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Whatever your background or question – askHR has career advice and answers for you!

Questions of the Week | Archive

June 5, 2008
QUESTION: I have been in the job market for several months, and conducted several interviews with companies in local, but eventually was turned me down as lack of industry experiences. How to deal with that? Someone told me, it's just a game, without industry job how to get industry experiences? Without chicken how to get egg?

ANSWER: In my personal and professional experience, the hardest job to get is the first job out of college. Employers are looking for candidates with identical or transferable skills for many of their open positions. If you do not have either of these, you are an entry-level candidate. There is nothing wrong with being labeled “entry-level”- we have all been there in our professional lives at one time or another. The key, in my opinion, is not to spend time figuring out how to deal with, but how to overcome it.

Tip # 1: Be honest with yourself regarding the types of jobs you are applying for. If the job description calls for 3-5 years of specific industry experience that you do not have, you should not apply. Being disappointed about not getting a job you weren’t qualified for is a bi-product of unrealistic expectations and poor research.

Tip #2: Do not rely solely on Internet job boards to find employment opportunities. I cannot stress enough how important it is for recent graduates to network with hiring managers, industry professionals, college professors and anyone else that might “know someone”. Without industry experience to draw upon, you need a robust network to help you get in front of the right people.

Tip # 3: Be flexible. Too often recent graduates fixate on job titles, company names, shifts, pay rate, etc. You need to assess each opportunity that presents itself, but be open to working a nontraditional shift, driving a bit further on your commute or accepting a position with a small or mid-sized company. Remember, it’s about getting that precious industry experience, so keep your options open.

Encountering the “you don’t have industry experience” response from employers is not unique to 2008, 1998 or even 1968. It has been around as long as there have been employers and job seekers, so don’t let it curb your enthusiasm or diminish your confidence. Take a step back and assess your approach to job hunting, interviewing, interview preparation and networking. If you conduct an honest evaluation, I am confident you will identify some areas for improvement. Start tomorrow off with a renewed vigor to apply some new strategies to your job search and seek out professionals that can help mentor you along the way. When all else fails, find someone who does what you want to do and ask: “How did you get your first job”?

Stay positive, persistent and professional and good things will happen.

May 29, 2008
QUESTION: I am looking for a new company to work for and am thinking about working with a recruiter. Since I've been home-based I haven't had any calls like usual in an office. Is there a list of recruiting companies out there for clinical research/clinical trials? I am a clinical research associate (or site monitor) who has >7 years experience and want someone who can help me find my IDEAL position!

ANSWER: Selecting the right recruiter will give you the best chance of finding your ideal position. Be selective, as this process is an investment in your career and selecting the wrong recruiter will lead to disappointment and frustration. A list of recruiting/staffing firms by area of specialty can be located in the “Job Seekers” section of the American Staffing Association’s Web site,

I would also encourage you to review online job boards to find the companies or recruiters that have active job postings. This will give you an idea of job openings in your local market, which firms recruit for candidates within the clinical research area, and provide you with the necessary contact information.

Another great resource is the trade magazine, Applied Clinical Trials, or the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) Web site, Both are clinical research specific and offer a variety of information including career and professional development advice, along with the latest news about the clinical trials industry.

In addition to these methods, networking with other clinical research professionals would be a good investment of your time. Attending meetings and events sponsored by the various clinical trial associations provide excellent opportunities to share information. Social networking sites like “LinkedIn” also offer a great way to connect with other clinical trial professionals. You will find a host of willing endorsers, if they have had a positive experience.

A professional recruiter brings value to clients and candidates by establishing a reputation based on trust, integrity and results. A common mistake that jobs seekers make is to not interview the recruiter they are trusting with their job search. Once you have compiled a list of prospective recruiters or search firms, the next step is to prepare a few questions to ask the recruiter:

  • How many placements have you made in the last three months?
  • What types of positions have you filled?
  • Do you specialize in clinical research, or a variety of industries?

    As a clinical research associate, you need a recruiting specialist, not a generalist. The best advice is to look for a recruiter that takes the time to get to you know as a professional and as a person. Communicate what you are looking for in your next position (salary, growth opportunity, job scope, work-life balance, benefits, etc.). Also, be an active participant in the relationship by keeping in touch, respond to emails or phone calls in a timely manner, and provide honest feedback after interviews. Be patient. It may take some time because the “ideal” position may not be immediately available.

    May 29, 2008
    QUESTION: After working for ten years in the Biotech Industry, I took a three year sabbatical to take care of my family and relocate to Southern California. My youngest child just turned 2 years old, and I believe that now is a good time for me to resume my career and go back to work. The questions I have are the following:

    a. What is the best way to present a competitive resume with a 3 years gap?

    b. Do I have any chance to find a job in the Biotech Industry as a scientist or should I look into a change of career?

    c. What is the likelihood of finding a part-time job or a job to share in R&D?

    ANSWER: The best way to present a competitive resume is to match your skills to the position description. By writing your resume to the requirements of the job, you will show a potential employer how your skill sets meet the qualifications of the position. Emphasize the quantity and quality of the results you have achieved. Overall, you want your resume to demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the job. Even if you have a three-year gap in your employment, your resume will reflect how easily you will fit into a Biotech work environment.

