Highlight Life Science Accomplishments (Not Duties) to Make Yourself Stand Out

Job Search

When compiling data about their professional experience and describing their background in resumes, cover letters and interviews, most job-seekers focus on the duties and responsibilities from past job descriptions. But let’s think about that practice – telling a future employer that you performed the prescribed duties and responsibilities of your past jobs is not especially impressive. You are essentially telling your future employer you did the minimum.

Focusing on duties and responsibilities means you are not telling future employers about the initiative you’ve taken in past roles, the value you’ve added and how you’ve made a difference. You’re not giving them a sense of the complexity and significance of what you’ve done. In the employment world, the word “results” is virtually synonymous with “accomplishments,” and you’re unlikely to convey results with a laundry list of duties and responsibilities. Describing accomplishments enables your audience to envision your future performance.

While you are leveraging your accomplishments for job search success, many of your job-seeker competitors will be fixated on duties and accomplishments; thus, you will differentiate yourself with accomplishments.

Virtually every aspect of what employers seek can be framed as an accomplishment – skills, values, experience, results, subject-matter knowledge, uniqueness, proof of performance. Professional accomplishments are preferred, but sometimes accomplishments in school, family, sports, volunteering, internships, entrepreneurial pursuits and life in general can be relevant.

Job-seekers also have many opportunities to describe accomplishments specific to their fields. For life science professionals, these accomplishments can be related to:

  • Research skills and outcomes
  • Analytical skills
  • Innovation
  • Teamwork
  • Publishing articles
  • Giving presentations
  • Science ethics
  • Science methods
  • Project management
  • Regulatory issues
  • Keeping up to date in the discipline

With their strong science orientation, and having spent perhaps many years preparing academically for their careers, life science professionals must remember to frame their accomplishments in terms of business needs. Writing on Cheeky Scientist, Catherine Sorbara notes that publications, poster presentations, conference attendances and travel awards “do not translate into anything of relevance for a company.” The accomplishments that matter in business have to do with such feats as saving money, generating revenue, boosting productivity, improving processes, sparking innovation, rising above the competition and delighting customers. Sorbara offers the example of negotiating the price of lab supplies to illustrate the ability to save a company money.

Start brainstorming and compiling a list of accomplishments for use in your life science job search. Strive to identify accomplishments with these characteristics:

  • Accomplishments should be relatively recent. It’s OK if a few of your accomplishments are in the past if they particularly illustrate what you can contribute to your next employer, but most employers want to know “what have you done for me lately?”
  • Myriad “story structures” exist for building accomplishments statements and are a powerful way to express your achievements, especially for interviews. Two of the most common structures are Situation –> Action –> Result and Problem (or Challenge) Action –> Result. Example:

Situation: The business team had a very tight deadline for getting FDA approval for a line extension of a newly marketed pharmaceutical product. The team wanted to do something very quickly, focusing only on efficacy and safety and not including any outcomes.

Action: I convinced the team to include some outcomes related to convenience, satisfaction, and sleep quality. I had to convince them that this information was critical for us to gain market access, especially related to managed-care formularies.

Result: The FDA approved the line extension.

  • Quantify when possible. Tell, for example, the number of people managed, percentage of cost reductions, size of teams you’ve led, number of awards.
  • Give yourself sufficient credit for team accomplishments. When asked to describe accomplishments, many job-seekers tend to talk about team wins. That’s OK, as long as you are clear about your role on the team and give yourself the credit due. Did you lead the team? Did you play an integral role? Could the project have succeeded without your contribution? Example:

I played a key role on a team conducting marketing research for a medical device firm. I had the strongest analytical abilities on the team, so I led team members in analyzing the data. Through my analytical skills, we discovered that the business had been targeting the wrong market all along; we were able to show the owner the market segment that the business should be targeting.

  • Include a few accomplishments that include obstacles, vulnerability, or spring from negative situations or failure. Research has indicated that achievements rising from adversity and learning from mistakes can be even more powerful than those that are completely positive.
  • Be sure each accomplishment truly differentiates you. When I conducted mock interviews with new college grads and asked their most significant accomplishment, the vast majority would respond with “graduating college.” That’s an accomplishment to be sure, but it does nothing to distinguish the candidate from all the other college grads applying for the same job.

Once you’ve begun to collect and refine your accomplishments, you can apply them throughout your job search, as well as on the job to help you advance.

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