5 Job Search Tips When You're Not Getting Life Science Job Interviews

Published: Sep 28, 2017

5 Job Search Tips When You're Not Getting Life Science Job Interviews September 28, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Meet Joe. Or Alice. Either one. Joe and/or Alice has been unemployed for several months. Despite sending out dozens—maybe even hundreds— of resumes, Joe and/or Alice isn’t getting very many interviews.

Assuming for a moment that Joe and/or Alice are qualified for the jobs they’re applying for, and assuming that there aren’t possible issues of ageism, sexism or something else outside the scope of this article, here are some tips for Joe and/or Alice to get the interview requests coming in.

1. Focus.

Sometimes, particularly as the days, weeks or even months drag out, the job seeker can start to feel desperate and began applying for everything and anything that they’re remotely qualified or interested in. This “carpet bombing” approach is not a particularly good way to get hired or pick up interviews. First, because the majority of HR departments use automated screening systems, if you’re not hitting their job’s specific qualifications, the resume’s never making it to a human being.

Tony Hoeft, writing for TheMuse, says, “You may be tempted to cast a wide net while searching for jobs, but a lack of focus is detrimental. First, looking at jobs you aren’t really qualified for is a waste of time. While you may, in theory, be capable of handling a job in marketing, communications, or sales, if a company is looking to fill a marketing role, I believe they most often want a strong marketing person — not someone who is marketing-adjacent.”

Decide what you want to do, or what you’re most qualified to do, and use those as targets to guide your search. That way you’ll spend less time throwing resumes out the window hoping they’ll land on somebody’s desk.

2. Get a professionally—written resume.

A professional resume-writer or writing service brings several useful things to your job search. First, they have a grip on what the current thinking is for resume structure, formats, and length, as well as knowledge of formats related to different career levels and types—for example, entry-level positions versus mid-career versus senior careers. Also, federal jobs and individuals coming out of the military have unique demands for resumes and CVs.

Second, a professional approaches the resume from the perspective of highlighting accomplishments versus duties and keying in on the types of things hiring managers are looking for the most. Modern resume formats are intentionally designed to fulfill the “30-second rule.” The 30-second rule is that hiring managers, who may be facing hundreds of resumes, need to be able to glance at it (and the cover letter) and quickly get an idea of who you are and if you’re qualified for the position. If they get that sense in 30 seconds and it clicks, they will continue reading.

A good professional resume writer will also use dynamic, active language and knowledge of key words to put your best foot forward.

3. Key words and algorithms.

As mentioned earlier, the majority of employers use some form of an automated application system, otherwise known as Application Tracking System (ATS). As Trudy Steinfeld wrote for Forbes, “If you are looking for a job and you have been applying through company websites, completing applications and attaching your resume for jobs you honestly believe you are qualified for, it can be a tedious and frustrating experience. No doubt the phrase ‘black hole’ has come up once or twice. If you are like most job seekers, you are wondering, ‘Why aren’t I getting any interviews or responses?’”

They’re all built on algorithms and key word searches. Recruiters are instructed by hiring managers on open jobs, and then create job descriptions with the skills, experience and qualifications—key words—they find most desirable. Those key words are used to filter out resumes.

One tip here is when looking at a job posting, see what specific language is used. For example, if the job calls for “HPLC” and “cell culture,” it’s a good bet you need those in your resume and possibly your cover letter, and not just once, but perhaps several times. Most modern resume formats include a section of bulleted “Key Skills” that help identify key skills for the ATS.

Steinfeld says if you have 60 percent of the qualifications in the job descriptions, you should apply. If you legitimately have the skills, she says, “Customize your resume to contain the ‘key words’ that are in the posting. Don’t try to be fancy and use synonymous words, as only the exact words will allow the recruiter conducting the search to find your resume.”

Keep it simple, unless you’re a so-called “creative,” such as a graphic designer or artist. Don’t mess around with cool fonts or colors. ATS systems don’t pay attention to them and, in some cases, can be confused by them.

Hoeft recommends first running the job description through a website called Wordle.net, which creates word clouds to show the most common words, then incorporate them in an organic way into the cover letter and resume, which you should also run through Wordle.

4. Follow-up.

If you do get an interview, make sure you follow up with a thank you note and/or email. What can be trickier is following up to an application, particularly given the anonymous ATS systems. Steinfeld writes, “If you really think you are qualified and excited about a job, reach out to your network through LinkedIn and other channels and see if anyone works for the company. Send them a note or call them and see if they could be willing to let the recruiter know that you are interested in the job and that they know you. That is usually enough to have them search the ATS and find your resume.

5. Network.

Recommending “networking” is hardly surprising. People generally prefer to hire people they know, or who can be vouched for by someone they know. In the Science Careers forum, David Jensen wrote, “You need to be FOUND. The only way to be found is to be networking, just as the hiring manager is networking. You need to work your way up that particular food chain, by starting with people you know and ending up with people you’re introducing yourself to who you have had no previous connection with.”

LinkedIn is a place to start. But if you’re in the biopharma field, reach out to friends from the workplace, who you’ve met at conferences, and who you graduated. Attend conferences and networking events.

Hoeft writes, “You may feel silly writing an email to every single person you know, but guess what? You really need to do it. It’s not hard. …Remember, you’re not looking for a job to be handed to you. You’re looking for leads. You still need to do the hard work of selling yourself and following up, but more leads will yield more chances to get a job.”

And of course, don’t give up. Sometimes all you need to do is fine-tune your approach and focus on the jobs you’re most interested in.

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