    To address the three-year gap, you can include the information in your cover letter or resume as you stated: “I took a three year sabbatical to care for my family and relocate to Southern California.” But, on your resume also list activities during the gap that show how you have stayed up to date in your field. For example, list any volunteer work you have done for the Biotech/Science community. Also include memberships in Biotech/Science organizations, along with any meetings or networking functions that you attended. It is important to show that you are still connected to the Biotech/Science community.

    Nationwide the Biotech industry is experiencing growth so now is a fantastic time to be a Biotech Scientist! The best advice is to be prepared. Brush up on your interviewing skills and be positive. While your technical skills are a necessity for a job in the Biotech industry, your soft skills will also be important to employers. These include polished communication skills, a professional demeanor, enthusiasm, and a beyond-the-call commitment to exceed customer expectations. Many companies use a behavior based system of interviewing and questions are designed along the lines of, “Tell me about a time when…” Answers to these questions often predict whether or not a prospective employee will be a good fit for a company’s particular work environment and culture.

    With today’s shrinking skilled science labor force, companies are looking to attract talent in unconventional ways. The likelihood of finding a non-traditional job position is very probable, especially for science professionals returning to the workforce. In R&D, we are seeing the trend of more companies offering part-time work, work share, and other flexible job options to attract and retain this valuable talent. Good luck in your job search!

    April 3, 2008
    QUESTION: I am a Master's level graduate in Biotechnology with approximately one year of experience from contract QA jobs in the Toronto area. Although I have been searching for various types of positions in the U.S.A., specifically in either California or the Northeast, a few sources have informed me that this will be a difficult transition because of my lack of U.S. citizenship. Some companies explicitly mention the requirement for US citizenship or even local area residency in their job postings. Many do not address this issue at all in their postings.

    All through my schooling, I heard that companies would help a selected international candidate get through the necessary legal processes quickly. That story seems to have changed now to where the citizenship issue hinders the chances of international applicants being hired.

    Is this a reality in today's science job market? If so, is there anything a Canadian jobseeker can do to increase his/her chances of landing a job south of the border?

    ANSWER: The reality today is that it is extremely difficult for an international scientific candidate to obtain visa sponsorship from an American company. Several years ago the US federal government put a cap on the annual number of visas granted to technical professionals. Since then, the situation has been very dire. However, your case may be different.

    You did not mention whether or not you are a Canadian citizen but I will assume that is the case. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the process for Canadians to gain a US work visa is much easier than for those from European or Asian countries. This special visa is called a TN visa and is available to professionals in specific fields. Most scientific jobs in the biotechnology industry will qualify. Your employer will need to write a standard letter notifying Canadian immigration officials of your employment status. You will then present this letter along with your Canadian passport at a border crossing and if all is in order you will get a TN number stamped on your passport. A US Social Security card also will need to be presented to your new employer within your first three working days. This visa needs to be renewed every year.

    Immigration laws change rapidly so I recommend that you seek more detailed advice from an immigration expert. He or she will be able to give you the specific information that you need to make a successful transition. In addition, you must become an expert yourself in this matter. Not all employers in the US realize that the TN visa is a great tool and you may have to educate them. There is a wealth of good, free information on the internet as well as in reference material. We need well-trained scientists in the US so please don't give up!

    April 3, 2008
    QUESTION: I am asking for an analysis that I can use in family court to outline the sacrifices I made to support my spouse through med school. For example, I got an offer around May or June in 2004 to interview for a R&D research scientist position with Tanox Inc of Houston TX but could not pursue it. Can anybody tell me how I can obtain credible evidence to what my earning potential would be I were free to pursue jobs in industry in 2004? I could just apply for positions and consider offers when in fact I have no plans to leave my present position.

    ANSWER: I would not recommend interviewing and turning down positions just to learn the salary. There are many ways to go about researching your earning potential without putting staffing and hiring professionals through that inconvenience. The science community is a small world and your reputation would be ruined quickly. Although you are not looking for a position right now, that could change quickly in such a complex situation.

    The major job boards all have tools that you can use to calculate the current salary levels for your profession. Go to, or In addition, the major science journals and societies run annual salary surveys in order to discover trends. Science and Nature magazines are good resources. You may be able to find past articles on line or at your science library. It will be best to use a range rather than a hard number because salaries differ depending on industry and geographic location.

    Treat your salary research just as you would a laboratory data analysis and back up everything with facts. This approach should give you the information that you need.

    March 20, 2008
    QUESTION: For the past 13 years I have been in a mid-management position, not in the healthcare industry. Prior to this position, I spent eight years in sales. I'm forty-four now and am looking for a career change. I would like to enter the healthcare industry. I have interviewed with major pharma companies this past year for positions including pharmaceutical representative. Unfortunately, I was not offered the positions. I have a B.S. in management and I have received numerous awards from my present employer for outstanding customer service and leadership. What are companies looking for in order to break into medical sales? On both interviews I was the oldest. Can my age be holding me back?

    ANSWER: Most companies look for excellent communication skills, confidence, assertiveness, solid negotiation skills, proven success in sales, and ideally a technical (medical, scientific, healthcare) background. If you possess these characteristics, don’t let the age factor worry you.

    However, always be aware of who your audience is during an interview and do your best to make a positive connection, even if the interviewer is 20 years your junior. Be energetic and emphasize your most recent accomplishments during the interviews. Remember that the company you want to work for will value your experience, not discount you because of your age.

