By Yvette Pittman, PhD
You may be asking yourself: “What do industry companies want to see in a candidate?” or “To be more competitive, how can I highlight the skills and experiences from my Ph.D. or postdoctoral training?” Lauren Celano, the founder and CEO of Propel Careers, led a great webinar last month about ways to become a better industry candidate. Her take-home message: companies want to hire scientists who have good technical skills AND have excellent organizational, leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills, AND positively impact their communities.
What do industry companies value?
Industry companies value teamwork. Have you worked on a multidisciplinary project with scientists outside of your expertise? Are you working with your lab mates to solve a complex experimental problem? These are excellent examples that highlight your ability to work within a team environment.
In addition to demonstrating teamwork, leadership experience in research and non-research activities is a must. This could be within, or external to, your current academic institution/NIH. For example, have you trained students or lab members in techniques or participated as the lead organizer for a grant writing opportunity? Perhaps you have served on a committee for a scientific society or graduate student association. Companies also look to see if you have been involved in any community service activities, for example, volunteering for a charity or tutoring underprivileged children.
Beyond the technical skills
Most employers will assume that you have very strong scientific and technical skills, but they want to know the other transferable skills you could bring to their organization—communication (oral and written), project management, budgeting, people management, and time management, for example. All of these are skills that can be honed in the laboratory setting.
Industry companies appreciate candidates who are strategic about their career paths and who use their experiences to develop professionally. Companies want to see that your accomplishments fit your personal goals, and more importantly, that you are building skills for what you want to do next. Your resume and cover letter allow you to tell a story—remember you have to package your skills and experiences well.
When interviewing for an industry job, you should be prepared to discuss the non-technical aspects of your scientific experiences. Prepare tangible examples for the transferable skills mentioned above. For example, an interviewer may ask about your organizational skills. You could discuss your ability to manage multiple projects in the lab, or how you organized a departmental seminar series for postdocs and graduate students. The webinar introduced numerous examples of transferable skills relevant to particular career paths (see slides at right).
Select Q&As from "How to Be Competitive for the Industry Job Market"
Q: How do you advise getting a discussion started with your supervisor [about volunteering outside the lab] or should you volunteer behind the scenes?
A: For many grants funded by the NIH, PIs have to include a paragraph about career plans of postdocs. A tool called myIDP by Science Careers is meant to be used for career assessment to see what areas would be interesting, and there is a tool to talk with your PI about career planning and opportunities. If you feel like you’re not going to get any traction from your PI, find opportunities that are an hour or two hours a week, not too much time out of the lab initially, just to make sure you really are interested in a specific career path. When you approach your PI, you’ll be more confident about that career track.
Q: Is a selected skills section on a resume OK?
A: Yes, jobs might not need all of the technical skills you’ve developed. Mention that you have additional skills to those listed on the resume.
Q: What’s the best way to highlight certain roles without having gaps in experience?
A: One way is to have different sections within your resume. Maybe within your resume, you have relevant medical writing experience and then you have one section that says relevant technical experience.
Q: How can we make a long (10 years) postdoc career “sexy” for industry?
A: Focus on technical expertise that you’ve gained during that time, your proficiency with subject matter, and new work that you’ve done during that time. Play up experiences gained that required a long postdoc (big paper, management experiences, technical expertise, etc). Note: We realize that NIH postdocs are limited to five years.