7 Things the Typical PhD Scientist Doesn’t Know About a Biotech or Pharma Job Search

Published: Jan 09, 2017

7 Things the Typical PhD Scientist Doesn’t Know About a Biotech or Pharma Job Search January 5, 2017
By Isaiah Hankel, PhD, BioSpace.com Contributor

The hardest part about searching for a biotech or pharma job during graduate school or a postdoc is not knowing what a normal resume is. When I was a graduate student, I had no idea what a typical industry resume looked like, let alone what was a good or great resume.

I didn’t know how many industry job openings there were or how many people on average applied to these industry jobs. I didn’t know how many people who apply to a job actually get an interview, how long an interview lasts, when to follow up after an interview, what employers look for during interviews, how negotiation works, or how many people accept the first offer they’re given.

There is a right way and a wrong way to perform a PhD job search. Some experiences are typical while others are less so. Here are 7 tips that will help you determine which experiences are normal and which are not:

1. Uploading resumes online is not a good job search strategy.

Some 98 percent of job seekers are eliminated at the initial resume, according to Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts. This makes your resume (mostly) useless in industry. However, don’t get the wrong message from the 98 percent statistic. A strong resume is still important! A good resume won’t get you a job, but a bad one will keep you from getting a job.

When you first start an industry job search, it’s natural to think that having a great resume or CV is all you need. Most PhDs believe that the resume is the starting point of every job search. This is absolutely false. Networking is the starting point of every job search. You need to connect to other professionals (both PhDs and non-PhDs) to find out where jobs are and to get referred to the hiring managers for those jobs.

Don’t worry about your resume until after you build up your network and get a few good referrals. Then and only then should you craft a sharp industry resume.

2. Most jobs are not advertised.

About 80 percent of industry jobs are not advertised. Think about that.

Guess which jobs are not being published online—the good jobs or the bad jobs? Of course it’s the good jobs. Companies don’t need to advertise their high level positions because there’s already a high demand for them.

Instead of advertising high level positions, most companies will either hire internally or seek referrals. They may use a recruiter to help them find someone but most will just ask their employees and external networks for good candidates. If you’re not part of any of these networks, you’ll never even hear about the best jobs.

All industry job searches start with networking. Networking is the only way to get a good industry job. A recent LinkedIn career survey revealed that 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking. Employee referrals are the best way to hire for a company because they spend less money recruiting, employees are hired faster, and they will stay at their job longer than a traditional hire and will integrate more quickly.

3. There are more PhDs and less academic jobs available.

If you’re applying for a scientist job, so is everyone else. According to Glassdoor, the average number of applicants applying to any individual industry job is 250. Many large organizations receive over 2,000 applications a day. Less than 3 percent of the people applying to any given job posting will get an interview.

The number one question you should ask yourself during any job search is “How can I differentiate myself?” You’ll need to because it’s a crowded job market. Reports based on the National Science Foundation data by Inside Higher Ed and The Atlantic showed that American universities awarded 52,760 doctorates in 2013, up 8 percent from 2011. PhD employment, meanwhile, is decreasing with fewer jobs, more unemployment and more postdoc work.

If you want a good industry job, you seriously need to consider how you’re going to differentiate yourself from all of the other PhDs applying to the same position as you. This doesn’t mean learning more lab skills. It means learning skills that most PhDs don’t have, like interpersonal skills, and joining unique networks and organizations that will make you stand out from the crowd.

4. Getting a job doesn’t happen overnight.

The average time that it takes to find an industry job is two to eight months. The average time it takes to change careers is between two to six-- years. When you’re transitioning from academia to industry, you’re changing jobs and careers. So don’t think your transition is going to happen in a snap. You’re going to have to put in a lot of effort over a long period of time. You’re going to have to approach your job search strategically, taking systematic steps to get what you want. If you don’t know where to start, find people who do. You can save months of research (and failure) by joining high level networks and associations that have the information you need. There are people who have successfully transitioned before you. Find them and learn from them.

5. Job interviews are over in seconds.

While the average length of an interview is 40 minutes, 33 percent of hiring managers reported knowing within the first 90 seconds if they will hire that candidate, based on a survey of 2,000 different bosses.

These managers reported the following reasons why they almost immediately eliminated candidates: 67 percent of applicants failed to make eye contact, 55 percent dressed poorly or carried themselves poorly, 47 percent had little or no knowledge of the company, 38 percent lacked confidence or didn’t smile, and 33 percent had bad posture or a weak handshake.

Whether you like it or not, any interview you go on will be over within the first few minutes of meeting the hiring manager. The first impression you make is all that will matter. When it comes to first impressions, studies show that emotionally expressive people fare better. Surprisingly, this relationship between expressiveness and positive first impressions is independent of physical attractiveness.

The worst thing you can do during a job search is work hard at it for months (not to mention the years it took to get your PhD) and then blow it all in the first 90 seconds of meeting an employer. Give everything during those first few minutes. Don’t skimp on any detail.

6. Most PhDs transition into R&D, sales, or applications.

When it comes to transitioning into the biopharma industry, the biggest obstacle most PhDs have is figuring out where to start. They don’t know which positions are available to them and they don’t know which position they want. Among biomedical science grads, only 59 percent landed a job “closely” related to their field of study, down from 70 percent in 1997.

The majority of people in academia have no idea what industry positions are available. Most don’t even know the divisions or categories that these positions are in, let alone the names of the positions. This is a relatively easy problem to fix. The solution is to dig into company websites and career catalogues to figure out exactly what names they give to different positions. Then, compare those positions to the names other companies give to similar positions.

If you’re a STEM PhD looking to transition into a multinational biotechnology or biopharmaceutical company like Johnson & Johnson , Pfizer , Baxter , GSK , Roche , or others, the first decision you need to make is whether you want to transition into R&D. Do you want to stay at the bench in industry or get away from it? If you choose to move away from the bench, then you should decide whether you want to get into sales and marketing or applications. In applications, you’ll do more teaching. In sales and marketing, you’ll do more—you guessed it— sales and marketing.

R&D, sales and marketing, and application-based careers are popular, but there are also PhD-level industry careers that are on the rise, including careers as a medical science liaison, management consultant, or medical writer.

7. Social media is more important than your resume.

A recent Recruiter Nation survey survey found that 90 percent of recruiters are likely to look at a candidate’s social media profile. About 87 percent have hired someone through LinkedIn. Another 55 percent of employers will find you on Facebook before they will bring you in for an interview.

If this seems shocking to you—wake up. Times have changed. The age of relying on a 10-page CV, three carefully written recommendation letters, and your publication record is over. These old school tools simply do not matter like they used to when it comes to getting top level industry jobs. But this development is not something to get upset about. It’s something to use to your advantage.

In a recent Business 2 Community synopsis, 18.4 million applicants found their job on Facebook, 10.2 million on LinkedIn, and 8 million on Twitter. When it comes to executing a successful job search, your online platform matters. If you don’t know how to use your online platform or if you lack one altogether, get help and get help fast. It can be a huge force multiplier for you in increasing your exposure to the PhD job you want most in the biopharma industry.

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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