    In the meantime, look for opportunities that will enhance your experience and skills in the pharmaceutical and sales arenas. Attend seminars and training sessions on healthcare issues, and leverage these events to also network with the medical sales representatives. Networking through social networking sites such as LinkedIn is invaluable for connecting to higher-level sales managers and for following up on job postings.

    In a career change situation such as yours, you will most likely go on several interviews before you find the right opportunity. It is a great sign that you have had interviews already. Be patient and persistent, as you will need these skills in your new career.

    March 20, 2008
    QUESTION: I have been out of the workforce for nearly five years in my area of expertise. I currently have cancer and my treatment regiment is three days a week. It is projected it will be in remission by June. I have several questions about getting back to work. What do I put on my resume? I did contract myself out thru my own company during most of this period, but I have about a one-year gap. Do I put some sort of personal/health leave? When I am able to search for employment, how do I field questions regarding this time lapse?

    ANSWER: We recommend that you do not include personal and/or health-related information on your resume. The resume is a place to highlight your credentials and skills and should not contain personal information. The fact that you are ready, willing and able to be employed is the only thing an employer needs to know from a resume. Also don’t exclude the work you did as a contractor. Even though it is outside your field of expertise, this experience is valuable in showing your drive and you may even be able to use some of the skills from that work in your new job.

    Leave the one year gap on your resume, but be prepared to answer questions about it during an interview. If a potential employer questions the gap in your employment, you can provide an explanation in whatever manner you see fit. You may want to indicate that personal or family issues required you to take some time off from work. Explaining the work outside your field will be much easier in this context when you indicate that you needed the flexibility of contract work during a certain point in your career. Be matter-of-fact about your answer so that the interviewer doesn’t question your response.

    Ultimately, make sure to emphasize that you are ready to get back to work full time without issues. That is the only concern an employer is going to have, so address that at every opportunity. State your goals clearly during the interview and that will come across loud and clear.

    March 13, 2008
    QUESTION: How can I get into a pharmaceutical company at an entry level? I feel like giving up!

    ANSWER: The first step would be to tailor your resume to the position of interest. Your resume should highlight your unique capabilities, degree, awards, professional memberships, and any other information that relates to the position.

    The second step would be to submit your resume to companies and/or jobs of interest advertised on job boards. Follow up with the recruiter after applying to a position and tell them why you are the perfect fit for the job.

    Another option would be to connect with a local recruiting agency that specializes in pharmaceutical industry placements, as they can assist you in building the bridge into the pharmaceutical industry. Many staffing agencies offer contract and contract-to-hire positions that are great avenues for gaining valuable real-world experience. Opportunities will present themselves once you have some relevant pharmaceutical industry experience. In either case, a good rapport with a recruiter is imperative. You will have much more success by staying in routine contact with a recruiter, rather than calling or emailing once or twice and waiting. Your persistence will show that you are serious.

    However, do be respectful of the recruiter’s time by not contacting them on a daily basis. Be upfront and honest. Tell your recruiter if you are interviewing for other jobs, have other offers or if there is anything that will inhibit you from accepting an offer.

    Finally, networking opportunities should not be overlooked. Contact local industry professional associations and inquire about networking events where you could interact with industry professionals. Hit the career fairs, attend seminars and talk to presenters. State you intentions and follow up with an e-mail or phone call. On-line networking and blogs are other options which may prove beneficial in your search.

    March 13, 2008
    QUESTION: I have a master’s degree in counseling psychology. How do I put my best foot forward in a new field such as pharmaceutical sales?

    ANSWER: The best place to start is with a thorough self-assessment and research on the field of pharmaceutical sales. You want to make sure this is really a move you want to make. Write down your experience in sales, your soft skills (traits and values), as well as your professional goals. Then research pharmaceutical sales on websites such as, or These sites contain enough information about the field so that you can decide if this profession matches who you are and what you want.

    If you decide this career choice is for you, then you will need a resume that will strategically highlight all the skills and talents you possess that will make you a success. Make a quick list of the requirements from a few job postings. Decide which qualifications you have and make sure those are featured prominently within your resume. Tailor your resume for each application making sure you include all key words that you match. Include a cover letter that addresses any gaps between the requirements and your qualifications.

    This is all groundwork the most important technique when changing a career – networking. You are most likely to get into this field by connecting with someone who is already in it. Take every opportunity to introduce yourself to other sales representatives as you come across them – at the doctor’s office, in the grocery store, at the gym, etc. Attend professional meetings, training courses and seminars. Make use of the professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to contact sales representatives and to follow up on job applications.

    Please be aware that pharmaceutical sales is a highly competitive industry and hard to break into – so be patient and persistent!

    March 6, 2008
    QUESTION: I have 3 years of experience as a Clinical Data Processor in a CRO and am looking to relocate to the US, but I know I need some more education for work visa purposes. I currently do not have any degrees. What are your suggestions as to what I should take academically to at least start off at entry-level? Is there any way that I don't need a degree for companies to hire me? (as that seems to be their stop point)

    ANSWER: To answer your last question right away, the likelihood of you finding a job in the highly competitive clinical research field without a bachelor’s degree is very slim. This field is highly desirable in the US and people with advanced degrees will compete for entry level and administrative positions. Therefore, the degree is usually a baseline requirement. As the government increases regulation on the drug industry there is also little chance that these requirements will loosen and more likely tighten.

