over.
Finally, we learned about negotiating with employers. Morgan suggests to:
- Let a future employer bring up “money” first. If your opinion is asked, know the salary range of the position you have applied for.
- Aim for solutions, not victory.
- Make a list of non-cash items to bring up during the negotiation.
- “Make the pie bigger.” Emphasize why it is in the employer’s interest to give you what you are asking for.
Non-cash items are especially important in compensating for a lower salary or an earlier start date than you expect. These might include a lab package for a new principal investigator, compensation for moving expenses, temporary housing, or childcare, for example. Non-cash items are anything that you may find important and the employers may be willing to give you.
So what is your “Title” on LinkedIn? What is the broader significance your research? What are some negotiation points you can bring up after your next job offer? It is never too early to start thinking about these. Happy job hunting!