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How Life Science PhDs Can Get Management Jobs

7/26/2017 9:51:58 AM

How Life Science PhDs Can Get Management Jobs July 26, 2017
By Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D., Contributor

There are over one million management jobs advertised every day on LinkedIn in the United States alone, with half of them attracting upwards of a six-figure salary. According to the employment projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, management jobs are expected to grow over 7% between now and 2024.

Management-level job ads may appear to demand the impossible, asking for what feels like years of relevant experience, background knowledge in the industry, and a list of demonstrable skills that make you question your own abilities.

But regardless of industry, most recruiters are really looking for the same core management skills.

Recruiters are searching for leaders—candidates with the transferrable management attributes which will make them successful in any situation. As a STEM PhD you have already built a strong foundation of many of these core management skills. Here are the 5 essential things that will get you hired as a manager, not just another entry-level employee...

1. Become an expert communicator.

Creating a successful career in industry can hang in the balance on this skill alone, particularly if you want to move swiftly through the upper ranks of management. An ability to communicate effectively and form positive relationships with colleagues, clients, superiors, and stakeholders alike is absolutely critical. Why? Because managers are the epicenter of their teams, and often the touch point between their department and others.

A survey of 600 employers, by the Graduate Management Admission Council, ranked communication skills as the top requirement when hiring recent graduates. This is where your experience presenting in journal clubs, lab meetings, and at scientific meetings works to your advantage.

Highlight these skills—it will show your ability to become that epicenter in the future.

2. Become a strategic planner.

Employers are not foraging for management candidates who can solve problems.

They’re hunting for ones who can identify problems in advance, prioritize what’s important, and find solutions before it starts to cost them money and time. You’ll need to be able to have foresight for potential errors along the way, with strategies to mitigate setbacks and negative outcomes.

One advantage STEM PhDs have over other candidates is that they already know how to act upon information and plan multiple research projects based on constantly changing feedback.

You have had to plan daily experiments, but also keep track of the larger goals of projects, which may have taken multiple years to accomplish.

You’ve learned to be persistent and adaptable.

Planning in industry is different, and while the skills need to be adapted and developed in a new environment, what you’ve already developed in the research labs is a robust framework you can advertise to recruiters as a strong base to launch from.

3. Learn to demonstrate your leadership abilities.

Companies are looking for candidates who can demonstrate leadership qualities.

Someone who can inspire a vision, raise the energy of those around them, and rally their team to achieve bigger and better things. Above all else, they want someone they can trust and rely upon to carry the business onwards and upwards.

It’s a bold requirement, but with thousands of applications coming in for individual jobs these days, it’s one that recruiters are able to make.

While working in research labs PhDs and postdocs have experienced what it’s like to take the lead on projects, to direct younger students, or mentor new graduate students. Be sure to mention your achievements from leadership positions on both your application and in interviews.

It’s one thing to talk about leadership skills, and another to prove they generated a positive, measurable outcome.
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4. Learn to resolve conflicts professionally.

Industry relies more heavily on collaboration than academia, and one of the side-effects of team environments is a diverse range of perspectives and opinions.

If you’re applying for a management position, or hoping to be promoted into management, this skill needs to be highly developed — because you’re going to be the one to resolve issues that stop projects from moving forward, even if they’re not yours. Thankfully, STEM PhDs already have a wealth of experience handling conflict to draw upon.

If you’ve worked in a scientific research lab, you’ve needed to collaborate and compete for everything from publications, to reagents, to time in the cell culture hood.

You’ve had to be diplomatic and professional under time pressures and personality conflicts.

Recruiters are looking for candidates who can lead by example with the way they deal with conflict, and can make sure social and professional differences of opinion do not get in the way of an important project.

5. Become an expert in time management.

To progress in your career, you need to develop skills to manage your own time as well as that of your team members.

As a manager, if your team members aren’t prioritizing their own tasks effectively, or projects are running behind schedule, it will fall to you to make necessary adjustments and put the train back on its track.

In management roles, you will also be frequently involved in multiple projects, often across several departments.

It will be your responsibility to plan out the projects, convert them into tasks, and delegate them to your own and your staff’s workflow. If you don’t have these skills yet, get involved in projects that can help build your toolbox.

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the founder of the Cheeky Scientist Association and author of Black Hole Focus – follow them on Twitter @cheekyscience.

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