    People who do this type of work will have a background in the medical, health or life sciences fields. The areas of study most commonly seen are biology, biochemistry, medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, and toxicology. There are some schools that offer master’s degrees specifically in clinical research. You can also take post-graduate certification courses and training programs.

    Clinical research is not a field you can enter easily but if you are willing to put in the time for a degree and with your 3 years of experience in data processes already, you will have a good chance at success in the US.

    March 6, 2008
    QUESTION: I will be graduating in May 2008 with a B.A. in Biology and I am inquisitive regarding future employment with my degree. I do not have outside laboratory or research experience, outside of that independent research I've done for my major. It appears that every employment opportunity I seek is looking for a B.S. with at least 1-4 years of laboratory experience. How is it that I am to have experience when no one wants to hire someone who is mildly inexperienced? Is it possible to find research laboratory employment with an undergraduate degree in biology without experience? Also, I am planning to return to school to achieve a bachelor's and master's in a specific biology field. Will that help advance my opportunities? Thank you!

    ANSWER: In all my years working in HR/recruiting, this is probably the question I’m asked most frequently. Having to answer it so many times, you would think that I, or at least someone out there, would have the definitive step-by-step answer ensuring 100 percent success. I regret to inform that such an answer does not exist. However, there are best practices you can employ to greatly increase your chances. As always, best practices alone will not increase your success. They must be coupled with hard work and a persistent attitude.

    In any technical position, including biological research, companies look for individuals who can quickly become proficient in the skills needed to perform in the position. In most cases, someone who has performed the skills previously will be proficient more quickly, but not always. At times, employees with prior experience may be used to performing the skill in a way that is different from another employer. In this type of situation, a company may be able to train an inexperienced employee more quickly than they can re-train an experienced employee.

    That being said, when an HR person or hiring manager reviews a stack of resumes, they are going to choose to interview candidates who list prior related experience. During the interview, the candidate will still be required to communicate their proficiency in a certain technical skill, and will also be evaluated on other attributes known as “soft-skills.” Soft skills are the traits that can include enthusiasm, communication skills, the ability to interact in a team setting, etc.

    After reading above, a candidate with a B.S. and 1-4 years of laboratory experience does not always get the job. It does help to have this experience, but it doesn’t guarantee employment. This is where hard work and a persistent attitude come in.

    Don’t hesitate to apply for the jobs that ask for 1-4 years experience. You may not always be contacted for the positions you apply for, but most companies retain candidate resumes for future consideration. It will take time and effort on your part, and you may have to overcome several “no’s,” but persistence pays off.

    If you do not hear from a company after 1-2 weeks of submitting your resume, place an inquiry phone call. A professional follow-up call will demonstrate your interest and get your name remembered. If the candidates with 1-4 years experience are not selected, you will have separated yourself from the other candidates with similar backgrounds and/or experience.

    Another great way to increase your chances for securing an interview is to be involved in professional organizations relevant to your field of interest. Attending networking events will naturally put you in contact with possible employers and allow you to demonstrate your soft skills. Since these skills are difficult to portray in a resume or cover letter, employers are more likely to interview an inexperienced candidate if soft skills are already confirmed.

    When you finally get that call for an interview, be prepared. Here are a few ways to win the job as a recent graduate:

    - Show enthusiasm! This is one attribute that is highly desired by employers, but tends to lessen as “experienced” candidates work longer.

    - Be prepared to discuss the lab skills you acquired in college. If it’s listed on your resume, be prepared to speak about it intelligently during an interview.

    - Highlight skills you’ve gained during employment and/or extra-curricular activities. Employers look for employees who can work collaboratively, communicate effectively, manage multiple tasks, etc. These skills can be developed while working at a retail store, being on an athletic team, taking part in community involvement activities, or participating in student government.

    Regarding going back for another bachelor’s or master’s degree, I always recommend that people have a plan before pursuing additional education in a focused field. In many cases, an additional bachelor’s in a more focused field of science (e.g. molecular biology) will not significantly increase your chances of landing that first position if you already have a degree in a less focused major, such as biology. As long as you have the particular skills (PCR, RNA/DNA handling, etc.), a bachelor’s in biology is sufficient.

    However, having a master’s degree will open some doors, but may close others. This is why it is important to have a plan. For example, if you are pursuing a career in quality control (e.g. QC Chem., QC Micro., etc.), a master’s degree may label you as “over-qualified” for an entry-level QC position. Similar situations may occur if you complete a Ph.D.

    To make sure you are setting yourself up for success to achieve your desired career path, talk to as many people as you can. Find out how people at all levels (B.S., M.S., Ph.D.) chose their current career, and how they got to where they are today. Who knows, maybe one of them are looking to hire someone just like you!

    February 21, 2008
    QUESTION: I have been working as a supervisor of product evaluation in solid dosage. Specifically, I supervised stability testing for new product submissions for the last six years. My background is analytical chemistry and I now want to switch to another more challenging job. Do you have any advice for me?

    ANSWER: A good idea would be to start with the basics. Get a pen and paper out and start making some notes on what you feel is missing in your current position, what you would like to be doing, and then assess the skills you need to develop or enhance to get there. This self assessment may seem a bit simplistic, but it is the start of all successful career changes. Once you have some notes down on paper, place them in one of the following three categories: compensation, job scope and growth opportunities.

    Compensation is more than just salary and can include benefits, vacation time, work-life balance, and pension/retirement plans. When candidates are asked why they are looking to change positions, salary is typically their first answer. However, after engaging in some more substantive dialogue, salary tends to be second or third on the list behind job scope and opportunities for growth. If making more money is your objective, there is nothing wrong with that, just be clear on what your expectations are.

    Job scope essentially means a ‘more prominent role.’ If you currently supervise 12 employees and want to manage 50, you need to find a company that can provide this opportunity. For managers, this can often be seen as a step up, as you will have more direct reports, oversee larger projects and gain more exposure.

    A limited job scope can often be the result of working for smaller companies or hitting the proverbial ceiling. If there is no where to go, you may need to make a change or look to transfer to a larger facility.

    Growth opportunities, when it is all said and done, tend to be the number one reason cited by individuals looking for a change. “I like my job and the people I work with, but there is no room for advancement and I am not learning new skills that will help me grow professionally.”

    If this statement sums up your feelings, you may be experiencing ‘professional stagnation.’ The passion you once felt about your job is gone, you don’t feel challenged and the day-to-day routine leaves you unfulfilled.

    If this is where you find yourself, you may want to focus your research efforts on companies that promote from within. In most cases, these tend to be larger companies with multiple product offerings and departments. You may need to make a lateral move to get in the door, but 1-3 years down the road, you will be in a much better position to advance. In the interim, you will be learning new skills and hopefully rekindling your passion.

    When you interview, be sure to broach this subject with your prospective manager. Good managers create pathways, not obstacles for advancement and working under a ‘mentor’ will pay dividends in the long run.

    It is difficult to provide specific guidance on when to make a career change. Do your research and find companies that offer the types of positions and advancement opportunities that best fit your criteria. Avoid making emotional decisions and be patient, as taking the first available job is not the same as taking the best job.

    February 14, 2008
    QUESTION: I am a credentialed teacher in California. Currently, I have been considering a career change. I have always been interested in pharmaceuticals and hope to find my niche in this field. Please send me any information on how to begin the process.

    ANSWER: The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities in a wide array of capacities to be had in the California pharmaceutical market. These include positions in manufacturing, quality assurance, quality control, research and development, regulatory affairs, medical affairs, and so on. Your challenge will be narrowing down an industry of interest and then determining your overall career objectives.

    The subject of your college degree and graduation date must be taken into consideration to accurately answer your question. Unfortunately, these details have been omitted. The majority of these positions, at least on the science side, require a bachelor’s of science degree. In the event that you do not possess a B.S. degree, there are a couple options.

    The first would be to return to school and satisfy the science coursework requirements for a B.S. degree with your career objectives in mind. The other option to consider, which could also serve as a refresher if you do have a B.S. degree from some time ago, would be a certificate in biotechnology.

    There are a number of biotechnology programs that offer evening courses leading to a certificate in biotechnology and cater to undergraduates and post baccalaureate students alike. These programs offer intensive hands on experience and are specifically designed to introduce students to state-of-the-art techniques used in the biotech/pharmaceutical arena. A quick Internet search yielded plenty of results including certificate programs for manufacturing, regulatory affairs, and stem cell research.

    A contract position would be another viable entry point into the pharmaceutical industry. Many of these positions are entry level in nature and may require a decrease in pay, but provide valuable real world experience. There are a lot of promotional opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry once you have some relevant experience.

    Finally, networking opportunities should not be overlooked as an avenue to publicize your interest in landing a pharmaceutical position. It may be a good idea to contact local industry professional associations and inquire about networking events where you could interact with industry professionals. On-line networking is another possibility that may prove beneficial in your search.

    February 14, 2008
    QUESTION: Regarding "tailored" CVs/resumes, I am a recent graduate from the Toronto area (MSc Protein Chemistry), and am interested in having a career where I can utilize my interpersonal skills, as well as my scientific training. Thus, I am looking for both lab-based and liaison/representative-type positions, possibly leading toward the business or PR side of the industry. I understand that it is useful to "tailor" your CV and cover letter to each specific position, but what is your recommendation for submitting multiple CVs to the same company, and for slightly different job postings, without being labeled as "unfocused"? Thanks for any advice.

    ANSWER: You are on target with your assessment that it is best to ‘tailor’ your resume to fit specific positions. Employers typically take less than three minutes to review a resume for specific skills, keywords and experience. If these words or skills cannot easily be identified, your resume will end up in a database or deleted.

    One should always read the job description closely, highlight keywords, skills, etc., and conduct a self-assessment. If you possess the skills required, or can easily transfer experience gained in school or industry, craft a resume that emphasizes this linkage. If you do not meet the minimum requirements for the position, do not apply.

    In your case, I would start by creating a ‘lab-based’ resume to emphasize tangible skills, such as laboratory techniques, instrumentation used, research projects, coursework with labs, and internships if applicable. From this core resume, you can modify your objective to fit the specific position for which you are applying (i.e. chemist, laboratory assistant, research scientist, etc.).

    As you identify liaison/representative-type positions, which I refer to as sales or marketing positions, be sure to change your objective and the content of your resume. If you are applying to a scientific sales position, the employer will want to know if you have the personality necessary to consult with, sell, or provide customer service to their clients. In this scenario, your ‘hard science’ skills will be important, but so will your interpersonal, ‘soft skills.’ Draw upon experiences in public speaking, part-time jobs, tutoring fellow students, as well as any business, marketing, communications, or IT classes you took in college.

    Modifying or ‘tailoring’ your resume is a strategy that I encourage all of our candidates to employ. As long as the facts on your resume remain the same, there is no harm in changing the strategic emphasis in the objective and skills section. Craft an objective that focuses your desire to work in that particular industry or company, and then you can change the particular job category without appearing unfocused.

    This way your consistent focus becomes to work in, for example, the pharmaceutical industry rather than being in the lab or being a marketing person. You should always have a cover letter that will clearly explain why you are interested and what makes you a match.

    Employers do not want to solve a mystery when they review a resume. They want to see a strong, well-organized linkage between the skills they are seeking and those possessed by the applicant.

    If you have identified companies you would like to work for, but aren't sure how your skills can best be utilized, seek to network with human resources or current employees to gain insight into potential opportunities and how you can best market yourself to their organization.

    February 7, 2008
    QUESTION: I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado, and I am considering an offer from a local biotech company. I am wondering if you have any information on the types of salaries that scientists leaving postdoctoral positions are getting when stepping into the biotech industry, especially in the Colorado/Denver area.

    ANSWER: First, congratulations on finishing your formal education as a postdoc. You’re now embarking on the informal part of your education that will hopefully last the rest of your career. Although it’s “informal,” it’s not any less important and may be just as – or in some cases more – challenging. And while it’s tempting to contemplate more seriously the position that will pay the most to begin with, there are some other things you may also want to consider as having value as well. In addition to salary, here are some other things you may want to consider when considering potential employment opportunities:

    • What you will learn from a potential employer in terms of technology, the market, culture, politics, etc.
    • What other industry, niche-specific knowledge you will gain.
    • Career advancement opportunities either with a particular company or as a result of working at that company. Don’t underestimate the value that the cache of having worked for a particular company may have on your future career), where you want to live, what lifestyle you want, the “acceptable” number of hours per week you’ll work at a company, etc.
    • Other perks, such as health club memberships, flexible hours, stock options, etc. With this in mind, here are a few places to look to get some general compensation ranges. Websites such as or professional industry associations are good places to start. Professional organizations often conduct regular salary surveys among their members and these can be good guidelines. However, be aware of self-selection bias and regional variations when reviewing this data.

    Even though you have experience as a postdoctoral fellow, biotechnology, medical device and pharmaceutical companies will most likely consider you to be an “entry level” scientist, so be prepared to start at the lower end of the scale. Yes, you have worked several years after earning your doctorate, but you still have to learn GLP and GMP and to gain confidence in applying your scientific creativity.

    Pay close attention to the job description to ensure it mentions Ph.D. If it doesn’t, look at the data for 4-8 years of experience and interpolate. If the description doesn’t mention Ph.D., assume that the job requires only a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

    For example, on “Scientist I – Biotech” is a Ph.D.-level position with 0-2 years of experience (you would probably fall into this category). However, if there were no data for this category in your geographic area, you could look at Chemist III and Chemist IV to get an idea of what to expect.

    Another factor to consider is that compensation for a particular job in a particular area may be artificially inflated or depressed due to supply and demand for specific skills. In addition, as a general rule, smaller or start-up companies often pay less than larger multi-nationals.

    In sum, there is a lot to consider when evaluating an offer – much more than just money alone. Whatever the case, don’t sell yourself short and don’t be quick to say “no” to a great opportunity just because you’ve been offered a few thousand dollars less than you would like.

    February 7, 2008
    QUESTION: I have an M.S. in agricultural genomics with a specialization in bioinformatics, and in December I will have a second M.S. in bioinformatics and computational biology. I have 7+ years experience at the bench, primarily in genomics, and some proteomics, and also 7+ yrs. experience in bioinformatics. What salary should I expect from the private and public sector opportunities? Also, is there any way that I can improve how I market myself?

    ANSWER: Regarding your salary question, it is very difficult to provide an accurate range, as salaries vary based on location, industry, company size, and relevant work experience.

    Based on a quick review of some of Kelly Scientific’s internal and external job postings, salaries vary from $45,000 to- $75,000+ based on education and relevant work experience. Many of the positions at the high high-end of this range required a PhD and 7-10 years of closely related, if not identical, industry experience.

    There are a number of excellent salary survey resources available on the internet, and most major job boards offer direct links to partner sites, so dedicate some time to building reference points based on your geographic and industry preferences.

    Without knowing what you are doing presently to market yourself, I am not sure where to begin. The best approach, based on my experience, is to try a little bit of everything, as each networking contact you make can potentially turn into the one that lands you a job.

    Social networking sites such as Linked In, Plaxo, Facebook, etc., are excellent starting points, as you can connect with former classmates/colleagues and gain access to their networks. Utilize technology as an enabler, but do not rely solely on impersonal, electronic forms of communication to get you where you want to go.

    Attend professional meetings, seek out industry professionals at conferences, utilize your academic network, and make a list of the companies you want to work for. Make it a goal each week to establish contact with individuals doing what you want to do. This seemingly forgotten art of person-to-person direct networking is still successful and is widely accepted as the absolute best form of self-marketing one can do.

    Be careful not to base each transaction on whether or not you get a job offer. Instead, focus on expanding your network and becoming more informed about the career options available to you.

    January 31, 2008
    QUESTION: I am just three months shy of the "one-year experience" mark that most companies require to be a clinical research associate. I was a clinical study coordinator for nine months and had to leave to move to another state. I'm not sure where to get more of that experience and I need a job now. I want to just get a job at a local store so I can make some money, but I also don't want to start and stop at any job without staying a long time. The clinical research position is perfect for me in every way down to my skills and passions. What should I do?

    ANSWER: This is a difficult question to answer without knowing if there are clinical research positions available in the state you now live in. Assuming it is possible for you to continue on this path, try to stick with it. Look for another position as a clinical study coordinator and keep working to gain knowledge, experience and networking connections.

    There is no immediate guarantee with that one-year experience requirement. The term is typically, “at least one-year.” You may need two years of study coordinator experience to beat out the competition for a very desirable CRA position.

    There is no doubt that you are in a tight spot in having to balance your financial needs with your career goals. But it is wise to make every job you take relevant in some way to the goal you want to achieve. So a store clerk job is not going to help you in the long run, but a job in a hospital quality department or data management at a pharmaceutical company will still keep you on track.

    January 31, 2008
    QUESTION: I am trying to get into the clinical research field, but I don't know where to start. I have a bachelor’s in social work, and presently work for Hospital Corp of America. What advice can you give me on how to get started in the field?

    ANSWER: Your question reflects the knowledge that you need to “get started” in the clinical research field. It is rare that a person can step right into a clinical research associate (CRA) position. Several years of training or experience in an entry-level clinical research job, along with education and training are often necessary.

    One way to get started is by working in entry-level positions, such as a project assistant in a clinical operations department or a study coordinator position at a research site. Many sponsors and CROs use these positions as part of their CRA career development track. These positions will provide opportunities to gain the skills required for becoming a CRA and relevant insight into some typical CRA duties. Even accepting any temporary assignments in one of these companies is a great way to gain experience.

    If you have the time and resources to devote to going back to school or take an intensive training program, this will also get you off to a running start. There are a few universities with clinical research specializations and there are also excellent training programs available.

    When creating your resume for clinical research positions, make sure you have a strong objective statement affirming your desire to enter the field. Also, peruse the clinical coordinator job ads and write down the skills they are seeking most often. Then take stock of your own skills and experiences. Make sure all overlapping skills are highly visible on your resume. Your background in sociology should give you a good list of patient contact skills that are similar to what is needed in a clinical research position.

    It may take a year or more to get into a more interesting position, but it will be well worth the effort.

    January 24, 2008
    QUESTION: What is an average starting salary for a Lab Tech 1 position in a mid-sized biopharmaceutical company? I have been an intern for six months at this specific company and have just been offered a position as a Lab Tech 1. I will be paid hourly with 1.5X overtime pay, but am not very comfortable with the salary. Any information will be of great help.

    ANSWER: Salaries vary significantly from region-to-region based on cost of living, labor market conditions and industry. In the Midwest, Lab Tech 1 positions range from $10-$15 per hour depending on the job duties, educational/technical requirements, shift, etc. These same positions may pay 10-25 percent more on the east and west coasts, but the associated higher cost of living needs to be taken into consideration when making regional comparisons.

    Whether to accept or decline a position based on the pay rate is ultimately an individual decision. However, after seven years in the scientific staffing arena, I have seen far too many candidates make a short-term decision based on a starting pay rate, without seeing the ‘big picture.’ By ‘big picture’ I am referring to the knowledge, skills and experience acquired on the job and the long-term positive impact this will have on your professional development. Entry-level positions are just that, and should be viewed as launching pads, not landing strips. Where you start is not where you will end and this credo applies to salary, as well as job title, duties, etc.

    In making this decision, I would encourage you to look at more than just the pay rate. Look at the benefits (i.e. health insurance, 401K, tuition reimbursement, etc.), as well as the intangibles such as vision of the company, growth opportunities, internal career paths and competency of your manager. These intangibles will not help you pay the bills today, but will shorten the learning curve and expand your knowledge base, propelling you toward bigger and better opportunities down the road. It is important to keep in mind that entry-level positions are designed to help you build a skill set and develop areas of expertise. Once established, you are more valuable to your current employer, as well as other employers, thus increasing your future earning power.

    An excellent resource to utilize is the 2006 ACS employment and salary survey. You can access this report by visiting The ACS report provides excellent insight into market trends, employment projections and regional salary ranges.

    January 24, 2008
    QUESTION: I am currently an associate in cell culture who just graduated from college about three months ago. I was wondering what I would need to do to become a clinical research associate and how I would go about job hunting for these positions.

    ANSWER: Clinical research associates (CRAs), also known as field monitors, possess extensive knowledge of the clinical trial process – from study initiation to close out. Most CRAs travel extensively (regionally, nationally or internationally), conducting in-person visits at the various research sites associated with the study. They are proficient in current FDA and ICH guidelines and work independently to ensure that all of a study’s required procedures are followed, documented and reported. These positions require a great amount of hands-on, regulatory knowledge and experience.

    Since CRAs need previous hands-on experience related to study monitoring and management to ensure that the study is performed accurately and safely, this title is not the right target to begin your career in clinical research. Be prepared to start from the ground up, which may mean an entry level job. A combination of related experience, education and patience is the best path toward becoming a CRA.

    However, there are paths you can take to begin gaining the knowledge and experience needed for this type of career. Begin acquiring hands-on experience by seeking a position with CRA-related responsibilities, such as a project assistant in a clinical operations department or a study coordinator position at a research site. Many sponsors and CROs use these positions as part of their CRA career development track. These positions will provide opportunities to gain the skills required for becoming a CRA and relevant insight into some typical CRA duties.

    Quality assurance jobs in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry are also considered a great start. You can often enter the QA field with a fresh B.S. in science and will then gain the necessary regulatory experience that clinical research professionals need.

    Education can be a short cut around experience, but is often an expensive alternative. A small number of universities offer a degree in clinical research and there are also a few certification/training programs available. Your biological science focus will be of minimal value in this instance.

    As you have probably already experienced, the path toward becoming a CRA is a difficult one. There are no easy answers to your question, so it will take dedication and hard work to achieve your goal.

    January 17, 2008
    QUESTION: I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry with over 15 years of experience working in R&D in several biotech companies. I want to move into Regulatory Affairs for which I don't have any experience. I did recently complete an advanced certificate in Regulatory Affairs from Cal State Hayward. Please advise me, how to get a foot in the door in Regulatory Affairs? I am currently unemployed. Thank you.

    ANSWER: Many regulatory affairs professionals have transitioned into their careers from other scientific roles, especially bench and clinical research ones. Regulatory affairs hiring managers tend to seek out candidates who see the big picture in terms of drug development and understand the science behind it. Your R&D experience along with your regulatory affairs certificate certainly helps here.

    Start by highlighting skills on your resume with regard to communication organization. Regulatory affairs professionals interact with a variety groups within the company, not to mention the FDA, so strong communication and organizational skills are essential. Writing skills and attention to detail are critical, as FDA approval is solely dependent on the data submitted by regulatory affairs professionals.

    Targeting start ups or smaller companies might be another good idea. Smaller companies afford regulatory affairs professionals to perform a broader range of responsibilities and wear many hats. Depending on the size of the company, some professionals are even involved in the development and bench research of products. The larger companies, conversely, tend to employ more employees specialized in various aspects of the regulatory process.

    The key is to realize that experience is critical when trying to transition into the regulatory realm. Any experience is beneficial. However, be realistic in your expectations. Your career change may also result in a lower salary than you are accustomed to. Considering contract and temporary positions may be another option, as they are a great ways to gain this critical experience and gain footing in a regulatory career.

    January 17, 2008
    QUESTION: I have written my resume and now, after raising my three boys and completing a four-year degree in two and half years at the age of 47, I am looking for a job. The military is my longest career experience. What are my chances on landing a job in Texas and or Kentucky? My wife works with Verizon, but can always transfer after I am employed. My strong points are sales, marketing and administration. I have never applied out-of-state, but want to at this time. I have to have a little bit of capital to travel to another state. How does the interview take place? Do I go there, then interview, then take a chance? We want to relocate, but haven’t done this before. All of our kids are in the military now and I am ready to go to work, not just for a job, but for a career. Please help.

    ANSWER: Relocating in this age of electronic job applications is difficult because your resume can be screened out based on location before anyone even looks at it. However, there are basic steps you can take to make sure you get to the interview.

    1. Before applying for new opportunities in-state or out, take the time to write an impeccable resume and cover letter. Failure to put your best foot forward will quickly eliminate you from being considered for the limited number of ideal opportunities.

  • Double-check your resume and cover letter for grammar and spelling mistakes. Enlist the help of your colleagues, friends and professors to review your resume and offer feedback.

  • A cover letter is the perfect opportunity for you to indicate your relocation preferences and communicate your passion to pursue a career not just a job.

  • Tailor your objective specifically to the position and/or company. Put your desire to move to that state and for that job right in the first sentence of the objective.

    2. Next, use your flawless resume and cover letter to “get your foot in the door.”

  • Employment agencies are an excellent way to secure a job before you move. Staffing agencies can screen your application in your home state and then refer you to a branch in the area you want to relocate. It is like having an agent working for you.

  • Network with everyone you know and let them know you are looking for a new opportunity. More jobs are found through networking than through any other source.

  • Professional associations are also a good resource to search for job openings. Local chapters of these associations often have jobs boards that you can reference and search for open positions.

    Ultimately, all this hard work will lead to an interview. The next step is to put as much effort into preparing for each interview as you did for creating your error-free resume and cover letter. To prepare for an interview:

  • Have a well-thought-out plan for your relocation. If you interview before you move, be prepared to tell a potential employer your plans on how you would relocate to start the job.

  • Research the location, company and position.

  • Come prepared to ask questions about the position and the company.

  • Practice answering interview questions with your family or friends.

  • Capitalize on your military experience. The military provides a great background for work and this experience also says a lot about your character.

    I can understand your reluctance to relocate to a new area without securing a new opportunity first. However, in most instances, it is easier to land an interview and job if you are living in or at least nearby the area you are wishing to relocate.

    The most important factor is to choose an area with a strong economy and a diversity of industries and businesses advertising for employees. Each city and town has its own website which can help you choose wisely. It is a tough decision, but with a lot of planning ahead, you can be quite successful and live happily in an area you like.